The last few months have been a whirlwind of travel, family, travel and finally…summer in South Florida, which isn’t totally unlike summers in other parts of the country, but the sun really does feel that much closer.
After one and a half years spent in Florida, we finally made it back to Chicago and our suburban hometown to visit family and friends. It was a great feeling to be back. The Cubs were winning! Listening to the game on 720 was the best and the weather wasn’t…terrible.
Over two days we took the kids to some of the best museums ever–The Museum of Science and Industry and The Art Institute of Chicago. We also made it to Navy Pier (construction!) to get on the Ferris Wheel. Maggie Daley Park is a must visit for kids and kids-at-heart. Seriously. The kids loved the museums, but the park was their favorite spot in the city. We went back and risked getting towed off Congress because they wanted to play there again! (I do NOT recommend taking that chance).
So…what are my tips for Chicago?
1. Take in a Ballgame. Or Not.
When we decided to head to Chicago, the first thing my husband did was to see if the Cubs were in town. Our hearts beat Cubbie blue, but knowing the temperament of our kids and the relatively short visit, conditions weren’t ideal for this. The 3 year old in our family would become very ornery. The nearly 6 year old may have as well. Too many wildcards in this bunch! Cubs tickets aren’t inexpensive so this was placed on a bucket list for later when it can be enjoyed by all. Instead- buy some popcorn and head to Maggie Daley Park and Millennium Park. Even if you’ve already been- go again. Your kid will appreciate it much more!
2. Go to the top. Or Not.
This is another thing that falls into the “do it now or wait for later” category. The Top of the Sears (I know, Willis. Blah.) and the Top of the John Hancock are feats of engineering and architectural design for sure, offer some stunning views and bits of history. If, like us, a majority of your kids are in the under 8 category, I’d say to save this one for later. It’s pretty costly and the amount of time your kid will likely be entertained (if they aren’t terrified!) is nominal at best. You’re better off paying for entrance to The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum where the kids can run free and play. Also, right nearby is Lincoln Park Zoo– a fabulous free zoo, is at worst, a short cab ride away.
3. Take them to The Art Institute.
I am advising NOT to take the kids to a baseball game and tall skyscraper, but instead to take them to The Art Institute? Yes, yes I am. First, before you actually GO to the museum, read children’s books that talk about the art or artists they might see represented. Try Bridget’s Beret or Katie’s Sunday Afternoon. Our kids love art (because I do) but they also like things like knights, ancient Japan and ancient China. Here’s the thing about this museum: kids are free. Adults, however, have a heftier price tag. The reason this is a smart choice is because kids tend to have a rather short attention span. The beautiful thing is that there is something new to see constantly here–which satisfies their need to be visually entertained and moving from one gallery to another satisfies their need for movement. Also, the size of most of the paintings can’t be represented in books- our kids were stunned to see just how large Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte is. While “hushed tones” are preferred, it isn’t a library or a hospital, so I always let the kids be kids, respectfully: no running, jumping, or yelling. But we like to be a little silly. Hint: this is a perfect afternoon after playing at Maggie Daley Park. Here, it’s all about the highlights: keep your family moving to see Seurat, Monet, Van Gogh, Pollack, Warhol, Degas (our ballerina loved this!), and then, move them through to the armor and the Miniature room. You will likely have a lot of fun conversations about what you see with them!
It’s hard not to eat with all of the amazing choices in and around Chicago. We like to choose restaurants like this: if there is one in or near where we currently live, we tend to skip it. If it is a restaurant that there is only one of? That’s where you’ll find us. We’re also partial to iconic places, like Gino’s East (even if they have multiple locations…) We adored our visit to Little Goat Diner. We visited at a non-peak time (4:30-ish for dinner) and the kids loved the food and the staff was super laid back at their need to check everything out.
5. Hang at the Lakefront
Skip the spendy MagMile and wander around the lakefront. For families with littles, be sure to have a great stroller and walking shoes. An early wake-up call to catch a sunrise at North Avenue beach is well worth the effort. Play chess in the chess pavilion or rent bikes at one of many of the city’s rental facilities to take in the whole skyline and burn off the deep dish from the night before. I recommend you go visit Navy Pier, but only to ride the Ferris Wheel, a tribute to the original design by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr, designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.
Summer is winding down as is the big travel season. If you haven’t made it to Chicago yet, or haven’t been in awhile, it’s time to plan a trip! Long weekends are perfect for a stay in the city. Fall there can be quite lovely– especially with fewer tourists.