Although Chicago has a reputation for extreme weather in both summer and winter, the city offers a plethora of activities.
When the temperature drops, indoor venues become the destination of choice. Chicago offers much to choose from in this regard, including museums, observatories, and entertainment centers. Weather-permitting, the city’s stellar parks – Grant, Millenium, and Lincoln – provide visitors with hours of outdoor fun.
Considered to be one of Chicago’s premier summer entertainment sites, Navy Pier maintains a strong heartbeat all year thanks to an extensive indoor restaurant and retail mall. Merchandise from all over the world is available in boutique kiosks and small shops, while even the fussiest palate may be satisfied at the myriad restaurants, ranging from fast food favorites to trendy sit-down eateries.
Pier Park, an outdoor landscaped area that features a 150-foot-high Ferris wheel, a musical carousel, an old-fashioned swing ride, an 18-hole miniature golf course and more, is a primary attraction. A number of sightseeing and dinner cruise lines operate from the wharf on the south side of the complex.
The Chicago Children’s Museum features a number of hands-on exhibits where visitors can build a dam, create a flying machine, build a skyscraper, or create an artistic masterpiece. Adults will enjoy a stroll through the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows, a permanent display of 150 stained glass windows in the lower level terraces of Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. Hours for all Navy Pier amusements are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. For information about Navy Pier events, call (800) 595-PIER.
The 57-acre Chicago Museum Campus, established in 1998, is a contiguous area of buildings and greenery in the south Loop that features several of Chicago’s most famous museums within walking distance of each other. The jewel of the campus is the Field Museum of Natural History, at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, which features the famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton named Sue. The museum always has several featured exhibits and myriad permanent ones detailing biology and culture.
One block north of the Field is the Adler Planetarium, which features a number of daily sky shows covering subjects such as the Big Bang and the current night sky. The museum also has telescopes available for viewing stars and planets during evening events.
The Shedd Aquarium, located one block farther north 1t 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, features the Oceanarium, a permanent exhibit of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem with beluga whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, sea otters, and sea lions.
View Surrounding Countryside
On a clear day, visitors riding to the top of Chicago’s tallest buildings can see parts of four states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Two of Chicago’s tallest buildings feature observatories with exhibits and activities for children. The John Hancock Building, 875 N. Michigan Avenue, has its observatory on the building’s 94th floor. Visitors to the Skydeck at Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, 233 S. Wacker Drive will ride up to the 103rd floor. Children’s tickets and group rates are available at both locations.
Chicago Park District Facilities
Grant Park, often referred to as Chicago’s front yard, is the city’s most prominent park. Its centerpiece is Buckingham Fountain, constructed in 1927. The park features a number of gardens and walking paths. Within the park’s boundaries is The Art Institute of Chicago, housing one ot the world’s largest collections of impressionist painting and featuring 5,000 years of artistic endeavors.
The north end of Grant Park, adjacent to the Art Institute, is known as Millennium Park. Attractions here include the Jay Pritzker Pavillion which hosts concerts and other cultural events, the Lurie Garden, the Cloud Gate sculpture, sometimes called the Bean by locals, and the interactive Crown Fountain, a favorite destination for children of all ages.
In the winter, the McCormick Tribune Plaza Millenium Ice Rink, located on Michigan Avenue between Washington and Madison streets, provides skaters with a chance to show off their spins and jumps. During the summer, the same area becomes an outdoor cafe.
North of downtown Chicago along Lake Michigan from Ardmore Avenue to the Ohio Street Beach is Lincoln Park. The area includes the world-famous and free Lincoln Park Zoo, as well as the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum.
Water Tower Place
Located at 835 N. Michigan, just south of the John Hancock Building, Water Tower Place is an upscale shopping and dining mall on eight levels. Built in the mid-1970s, Water Tower Place was the first high-rise shopping mall in Chicago. One of the site’s anchors is American Girl Place, where girls and their families can buy a new historical doll or bring an existing one to a variety of themed and age-appropriate activities.