Chicago has a never-ending array of attractions, restaurants, and venues to keep residents and visitors busy pretty much all of the time...especially when it comes to finding things to do with your kids!
With a population of 2.7 million residents and more than 52 million visitors a year, Chicago's stunningly rich culture and history provide an enormous playground for you and your little ones to explore.
In fact, there are so many kids activities it can get a bit overwhelming.
Here at Sawyer, we know you’ve got enough to do as a parent without having to worry about sifting through all of the age-appropriate fun for your kids. That’s why we’ve narrowed down the choices, focusing on specific neighborhoods and the best activity providers, attractions, and food for the whole family in each one!
Lincoln Park is one of Chicago’s most sought-after neighborhoods for young families. It’s a historically German community with old churches, brick row houses, and peaceful parks. Its tree-lined residential streets lead into a bustling business district filled with locally-owned boutiques, name-brand retailers, cafes and ethnic restaurants. This North-Side neighborhood is near DePaul University and offers the students who attend there plenty of nightlife options. Lincoln Park’s namesake green space is 1,208 acres and offers a free zoo, a conservatory and nature museum. There’s also a lake with sandy beaches to swim and relax, giving visitors a view of the city’s nearby skyscrapers.
1. Raise bilingual (or even trilingual!) little ones with Little Linguists Art Academy
This one-stop resource for music, arts, physical education, and foreign language instruction offers after-school, group and private tutoring sessions for children ages three months to 14 years old. Little Linguists offers unique curriculums to help children learn Spanish, Mandarin, French, Italian, Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic. The academy is dedicated to providing your child with fun and engaging classes to help promote confidence and a lifelong love of learning and creating. Your little one will be able to navigate different places and cultures in no time!
2. A future Michelin chef could be discovered after practicing with Oui Chef
Located on North Halsted St., Oui Chef is run by classically-trained chef Laura Ragano, who teaches culinary classes to children ages 18 months to 18 years old. The 75-minute classes are designed to teach students skills to become cooks at home – who knows, your house could become the next Chez Panisse!
3. Get artsy at The Paintbrush
Designed for children ages one to 12, The Paintbrush is a unique art studio that combines music appreciation with hands-on art history lessons to teach students about influential artists from all over the world. The Paintbrush also offers a Kids Night Out drop-off program, an Art and Wine Night and a Paintbrush After Dark event for adults – for those all-so-necessary “me” nights!
4. Animals galore at the Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public and is open 365 days a year. From black rhinos to lions to penguins, see hundreds of animals at one of the oldest zoos in America. The zoo also includes a carousel (which we still love to go on with our kids), a 28-passenger train that tours the zoo campus, and the Sea Explore 5-D, a virtual submarine that takes you on an immersive journey into the sea. There are also several dining options, like the Park Place Cafe and the Patio at Cafe Brauer, and a gift shop.
5. Is there such a thing as too much pasta? No way. So head to Sapori Trattoria
Founded in 2001 by Chef Anthony Barbanette, who spent much of his youth in Southern Italy, this neighborhood favorite pays special attention to hospitality and high-quality ingredients. It’s cozy and casual atmosphere is the perfect spot for memorable family meals. And if you go on a Monday night, Sapori Trattoria has $20 family night specials.
6. French Toast. We'll say it again. F R E N C H T O A S T at Frances’ Deli & Brunchery
A landmark in the Lincoln Park neighborhood for more than 80 years, Frances’ Deli & Brunchery serves breakfast, lunch, and brunch. The deli also does delivery and carry-out, if you’d rather eat from the comfort of your own home. The sandwiches are too huge to finish in one sitting (trust us, we’ve tried), the french toast is rumored to be the best in the city, and this place even has a menu for the little ones, featuring child-friendly staples such as chicken tenders, mac and cheese, pancakes, and burgers – so picky eaters are welcome!
A very walkable neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side, Roscoe Village is filled with locally-owned businesses ranging from antique stores and vintage clothing boutiques to trendy shops featuring the latest in baby apparel. But what really makes this neighborhood special for parents are the classically-styled homes, nearby Fellger Playlot Park and residential streets, giving Roscoe Village the family-friendly feel of a real-deal village.
7. Collaborate on a piece with your child at Unicoi Art Studio
Voted the best art classes in Chicago in 2008 and 2009 by the Nickelodeon Parents Picks Awards, Unicoi Art Studio has been teaching art to children ages 3 to 15 since 1999. With on-site classes for children and adults, Unicoi also offers summer, winter, and spring break camps, birthday parties, school fundraisers and skill building parties, along with teacher workshops.
8. Embrace the fun (and sometimes messiness) of art at Little Hands Art Lab
Known as Chicago’s first process art lab for children, Little Hands Art Lab is a safe space for toddlers and elementary-aged students to create all sorts of messes without the worry of getting in trouble. Learning can get a little...messy, and Little Hands embraces that philosophy by offering drop-in classes, Parents Night Out Sessions, private party events and after-school programs.
9. Get active at the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club
Founded in 1931, the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club has been dedicated to enriching Chicago’s youth for almost 90 years. Located in Paul Revere Park on West Irving Park Road in Roscoe Village, the Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club offers after-school and sports programs, summer camps, and leadership opportunities for children ranging from five to 18 years old. The facility features four baseball diamonds, three football and soccer fields, tennis courts, a playground, clubhouse with game room, two gyms and more. The best part? Membership is free!
10. Build skills at Wonderland Activities Center
Designed for toddlers and preschoolers, Wonderland Activities Center provides wonder-full theme-based classes focused on learning through play, art, literature, games, and music. The curriculum encourages positive peer socialization, classroom skills and an early joy of learning. We have no doubt your kids will gain the confidence to follow their passions!
11. Make sure to come with an appetite when you eat Meatheads
Not only will your children get a kick out of the name, but this Chicagoland franchise located between Roscoe and School streets is passionate about simple food and great service. The no-frills menu has burgers, sandwiches, chicken, hot dogs, milkshakes, and child-sized portions for the lil’ meatheads in your life. Meatheads also cares about the community, offering programs for local little league sports teams, school and group fundraising, and even a youth reading program – so to us, it’s kind of perfect.
12. Lucky for you, Pizza o'clock falls at all hours of the day at Bartoli’s Pizzaria
Chicago is known for its pizza, and while we don’t want to stir up the age old pizza debate, Bartoli’s doesn’t disappoint. Though it’s got Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, it’s also beloved for its Chicago-style thin-crust pizza. Called the “party cut,” this pizza has a cracker-like crust that’s sliced into little squares perfect for sharing with your little ones. Bartoli’s has a casual atmosphere so there’s no need to worry about proper table manners here. But if your little pizza lovers are a bit too much to manage in a restaurant, then Bartoli’s delivers, too.
The waterfront community of Lakeview is a diverse, busy neighborhood with plenty of family entertainment and shopping options for the whole crew. From pubs and restaurants to live music venues, street festivals and a thriving theater, dance and comedy scene, this neighborhood offers something for everyone. And if you’re a Cubs fan, Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, is located here. Also, a sliver of Lincoln Park sits in this neighborhood, which offers a walking trail, golf course, driving range, boat harbor, bird sanctuary, tennis courts, and large grassy fields just right for family picnics when the winter has loosened its grip!
13. Sharing is caring at Little Parade
Located on N. Ashland Avenue, Little Parade offers music instruction classes for toddlers in both English and Spanish. These classes, which take place in Good Manner, a community space and coffee shop, encourage your child’s learning through dancing, singing, listening, and playing percussion instruments. The group atmosphere encourages sharing and taking turns, as your little one develops early literacy skills and cognitive development – and making a whole lot of noise somewhere that’s not your home.
14. In search for a good sing-along? Look no further and head to Mr. Singer’s Leithaus
Neil Firstenleit has been rocking the Chicago music scene for years as Mr. Singer. He’s known for his bi-weekly sing-alongs at Lincoln Park Zoo, as a teacher at Wiggleworms at the Old Town School of Folk Music and now at Mr. Singer’s Leithaus. Here, he offers group music lessons through sing-alongs, dancing, and hands-on instrument discovery with acoustic guitar, ukelele, banjo, and synthesizer.
15. Play space for toddlers AND coffee for parents. We present to you, Present Place Chicago
Present Place Lakeview on N. Ravenswood Avenue offers free coffee for parents – first and foremost. But, more importantly, it’s an indoor play space for newborns and toddlers up to the age of four and their parents. Filled with natural design elements and toys that spark creativity, Present Place is a fun, comfortable and enriching space with no artificial sounds or bright, flashing lights. In other words, no sensory overload here.
16. One of the classics. Ann Sather Restaurant
Ann Slather has three Chicago locations, but this one on W. Belmont offers a family-friendly diner experience that’s been around since 1945, when Ann Sather herself ran the place for more than 35 years. Boasting the best cinnamon rolls in the city, Ann Sather Restaurant offers a wide variety of breakfast and lunch dishes to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.
Wicker Park/Logan Square
Very close to downtown, Wicker Park and Logan Square are sister neighborhoods that have a great mix of old and new architecture. These areas are filled with established residents, young professionals and families. With easy access to all that downtown has to offer, these neighborhoods are two of Chicago’s most popular.
17. Sing, dance, and get creative with Mr. Dave Music
At 1935 W. Division, there’s a place where the joy of music is infused into the lives of children and their families. And it’s called Mr. Dave Music. By creating a warm and authentic educational experience through group and private lessons, dance parties, and birthday celebrations, owners Dave and Christina Hamilton provide innovative programming that fosters creativity and celebrates diversity in the power of music.
18. Get runway ready at Bien Fashion Studio
A creative space for children and teens to explore fashion design through learning, Bien Fashion Studio combines a fun-based curriculum with the power of imagination. Founder and class instructor Bianca Norris believes anyone can be a fashion designer – so your kids won’t just learn how to sew, they’ll also learn to bring their visions to life!
19. Take deep breaths at Buddha Belly Kids Yoga
Buddha Belly is a mobile yoga company dedicated to nurturing children’s natural desire for movement and play. Offering classes for babies all the way up to teens and families, Buddha Belly builds awareness and strength in mind, body, and soul as your little ones learn to make sense of the world. Instructors Erin and Meg believe in play-based education while incorporating traditional yoga poses, sequences, and relaxation techniques – it’s a fantastic way to get the fitness bug started in your little yogi!
20. So many activities in one location at Little Adventures
This indoor play space is located in Wicker Park and is open Monday through Friday. Designed to be small so you can keep better track of your little ones, Little Adventures manages to pack in a playhouse, ride-on toys, an art center, a climbing structure and a sitting room for adults. There's also a sensory wall where kids can explore different movements, colors, sounds, and textures.
21. The perfect menu DOES exist at Etta
Nestled in Wicker Park, Etta’s menu features a rotating line of wood-fired pizzas, house-made pasta and fresh salads. It also has a children’s menu and a full bar. Notice we mentioned those together. With an upscale yet casual atmosphere and outdoor seating, Etta is the kind of place you can bring your kids but also enjoy an adult night out.
And of course, carnival rides, restaurants, shops and fireworks at Navy Pier
This former navy center turned adventure land is a spot that has it all. Whether it's amusement rides for the whole family, or delicious bites at Billy Goat Tavern, we guarantee you'll have fun-filled time.
Finding fun, educational activities for your children is important for their growth and development. But it shouldn’t have to interfere with the time you get to spend with them. With this list, we hope we’ve been able to give you some of that time back, so you can spend it on what really matters...your little ones.