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The 26 best things to do in Chicago with kids

The top spots for families in the Windy City

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Chicago’s world-famous architecture and cultural offerings make it one of the most popular cities in the U.S., but locals will tell you that Chicago is also a great place to live or travel to with kids.

Sure, children and parents alike love the deep-dish pizza, but the Windy City offers everything from top-notch kid-centric theater productions to one of the world’s largest aquariums. It’s also a relatively easy city to navigate with kids, especially because many of the main attractions are concentrated in Chicago’s downtown.

To highlight everything that Chicago has to offer, we’ve scoured the streets to find the best activities for parents and children of all ages. Whether you’re a local or a first-time visitor, here are the 26 best places in Chicago for families and kids.

Please note that the map points are ordered from north to south, not in any ranking.

Traveling to other cities with your kiddos? Don’t miss Curbed’s maps of the best family activities in Washington, D.C., Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans, Austin, and New York City.

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1. Chicago Botanic Garden

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1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440
Visit Website

Located in Glencoe, the Chicago Botanic Garden is home to 27 gardens on 385 acres and even boasts a new 26,700-square-foot learning center to boot. Kids will love climbing roly-poly hills in the Nature Play Garden, running on the grassy Esplanade, and marching over the arched bridges of the Japanese Garden.

2. Kohl Children's Museum

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2100 Patriot Blvd
Glenview, IL 60026
(847) 832-6600
Visit Website

This museum might be 30 minutes outside of the Loop, but it’s worth mentioning thanks to the 17 permanent exhibits that will get your child’s imagination firing. Don’t miss the popular pet vet center, the water works station, and a lifelike simulated Whole Foods Market.

3. Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

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9603 Woods Dr
Skokie, IL 60077
(847) 967-4800
Visit Website

School-aged children who are learning about the Second World War or Jewish history will find in-depth educational resources, an impressive art collection, and memorable exhibits at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Don’t miss the Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition—geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds—where kids use hands-on activities to foster leadership skills, empathy, and self-esteem.

4. Gallagher Way

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3635 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60613
(773) 388-8260
Visit Website

A plaza just around the corner from the Wrigley Field marquee has become a place for family fun. This winter season, there will be an ice-skating rink, holiday movies screenings, and wreath-making workshops. Want to take a break and warm up inside? Head to Jeni’s for ice cream right around the corner.

5. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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2430 N Cannon Dr
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 755-5100
Visit Website

This Lincoln Park museum uses hands-on exhibits to explore Illinois ecology and natural history. Check out a butterfly greenhouse, splash in water tables to explore how rivers work, and learn how the museum hatches and raises wetland animals like turtles.

6. The 606 Trail

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Bloomingdale Trail
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 742-4622
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One of the most exciting parks to open in Chicago in recent years, the 606 trail was made possible by converting an abandoned rail line along Bloomingdale Avenue into a new public park space and a popular pedestrian and cycling path. There are also a few art installations to check out along the way.

A circular bike trail on a hill. There are multitudes of people riding bicycles along the trail. The trail is surrounded by a large green grass lawn.
The 606, an abandoned rail line turned public park in Chicago.
Colin Hinkle for The Trust for Public Land

7. Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier

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800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

There are plenty of other attractions from Navy Pier included on this list, but we would be remiss if we didn’t include the Ferris Wheel. At 200-feet high, the Centennial Wheel offers 360-degree views and enclosed gondolas, making it a child favorite no matter the season.

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8. Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 595-5600
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We know, it might seem like a stretch to include a theater—and Shakespeare, no less—on a kid’s map. But the Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater showcases a ton of kid-friendly performances, including shorter 75-minute abridged productions geared toward families and students. Check their website for the latest shows and schedules. Young adults under the age of 35 can take advantage of special $20 ticket pricing.

9. Chicago Children's Museum

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700 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 527-1000
Visit Website

This Navy Pier outpost will spark imaginations as kids dig for bones on a dinosaur expedition, tinker with real tools in a DIY maker space, and paint or sketch in an art studio. Best for children aged 10 and under, the Chicago Children’s Museum is a don’t-miss attraction.

10. Chicago Riverwalk

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Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago, IL 60601
(877) 300-6746
Visit Website

The Chicago Riverwalk stretches nearly one and a half miles from the western end of the Loop to Lake Michigan. In addition to its food and beverage offerings, the Chicago Riverwalk features playful art installations and fishing piers.

A waterfront with boats. There is a promenade with people. Along the promenade is a bridge and buildings. Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

11. Chicago Architecture Center

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111 E Upper Wacker Dr
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 922-8687
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The Chicago Architecture Center has a home at the base of Mies van der Rohe’s 1970 Illinois Center office complex and offers an array of children’s and family programming that explores the built environment. Get ready for an interactive 3D map of Chicago’s cityscape and stories of history and culture that visitors can control.

An event space interior. There are tables and chairs. Photo by Tom Harris/Chicago Architecture Center

12. Garfield Park Conservatory

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300 N Central Park Ave
Chicago, IL 60624
(312) 746-5100
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As one of the largest conservatories in the nation, the Garfield Park Conservatory displays thousands of plant species in a tropical paradise with six greenhouses and two exhibition halls. Kids will love checking out the plant life or attending family-friendly weekly programs that let you dig in the soil and learn about the environment.

The interior of a greenhouse. There are many plants and the ceiling and walls are glass.
The Fern Room of the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

13. Chicago Cultural Center

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78 E Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 744-3316
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This former Chicago Public Library building sits in the Loop neighborhood and boasts top-notch domed architecture that will have adults snapping nonstop photos. But kids will also love the free exhibitions, concerts, and theater performances.

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14. Millennium Park

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Millennium Park
Chicago, IL 60601

Wander through the 25-acre Millennium Park in the Loop and you’ll find a three-story steel sculpture entitled Cloud Gate—though locals affectionally call it “The Bean”—that will wow kids with its reflection of the Chicago skyline.

Illinois’s most popular attraction also boasts the gorgeous 3.5-acre Lurie Garden, the Crown Fountain, rock climbing, ice-skating, and a large playground. There’s also an outdoor concert pavilion designed by Frank Gehry that hosts live music and movies in the summer.

15. Maggie Daley Park

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337 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 552-3000
Visit Website

Located in the Loop, the recently revamped kid-focused Maggie Daley Park features Chicago’s only outdoor climbing park, a path-like “skating ribbon” in the winter, tennis courts, and picnic spots. Don’t miss the 3-acre play garden. You’ll have to drag kids under 12 off of the imaginative equipment, including an enchanted forest, wave lawn, and an array of slides.

A children’s playground. There is a colorful mat on the ground and children playing on various assorted playground equipment.
Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago.
f11photo/Shutterstock

16. Chicago Children's Theatre

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100 S Racine Ave
Chicago, IL 60607
(773) 227-0180
Visit Website

The Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theatre company devoted to children and families. Head here for everything from life-size puppets to new plays written and produced by theater staff.

17. The Art Institute of Chicago

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111 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603
(312) 443-3600
Visit Website

Don’t be intimidated by the world-class art at the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue. This haven for all things cultural is also an oasis for kids, and children under 14 get in for free.

Pick up a family-centric mini-tour or self-guide from the Ryan Learning Center—located on the first level of the Modern Wing—or head to the Vitale Family Room for puzzles, books, and colorful blocks.

18. Willis Tower Skydeck

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Willis Tower Skydeck, 233 S Wacker Dr
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 875-9447
Visit Website

This truly iconic skyscraper, which has also become an immediately identifiable symbol of Chicago, was the world's tallest building for nearly 30 years. Designed by architects Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, the Willis Tower has an observational skydeck and the tour provides a brief history of Chicago and the building’s architecture.

Older kids will like the Ledge, a glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the building to provide a disorienting view of the street below.

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19. Harold Washington Library

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Harold Washington Library, 400 S State St
Chicago, IL 60605

The main branch of the Chicago Public Library, the postmodern Harold Washington building boasts an entire second floor of children’s books, games, hands-on activities, and multimedia tools that are perfect when inclement weather strikes. Head to the ninth floor to see a gorgeous winter garden with stunning glass ceilings.

A brick building with an ornate copper roof that’s turned turquoise.
Harold Washington Library
Shutterstock

20. Shedd Aquarium

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1200 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 939-2438
Visit Website

Parents will love this Beaux-Arts building situated on Lake Michigan, but kids will have a ball exploring one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums. Even young kids will like checking out the eye-popping Amazon river tanks and the colorful coral and fish of the reef exhibits, and don’t miss watching swimming beluga whales, dolphins, and sea otters in the Polar Play Zone.

The interior of an aquarium. There are row boats on display. A child is in one of the row boats. There are displays on the wall with information.
A young child sits in a mock up of a row boat at the Great Lakes exhibit of the Shedd Aquarium.
James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

21. Adler Planetarium

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1300 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-7827
Visit Website

One of the prettiest planetariums in the county, Adler Planetarium has been exposing locals to Chicago’s sky since it opened in 1930. See the moon through an aperture telescope, watch sky shows, or pretend to be space explorers in the hands-on Planet Explorer area.

22. The Field Museum

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1400 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 922-9410
Visit Website

This Grant Park natural history museum offers dinosaurs like Maximo the titanosaur and SUE, the world’s largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex. You can also see a real mummy, experience an array of hands-on activities in the Crown Family Play Lab, and watch a rotating schedule of 3D movies.

23. National Museum of Mexican Art

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1852 W 19th St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 738-1503
Visit Website

Geared toward children 4 to 12, the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood offers a 10,000-piece permanent collection that showcases the richness of Mexican art and culture. Highlights include bilingual camps, art classes, and family-centric gallery tours.

24. DuSable Museum of African American History

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740 E 56th Pl
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 947-0600
Visit Website

Originally designed by visionary architect Daniel H. Burnham as horse stables, the DuSable Museum’s 19th-century limestone and timber structure is now one of the South Side's most prominent cultural institutions.

Older children will appreciate the museum’s well-curated exhibitions of art, poetry, and notable topics like the experience of black people in the armed services.

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25. Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

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5700 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 684-1414
Visit Website

Don’t be overwhelmed by one of the world’s largest science museums, home to 35,000 artifacts and 14 acres of exhibits. Break it down into manageable pieces—it would take days to see everything—and be on the lookout for a live tornado, a huge train exhibit, a recreated coal mine, and an intricate fairy castle.

26. Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

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1809 E 71st St #203
Chicago, IL 60649
(773) 241-6080
Visit Website

Older kids and preteens love the Muntu Dance Theater, a dance company that performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and traditional African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. Head to their calendar to see where they are performing and for more details on show times.

1. Chicago Botanic Garden

1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022

Located in Glencoe, the Chicago Botanic Garden is home to 27 gardens on 385 acres and even boasts a new 26,700-square-foot learning center to boot. Kids will love climbing roly-poly hills in the Nature Play Garden, running on the grassy Esplanade, and marching over the arched bridges of the Japanese Garden.

1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022

2. Kohl Children's Museum

2100 Patriot Blvd, Glenview, IL 60026

This museum might be 30 minutes outside of the Loop, but it’s worth mentioning thanks to the 17 permanent exhibits that will get your child’s imagination firing. Don’t miss the popular pet vet center, the water works station, and a lifelike simulated Whole Foods Market.

2100 Patriot Blvd
Glenview, IL 60026

3. Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

9603 Woods Dr, Skokie, IL 60077

School-aged children who are learning about the Second World War or Jewish history will find in-depth educational resources, an impressive art collection, and memorable exhibits at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Don’t miss the Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition—geared toward 8- to 12-year-olds—where kids use hands-on activities to foster leadership skills, empathy, and self-esteem.

9603 Woods Dr
Skokie, IL 60077

4. Gallagher Way

3635 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60613

A plaza just around the corner from the Wrigley Field marquee has become a place for family fun. This winter season, there will be an ice-skating rink, holiday movies screenings, and wreath-making workshops. Want to take a break and warm up inside? Head to Jeni’s for ice cream right around the corner.

3635 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60613

5. Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

2430 N Cannon Dr, Chicago, IL 60614

This Lincoln Park museum uses hands-on exhibits to explore Illinois ecology and natural history. Check out a butterfly greenhouse, splash in water tables to explore how rivers work, and learn how the museum hatches and raises wetland animals like turtles.

2430 N Cannon Dr
Chicago, IL 60614

6. The 606 Trail

Bloomingdale Trail, Chicago, IL 60642
A circular bike trail on a hill. There are multitudes of people riding bicycles along the trail. The trail is surrounded by a large green grass lawn.
The 606, an abandoned rail line turned public park in Chicago.
Colin Hinkle for The Trust for Public Land

One of the most exciting parks to open in Chicago in recent years, the 606 trail was made possible by converting an abandoned rail line along Bloomingdale Avenue into a new public park space and a popular pedestrian and cycling path. There are also a few art installations to check out along the way.

Bloomingdale Trail
Chicago, IL 60642

7. Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier

800 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

There are plenty of other attractions from Navy Pier included on this list, but we would be remiss if we didn’t include the Ferris Wheel. At 200-feet high, the Centennial Wheel offers 360-degree views and enclosed gondolas, making it a child favorite no matter the season.

800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

8. Chicago Shakespeare Theater

800 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

We know, it might seem like a stretch to include a theater—and Shakespeare, no less—on a kid’s map. But the Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater showcases a ton of kid-friendly performances, including shorter 75-minute abridged productions geared toward families and students. Check their website for the latest shows and schedules. Young adults under the age of 35 can take advantage of special $20 ticket pricing.

800 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

9. Chicago Children's Museum

700 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

This Navy Pier outpost will spark imaginations as kids dig for bones on a dinosaur expedition, tinker with real tools in a DIY maker space, and paint or sketch in an art studio. Best for children aged 10 and under, the Chicago Children’s Museum is a don’t-miss attraction.

700 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

10. Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601
A waterfront with boats. There is a promenade with people. Along the promenade is a bridge and buildings. Courtesy of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events

The Chicago Riverwalk stretches nearly one and a half miles from the western end of the Loop to Lake Michigan. In addition to its food and beverage offerings, the Chicago Riverwalk features playful art installations and fishing piers.

Chicago Riverwalk
Chicago, IL 60601

11. Chicago Architecture Center

111 E Upper Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60601
An event space interior. There are tables and chairs. Photo by Tom Harris/Chicago Architecture Center

The Chicago Architecture Center has a home at the base of Mies van der Rohe’s 1970 Illinois Center office complex and offers an array of children’s and family programming that explores the built environment. Get ready for an interactive 3D map of Chicago’s cityscape and stories of history and culture that visitors can control.

111 E Upper Wacker Dr
Chicago, IL 60601

12. Garfield Park Conservatory

300 N Central Park Ave, Chicago, IL 60624
The interior of a greenhouse. There are many plants and the ceiling and walls are glass.
The Fern Room of the Garfield Park Conservatory.
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

As one of the largest conservatories in the nation, the Garfield Park Conservatory displays thousands of plant species in a tropical paradise with six greenhouses and two exhibition halls. Kids will love checking out the plant life or attending family-friendly weekly programs that let you dig in the soil and learn about the environment.

300 N Central Park Ave
Chicago, IL 60624

13. Chicago Cultural Center

78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602

This former Chicago Public Library building sits in the Loop neighborhood and boasts top-notch domed architecture that will have adults snapping nonstop photos. But kids will also love the free exhibitions, concerts, and theater performances.

78 E Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602

14. Millennium Park

Millennium Park, Chicago, IL 60601

Wander through the 25-acre Millennium Park in the Loop and you’ll find a three-story steel sculpture entitled Cloud Gate—though locals affectionally call it “The Bean”—that will wow kids with its reflection of the Chicago skyline.

Illinois’s most popular attraction also boasts the gorgeous 3.5-acre Lurie Garden, the Crown Fountain, rock climbing, ice-skating, and a large playground. There’s also an outdoor concert pavilion designed by Frank Gehry that hosts live music and movies in the summer.

Millennium Park
Chicago, IL 60601

15. Maggie Daley Park

337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601
A children’s playground. There is a colorful mat on the ground and children playing on various assorted playground equipment.
Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago.
f11photo/Shutterstock

Located in the Loop, the recently revamped kid-focused Maggie Daley Park features Chicago’s only outdoor climbing park, a path-like “skating ribbon” in the winter, tennis courts, and picnic spots. Don’t miss the 3-acre play garden. You’ll have to drag kids under 12 off of the imaginative equipment, including an enchanted forest, wave lawn, and an array of slides.

337 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601

16. Chicago Children's Theatre

100 S Racine Ave, Chicago, IL 60607

The Chicago Children’s Theatre is the city’s largest professional theatre company devoted to children and families. Head here for everything from life-size puppets to new plays written and produced by theater staff.

100 S Racine Ave
Chicago, IL 60607

17. The Art Institute of Chicago

111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Don’t be intimidated by the world-class art at the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue. This haven for all things cultural is also an oasis for kids, and children under 14 get in for free.

Pick up a family-centric mini-tour or self-guide from the Ryan Learning Center—located on the first level of the Modern Wing—or head to the Vitale Family Room for puzzles, books, and colorful blocks.

111 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60603

18. Willis Tower Skydeck

Willis Tower Skydeck, 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago, IL 60606

This truly iconic skyscraper, which has also become an immediately identifiable symbol of Chicago, was the world's tallest building for nearly 30 years. Designed by architects Bruce Graham and Fazlur Khan, the Willis Tower has an observational skydeck and the tour provides a brief history of Chicago and the building’s architecture.

Older kids will like the Ledge, a glass box that extends 4.3 feet out from the building to provide a disorienting view of the street below.

Willis Tower Skydeck, 233 S Wacker Dr
Chicago, IL 60606

19. Harold Washington Library

Harold Washington Library, 400 S State St, Chicago, IL 60605
A brick building with an ornate copper roof that’s turned turquoise.
Harold Washington Library
Shutterstock

The main branch of the Chicago Public Library, the postmodern Harold Washington building boasts an entire second floor of children’s books, games, hands-on activities, and multimedia tools that are perfect when inclement weather strikes. Head to the ninth floor to see a gorgeous winter garden with stunning glass ceilings.

Harold Washington Library, 400 S State St
Chicago, IL 60605

20. Shedd Aquarium

1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605
The interior of an aquarium. There are row boats on display. A child is in one of the row boats. There are displays on the wall with information.
A young child sits in a mock up of a row boat at the Great Lakes exhibit of the Shedd Aquarium.
James Kirkikis/Shutterstock

Parents will love this Beaux-Arts building situated on Lake Michigan, but kids will have a ball exploring one of the world’s largest indoor aquariums. Even young kids will like checking out the eye-popping Amazon river tanks and the colorful coral and fish of the reef exhibits, and don’t miss watching swimming beluga whales, dolphins, and sea otters in the Polar Play Zone.

1200 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605

21. Adler Planetarium

1300 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

One of the prettiest planetariums in the county, Adler Planetarium has been exposing locals to Chicago’s sky since it opened in 1930. See the moon through an aperture telescope, watch sky shows, or pretend to be space explorers in the hands-on Planet Explorer area.

1300 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605

22. The Field Museum

1400 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605

This Grant Park natural history museum offers dinosaurs like Maximo the titanosaur and SUE, the world’s largest, best-preserved, and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex. You can also see a real mummy, experience an array of hands-on activities in the Crown Family Play Lab, and watch a rotating schedule of 3D movies.

1400 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60605

23. National Museum of Mexican Art

1852 W 19th St, Chicago, IL 60608

Geared toward children 4 to 12, the National Museum of Mexican Art in the Pilsen neighborhood offers a 10,000-piece permanent collection that showcases the richness of Mexican art and culture. Highlights include bilingual camps, art classes, and family-centric gallery tours.

1852 W 19th St
Chicago, IL 60608

24. DuSable Museum of African American History

740 E 56th Pl, Chicago, IL 60637

Originally designed by visionary architect Daniel H. Burnham as horse stables, the DuSable Museum’s 19th-century limestone and timber structure is now one of the South Side's most prominent cultural institutions.

Older children will appreciate the museum’s well-curated exhibitions of art, poetry, and notable topics like the experience of black people in the armed services.

740 E 56th Pl
Chicago, IL 60637

25. Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago

5700 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60637

Don’t be overwhelmed by one of the world’s largest science museums, home to 35,000 artifacts and 14 acres of exhibits. Break it down into manageable pieces—it would take days to see everything—and be on the lookout for a live tornado, a huge train exhibit, a recreated coal mine, and an intricate fairy castle.

5700 S Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60637

26. Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

1809 E 71st St #203, Chicago, IL 60649

Older kids and preteens love the Muntu Dance Theater, a dance company that performs authentic and progressive interpretations of contemporary and traditional African and African-American dance, music, and folklore. Head to their calendar to see where they are performing and for more details on show times.

1809 E 71st St #203
Chicago, IL 60649