Chicago is a great destination for a family vacation, especially if you’re looking for an alternative to the usual amusement parks and beaches this summer. My husband and I visit Chi-town often, and just a couple weeks ago we took our boys with us for the first time. Here is some travel suggestions to help you plan your trip to the Windy City.


Where to Stay

Look for hotels in the Streeterville, Gold Coast and Loop areas. Those locations will put you close to the major sites, and public transportation. Downtown hotels can be pricey, but I can always find a good deal on a room online.

Getting Around

You can easily blow $100 a day on parking if you choose to drive around town.

If you fly, skip the rental car. If you drive in, find a parking garage near your hotel with reasonable overnight rates, and leave your vehicle there.

Use the trains and buses to get around. A one-way trip is under $3 a person, and children 7 and under ride free. Hotel staff are are happy to help you figure out which routes you need to take to your destinations.

Many place are also within walking distance of the three neighborhoods I suggested above. Cabs are affordable if you’re not going far.

If you have small children, ditch the massive stroller that you haul around in the mini-van. It’s too hard to get on and off the trains and buses. Opt for a compact umbrella stroller, or use a sling or carrier that you can wear.

Where to Go

There are hundreds of fabulous attractions to visit in Chicago. I think these are the must-see sites if you’re visiting with kids.

Shedd Aquarium – The water life on display at the Shedd is amazing. They have everything from native Great Lakes fish to animals from the Amazon. Their live aquatic life show features dolphins, beluga whales, sea lions and penguins. Hands-on exhibits allow children to touch sea life like star fish.

The Museum of Science and Industry – Almost every exhibit at The Museum of Science and Industry is interactive. You can take a ride on a depression-era train, control a tornado, descend a coal mine shaft and guide the Mars Rover just to name a few of the activities.

Lincoln Park Zoo – Lions, polar bears and chimpanzees are on display at this zoo in the city. There are many other animals to see as well as a carousel to ride. Admission to the zoo is free.

Willis (Formerly Sears) Tower – Willis Tower, known for years as the Sears Tower, is the tallest building in the western hemisphere. The elevators speed you to the 103rd floor Skydeck in about a minute. There you can look out over Chicago and Lake Michigan. On a clear day you can see for 50 miles.

Newly added enclosed glass ledges that hang out over the building allow to also you to look straight down at other buildings and the street below.


Navy Pier – Navy Pier features a variety of shops, restaurants and a Ferris wheel right along side Lake Michigan. Chicago’s Children’s Museum is also located there.

Millennium Park – Millennium park showcases modern architecture and sculpture. In warm months visitors to the park can play in Crown Fountain. Two 50 foot glass block walls make up the fountain. Pictures are projected onto the walls electronically.

Crown Fountain at Millennium Park Chicago

 Where to Eat

The most difficult part about our trip was deciding where to eat with a five year old and a one year old. Chicago has great restaurants, but most of those places were too upscale for motley crew. We also found that many restaurants in the downtown area did not offer kid’s menus or have highchairs and booster seats available.

If you like fast food, you’re in luck. There’s a McDonald’s about every block.

If you want something a little healthier try Food Life located inside Water Tower Place. You can get everything from a hamburger to pasta to stir-fry there. For the kids I went to The Market at Food Life where you can purchase al a cart items like bananas, yogurt and fresh veggies. It’s not five star dinning, but it’s better than french fries.

Chicago-style Pizza of course is huge. Giordanos is one of the more famous pizza restaurants in town.

If you feel like going a little farther a-field, especially for breakfast, try Ann Sather. They have amazing Swedish pancakes, and cinnamon rolls that are divine.

Put Chicago on your list of places to visit. It’s a trip the whole family will enjoy.