Stop and Smell the Flowers

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Photo by Caitlin Murray Giles

Literally. I mean it. Stop. Blow off the summer camps. Don't worry about making it to the dry cleaner before closing time. Skip the trip to Costco.

It is finally summer in Chicago and it is going to go fast -- there is going to be a foot of snow on the ground before you know it.

So go now -- grab all of summer that you can. Make sure that your kids have a chance to stay up late and catch fireflies. Eat ice cream cones as often as possible. Feel sand between your toes. Dive headfirst into cold pools. And make sure that your little urban-dwelling babes get to soak up all of the natural, outdoor beauty that our area has to offer before it is time to break out the snowsuits again.

Here are five local spots where you can fawn over the flora. Plan to hit all of them before the leaves start falling and you feel that first chill in the air.

Chicago Botanic Garden. It just isn't summer without a trip up to the Botanic Garden. This destination has something to offer everyone. Moms and dads will love the serene Japanese gardens and the kids will be captivated by the incredibly intricate train set. The Chicago Botanic Garden has lots to see so pack a picnic and make this a day trip.

Lurie Garden at Millennium Park. On your next visit to Millennium Park, take a stroll through the beautiful Lurie Garden. Check the website if you want to take advantage of some of the excellent family programming offered here.

Lincoln Park. The manicured gardens around the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Zoo are a great spot for a family picnic. The kids can cut loose and run around a bit and mom and dad can lounge on a blanket sipping lemonade.

Morton Arboretum. This is another underutilized treasure. Morton Arboretum is huge, so you will want to tackle only one or two areas if this is your first visit. My kids love the Children's Garden. Also check out the Maze Garden and special exhibit on Animal Houses.

Northerly Island. The one-time home to Meig's Field is now home to beautiful prairie flowers and grasses. Take advantage of this natural sanctuary amidst all of the urban hustle and bustle.

Your turn local nature-lovers -- what not-to-be-missed spots should be added to my list?

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