Visiting Chicago in the summer means that you get to take advantage of some of the wonderful outdoor spaces in the city. On a nice day, no one wants to be stuck inside, breathing conditioned air — especially kids! They want to be outside, going on adventures, and soaking up some sun!
There is a lot to do outdoors in Chicago. Some options are free and open to the public, some require reservations and tickets. Before you hit the city, take some time to research the attractions you’d like to visit. That way, you can plan ahead, purchase tickets, and make the most of your time.
To help you get started, we’ve put together a list of some of the most popular outdoor attractions to choose from. Here are seven great options to incorporate if you want to plan the perfect day for you and your young children:
- See Thousands of Animals at the Brookfield Zoo
The Brookfield Zoo holds thousands of animals from all over the world for you and your little ones to see. These animals represent over 400 species and the entire zoo is 216 acres. Not only will you see exotic animals but you’ll get plenty of exercise and fresh air.
While you’re there, make sure to take advantage of some of the specialty shows. In these exhibits, you can interact with and feed animals, see “Dolphins in Action,” and stand inside the butterfly exhibit. These hands-on experiences may sometimes cost an extra fee, but they are definitely worth the price for the chance to get close enough to these beautiful animals and insects.
- Take a Kayak or Boat Tour on the Chicago River
Going on a kayak tour on the Chicago River gives you a view like no other. Choose from architecture tours, sunset paddles, midnight paddles, and even firework paddles. If your child is not old enough to kayak on their own, some tour companies like Waterriders offer tandem kayaks. With Waterriders, kids under the age of 16 must ride with an adult and they receive a lowered rate.
If the idea of putting your child in a kayak makes you nervous, you could also choose a boat tour. You get the same excellent view, but you sit safely on a boat driven by a professional.
- Splash around in Millennium Park
Millennium Park is the perfect place to picnic, relax, and cool off. The art installations in the park are very interactive and fun for people of all ages. The Cloud Gate (or “Bean”) is located in the park and is a popular attraction for tourists.
Another great part of the park is the Crown Fountain. You can recognize this fountain by the two large pillars that display faces to look like the water is coming from their mouths. The area is open for playing in, so young kids can cool off and splash around in the shallow water.
- Play at Maggie Daley Park
Maggie Daley Park is the perfect place to spend the day enjoying some fresh air. There is no shortage of things to do. Main attractions include an ice skating ribbon in the winter, a rock climbing wall, mini golf, a play garden, and more.
The Play Garden is a large structure with towers, bridges, and slides. It’s for children ages 5 to 12, and there is plenty of room surrounding the structure for parents to supervise. Once your kids start playing, you may have a hard time getting them to leave.
- Ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier
When people visit Chicago, one main attraction they see is the Navy Pier. The pier is over 3,000 feet long and includes shops, restaurants, and attractions. It opens after Memorial Day in May and closes after Labor Day in September, so plan your trip accordingly.
While you are there, make sure to ride the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel was actually invented in Chicago, so you get to enjoy a piece of history while taking in a stunning view of the city. Ride it during the day so you can more clearly see the view, or wait to ride it at night when it lights up and you can see the city lights glittering off of Lake Michigan.
- Take in a Game at Wrigley Field
If you’re a passionate Cubs fan and you want to pass a love of baseball to your kids, there’s no better way to do it than by taking them to a game. Seeing the game in-person is a totally different experience than watching it on TV. Even if your kids can’t normally sit through a game, they will love visiting the ballpark.
Plan ahead and check the Cubs schedule for Kids Sundays. On Kids Sundays, the first thousand kids (13 and under) to enter the park get to run the bases after the game. That’s an experience they won’t forget.
- Mini Golf at Diversey Driving Range
Mini golfing is always a fun activity with children of all ages. Get competitive, or just play for fun. No matter what, you’ll be enjoying the sunshine and green spaces in the city. This is great for an extended family outing. Older kids and adults can play in the driving range while younger kids and a couple of guardians can play mini golf.
Rates at the driving range are very affordable. Adult mini golf is only $10, while kids (under 17) and seniors (over 62) are $8. A bucket of balls for driving costs $10 for a small and $16 for a large.
Choose one or several of these outdoor spaces to visit on your next trip to Chicago with young children. Whether you’re traveling on a budget or you’re comfortable spending some cash, you can have a day to remember. So get out there and enjoy the beautiful attractions that the city has to offer.
Sandra Chiu works as Director at LadyBug & Friends Daycare and Preschool, with facilities serving families at multiple locations in the Chicagoland area.