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Things to Do With Your Toddler In Chicago
Chicago is known for its excellent live theatre, amazing cuisine and cultural activities, but it’s also a wonderland for families with young kids. The city offers up a wide range of activities perfect for the active, curious toddler set. Not sure what to do with a toddler in Chicago? Keep reading for an assortment of ideas for toddler activities in Chicago.
Tons of tanks full of colorful fish make the Shedd Aquarium an appealing choice for tots. When you arrive, skip the huge staircase leading to the main entrance in favor of the accessible entrance with no stairs, especially if you have a stroller. Arrive early before the crowds grow. Your toddler can run around to explore without running into lots of other guests, and you’ll have an easier time navigating the aquarium with a stroller.
Let your toddler take the lead when it comes to the exhibits you see. The Polar Play Zone is a fun place for your toddler to run and play while pretending to be a penguin, playing in the child-sized submarine or touching sea stars.
Location: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
General admission cost: $39.95 for adults, $29.95 for children ages 3 to 11
Imagine exploring a park full of lions, monkeys, otters and bears. That’s exactly what you get at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. The park-like setting makes Lincoln Park Zoo a great place for your toddler to play, explore and burn off energy. Plus, it’s free.
Don’t miss the Farm-in-the-Zoo. The interactive displays keep your toddler engaged and learning. The zoo also offers special programs for toddlers with educational and fun activities. While you’re there, take a ride on the trackless Lionel Train Adventure or the carousel. Pack a picnic to enjoy during your trip to the zoo.
Location: 2001 North Clark Street, Chicago
Cost: Free — parking is additional
It’s not right in the city, but the Brookfield Zoo is another amazing facility perfect for toddlers. Located in Brookfield, the zoo features a wide range of animals, including bears, rhinos, big cats, wombats and wolves. You can even see bottlenose dolphins at the Seven Seas Dolphinarium. The Hamill Family Play Zoo features interactive displays and play opportunities. The carousel and motor safari are two other fun activities at the zoo.
Location: 8400 31st Street, Brookfield
General admission cost: $19.95 for adults, $14.50 for children ages 3 to 11 for general admission — additional experiences cost extra
It may be a tourist attraction, but even toddlers who have a Chicago address find lots to see and do at Navy Pier. Wander around the pier to see the various boats and colorful sculptures. Just keep a close eye on your adventurous tot near the edge of the pier. Many boat rides depart from Navy Pier if your toddler can handle being on a boat for an extended period without getting antsy. Another option is to ride the carousel, Ferris wheel and other rides on the Navy Pier.
Location: 600 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago
Cost: Free to walk around — extra for any experiences
If the boats, artwork and rides aren’t enough to entertain your toddler, Navy Pier houses a museum designed with young kinds in mind. The Chicago Children’s Museum features interactive exhibits where kids can play, climb and burn off energy without worrying about breaking anything.
All of the exhibits are safe and engaging for even the youngest visitors, but many areas are designed especially for babies and toddlers. Head to the Treehouse Trails area, and imagine you’re on a camping adventure with your tot. Kids Town is another popular spot for the toddler crowd. Young kids can explore lots of city highlights, including a car wash, city bus and grocery store.
Location: 700 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago
Cost: $14 per person
You won’t make it through the entire museum with your tot, but the Field Museum offers some great options to keep little ones entertained. Plan your trip through the museum strategically to hit the toddler-friendly areas. Kids of all ages love looking at Sue the T. rex. The Crown Family Play Lab is a special part of the museum designed for kids ages 2 to 6. It has lots of interactive displays and activities for young kids. This area gets crowded, so head there early. If your tot doesn’t mind bugs, Underground Adventure is an option. Giant bugs make you feel as if you shrunk down to their size.
Location: 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Cost: Starts at $22 for adults, $15 for children 3 to 11 with options to add ticketed exhibits and 3D movies
Chicago boasts many amazing parks throughout the city, so you’re likely close to one no matter where you live. However, Maggie Daley Park is worth the trip even if it’s a long trek. This massive park features several different play areas unlike any you’ve seen before. Certain areas are designed especially for young kids.
The Watering Hole features animal figures that young kids can play on and around at any time of year. During the summer months, the area keeps your tot cool with integrated sprayer features. The Harbor is another area targeted at children ages two to five, although younger toddlers can still have fun here. You enter the area on a boardwalk, and the marina theme continues throughout, including three boats where kids can climb and play. The Enchanted Forest is suitable for children of all ages and features upside-down trees forming archways in an area that integrates imaginative play and nature.
Location: 337 E. Randolph Street, Chicago
Who says Chicago’s theatre scene is only for adults? The Chicago Children’s Theatre keeps even the youngest audience members entertained. Take in an all-ages show at the theatre for a fun one-time experience. If you want to expose your tot to the arts on a regular basis, register for one of the many classes offered at the theatre. Some of the classes are designed for children ages 0 to 3.
Location: 100 S. Racine Ave, Chicago
Cost: Varying cost depending on performance or program
Millennium Park is another one of those tourist attractions that can be just as exciting for Chicago natives. The large green space gives your little one plenty of space to explore and burn off energy. Your toddler will enjoy looking at themselves in the Bean sculpture, and you’ll get plenty of great snapshots. The Crown Fountain is another fun option to engage your toddler. A tall block tower shows faces with the water spraying out of the mouths of the images. Wander around the Lurie Garden for natural fun.
Location: 201 E. Randolph St, Chicago
While many exhibits are beyond what toddlers find interesting, the Museum of Science and Industry offers plenty of exhibits perfect for all ages. Let your child take the lead as you explore the museum and plan for a shorter trip than you might take with older kids.
All Aboard the Silver Streak: Pioneer Zephyr gives your little one a chance to explore a train. The Great Train Story is another hit with young train enthusiasts. It’s a massive model train exhibit. The Idea Factory lets kids explore scientific ideas like playing with water, stacking and spinning. Head to the Transportation Gallery where your child can see lots of different vehicles. Let your toddler track the ball movement through the Swiss Jolly Ball.
The museum also hosts Mini-Member Strolls on select dates. These events are designed for parents and caregivers of young kids in strollers. It’s a time to socialize with other parents while seeing the exhibits at the museum.
Location: 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Cost: $18 for adults, $11 for kids 3 to 11 — some ticketed exhibits cost more
Bring your toddler to Bubbles Academy for enriching, indoor entertainment. The activity center offers up classes for children ages 0 to 5 with an interactive curriculum that integrates the arts and play. Class options include music, movement, art, dance, drama and yoga. Watch your child grow while making memories and meeting other Chicago parents.
Location: 2184 N. Elston, Chicago
When you need a little caffeine while your toddler burns off steam, head to Little Beans Café. It’s part coffee shop, part children’s wonderland full of fun play areas for little kids. It includes a child-sized town with several small shops where kids can play. There’s also an outdoor play area for those beautiful Chicago days. Choose from the Chicago or Evanston location depending on where you live. Evanston has expanded options, including an obstacle course for older kids, a gym, a library and a craft room.
Location: 1809 W. Webster, Chicago and 430 Asbury Ave, Evanston
Cost: $14 for a daily pass with membership and discount options
During the summer months, a trip to the beach is the perfect way to entertain your toddler. Your little one can frolic in the waves, dig in the sand and have a fun sensory experience. Lake Michigan features several beaches along its shores. Some are more family-friendly than others, with shade, playgrounds and convenient restrooms with showers.
Try one of these family-friendly beaches:
- Foster Avenue Beach: Head to Foster Avenue Beach for easy access with a stroller via a ramp. The beach also has outdoor showers, so you can clean up before heading home. Snacks available for purchase keep little ones happy during the trip.
- Glencoe Beach: A shaded area and umbrellas for rent make Glencoe Beach a good option for toddlers. The beach also has a water play area, and Lakefront Park is nearby when you need a break from the beach. The beach house offers showers and restrooms in addition to stalls for changing clothes.
- 31st Street Beach: This beach includes a playground and spray feature in case your toddler gets tired of playing in the water. It also has an eco-friendly harbor and stroller beach mats for easy stroller navigation
- Montrose Beach: Rent a cabana, umbrella, chair or beach bed while you’re at Montrose Beach. It has a designated canine area in case you have a toddler and a dog. Montrose Beach has plenty of food options, and it has a bird sanctuary nearby if you need something else to do with your toddler.
- Ohio Street Beach: Shallow water for quite some distance makes this beach a good option for toddlers who like to splash in the waves. Jane Addams Park and Milton Lee Olive Park are nearby for additional toddler fun.
Location: Various along Lake Michigan
Cost: Varies — many are free, but parking is extra
Head to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for a fun, educational, interactive experience with your toddler. The museum offers several different displays suitable for young visitors. The Hands-On Habitat is designed specifically for youngsters. It includes a rope spider web, beaver lodge, underground cave and other fun places for your toddler to explore. RiverWorks is a water play area where children can build dams and explore water in other ways. Outdoors you can wander with your tot along the nature trails and Micole Birdwalk, which runs along a pond.
Location: 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
Cost: $9 for adults, $7 for students, $6 for kids 3 to 12 and free for children under 3
The Chicago weather can often force you to stay indoors. On those days, you’ll need ideas for indoor things to do in Chicago with toddlers. The Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg is one such idea. Even if your tot is too young to play with Legos, they’ll appreciate the bright colors and 12 fun attractions here. The location features two rides to keep kids entertained plus a fun 4D movie and themed play areas. Head to the Duplo play area for toddler-friendly fun.
Location: 601 N. Martingale Road, Suite 130, Schaumburg
Cost: $19 for walk-up admission
Tips for Chicago Fun With Toddlers
Whether you live in the city or are just visiting, you’ll find a wide range of toddler-friendly activities in Chicago. These tips make these activities even more enjoyable and affordable:
- Buy tickets online: Many of the Chicago-area museums offer a discount when you purchase tickets ahead of time online. You also skip the lines, which can get quite long, keeping your toddler happier.
- Buy a membership: If you live in Chicago, consider buying memberships to your favorite toddler spots. You’ll save money in the long run. Plus, you won’t feel like you wasted your money if you only go for an hour or two. We all know how quickly toddlers can lose interest or pitch a sudden temper tantrum!
- Follow your toddler’s schedule: Toddlers often have very specific routines. Plan your outings around your toddler’s schedule, particularly nap and meal times. This can help you avoid a toddler meltdown in public!
- Arrive early: Chicago attractions are often busy, especially during summer when many tourists descend upon the city. Arriving early to beat the crowds can make it easier to navigate popular spots.
- Pack necessities: You don’t want to haul a huge bag around the city, but having the essentials can keep the trip more enjoyable for everyone. Pack wipes, hand sanitizer, snacks, water, diapers and any other essentials. A small first aid kit — or at least bandages — is also a good idea in case your wobbly toddler takes a spill while you’re exploring.
With so many things to do with toddlers in Chicago, IL, you’ll never run out of ideas. Having a list handy for your au pair is the perfect way to ensure your toddler has fun even when you have other responsibilities. Contact EurAupair today for more information on finding the perfect au pair for your family.