Ten things to do with a child in Chicago
Chicago is a great place for children. Open spaces, museums, skyscrapers, and lots of free things to do and see. It's perfect to walk around although Chicago has outlying areas that are dangerous, the city itself is very safe. So after spending a couple of weeks out and about with a 7-year old, I thought I'd list the top 10 things to do if you ever get the chance to spend time with a child in the windy city. These are in no particular order.
1. Six Flags Great America
About a 60 minute drive from downtown Chicago. Six Flags is the only major theme park in the midwest and can get very busy. Pick a midweek summer's day. It's not cheap particularly if you are taking the whole family but there are plenty of rides, both for the white knucklers and the not so brave. The water park is excellent too and is very kid friendly. Entrance $40 for adults, $35 for children and free for the under 3's.
2. Jelly Belly Bean factory tour
Just a short drive north of Six Flags across the state border in Wisconsin. A modern factory opens it doors to an old company who hit the jackpot when they started mass-producing jelly beans. Take a train tour around the factory, get some freebies and then spend like crazy in the factory store. Entrance free.
3. Ed Debevic's
I love this place. Happy Days returns in this diner. The staff dress up, dance on the bar and are as rude as hell. Don't be offended it is all part of the experience. Friends' David Schwimmer used to be a waiter in here and most of the staff are fledgling actors. Open all day. Average cost less than $10 for a burger.
4. Navy Pier
3,300 feet long, originally consructed in 1916 and used by the US Navy during WWII. With its trademark Ferris Wheel and other rides plus theatre, children's museum, IMAX cinema, crazy golf and a host of lake viewing options to do by boat. Plenty of places to eat and drink too with live music most summer evenings. Entrance free.
5. Millennium Park
Built for the new millennium but not finished until 2004 hideously over-budget but my was it worth it. Described as one of the best open public spaces in the world, the park is definitely worth a wander to witness amazing post modern architecture that kids will appreciate too. It has a great cafe that doubles as an ice-rink in the winter. Entrance free.
6. Shedd Aquarium
The 2nd biggest indoor aquarium in the world and home to 2,100 species including beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. This beautiful building has been here since 1912 and is home to a Wild Reef exhibit which recreates a Philippine coral reef and a 2 million gallon Oceanarium, which is backed by a wall of windows that look out onto Lake Michigan. Entrance $25 for adults and $18 for kids.
7. A live American sports game
Whatever the season a visit to a baseball game, basketball match, a gridiron game (if you can get hold of a ticket) or even a MLS 'soccer' match is a must. I hate the whole Americanisation of sport but you got to give it to them, they do do it well. The great American pastime of Baseball or basketball (pro or college) in particular is a great thing to take kids to, even if the game and result are somewhat secondary to the razzamatazz. Tickets cost anything between $25 to $100 depending on seat and game.
8. Tall buildings
Chicago is home to some of the tallest buildings in the world, the tallest until Taiwan and Dubai got involved! You can visit the tops of both the Sears Tower
and the John Hancock Building
. Both have observation towers and the Sears has a mini museum too, although I prefer the Hancock, where you can have a decent bite to eat and a drink and see for over 80 miles and across 4 states. Breathtaking. Entrance is $12.95 for adults and $9.50 for kids at the Sears Tower Skydeck. The Hancock Observatory is $10 for adults and $6.50 for kids but the restaurant and bar are reasonable.
9. Lincoln Park Zoo
One of the only free zoo's in the country, situtated in the beautiful Lincoln Park, a few blocks from the lake. See gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers, zebras and my favourites the polar bears. Plenty to eat and drink plus paddle boat rides, a carousel and a childrens train. Entrance free.
10. The Beach
Kids love the beach and Chicago’s very own ocean Lake Michigan, 118 miles in width has 28 miles of man-made beaches on the Illinois side, including a couple downtown. The lake is very swimmable and boasts the cleanest urban waterfront in the country. A preservation order means that no one can ever build close to the lake so the whole lakeside is open to the public. Paddle, swim, play volleyball or sit in the sun. Be careful though as it kind of goes in hiding in the winter, when the whole beach front and lake is covered by thick ice. Entrance is free including the beaches downtown but some on the north shore are private.