Windy Wonderland: Five Kid-Friendly Outings in Chicago
From the famous Ferris Wheel that distinguishes Chicago’s skyline to the largest and most complete T. rex ever discovered, it's easy to entertain children in the premier metropolis of the Midwest. While some admission fees in the Windy City can be pricey, combine expensive outings with more affordable options—in some cases, free—to make a family vacation that won't break the bank.
Ride, Learn and Play at Navy Pier
Navy Pier (600 East Grand Ave., Chicago, IL) is home to one of Chicago's most beloved landmarks: the Centennial Wheel, a Ferris wheel that operates year-round and offers stunning views of the city and Lake Michigan. Adults pay $15 per ride, while children pay $12. From November through March, Illinois residents get a discounted rate of $12 per adult and $10 per child. Children ages 2 and under always ride free.
There are also seasonal rides at the pier, including a carousel. Conveniently, Navy Pier is also home to the Chicago Children's Museum (700 East Grand Ave., Chicago, IL), where kids can pretend they are camping in an enchanted forest, work their muscles by climbing three stories of ship rigging, dig for dinosaur bones and more. Admission is $14 for children and adults.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side at the Lincoln Park Zoo
With its free admission policy, Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo (2001 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL) is not only family-friendly, but also budget-friendly. Walk in any day of the year, including holidays, to marvel at penguins, polar bears, lions, giraffes, macaques and other fascinating species from around the world. Stop by the McCormick Bird House, where birds from various tropical regions of the planet swoop around you in the Free Flight Area. Little ones can also enjoy going for a spin on the Endangered Species carousel and riding the zoo's model Lionel Train, which cost $3 a piece per ride.
Dive in Deep at the Shedd Aquarium
If the kids haven't gotten their wildlife fix after admiring the land animals at the zoo, head to the Shedd Aquarium (200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL). In the Polar Play Zone, kids can don penguin suits and impersonate these adorable birds. With real penguins on hand, inspiration is readily available. More charming creatures dwell in the Abott Oceanarium, a Pacific Northwest ecosystem home to sea lions, dolphins and beluga whales. Some of the aquarium's other residents—sharks, octopuses and piranhas—may not be as congenial, but seeing them is no less thrilling. The price of admission for the Shedd Aquarium can seem steep—adults pay $31 while children between the ages of 3 and 11 pay $22—however with so much to see, you can easily spend the better part of a day here.
Strike a Pose with Sue at the Field Museum
When you walk into Chicago's Field Museum (1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL), the first thing that catches your eye—and the imaginations of the children with you—is Sue, the largest and most complete tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever discovered. Once you've snapped enough photos of the kids posing with her for Instagram, head to the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit for a glimpse at real mummies. Other highlights include real meteorites and an authentic Maori structure from New Zealand. Basic Admission tickets are $22 dollars for adults and $15 for children between the ages of 3 and 11. The All-Access Pass, which costs $36 for adults and $25 for children, includes all of the museum's ticketed exhibits as well as a 3D movie.
Nurture Curiosity at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
The Judy Istock Butterfly Haven might be reason alone to visit the Petty Notebaert Nature Museum (2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago IL); the 2,700-square-foot greenhouse is home to more than 1,000 free-flying butterflies. Other child-friendly offerings here include the Hands-on Habitat exhibit, where young patrons can crawl along a rope spider web and find their way around an underground cave as they learn about various places that animals call home. One of the more affordable options in Chicago, admission to the Notebaert is $9 for adults and $6 for children between the ages of 3 and 6. Children under 3 get in free.
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Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.