Off the Beaten Path: Chicago with a 7 year old
April 3, 2016 11:29 AM   Subscribe

My wife is travelling to Chicago with our 7 year old son tomorrow, and she'll be in town through Wednesday. She really only has 2 items on her must-do list right now: the Field Museum & the Museum of Science and Industry. Any other ideas for off-beat food / additional attractions that might be in the same general areas? We can find the traditional "touristy" stuff easily enough, but I'd love to hear suggestions with more of a local flair - - the kind of things you'd never know to try unless someone tipped you off...
posted by richmondparker to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Oriental Institute Museum is about a mile away from the Museum of Science and Industry, and has a lot of cool artifacts from the Middle East. If your son is into Egypt and ancient times at all, he might like it. Not far from that, Medici is a local institution; the servers' t-shirts proclaim that "Obama ate here", which he did (like everyone in Hyde Park) back when he lived in Chicago.
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:57 AM on April 3, 2016

There is a lego store.
There is a big playground on the north end of the loop that you can take a variety of buses between that and the Field Museum.
Just riding the El is really very fun when you are 7 (do not ride the Elevated Trains to the Museum of Science and Industry, if doing public transport use the bus).
The Lincoln Park Zoo is free, the playground is across Stockton Ave.
If your 7 year old likes ice cream, Margie's Candies is old fashioned and very fun.

In terms of food, how adventurous is this 7 year old? Would Chinatown be fun for lunch/dimsum as you get to look at the food and choose it off the roaming cart or does Chinese food feel like too much? Would tea at the Drake be fun (yes, if you are a Fancy Nancy sort of kid) or the Russian Tea Time? Or would it be better to go to the kid room at the public library to take a tourist break and dive into another literary world? or is a playground better?

Have fun!
posted by mutt.cyberspace at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Main advice: get advance tickets for both museums online tonight. It's spring break and they're very busy. Online tickets will save a TON of time.

Both museums are each worth dedicating a single day to visiting. But if planning to hit both in one day, arrive at one of them at or just before opening, and plan to visit the other after 1-2pm, when the big rush tends to fall off.

To get between the two museums without driving, the CTA #10 MSI bus is currently daily during Spring Break. It can be caught on Columbus Drive at 11th (near Field) and goes to MSI's doors, and gives a brief little lakefront tour via Lake Shore Drive. CTA #6 MSI bus makes the same trip but makes more stops, and stops two blocks from the MSI doors.

The Metra Electric Line train (between Museum Campus and 55/56/57 St stops) is a little more expensive, but it's also, you know, a train and somewhat faster. (The CTA and Metra use separate fare systems, and aren't currently accepting the same fare cards.)

MSI has a LEGO+architecture exhibit right now. The Coal Mine and U-505 Submarine On-Board Tour are their classic signature exhibit/tours. All three require extra tickets, though access to the submarine exterior and great exhibit surrounding it are included in general admission. In a shorter half-day visit, I would only choose one timed ticket, and leave the rest of the time to seeing as much elsewhere as you can. (Super generalized: Coal Mine and U-505 On-board Tour, being more immersive in sight/sound may be for a more adventurous child; LEGO if more pensive and liking to study.)

Near MSI, a second for Medici as a great place to eat. There's also a small neighborhood park across the street from it. A little further west down that block is 57th Street Books, an expansive hobbit-home of an independent bookstore with a stellar children's section.
posted by fiveoclockrock at 1:02 PM on April 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed the Kohl Children's Museum as a kid. You can get to its current location on Metra, and kids seem to think trains are awesome. (You can take Metra to the Museum of Science and Industry, too, for that matter.) The Children's Museum at Navy Pier is probably interchangeable.

The Oriental Institute might be hard for a 7 year old, unless he's really into that time period/region. It's really text heavy in a way that isn't particularly kid friendly.

I was also a fan of the Chicago History Museum as a kid. There are pedal boats in Lincoln Park, between the history museum and the zoo, but I don't know if they're out yet. There's a nature museum in Lincoln Park at Fullerton (north of the zoo), but I've never been.
posted by hoyland at 1:04 PM on April 3, 2016

Lincoln Park Zoo is definitely great. It's free, so you can spend as much or as little time there as you want.

For food, you can check out the Junction Diner . I haven't been to this particular restaurant, but went to another similar restaurant as a kid, and if you like trains, it's pretty neat for a kid.

If you have a car, you can make a trek out to rainbow cone.
posted by hydra77 at 1:08 PM on April 3, 2016

Eataly Chicago gets some disrespect in comparison to the New York location, but if your kid is the type to enjoy a food market I suggest getting a gelato or something there. It's a bonus that it won't be a weekend.

The architecture tours are great for kids but this week you will have to dress warm.
posted by BibiRose at 1:12 PM on April 3, 2016

The website makes it sound super-popular, but the Chicago Cultural Center is one of those places that not everyone seems to know about, including people who grew up in the area. It's a beautiful building, they have a rotating selection of exhibits, including kid-friendly stuff, and it's free. It's also right by Millennium Park, so it's not hard to get to if you're downtown. It was always one of my favorite places to go when I lived there.

The only food place I knew in Hyde Park was Ribs n' Bibs, but it looks like they're closed for good, which is a shame. I'd definitely second Margie's Candies as a great place to take a kid (I used to live right by there and their milkshakes are amazing), but it's not very close to either of the two museums you mentioned - although it's right by the Western blue line stop, and it's not that far by car, either.
posted by teponaztli at 1:52 PM on April 3, 2016

Salonica is a great restaurant to have breakfast at before going to the Museum of Science and Industry.
posted by jgreco at 3:09 PM on April 3, 2016

Valois is a great restaurant to have breakfast at after going to the Museum of Science and Industry.

If your kid is into science, the University of Chicago is a twenty-minute walk away and was deeply involved in the Manhattan Project. You can visit the site of the world's first nuclear reactor, which currently hosts a creepy skull-shaped mushroom cloud sculpture, and view some of the original laboratory equipment in the lobby of Jones laboratory. Memail me if you're interested in more specific directions.

Closer to the MSI is Blackstone Bicycle Works, which is a working bike shop, but the managers (owners?) Chris and Aaron are super-friendly and if it's not too busy they'd probably be happy to take five minutes to show your kid around. I kind of plug Blackstone every chance I get because I think it's such a cool program.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:01 AM on April 4, 2016

Right by the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is very child-oriented, and the Lincoln Park Conservatory is also worth a stop in if you decide to head up that way do the zoo.
posted by drlith at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2016

Co-signing teponaztli's mention of the Cultural Center. I was just there last weekend and recommend the strandbeeste exhibit. Time it so you are there during one of the demos, they are very cool. Also right across the street is Millennium Park - if not too cold, go check out Cloud Gate, a/k/a The Bean, among other neat features.

Welcome to town, have fun!
posted by deliciae at 3:10 PM on April 5, 2016

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