Chicago summer bucket list for families

Chicago summer bucket list for families

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This summer in Chicago is going to be epic. After months of being cooped up at home, Chicago has fully reopened for everyone to enjoy. This summer offers opportunities to mingle with super heroes, dive deep into Chicago comic history, paddle a swan boat in a historic park and more! Bonus: many of these family events are free! So slather on some sunscreen and head out for a summer packed with family fun in Chicago. Here are the events and activities you won’t want to miss.

See a movie under the stars

The popular Millennium Park Summer Film Series is back with two free screenings this summer — The Wiz (rated G) on Aug. 24 and The Dark Knight (rated PG-13) on Aug. 31. Grab a blanket, some snacks, and kick back under the soaring Pritzker Pavilion for a memorable night with the whole family.

Plus, there are outdoor moving screenings all over the city, including Water Flicks at Navy Pier and drive-in movie theatres popping up around Chicago.

Feed stingrays at the Shedd Aquarium

Want to make one-of-a-kind family memories this summer? A stingray feeding at the Shedd Aquarium is sure to thrill kids of all ages. This hands-on exhibit allows guests to reach into the underwater exhibit and feel the slippery creatures just below the surface. Guests can even help feed the stingrays, while learning how the Shedd cares for these unique creatures. This add-on experience is offered daily from 9 – 11 a.m. for $5 per person.

Mingle with Marvel Super Heroes

Spiderman at the Marvel exhibit at MSI
Photo by Christine Mitchell

Housed in the only remaining building from the 1893 World’s Fair, the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the U.S. The museum’s blockbuster summer exhibition Marvel: Universe of Super Heroescelebrates the heroes of the Marvel Universe ― Spider-Man, Batman, Hulk, Captain Marvel, and more ― with more than 300 artifacts including original comic book pages, sculptures, interactive displays, and costumes and props.

Eat breakfast at the zoo

If your kids are animal lovers, you won’t want to miss this fun event. Head behind-the-scenes at the Lincoln Park Zoo to learn more about the resident animals as you enjoy a family-friendly breakfast of pancakes, fruit, coffee, juices and more on Saturday, Aug 21. This month’s event will focus on African Painted Dogs.

Earn a Junior Park Ranger Badge in Pullman

Pullman National Monument
Pullman

Explore the historic neighborhood of Pullman at the Pullman National Monument, Chicago’s one and only national monument, designated by President Barack Obama in 2015. Kids can complete fun (and educational!) activities in a provided booklet that you can pick for free at the Pullman National Monument. When they share their answers with a park ranger, they’ll receive an official Pullman Junior Ranger badge!

Cheer on racing dragon boats

Every summer, Chicago’s Chinatown embraces a tradition over 2,000 years old: Dragon Boat Racing! Cheer on over thirty dragon boat race teams on Sat. Aug 28 as they compete on the south branch of the Chicago River in beautifully decorated dragon boats, with proceeds benefiting local literacy organizations. Ping Tom Memorial Park, located along the river, will also be hosting children’s activities, vendor booths, and entertainment programming throughout the day.

Dance to the beat at pop-up performances

Navy Pier
Navy Pier

Navy Pier is ushering in a new program this summer that promises you’ll learn a few cool new dance moves: Wave Wall Moves, in collaboration with See Chicago Dance, will feature dance performances and workshops from rotating local dance companies every Saturday from June through September. The kids will love dancing along to the music, followed by a spin on the Centennial Wheel.

See the Blue Angels soar above the city

Air and Water Show

This year’s, in lieu of the traditional Chicago Air and Water Show, the city will welcome a special solo demonstration by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels along the lakefront on Aug. 21 and 22 from 12 – 1 p.m. (On Aug. 20, practice runs from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.) The best spot to catch them in action is along the lakefront, from Oak Street to Fullerton Avenue.

Make art together outdoors

Art Institute of Chicago family drawing activity

Looking for all-ages ways to get creative? The free Hyde Park Art Center hosts Center Sundays on the first Sunday of every month. These family-friendly events include intergenerational art-making activities, artist talks and workshops, exhibit tours, open studios, and more.

Cruise Lake Michigan on a lightning-fast speedboat

Seadog Cruise at Navy Pier

Catch some waves as you learn more about our beautiful city, which simply shines in the summertime. The Seadog Extreme Thrill Rides speeds along the lakefront, then zips down the Chicago River, making it the fastest and most kid-friendly architectural cruise of all. The 75-minute tours depart from Navy Pier.

Get up close to comic history

An exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art
Installation view, Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now, MCA Chicago, Jun 19– Oct 3, 2021. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Chicago Comics: 1960 To Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art presents a portrait of sixty years of cartooning. The exhibit tells the story of the art form through the work of Chicago’s many iconic cartoonists, as well as under-recognized and up-and-coming artists. Kids will love the funny, colorful art, and you’ll love the fascinating backstory.

Tip: If you can’t get enough of Chicago’s comic history, check out CHICAGO: Where Comics Came to Life, now showing at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Spend a day at the beach

Volleyball at North Avenue Beach
Photo by Adam Alexander

Chicago’s lakefront spans 28 miles, and its beaches are always free and open to the public. At North Avenue Beach, one of the city’s most popular beaches, you can rent a paddleboard, kayak, or jet ski. Oak Street Beach, located just off the Mag Mile, offers prime people watching. In Hyde Park, 57th Street Beach’s wide stretch of sand is made for building sandcastles, and the beachfront Tasty Grill offers a Mexican menu along with hot dogs, perfect for a picnic. Check out our guide to Chicago beaches to find the best beach fit for your fam.

Paddle a swan boat in historic Humboldt Park

Photo by Lucy Hewett

Spanning over 200 acres, Humboldt Park is a lush oasis in the city, home to a historic boat house, playgrounds, tennis courts, baseball fields, and the city’s only in-land beach. Paddling a swan-shaped boat is one of the best ways to explore the park. Bring your swimsuit: Humboldt Beach is a natural swimming pond where kids can build castles in the sand or enjoy a refreshing dip.

Take an adventurous day trip

Photo by Jeff Anderson

Explore the greater Chicago area with a fun day trip! The Forge: Lemont Quarries is a 300-acre adventure destination with multiple rope courses, ziplining, climbing walls, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, yoga, and more. Check out the Zip, Climb & Dine events, where you can climb to the top of one of the largest ropes course towers in the U.S. and enjoy a meal in the sky while taking in 360 views of the surrounding suburbs and Chicago skyline, then zipline across the picturesque quarry.

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