Chicago for Toddlers?
April 21, 2005 12:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to be visiting Chicago next week with my 3 year old son. I know lots of fun places to go when you're over 21, but even with a fake ID and a stick-on 'stache my boy won't be getting into B.L.U.E.S. Any suggestions for fun kid destinations in the Windy City? (Or even southern Wisconsin; we're planning on lots of driving & train riding.)
posted by maryh to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The zoos, Lincoln Park and Brookfield, are both first-rate, and there's a children's museum at Navy Pier (which is a good, if a bit cheesy, time on its own) and another in Wilmette. If he's into fish, the Shedd Aqarium is a great time.

There's a start.
posted by me3dia at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2005

I'd try the Museum of Science and Industry as well, lots of interactive touchy-feely stuff.....
posted by stevejensen at 1:07 PM on April 21, 2005

The Adler Planetarium might be good, though from their web pages it seems like they're expecting an audience of age 4 and up....
posted by mr_roboto at 1:13 PM on April 21, 2005

The Dells are always popular with kids. And there is an Amtrak stop there.
posted by Sheppagus at 1:18 PM on April 21, 2005

Unfortunately, the dinosaur exhibit at the Field Museum is being renovated, and will be closed until the middle of next year. He might like the exhibits of mammals & birds from around the world, though.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2005

two words....Uncle, Fun.

ok might be too much for a toddler, but it could be fun none the less.

(i know how it is with toddlers, mine is almost 2)
posted by ShawnString at 1:26 PM on April 21, 2005

The Museum of Science and Industry (mentioned above) was my favorite when I was a little kid. Not sure if 3 is too young, but they have all kinds of cool stuff about cars, trains, Nazi submarines, the human body, etc. It is a real hodgepodge of neat stuff.

Also, right now they have the exhibit of real dead human bodies that is supposed to be truly amazing and very tasteful. (I am a little afraid to go, myself, but I hear there is nothing scary at all.)

Also: if you are coming when it is warm (anytime but this coming weekend), you must go to Millennium Park. There is a great new fountain/sculpture there that kids go nuts for. The rest of the park is also cool.
posted by Mid at 1:29 PM on April 21, 2005

Too, too, too cold for the Dells...just my opinion. The Dells is a bunch of waterparks and amusement parks built around Lake Delton. Way too cold in April for that sort of stuff; in fact, I was up there for Father's Day last year, and the place was deserted since it was only about 70 degrees! Unless you're staying in a hotel up in the Dells that has an indoor waterpark, you'll be disappointed.

I recommend the Children's Museum at Navy Pier. The Museum, along with the rest of the sights on Navy Pier, is a whole-day activity. If the weather is nice, you may also want to head to either Brookfield Zoo or Lincoln Park Zoo.

There's another children's museum in Milwaukee, along with the Milwaukee Zoo. If you're headed up to Wisconsin, you can also try the Baraboo area, where there's a fun circus museum. Lamb's Farm is in Libertyville, kind of on your way to Wisconsin, and it's a neat place. Also on the way to Milwaukee is the Bristol Renaissance Faire, but it looks like it doesn't open till July.

Back in the city, if your son (or you) is into sports, there's ESPN Zone. And the ever-present Disney Store. All in all, I think the Michigan Avenue area is worth about a day, but I'm a girl.

The Chicago Park District often has special activities in certain parks and, at the very least, can serve as a directory of parks in the area. Also check out the Mayor's Office of Special Events. That's good advice no matter when you're visiting Chicago.

And, finally, and most importantly, check out Chicago Kids, a searchable database of things to do in Chicago for children.
posted by MeetMegan at 1:43 PM on April 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

As boring as I thought it was going to be, my five year old daughter was flat out enthralled by the Sears Tower Skydeck. The views are profound and there are little things to do and to look at for the little ones. Gotta love the world's second tallest building.

Bring some gum for the elevator. Little ear canals can sometimes get plugged up a bit.
posted by dabradfo at 1:43 PM on April 21, 2005

Great suggestions me3dia

Even if you are not a baseball fan, an afternoon or night spent at Wrigley Field watching the Cubs is well spent...

Also, go to the top of the Sears Tower... its worth the wait, and it's bragging rights for the rest of your life.

definitely check out the Navy Pier...

Grab a slice of deep dish pizza...
posted by bamassippi at 1:54 PM on April 21, 2005

The Chicago Nature Museum is very close to the Lincoln Park Zoo (one of the last free zoos in the United States!) and the Lincoln Park Conservatory Gardens and the Cafe Brauer (where you can rent a paddle boat.) There is a lovely butterfly garden in the Museum where little kids just flip out because there are butterflies all around you. It is sooooo cool. Plus, they have an Animal Grossology exhibit which is a must.

A fun place for kids to eat is R.J. Grunts which is also in that neighborhood, or Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder (a personal favorite).

Everything in that area is within walking distance/stroller distance to the lake.

All ages, hip fun can be had at the Chicago School of Folk Music which is farther north. If you don't want to take a hike up there, you can check out dozens of kids-oriented performances around town.

Spring and summer are especially beautiful seasons in Chicago. Enjoy your trip!
posted by jeanmari at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2005

Chicago Architecture Foundation runs a great river cruise of the downtown area, starting next week. While the lectures aren't for kids, maybe your son would be entertained just by the chance to sit on a boat and cruise along the Chicago River out to Lake Michigan?

I love Garfield Park Conservatory--and it's free! They have a great kids exhibit with a playground equipment and plants that recoil when you touch them. (Very freaky!)

Olive Park Beach is a wonderful and little known beach tucked away between Michigan Avenue and Navy Pier. It's worth a visit if it's warm enough. (Always the big if in Chicago.)

For kid-friendly fare downtown, I like Foodlife in the Water Tower building.

And I second Millennium Park. Your son will love the spitting fountains! (Just bring a change of clothes.)

If you have a car, a trip to SuperDawg might be in order.
posted by Sully6 at 2:22 PM on April 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the great advice! I think I'm going to be spending the rest of the afternoon just following links and printing out directions. You guys really are the best of the web!
posted by maryh at 3:48 PM on April 21, 2005

I recently saw the dead bodies at the Museum of Science and Industry, and they were awesome, but NOT fun at all for the three year-old I was with. Go to the MSI, but take your kid down into the Idea Factory where he can build and play to his heart's content with all the cool interactive science-y stuff.
posted by bonheur at 4:40 PM on April 21, 2005

It's not a reason to go all the way up there, but if you find yourself up north, the public museum in Milwaukee is one of my favorite spots on earth.

I'd second Brookfield, as well. It takes a whole day, the indoor rainforests rock and the dolphin show is cool.

Great America in Gurnee is, well, an ordeal, but if you've got a ride-loving kid, they have an ok kids section.

When my daughter was three, we did a day at Brookfield, did the arboretum, flew a kite and then she wanted to glue popscicle sticks together and just hang out the rest of the week because I tired her out early.
posted by Gucky at 9:55 PM on April 21, 2005

I second the aquarium (my favorite as a kid, and now) and the MSI (especially the coal mine simulation ride).

If you happen to be on Michigan Avenue, the "Shops at Northbridge" mall or whatever it's called (has Nordstrom in it, is two blocks north of the river) has a Lego store with big six-foot dinosaurs made of legos a table full of blocks for the kids to play with. Might be a nice diversion on the way from point A to point B if you're walking around.
posted by mai at 12:13 AM on April 22, 2005

Just a note, maryh, make sure that the attractions you're interested in taking your child to are actually open the weekend you'll be here. Six Flags Great America doesn't open until May 1, and the fountains at Millenium Park weren't on when I walked by there last night.
posted by MeetMegan at 8:25 AM on April 22, 2005

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