For kids in today's hyper-digital world, boredom comes easily. But a city vacation is a perfect remedy, and Chicago, where most family attractions are withing walking distance, is one of the best U.S. cities to consider visiting. The kids won't get bored, nor will you, because there's more to do on a family-friendly Chicago vacation than there are grains of sand on Chicago's beaches. (The beaches are just one more reason to go).
No, it's not the ocean. But your teenager can try stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Michigan (there are several rental shops) while younger ones construct a good ol' sandcastle, all while mom and dad play beach volleyball, take a swim or bronze on the beach. Twenty four free beaches line Chicago's 26-mile shoreline, most of them named for the streets that end at the water. The seven-mile string of North Side beaches that are part of Lincoln Park, the city's largest, are the most popular, especially side-by-side Oak Street and North Avenue Beaches, with less crowded beaches farther north.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Coco Chanel once said, “The best things in life are free. The second-best things are very, very expensive." Fortunately, the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the best things. You won't even have to pay peanuts to enter the primate house. Other favorite stops include the lion house, a reptile house, an arctic tundra area (polar bears!), a penguin cove, a seal pool and the new macaque forest. New to the Farm-in-the-Zoo are American Guinea Hog piglets that were born in June. Check the Daily Activity Calendar for feeding times.
To celebrate its 100th year in 2016, Navy Pier unveiled the new Centennial Wheel, a 196-foot-high Ferris wheel affording spectacular views from air-conditioned gondolas. It's the biggest of several new additions on the massive pier, but old favorites also remain, like the hand-painted carousel. Also on the pier: the Wave Swinger, Light Tower ride and climbing walls for young thrill seekers; an array of sightseeing boats that venture out onto Lake Michigan; and the three-story Chicago Children's Museum geared to 10-and-unders.
Until the 1990s, the Chicago River was filled with sewage, garbage and industrial waste—an embarrassment to the city. Now it's not only clean, it has become an attraction for visitors who stroll the riverwalk as it snakes through downtown Chicago. Kids may be bored walking past restaurants and public-art installations, but should enjoy following the river with their parents on a rented bike, surrey or kayak—or in a water taxi or sightseeing boat.
Clustered together on Lake Michigan are three huge family attractions, collectively called the Museum Campus. The Field Museum presents “Jurassic World: The Exhibition" through December, plus the world's largest and best-preserved T-Rex skeleton, a massive mummy collection and much, much more—nine acres of mostly interactive exhibits in all. The Adler Planetarium features several daily shows in each of its theaters—two domed space theaters and a 3D theater—in addition to astronomy exhibits. And the Shedd Aquarium's massive windows overlooking Lake Michigan help illuminate its whales, sharks, dolphins, otters, gators, penguins, tarantulas and, well, seemingly every creature on the planet that lives in or near water.
If you go
United Airlines has more than 500 daily flights from the hub city of Chicago from dozens of cities, and MileagePlus Rewards can help pay for your car rental and a family-friendly hotel room once you arrive. Go to united.com or use the United app to plan your family-friendly Chicago vacation.