Chicago has many free or cheap activities for the whole family. There are a wide variety of festivals, street fairs, music venues, parks, museums, and activities, if you know how to find them.
Great websites to search are: ChicagoKids.com, ChooseChicago.com, Timeout.com No time in your busy schedule to plan a staycation? Here is a short list of two days of fun!
Day 1: A Day in Lincoln Park
Expert Tip: Go on Thursday when the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum is free and see the butterflies.
Take a walk on the wild side at Lincoln Park Zoo (always free). One of the oldest zoos in the country, this small zoo has over 1400 animals. My favorite is the Big Cat House. Parking can be pricey if you can’t find street parking, so public transport may be the way to go. The CTA buses #151, #156, #22, and #36 all go right by the Zoo. The CTA Brown and Purple train stop on Armitage is only a quick mile west of the zoo. For lunch grab a bite at the zoo’s cafe or head to RJ Grunts (2056 N Lincoln Park) for some kid friendly fare. After lunch stroll on into the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (free on Thursdays) and check out their awesome butterfly house. The Museum is a fun and educational way to spend a couple of hours. If you want to continue the nature fest stop by the Lincoln Park Conservatory for a relaxing walk through the greenhouses. Are you hot yet? Cool off with a visit to the Chicago History Museum (kids under 12 are free). Not the same old boring museum you went to as a kid, this place has been seriously updated. Their Sensing Chicago exhibit if great for kids. Dinner time! Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Co (2121 N Clark) has some seriously good pie, but save room for dessert! The Butcher and Burger Custard Cart is right near the Armitage Brown Line and they have the best ice cream in Lincoln Park. Then head home! You and the kids will be exhausted!
Day 2: Downtown (go on Wednesday or Saturday for the fireworks)
-The quintessential Chicago tour! Great for tourists and Chicagoans alike!
Start out in Millennium Park. If you drive, park in the North Parking Lot and be prepared to pay-it’s not cheap. Public transportation is the way to go!
You can avoid the traffic by taking the CTA trains instead of buses. The Red and Blue Subway stops are Washington or Monroe then head East. The Orange, Green, Pink, Brown, and Purple elevated trains stop at Madison/Wabash or Randolph/Wabash. Start your day with a classic picture at the Bean! Everyone does it, so be repared to help out other tourists with their cameras. Then grab an iced tea and go straight to the Maggie Daley Park. It. Is. Awesome. Your kids will have a blast playing on all the equipment there! Go ahead and spend the $15 for the bouldering certificate, it comes with unlimited bouldering time and is a great way to introduce your kids to rock climbing. After they have worked up a sweat head over to the Crown Fountain to cool off. Let your kids play in the spitting fountain until it’s time for lunch, eat in the park at one of the cafes or hit up the food trucks (usually only in the park when there is an event). Stick around the park for any of the fantastic activities the city sponsors. My personal favorites are the Grant Park Music Festival and the Family Fun Festival (visit cityofchicago.org for details). Then wander over to Navy Pier to enjoy the festivities! They have great kid friendly activities all around the Pier. Grab some dinner- and some ice cream. Then, settle in for the fireworks! Your family will have a blast and your kids will remember this day for a long time!