Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Family Vacation in Downtown Chicago

I am getting to the final recap of my family's trip to Chicago this summer and today's post is all about things to do with your family in downtown Chicago.
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You can read the previous recaps here
 Part 1
 Part 2
 Part 3

There are a ton of great museums in Chicago, everything from the Art Institute, the Field Museum, the Shed Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.

The Museum of Science and Industry is actually in Hyde Park, so right before turning into the loop into downtown Chicago you turn the opposite direction.

The museum is huge and you will not be able to see everything in one day but you should be able to see enough that you do not probably need a second day.   You can learn about weather, about farming, about the heart and the body, airplanes, trains, really anything you can think of you can probably learn about it.
We didn't get the donuts at the museum but they are an Illinois staple
One of my kids favorite exhibits was touring the U-505 German sub that the Americans captured during WWII- they have the actual sub in the museum (the built the building around it) that you can go inside with a great presentation; this does cost extra money to go in the sub but is well worth the cost.

For an additional costs there are also Omnimax movies (think IMAX on steroids).  The screen is huge and in a circular dome and it makes you feel like you are part of the movie.  The shows are educational, often about protecting the planet and the very comfy chairs are actually quite good for a quick nap.

There is also a Coal Mine, which we did not go in this trip; but just be warned it is kind of dark and pretty noisy so young kids might not like it.

The Willis (Sears) Tower
Now you see, I grew up outside of Chicago and have forever known the tallest building in the country as the Sears Tower; so when it was renamed a few years ago, well I am still fighting it.

There are actually two really tall buildings in Chicago that have great observation decks, the John Hancock and the Willis Tower.  Lucas knows the Willis Tower is the tallest in the country, so that was our choice.  Just be prepared- it is expensive to park at the Willis Tower (as well as everywhere else in downtown Chicago).

They show you a video as you enter, which some just skip, but is actually quite interesting, then it is up a super fast elevator to the Sky Deck.  Definitely bring your camera as the views are amazing.
There are some new observation decks that have glass windows that you can step out onto to look down onto the city.   There are usually lines for these, though the lines move quickly.  There is also one set up with a photographer, but you do not have to go to that one, you can can just take your own pictures.

The Zoo
Right downtown in Lincoln Park there is a FREE zoo (just have to pay for parking) the Lincoln Park Zoo.   It isn't as big as the other Chicago area zoo the Brookfield zoo, but it is free and right downtown.
There are lions, bears, monkeys, gorillas, zebras, snakes and a ton of other animals.  
My kids really enjoyed the Farm area- including the wind tunnel  (pictured above). 

The Bean
Something newer to the Chicago scene (2004), is the Giant Metal Bean.
This giant statue is definitely a must see.  It is in Millennium park, which once again will require paying more for parking; or you can do what we did.  My parents have seen this many times and so they dropped us off on a street corner, we spent about 20 minutes seeing it (which you will probably want to spend more time) as they drove around and then picked us back up.
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It is a photographer's dream with all of the fun reflections.   On nice days it will be crowded, but just be patient and wait for a good spot to get pictures. 
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There really is so much more to do in downtown Chicago but these are just a few of my favorite things to see that are also family friendly. 
**If you are planning on visiting multiple locations, like the Willis Tower and the Museum of Science and Industry or any of the other museums, definitely look into getting the Chicago CityPASS.
Since this is the last of my vacation recap posts, I just have to throw in one last picture that my BIL took of my kids enjoying his jeep.
Have you ever been to Chicago?  What are your favorite things to do?


  1. I've only flown through Chicago, and never had the opportunity to stop and visit (except when I was a newborn. I was born outside of Chicago, but I obviously don't remember any of that.) :)

    I love that last photo! Ryder cracks me up!!

  2. Yes a lot of people have flown through Chicago as it has two big airports. It really is a fun city -- just don't go in the winter unless you like cold :)

  3. Ok Ryder and his thumbs up is awesome. He looks so cool/cute! The tour guide also told us to go to the Hancock building and go to like the 94th floor or something and go into the ladies bathroom. You get a great view too. There's a restaurant.....

    Looks like you guys had a blast!

  4. What fun! My son would really love the museum you shared!

  5. Can you walk from place to place in downtown Chicago, or do you HAVE to drive? Seems like all that parking would cut into the trip budget!

    I've seen the bean in so many people's trip pictures! You can get some pretty cool pictures using that thing! And the Sears Tower - awesome! When I go, I'm definitely doing that!

  6. I've only stopped there by plane, and am truly dying to go! I think a short trip sometime this fall should do it!

    Your photos, once again, make me jealous! I've always wanted to take photos at the bean!

  7. Yes the fall would be a great time-- just don't go in the winter, so cold!

  8. You could walk some of it, though some of the things are a couple of miles apart; there are also shuttle buses or just even city buses you could take

  9. It really is an awesome museum and they have this really cool kids section too

  10. Oh that would be a much cheaper way to see the view, I didn't know about that

  11. I'm so popular!!! I'm so glad that you guys did the Root Beer tasting as well. My legacy lives on! I say we do that in our family reunion :)

  12. Yes it was a huge hit! We definitely should do it for the family reunion!

  13. Y'all did a ton of stuff! For as close as we get to Chicago, I've seen very few of the sights. I've been to Wrigley recently and almost 20 years ago I went up in the Sears Tower and Shedd Aquarium. That is the extent of my Chicago touring. Sadly, I don't really have an interest in doing anymore.