Summer outing anyone? Here are some great spots in Chicago and western suburbs, many of them free, to go explore and have fun with your children this summer. And check out the life recipe for making your summer outing a success.
“Experience is the teacher of all things.” – Julius Caesar
Little Red School House. A cross between nature and history at this little red schoolhouse in beautiful Palos Hills. Wooded, hilly hiking with wildlife galore including frogs, snakes, birds, turtles and more. Small natural history museum with live animals and interactive play for children. Free.
Cosley Zoo. Up-close interactions with farm animals and Illinois wildlife. Great place to explore and children can feed the ducks, which is a nice highlight. Children under seven are free and adults are $5. So it’s an affordable fun place to go.
Morton Arboretum. So much to see and explore and learn on this 1,700 acre nature park. Hiking paths, biking, special exhibits, lake, and an amazing interactive children garden is amazing will keep children engaged for visit upon visit. Check their calendar for their many special events like Music on Thursday evenings in summer and Adult wine night on Wednesdays. On the pricer side but Wednesdays are half-priced admission for Illinois residents.
TrailSide Museum River Forest. Explore native animals, natural wildflowers, paved hiking trail aside DesPlaines River, small museum in a Victorian Mansion. Kid-friendly with interactive exhibits inside and outside. They offer many guided walks with different themes as well as some evening events too. Closed Fridays. Free.
Grau Mill and Museum. Check out an operating water mill and museum with live milling, spinning, and weaving presentations in the small museum. Beautiful grounds to explore with nice walking path. Great place to explore and have a picnic lunch. Free.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. So much nature and science to explore here, especially for little ones. They will love the interactive exhibits and beauty of the building itself. Wonderful walking paths outside the museum can take you around Lincoln Park. Rotating exhibits give variety. A walk through the butterfly sanctuary is such a treat. Plan to visit on Wednesday is Illinois resident suggested donation day. Free street parking available on Cannon drive.
Brookfield Zoo. So many animals and exhibits. Might be worth a membership if you plan to go more than twice. Well worth it with their year-round activities including their winter lights display, boo at the zoo for Halloween, and indoor Hamill Family Play zoo that is perfect for year-round play and exploration. Summer nights are fun with live music on Saturdays. You can pack picnic dinner and enjoy the zoo at night with a lot of entertainment amidst the animals.
Garfield Park Conservatory. You and your children will love to explore all the beautiful different themed rooms in this stunning, bright place. Monday mornings are special time for kids 3-5 with digging stations, story time, crafts and more. Its nice in summer when you want to cool off from the outside heat or take some time to explore their outside grounds and picnic. Donations requested.
Pirate’s Cove. A nice tot-sized theme park with rides and slides and bouncy house and more. Very clean and well-maintained park that is perfect for under seven. They will love all the pirate-themed adventures. Performances on the stage and pretty affordable admission.
Lincoln Park Zoo. Free family zoo. The farm is a nice interactive area for kids to explore. Beautiful grounds make walking around enjoyable. Nestled within Lincoln Park where there is a lot of area to have a picnic and let kids enjoy some playgrounds. Some street parking . Free.
31st Street Chicago Beach. Sand and water – two things that make every kid happy. There are many beaches, Foster, Montrose, Oak Street, North Avenue. This one on the South Shore is nice because it’s not as busy as some of the North Side beaches. Bike path, kids play area, showers, and parking is affordable at $2/hr from 9 am – 9 pm or you park a couple of blocks away at 31st/Cottage Grove for free and walk over.
Music in Scoville Park. Sunday nights from 5:30-7 in Oak Park are lively and fun at music in the park. You’re kids will love running around dancing and eating outside. You’ll love to sit back, enjoy some food wine and music while watching your kids do what they do best – play and sing and kick back and have fun. Timing is perfect for families and its free.
Music at Millennium Park. Monday and Thursday nights are free live music at Jay Pritzker pavilion at millennium park. Take the train down, pack a picnic dinner and some wine and enjoy music and fresh air. Check out the cloud gate (bean), interactive water fountain, and even Maggie Daley park if you have enough time. Your kids will love it.
Navy Pier Children’s Museum. A must see on a hot summer day when you need to be indoor. A very interactive museum that will keep your kids engaged and interested. Couple it with a walk around Navy Pier and even a ride on the new Ferris Wheel that opened Summer 2016. They recently remodeled the inside of Navy Pier with many new eateries. Not your budget-friendly adventure, but would be a nice summer treat. Do it on a Friday and catch the fireworks too.
Parks, parks and more parks. My children love any park, especially a new one that they haven’t explored yet. Go to a neighboring town and go to one of their parks. For the hot days, here is a list of some of the best splash pads. Check it out, pack a picnic, make a morning of it.
Chicago museums. Of course there are the Chicago museums as well that are well worth a visit. Shedd aquarium, Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Planetarium, Art institute to name a few. Many of them have interactive Children’s areas. Check out their website for their “free days” this summer.
Life Recipe for your summer outing – Be prepared, be positive, be safe, and have fun
- Picnic Lunch
- Plan so you can get out early
- Enthusiasm, energy, excitement (Don’t worry, the kids will bring that. You just worry about the top things.)
This list is a start, but make your own bucket list for all the places you want to check out. Make the list with your kids. This makes it easy to select something when you have an open day. Check for opening times in advance. It’s always nice to get there when they open when the kids are fresh and crowds are less. Pack your lunch and some snacks. That way you can stop and eat whenever the kids are ready for it so they don’t get to that irritable “hangry” stage. My kids love picnicking. There is something fun for them to eat outside amidst whatever place they are exploring.
Be prepared and be positive! If a trip on your own seems daunting. The best tips are to be prepared and be positive. Having food and water and knowing where you’ll be parking helps. That is the prepared part. But unexpected things will happen, that is where being positive helps. Just be open and flexible. The sites alone are going to make it fun and exciting for the kids. Just go with the flow and see where they lead you as they explore. The more you do it the easier it becomes.
Be safe! Have a conversation on the way there about it being a big, public place and that they need to stay with you. I tell mine to ask if they want to go to a different area and we’ll all go together. They can’t go somewhere on their own. Always make sure they see me wherever they are so I can also see them.
Have fun! Kids make every adventure fun with their excitement, enthusiasm, and positive energy. If they are in a funk, just go. It will shift once they are somewhere new.
Any places I missed? Would love to hear about more places to go so I can add it to our family bucket list.