Cheap Chicago Vacation Tips for Families

Chicago with Kids

Get trip advice and find cheap hotels in Chicago perfect for traveling with kids.

Visit the Windy City without going broke by taking advantage of discounts and many of the city’s free and cheap offerings.

The Days Inn Chicago, 644 W. Diversey Parkway, sits just a few miles north of downtown in the Lincoln Park area and offers cheaper rates, and less expensive parking, than accommodation in the heart of the loop. Take a quick bus to Michigan Avenue or walk to the Lincoln Park Zoo. The hotel’s free continental breakfast is a rarity in downtown hotels and a must for traveling families.

The Comfort Inn and Suites Downtown, 15 E. Ohio Street, also offers free continental breakfast and reasonably priced rooms and is just off Michigan Ave.

State and national park campgrounds near Chicago include Illinois Beach State Park in Zion (50 miles north of downtown) and Indiana Dunes State Park and Indiana Dunes National Seashore near Chesterton, Indiana (50 miles southwest).

Children’s Activities in Chicago

Free activities and attractions in Chicago include the Lincoln Park Zoo, just off Lakeshore Drive north of downtown Chicago and Millennium Park. This downtown attraction once was an ugly cluster of railroad tracks and parking lots. Now, the 24.5-acre park offers playgrounds, performing arts pavilions, sculptures, and the Crown Fountain, which features 50-foot tall video projections of faces who periodically spew water from their mouths.

Don’t let pricey admission fees, however, keep your family away from the many fabulous museums in Chicago. If you chose one museum to attend with your kids, make it the huge Museum of Science and Industry, two miles south of downtown on 57th Street and Lakeshore Drive. Accessible by a number of buses, the museum features fascinating exhibits for young and old, including a fairy castle and a German submarine captured in World War II. For stays of four or more days, consider buying a Chicago City Pass (which is good for nine days from the first use) and pay one discounted price for admission to the Museum of Science and Industry, the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, and the Hancock Observatory or the Sears Tower Skydeck. If you can’t make it to all of these attractions during your stay, opt for individual admission tickets instead.

Kid-Friendly Restaurants in Chicago

Foodlife, in the Water Tower Place Mall at 835 N. Michigan Ave. near the Hancock Center and Observatory, is an upscale take on the mall food court. As you enter the Foodlife restaurant, you receive a plastic swipe card to present when they purchase items at any of the eatery’s 13 kitchens. Hand in your card as you leave Foodlife to pay for your purchases. Since Foodlife’s convenient plastic swipe card makes it easy to choose a variety of foods, keep a rough tally in your head to avoid sticker shock as you pay for your indulgences at the end of your visit.

Of course, don’t leave the Windy City without chowing down on some deep dish pizza and a Chicago style hotdog. Gino’s East (one downtown location is 633 N. Wells St.) remains a popular pizza joint with locals and tourists after 40 years. The Wiener’s Circle, at 2622 N. Clark St. by Lincoln Park, features fast, but cheeky, servers and cheap, char-broiled hotdogs as well as plentiful fries.

The most popular time to visit Chicago is summer, when all parks and activities are in full swing and accommodations are at their most expensive. Save on hotels by traveling to the Windy city in other seasons.

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