Free Things to Do With Kids in Chicago

Chicago, Chicago, it’s my kind of town. Indeed, Frank. It’s very true. Chicago is amazing. It’s so great that you can find plenty of adventurous things to do with your little ones all over the city. There is not a chance you can ever get bored in a place like Chicago.

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Chicago has a population of almost 3 million people so it should come as no surprise to anyone that we have roughly 600 parks or playground areas throughout the city. We work hard in the Windy City, but we play hard too. Here is a list of some of the best free things to do with kids in Chicago.

  1. Go To The Park
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Chicago Parks are everywhere. We have roughly 570-600 parks and playgrounds all throughout the city. Some of my favorite parks include Wicker Park and Portage Park. I favor the two mentioned because those were part of my childhood stomping grounds.

However, Maggie Daley Park is the best park for kids in all of Chicagoland. Maggie Daley was our former long-time first lady of Chicago. She was an advocate for children in the city and was a founder of creative and cultural programs for kids in Chicago.

Maggie Daley Park has multiple attractions suitable for any age group including: Playgrounds, Slides, Tennis Courts, the Play Garden, Picnic Groves, Ice Skating Rink (in winter time only) Mini Golf, Roller Blades, Micro Scooters, Climbing Wall, Bungee, and of course the Field House.

My son and I have been to Maggie Daley Park, and he has gone multiple times with his grandma as well. Maggie Daley Park is a place where you can have the most fun and lose track of time from all the excitement you will experience.

You can easily pack up a picnic and spend the entire day there. On top of all the attractions at the park, there are also events and programs that take place which you can learn more about on the park district website.

Some of the activities mentioned are paid activities, but entrance to Maggie Daley Park and majority of its amenities are free of charge.

Pro Tip: Pack reusable water bottles. Most parks have water fountains so you can refill your bottle. Tap water is fine to drink in Chicago.

2. Go Swimming

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With all of the parks in Chicago you can definitely expect that there are pools to match. There might not be 600 pools, but, we do have at least 49 outdoor public pools.

Portage Park and Pulaski Park have swimming pools that you can access for free. Again, I mention these as I grew up in these areas.

There are also about 29 indoor pools that operate year round. If you don’t want to find a park, there is always Lake Michigan. Many people get the heebie jeebies about swimming in that old Lake Michigan, but some people do it anyway. Yes, it is completely safe to swim in as long as the City of Chicago has not put out any advisory notice saying that you can’t.

Thousands of people head to the beach every single day, and they are still alive and perfectly fine and have not come out of the Lake looking like diseased swamp monsters. It’s going to be okay, I promise. Some popular beaches are North Avenue beach, Oak Street Beach, Montrose Beach and 57th Street Beach.

Pro Tip: 57th Street Beach is conveniently located near the Museum of Science and Industry and the beautiful Jackson Park which is home of the cherry blossom trees (article coming soon on that).

The beaches all have their own amenities like bathrooms, food stands, and first aid. If you’re really creeped out by the water still (since there is an obvious negative stigma against the Lake Michigan water), just go sunbathing and build a sandcastle.

By the way, if you have a dog with you we have some dog beaches too. Montrose Dog Beach and Belmont Harbor are great for puppers and doggos.

3. Lincoln Park Zoo

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Lincoln Park Zoo is 100% free, and is in Lincoln Park which is one of the largest parks in the city. Built on 35 acres of land it holds every kind of animal exhibit you can possibly imagine.

Camels, Zebras, Penguins, African Wild Cats, Swans? Yup. We’ve got them.

Most zoos in the United States are not free, but this one truly is.

That is just another reason why Lincoln Park Zoo is so special. It’s a learning experience for you and your child, and it is at no cost to you. You can walk right in, grab a map, and start your exploration.

One of my favorite exhibits there is the Farm-in-the-Zoo. There is an actual barn house that is the home to baby chicks! The farm exhibit also has goats, pigs, ponies and honey bees. A picnic area is right near the Farm-In-The-Zoo exhibit, so it’s great for resting and the little ones always love the farm exhibit.

If you’re not tuckered out from exploring our giant zoo all day, make your way over to the Lincoln Park Conservatory. You will walk through a gorgeous garden until you reach the giant greenhouse. It’s well worth the visit.

Pro Tip: If you have littles, try to bring your own stroller. Otherwise you will have to rent one from the zoo.

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4. Check out the Bean (I mean… the Cloud Gate)

No disrespect to the artist Anish Kapoor, but us Chicagoans are never going to call it the Cloud Gate. It’s the Bean. Long live the Bean with a capital B.

As I write this, I’m really trying to recall any memories of my friends or family calling it the Cloud Gate.

In fact, the first time I heard someone say Cloud Gate, I had to ask them what exactly the Cloud Gate was.

It was a little embarrassing to say the least, but hey, I’m a local. We don’t call it that! This is kind of like how as a Chicago native I will never call the Sears Tower the Willis Tower. We just simply don’t call it the Willis Tower.

I guess we don’t like change, or we’re just too stuck in our ways. Don’t even get me started on ketchup and hot dogs. I’ll save that for another day.

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So the Bean is a hot spot in the city. It is a giant sculpture created by the London artist Anish Kapoor. The Bean is able to capture a perfect reflection of the city’s skyline, thus the original name: Cloud Gate.

You can literally see the clouds in the reflection of the Bean. You can walk around the Bean, and even go underneath it. It is very much an interactive exhibit in the fact that you can see yourself within the Bean, and you can also touch the shiny reflective surface.

The Bean is 33 feet high, 42 feet wide, and 66 feet long. It weighs about 110 tons which is similar to the weight of giant blue whale or a large space shuttle. Being that The Bean is located right in Millennium Park, close to Grant Park and walking distance to Maggie Daley Park, you should definitely go!

Pro Tip: Bring sanitizer bottles or sanitizer wipes because your little ones are certainly going to want to touch the ever famous Bean.

5. The Crown Fountain

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The Crown Fountain is another interactive play area for kids and adults alike. Unfortunately at this time, the fountain appears to be turned off due to COVID, but once we are able to return to normal completely, I highly recommend this spot.

The Crown Fountain is a water fountain and sprinkler area that you can take the kiddos to play, run around and cool off. The fountain is a work of art and is made of two towers that are 50 feet tall each. Each of the towers on the Crown Fountain projects video images of random Chicagoans. Water can be seen pouring out of the mouths of the people from the fountains.

There are over 1000 faces shown on the Crown Fountain which contributes to the celebration the diversity in the city. This unique artistic structure was designed by artist Jaume Plensa & built by Krueck and Sexton Architects. Jaume Plensa has work featured all over the world including Spain, Canada, Germany, France, Korea and the United Kingdom. We are lucky enough to have one of his original designs, right here in the city of Chicago.

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The best part about the Crown Fountain besides its convenient location on Randolph Street is the symbolization of what it truly represents. Fountains can be found throughout the city everywhere. We have over 100 public fountains in Chicago, many depicting mythological creatures like gargoyles (Gurgolye Fountain), sea horses (Buckingham Fountain) or beautiful Aquarian type maidens (Spirit of the Great Lakes Fountain, Art Institute). The Crown Fountain in a sense pays homage to those fountains, and the water flowing from the fountain represents a perfect balance of ebb and flow and the symbol of vibrant life throughout the city.

Pro Tip: Night time visits are also acceptable as the entire city is lit up along with the fountain. If your littles play in the water, pack a change of clothes and a towel. Those are always good to have.

Kimberly Anne is a freelance writer and aspiring author. She is currently in school working towards her BA in Creative Writing and English. Besides work and school, she is writing her first novel and helps small businesses design their websites and brands. You can follow @kimberlyanneinc on IG and Twitter.

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