We talked about everything from family-friendly restaurants to best free story times and museums for the two and under set.
I spoke a little bit about finding activities that meet two important mama criteria. First, I love a free, quality activity when I can find it (if you read Wee Windy City, you already know this about me). In addition, I also love an outing where both mommy and the kids get something out of it. With those two things in mind, I recommended the following urban activities and destinations.
The Culture Club:
Take advantage of the local cultural institutions. Yes, you can do this -- even with your baby. One of the reasons that I wanted to raise my kids in the city was proximity to the many cultural opportunities and experiences. Sometimes I get lazy and I have to remind myself to walk the walk and not just talk the talk.
- The Art Institute. The Art Institute offers free admission to kids under age 14 every day. We love the interactive, hands-on activities in the Ryan Education Center (which you can access without paying admission to the museum). If your baby is little, pop him in a carrier and cruise the halls, taking in the extraordinary view. You will feel like an actual adult for visiting a real museum!
- The Nature Museum. This lovely spot offers free admission every Thursday. I find the Butterfly Haven to be a perfect antidote for a crabby day. Toddlers can't get enough of this place.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art. This is a really underutilized resource. Try a free stroller tour (next one coming up on Aug. 7th). Tuesdays are free for IL residents. If everyone is behaving, grab lunch at Puck's!
- The Garfield Park Conservatory. Can't beat this spot on a cold or gray day. Strollers can be kind of difficult to deal with here, so I would use a baby carrier if you can. As your baby becomes a toddler, the Morning Glory drop-in activities on chilly winter mornings are a godsend (lots of fun plus a project to take home with you all for a $1 donation).
- The Shedd Aquarium. Babies love colorful fish. They can't get enough of it.
- Juicebox Series. This is a relatively new free family opportunity from the City of Chicago. Juicebox, a NEW music and performance series for the “stroller set” parents and their pre-kindergarten youngsters. All performances are FREE. Parents and young children can enjoy Chicago’s best music, dance, and theater in a kid-friendly setting. Kids can sing-along, enjoy snacks, dance with their buddies and soak in a little culture in the meantime.
- Smart Museum of Art in Hyde Park. Love this hidden gem. At their next Family Day: Our Life in a Suitcase, visitors can Look at Marcel Duchamp's Boîte-en-valise and then make your own suitcase containing paper models of things that are important to your family.
- Chicago Symphony Orchestra: Kids ages 3-5 can make their first visit to the Symphony by participating in the Once Upon A Symphony series. This is really about storytelling through music. The kiddos love it.
- Concerts at Millennium Park: This isn't just for adults. Pick a concert that isn't likely to draw a massive crowd and sit waaaaay back on the lawn to your toddlers can have some room to rock out post-picnic. See also great family concerts at places like Welles Park and other neighborhood parks around town. This is a great activity for a couple of families to do together.
- The Idea Factory at the Museum of Science and Industry. This is another gem. Older kids can learn about basic scientific principles through hands-on activities and little ones can hang out safely in the crawler space.
- Finally, not to be TOO obvious, but the Chicago Children's Museum is one of the best places to take your babe. I think this place is really best for 18 months and up (definitely better for walkers). Highly encourage you to get a membership. My kids are 9, 7 and 4 and they all still love to visit.
My biggest tip is to get out there and do it. Don't let the idea of lugging around diaper bags and worrying about babies crying in restaurants keep you from enjoying all that the city to offer. You AND your kids will be better for it.