Fun Things To Do With Kids In Springfield

Springfield, Ill., offers a great variety of things to see and do, especially attractions and sites related to Abraham Lincoln and Route 66. Whether you’re planning a family visit or just passing through, here’s a list of fun things to do with kids in Springfield.

Kim’s note: This is a guest post written by Oh My! Omaha friend, Cindy, from Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl. I asked her to write about Springfield and all the fun things families can do with kids when they visit. If your family enjoys U.S. history, especially presidential history, you’ve got to visit Springfield!

Things to do with kids in Springfield, Illinois - This guide includes Abraham Lincoln historical sites, Route 66 quirkiness, and restaurant suggestions. #familytravel #illinois #guide

Where to learn about Abe Lincoln in Springfield

Springfield offers an array of sites to visit to learn about Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. He lived in this Illinois city from 1837 to 1861, before moving to the White House as president.

The most amazing site of all related to Lincoln is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

Fun things to do with kids in Springfield, Illinois - Learn about the 16th president at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
People visiting Springfield, Ill., usually seek out all-things Abraham Lincoln. One place to visit in the city is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. Photo courtesy Cindy Ladage

Kids will also enjoy Union Station, which is part of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, especially the brand new exhibit, “All Aboard: America’s Love of Railroads.” The display marks the 150th anniversary of the first transcontinental railroad, a project championed by Lincoln.

Downtown, families will enjoy taking pictures of the cool murals that grace many buildings and the lovely bronze statues of Honest Abe and his family that dot the downtown landscapes. While the Lincoln Law Office is not totally open to tour, you can go inside the first floor of the building where the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau is located. Here you can get tips and may even be able to receive a parking pass for your visit.

Be sure to stop by the Lincoln home and its visitor’s center. The home in Springfield is the only home that Abraham Lincoln ever owned.

If weather is fitting don’t forget Lincoln’s New Salem Historic Site. While this is a bit of a drive from Springfield, it is a village where kids can interact and see amazing log cabins and early pioneer life where Lincoln spent his early years.

The Lincoln Tomb may be too somber, but getting a chance to rub Lincoln’s nose is fun for kids of all ages. Lincoln Memorial Garden & Nature Center is located around Lake Springfield and offers easy trails to walk and a chance to view Lake Springfield. There is also a fun gift shop and interactive little nature room as well.

Route 66 stops in Springfield

A bit of Route 66 may be in order. Stop by the Cozy Dog Drive In and try this fun treat that was invented in Springfield.

If you want heartier fare that is still kid-friendly, D’arcy’s Pint has a Springfield invention, a horse or smaller pony shoes (hamburger, ham or other meat, covered with French fries and cheese sauce). While not especially healthy, it is quite tasty!

Then there is also Charlie Parker’s Diner in the Quonset hut with the giant pancakes for a breakfast bonus! This award-winning restaurant also has amazing horseshoes, as well.

More kid-friendly attractions include the Route 66 Drive In and Knights Action Park. Route 66 Drive In is a quintessential drive in movie theater. Knights Action Park is a water park, theme park and a drive in move theater.

There are many hotels to choose from in downtown Springfield. The Route 66 Hotel & Conference Center has a fun little car display in the hotel lobby.

These are just a few of the family fun things to do in the Land of Lincoln. Springfield’s Old State Capital is another wonderful historic stop. Find your way to the Illinois Capital and check it out!

Springfield, Illinois is famous for Abraham Lincoln so read this post to find out all the fun places to take kids to learn more about the 16th president. Beyond history, get the scoop on drive in movie theaters, a water park, and family-friendly restaurants. #Guide #Springfield #Illinois #USA #familytravel

About the author

Cindy Ladage is farmer’s wife, a presenter and an award winning journalist and columnist for “Farm World.” In 2018 and 2016, she won the American Women in Communications Clarion award and has been a bronze winner and finalist in the North American Travel Journalists Association.

Ladage writes for antique tractor and collector publications and specializes in travel stories for several publications like Senior News & Times of Illinois and more. Her travel blog is Traveling Adventures of a Farm Girl, where she
shares her travels on the back roads and byways. In her writing, Cindy shares her passion for preserving agriculture and promoting agri-tourism and rural areas. She is also an author of children’s books and adult fiction as well. Ladage lives on a farm in central Illinois and has three grown children and two grandchildren. She is retired from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency where she worked with the Illinois Radon Program.

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Tips For Taking Kids To 3 Of The Biggest Chicago Museums

Our family trips usually include a museum or two on our itinerary. On a recent holiday weekend trip to Chicago, there was so much we wanted to see, we had a lengthy list. So we narrowed it down and picked three Chicago museums to visit, two where we’d get free admission thanks to the ASTC reciprocity membership. As it happens, we pick three of the biggest museums in Chicago (and the world!).

Taking kids to Chicago? You'll probably want to go to at least one of these amazing museums! Here are some tips that will make your visits easier. #familytravel #Chicago #Illinois #tips

However, three museums in three days? I would’t recommend it now.  We went to Museum of Science & Industry, Art Institute of Chicago, and The Field Museum, and they are massive. Don’t make the mistake of trying to see them all in one trip, even if it sounds manageable. 

How big are the museums? The Museum of Science & Industry has 400,000 square feet of exhibit space. The Field Museum’s exhibition space is 480,000 square feet. And the Art Institute of Chicago? It has more than a million square feet of exhibition space.

However, let me share some tips for visiting them, should you want to choose one or two for your next visit.  

Before anyone leaves any hate comments, yes, there are WAY more than three museums to see in Chicago. I know this. I agree. First time visitors, though, are probably going to be eyeing the ones the city is most known for.

Related post: Dining With Kids In Chicago

Tips for visiting Museum of Science & Industry

As it’s the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the Museum of Science & Industry is going to take you a whole day to visit, and even then, I doubt you’ll see and it all.

The Transportation Gallery at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

The museum is so large, we didn’t see all the permanent exhibits during our 5-hour visit. It was Thanksgiving Weekend, so the crowds may have been bigger than usual. But if you visit that time of year, you’re in for a treat: The museum has trees decorated to represent countries from around the world, plus there’s the massive Grand Tree as the centerpiece.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is decorated for Christmas each year and includes the Grand Tree as the centerpiece.
The four-story Grand Tree is located inside the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

Some of the places that were the biggest hits with our 7-and 9-year-olds included the mirror maze, the build-a-toy area, and the Idea Factory, which is essentially a one-room children’s museum.

The Idea Factory inside the Museum of Science and Industry is for children under the age of 10. This was just one corner of the room.

The maze and playground both required timed tickets to limit crowds, so if you know you’ll want to see them, I recommend getting your tickets first thing so you’re not stuck with a really late entry time.

The maze at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago
My daughter and I did the mirror maze at the Museum of Science & Industry easily, since my daughter seemed to have a knack for knowing where to turn.

Your general admission ticket gets you into plenty of exhibits, including ones exploring energy, transportation and robotics, as well as the U-505 Submarine. You can opt to purchase experiences or passes to temporary exhibits (there was a Pixar one there when we went).

Exterior of the U-505 Submarine at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago
The U-505 Submarine is included with regular admission to the Museum of Science & Industry.

We bought tickets to the Coal Mining Experience. It was pretty interesting, and included a little ride in a coal mining train, but for the price, I probably wouldn’t do it again with the kids. It was $40 for us.

Dining tip: There are three dining options inside the museum, including an ice cream parlor. We had lunch at the Brain Food Court, which is a large cafeteria-like food court with healthy options and then your expected grilled and pasta fare. The food was pricey, as is expected at any museum, but I was impressed with the variety.

Parking tip: There is a parking garage at the museum that is$22 for parking. I heard there are parking lots within walking distance in neighborhoods, but I can’t vouch for any. I recommend taking public transportation, taxi or an Uber to the museum.

Playing around with a light and color exhibit at the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

Reciprocal membership alert: If you are a member of Omaha Children’s Museum or another science center that’s likely a member of ASTC, you receive admission for four to Museum of Science & Industry. This is a huge savings.

Tips for visiting Field Museum

The Field Museum is on par with the big museums of the world like the Smithsonian. So, it’s huge and it’s full of a ton of exhibits in botany, zoology, anthropology and geology. Keep your expectations in check: You’re not going to see it all in one day.

The cast of Máximo the titanosaur in the main floor hall of The Field Museum
My son in front of Máximo the titanosaur at The Field Museum. The titanosaur is the largest dinosaur to ever live. Since this is a cast of fossils, you can touch Máximo!

A docent recommended our family take the one-hour tour with the kids. It took us to several exhibits in the museum and gave us a ton of interesting information. One kid was totally into it, the other was not. So, maybe it’s a good idea for families?

Discovery Squad educator at The FIeld Museum showing how jaws work.
The Discovery Squad at The Field Museum help kids better understand science and natural history by letting kids see specimens up close. My daughter loved the experience.

The docent tour did take us to see SUE, the T. rex that the museum is famous for. The museum is outfitting a new room for the skeleton and you can get a peek at Sue before it’s unveiled soon. It’s out of the way, and we would’ve missed it had we not gone on the tour.

SUE the T.rex at The Field Museum i
When we visited The Field Museum in 2018, SUE the T.rex was in her new home upstairs, but the home itself wasn’t finished. At press time of this post, SUE’s new home is finished and open to the public.

The museum’s general admission gets you into a ton of exhibits that will appeal to kids, from mummies to extinct animals to anthropological exhibits of cultures around the world. In my limited experience, it’s not really worth it to buy tickets to the temporary exhibits (unless it’s a topic you really love). We bought tickets to one, and it was $50 for our family to see that one added exhibit. And, my kids just rushed through it, anyway.

Dining tip: There are two year-round restaurants at the museum, as well as a seasonal outdoor restaurants. We ended up walking to Giordano’s for some deep dish Chicago pizza, instead of trying one of the restaurants.

Reciprocal membership alert: If you are a member of Omaha Children’s Museum or another science center that’s likely a member of ASTC, you receive admission for four to Museum of Science & Industry. This is a huge savings.

Tips for visiting Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is often rated the best art museum in the world. It’s huge, it’s full of incredible works of art, hundreds of thousands of pieces you can’t possibly see in one visit, and definitely not if you’re visiting with kids.

The best tip? Do the JourneyMaker experience with your kids. This free, customized itinerary maker for kids lets them pick a theme, then select artwork to include on the itinerary, and then they have to hunt for the art in the museum and complete small activities. Once they’re done, they get to choose a free art postcard.

My daughter used the JourneyMaker computer to create a customized itinerary for exploring the Art Institute of Chicago based on what interested her.

You’ll find the JourneyMaker computers in the Ryan Learning Center. You should probably plan on spending some time in the rooms of the learning center, as there are art-making activities, toys, and books there for kids.

Drawing at the Art Institute of Chicago for one of the activities in the JourneyMaker tour.
The JourneyMaker at Art Institute of Chicago lets kids create their own themed tour of the museum that includes activities for each stop and a prize to collect at the end.

Anyway, the massiveness of the art museum was almost going to be too much, but the JourneyMaker itinerary took us through many galleries, so I did get to see quite a bit. However, my daughter was so set on finishing it, we ended up breezing through some of my all-time favorite works of art, which was a little heartbreaking.

A lot of people told us to take the kids to the Thorne Miniatures Room, that they’d love the pretty scenes in the tiny rooms. Maybe your kids will. My daughter was mildly interested, but still just dead set on finishing the JourneyMaker so she didn’t want to look for long.

The lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago are each adorned with a large wreath during the holiday season. When we did the JourneyMaker activity at the museum, my daughter chose the lions as one of our stops.

It took us about 2 hours to do the JourneyMaker itinerary, with stops to linger in the Impressionist gallery and a (very) brief stop to see the miniatures.

We didn’t have any sweet reciprocal discount, but the good news is that kids are admitted free.

Dining tip: There are three cafes in the museum.

What’s nearby: We paired a visit to Maggie Daley Park with a visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. They’re within walking distance of each other. This park will spoil you for all other parks – it’s that amazing and fantastically designed.

Tips for taking kids to three of the biggest museums in Chicago - The Field Museum, Museum of Science & Industry, and Art Institute of Chicago. #familytravel #Chicago #Illinois #tips

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Where To Stay Near O’Hare

Loews Hotels has two Chicago locations. I wrote about the downtown Chicago location recently and how it’s conveniently located to some of our favorite things in the city. The other hotel’s location is near O’Hare International Airport in Rosemont, Ill. We stayed there for a night during our Chicago holiday getaway with the kids. Here’s what a stay at Loews Chicago O’Hare is like.

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Loews Hotels. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may receive a small payment for referring you.

Looking for a hotel near O'Hare Airport or the Fashion Outlets of Chicago? Here's a look at Loews Chicago O'Hare, a place full of art and local flavors. #LoewsPartner #Chicago #familytravel

If you haven’t heard of Rosemont, Ill., it’s a community about 20 minutes from downtown Chicago, with easy access to the city thanks to the train. It’s also about 5 minutes from O’Hare Airport.

What to expect

Loews is an upscale, welcoming hotel, though, I’ll be up-front for your traveling with kids – there is no pool. This gorgeous hotel seems to be better suited for travelers flying in and out of O’Hare and business men and women. Still, it’s a lovely place to stay overnight.

Lobby at Loews Chicago O'Hare
The lobby at Loews Chicago O’Hare was immense and had some neat artistic touches.

This particular location has a lot of artwork, from the moment you walk in, even. Floors have their own gallery even.

I spied this cool artwork above a unique bench just walking around the ground floor.

The lobby was chic and I loved the greenery on the walls.

Entrance to the lobby at Loews Chicago O'Hare hotel
This interesting wall is in the entryway of Loews Chicago O’Hare. Those are large rocks hanging from strings. To the right is a wall of green, grass-type stuff.

The service, as was the case in the downtown location, was impeccable. We had breakfast at The Ashburn, the restaurant with an aviation theme inside the hotel, and when we left, they remembered our names to ask how our meal was.

Breakfast place setting at The Asburn, the restaurant at Loews O'Hare
I liked the touch of color at The Ashburn, like this blue coffee mug I got at breakfast.

A word about the restaurant, The Ashburn. We went with the kids to breakfast there, as guests of the hotel. The Ashburn had a kid’s menu, with typical fare like fluffy pancakes, french toast, and eggs.

Salmon and bagel at The Ashburn, the restaurant at Loews O'Hare
My breakfast at Loews O’Hare’s restaurant, The Ashburn. Fresh vegetables, a crisp bagel and lox.

For me, it was a tough call between ordering the buffet or something off the breakfast menu. The buffet had fresh fruits, pastries, quite a few hot dishes, and house-smoked salmon. After a weekend of heavy foods, I decided to get a light breakfast and ordered the salmon. It was a good call. My breakfast was just the right amount of food and tasted great.

Loews Chicago O’Hare Rooms

We stayed in a room with two queen beds and a lounger. The view wasn’t much, but it was also snowing so there wasn’t much visibility anyway.

The beds in our room at Loews Chicago O’Hare.

The size of the room and bathroom was comfortable for a family of four with minimal luggage. There was plenty of closet space, if you needed it.

We ordered room service and ran out of places to sit, besides the bed.

Flavor By Loews Hotels

One of the coolest things a hotel brand can do is to localize the experience when staying at a property. If you’re staying at Loews Chicago O’Hare, you’ll find they’ve made quite an effort to introduce locally-made products in food and drinks.

Filbert blue raspberry and fresh bread in Chicago

Flavor by Loews Hotels is a brilliant way to introduce travelers to local products. Flavor by Loews Hotels is built on partnerships with artisan food & beverage vendors, and its starting to roll out in Loews destinations across the nation. At the Chicago O’Hare Loews, Flavor by Loews Hotels has different brands to try. Filbert’s Old Time Root Beer is available at The Ashburn; Veruca Chocolates boutique chocolates are paired in desserts at The Ashburn and in-room service; and Rare Bird Preserves are served at breakfast and desserts as well as in sauces used in dishes on the menu at The Ashburn and in-room dining.

We found even more products at the Loews Downtown Chicago location. I you’re there, try Chicago Honey Co-op honey in a cocktail at Streeterville Social; cold-pressed juices are available in ETA Restaurant + Bar; and Revolution Brewing’s Zephyr beer is exclusively available at Loews Chicago Hotel in ETA Restaurant + Bar, The Lobby Lounge and Streeterville Social.

Entertainment near the hotel

I suspect that many of the guests staying at the hotel were staying there for one particular reason: It’s very near Fashion Outlets of Chicago. I saw a lot of people passing through the lobby carrying shopping bags from brands like Armani, Guess and Neiman Marcus.

Shoppers in front of the Burberry store at Fashion Outlets of Chicago
The Fashion Outlets of Chicago is located in Rosemont, Ill. The two-level shopping center has more than 130 designer outlets. Photo courtesy Fashion Outlets of Chicago

It’s a huge mall – a 530,000 square-foot, two-level indoor shopping center with more than 130 designer outlets like Gucci and Prada. Anchor stores include Bloomingdale’s The Outlet Store and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH.

My kids? They liked the Disney Outlet store, in particular.

We went to the mall during the holiday season to meet Santa and tour Santa HQ by HGTV. It’s a high-tech Santa experience, complete with an Elf Academy. If you go, know that it’s open through most of November and closes on Christmas Eve each year.

The view of Santa HQ from the second floor of the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. The seasonal experience is at the mall every November and December.

Doing Santa HQ is about the same price as going to see a regular Santa at the mall, which is to say, not cheap, but when you add in the extras, it’s worth it. Plus, having the ability to make a reservation beats standing in line and waiting.

Loews Chicago O’Hare is also near Parkway Bank Park, a massive entertainment district with up-scale restaurants, bowling, and in the winter, outdoor ice skating. We were in Rosemont during a snow storm and had the hardest time figuring out the parking situation at Parkway. We were trying to have dinner at Hofbräuhaus Chicago, but could not find parking. It was frustrating, and ultimately, we ended up just driving back to the hotel.

Tip: It turns out, our mistake was trying to park in front of the restaurant — there’s very little surface parking, so you just have to park in the nearby, massive parking garage.

If we had more time, there was plenty more for our family to explore, including bowling at Kings Dining & Entertainment, indoor sky diving at iFly, and the free interactive museum, Big Ten Experience.

Looking for a hotel near O'Hare Airport or the Fashion Outlets of Chicago? Here's a look at Loews O'Hare, a place full of art and local flavors. #LoewsPartner #Chicago #familytravel

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Family-Friendly Downtown Chicago Hotel Review – Loews

Headed to Chicago and can’t figure out where to stay? I know the feeling. As I planned our family’s holiday getaway to Chicago, I knew I wanted to choose a hotel with a location that was convenient to major attractions, preferably one where we’d feel comfortable walking to said attractions with the kids. The Loews Chicago location fit our needs, plus it had a great package for families to sweeten the deal!

Disclosure: Our stay was hosted by Loews Hotels, though I paid a media rate for our stay. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own. This post may contain affiliate links.

Where to stay in downtown Chicago: A review of Loews Chicago #familytravel #Illinois #hosted

What to expect at Loews Chicago

Loews Chicago, I’ve learned, is all about personalizing the experiences. So, no matter who we encountered, from bellhops to the concierge, once they learned your name, they greeted you all the time.  The same was true for our stay at Loews O’Hare.

The lobby at Loews Chicago was charmingly decorated for Christmas.

The downtown Chicago location is in a skyscraper (which is pretty exciting for my kids), with a grand lobby to greet guests. Being downtown, expect to pay for parking – unless you get the Snowed Inn package, in which case, you get free valet parking.

We spent one night in Chicago in our PJs watching a movie in our Loews Chicago hotel room. And it was exactly what our family needed to unwind after a busy day exploring the city.

The entire Loews Hotels brand is kid-friendly and pet-friendly. We saw a lot of dogs during our stay.

Chicago History & Flavor At Loews

One of the coolest things a hotel brand can do is to localize the experience when staying at a property. If you’re staying at either of the Loews Downtown or the Loews O’Hare, keep your eyes peeled to see hints of Chicago in the decor, as well as tasting locally-made products in restaurants and bars. Let’s start with the food and drink.

There’s no doubt where you are when you stay at a Loews location.

Flavor Chicago by Loews Hotels is a brilliant way to introduce travelers to local products. Flavor by Loews Hotels is built on partnerships with artisan food & beverage vendors, and its starting to roll out in Loews destinations across the nation. At the downtown location, try Chicago Honey Co-op honey in a cocktail at Streeterville Social as a honey-infused treatment in the spa; Here cold-pressed juices are available in ETA Restaurant + Bar; and Revolution Brewing’s Zephyr beer is exclusively available at Loews Chicago Hotel in ETA Restaurant + Bar, The Lobby Lounge and Streeterville Social.

On the wall of this elevator at Loews Chicago is Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” poem.

For architecture in the Downtown Chicago Loews, there are few things to note. First, step into the elevators and find Carl Sandburg’s “Chicago” poem on the walls. In the lobby, it helps to know the design was inspired by two important architects to Chicago, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Louis Sullivan. The two story metal on either side of the fireplace represent train tracks, giving a nod to the importance of the railroad for industry in Chicago. Local artist, Ben Butler, designed a piece of art in the lobby made of wood. It represents the Chicago skyline and the bottom portion  is burned representing The Great Fire (except for the Water Tower, which was the one building that didn’t get destroyed by it).

What kids will like at Loews Chicago

The question every kids asks: Is there a pool? Yes, there is a pool at the Loews Chicago location. It’s on the third floor, and it’s more like a long lap pool. It still suits the needs of most kids.

No hot tub, so, sorry Mom and Dad.

View from Loews Chicago facing Navy Pier at night
We could see Navy Pier from our hotel room at Loews Chicago. In the day time, you can see Lake Michigan, too.

Kids are going to like the views from the room, at least, our view was impressive. We had a view of Navy Pier and Lake Michigan from our 14th floor room.

The Snowed Inn package at Loews Chicago included set up of a little tent and campfire set to play with.

Kids will also like the extras that come with the Snowed Inn package, particularly the hot cocoa. My kids were not too impressed with the cookies that came with it, though. They had some raisins in them.

What parents will like at Loews Chicago

I’m not going to lie, having complimentary valet parking with the Snowed Inn package was a huge perk. There are also discounts at the restaurant and spa included with the package.

Loews Chicago was in a prime location for our plans in downtown Chicago. 

I liked the hotel’s location, being so near all of the things we wanted to see and do: We walked to Millennium Park, for instance. And, places like the Field Museum were about an $8 cab ride away. We weren’t far from CTA stops, either.

If you’ve never used Chicago’s mass transit, the concierge is super helpful telling you which stops to go to for things. He also gave us some tips for a good route to just ride the train for the heck of it (if you have kids, you understand this).

More things to know about Loews Chicago

This hotel has a restaurant called ETA and lobby bar, but do not expect complimentary breakfast or a free happy hour. However, with the Snowed Inn package, you do get 20% off at ETA. We didn’t dine there, so I can’t tell you much about the restaurant.

ETA is located just off the lobby of Loews Chicago.

If you go

Loews Chicago

Where: 455 N. Park Drive, Chicago, Ill.

More Chicago vacation inspiration

You can see all the fun things we did on our Chicago holiday weekend getaway in this post. I started planning the trip using this Chicago Holiday Bucket List post.

Want to explore other hotel options in downtown Chicago? Trip Adviser is a good place to start!

If you want to see where I found my inspiration, then follow my Chicago Pinterest board! You’ll discover more family-friendly places to visit and things to do in the Windy City:

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Visiting Chicago and looking for a family-friendly hotel? Check out this review of Loews Chicago, a hotel located within walking distance of popular attractions. #Chicago #familytravel #WindyCity #hosted

Chicago Holiday Weekend With Kids

I’ve been wanting to take the kids to Chicago for years, and finally, the opportunity arose to take them on one of the first big holiday weekends of the year: Thanksgiving Weekend. So, I knew it was going to take some planning (it all started with this Chicago Holiday Bucket List). Here’s all that we did during three days in Chicago:

Things do do in Chicago at Christmas | Chicago holidays | Holiday decorations in Chicago | Things to do with kids in Chicago #Chicago #Christmas #familytravel

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you click the link and/or make a purchase, I may receive a small payment for referring you. 

Trees & caroling in Chicago

There were three places we had planned on seeing Christmas trees. For a meal under a giant Christmas tree, you’ve got to head to Macy’s Walnut Room. Many people go just to take a picture. We went on a Friday night and expected a terribly long wait (it was Black Friday), but got in pretty quickly.

The kids posing with a fairy princess at the Walnut Room inside Macy’s department store in downtown Chicago.

Fairy princesses strolled the room during the meal, granting wishes and handing out wishing stones. It was an unexpected experience that my daughter particularly loved. The service, by the way, was fantastic.

Tip: You cannot make a reservation for The Walnut Room during the holidays. We did not have much of a wait, but plan accordingly. They will not seat your party unless everyone is there.

And what should you try at the Walnut Room? Get the famous chicken pot pie. 

To see trees with an around the world theme, head to the Museum of Science & Industry. Their Christmas Around The World and Holiday of Lights display is full of impressive details. I liked looking at festive trees, but my kids were not interested (due to the fact that the rest of the museum was so stinking amazing). On the weekends, there are performances I wish we could’ve seen.

Things to do with kids in Chicago on a holiday weekend - Visit the Museum of Science & Industry to see the holiday displays
The four-story Grand Tree is located inside the Museum of Science & Industry in Chicago.

There’s also a gorgeous, giant tree that’s the centerpiece of it all. On the hour and half-hour is a “snowfall.” We hung around to see it once. It’s not too exciting, at least not for a 7-year-old.

Tip: If you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum, you get reciprocal free admission to the Museum of Science & Industry. This is a HUGE savings.

The extra exhibitions and experiences are a considerable add-on. We did the coal mining experience and it was OK (not totally sure it was “$40 OK,” though).

The extra I do think was worth it was the $5 toy building assembly line. The tops the kids made work great. The machine did have a few moments of not working, so it wasn’t a smooth process, but still, I’d recommend it.

On Friday nights during the holiday season, you might catch live holiday music being performed in front of the iconic “Bean” sculpture at Millennium Park.

For the ultimate Christmas tree experience, head to Millennium Park. There’s ice skating with the giant Christmas tree lit up in the background. We visited on a Friday night and they had live Christmas music by “Cloud Gate,” AKA, The Bean. Everyone in the crowd sang along. These concerts happen every Friday from 6 to 7 p.m. during the holiday season.

Christmas trees on Wabash Avenue in downtown Chicago.

Chicago is a great city to see holiday lights. We happened upon gorgeous displays on walks from our hotel, Loews Chicago. Two great trees can be found on Wabash Avenue by the river, right by the Ghirardelli store.

Holidays at Chicago museums

Museums were definitely on our itinerary, and the ones we visited had their own Christmas decorations to enjoy. I already mentioned Museum of Science & Industry, and that was, by far, the most decorated place of the three we went to.

The Field Museum has decorations up during the holiday season.

The Field Museum had holiday lights set up in the main lobby and on stairwells, plus some wreaths hung up. It was minimal but done really well.

Tip: If you have a membership to Omaha Children’s Museum,you get reciprocal free admission to the Field Museum. This is a HUGE savings.

The extra exhibitions at The Field Museum are a considerable add-on. Admittedly, the one we chose was not worth it.

The Art Institute of Chicago, the iconic lions out front have wreaths placed around them. If you head to the Thorne Miniatures Room, a couple of the rooms had some Christmas-y décor added to them 

The lions in front of the Art Institute of Chicago are each adorned with a large wreath during the holiday season. When we did the JourneyMaker activity at the museum, my daughter chose the lions as one of our stops.

Tip: If you take little ones to Art Institute of Chicago, you’ve got to stop first at the Ryan Learning Center in the Contemporary Building. There, in addition to some great art activities, you’ll find the JourneyMaker center, where kids can create a mini tour of the museum based on a theme they choose and the artwork they choose to see within that theme.

The kids loved it, and it made an extremely large museum manageable for a child. We had four stops on the tour – both kids chose creatures theme – and it took us to quite a few galleries, including my favorite, the Impressionists area. In about an hour, we had found the art, did the little activities associated with each stop and made it back to the learning center to collect their prize (a postcard of their choice).

The JourneyMaker at Art Institute of Chicago let’s kids create their own themed tour of the museum that includes activities for each stop and a prize to collect at the end.

Chicago restaurants decorated for Christmas

Most Chicago restaurants we visited had some sort of decoration, but one stood out for the decor and another stood out for the food.

The Walnut Room is a restaurant in Chicago that is truly decked out for Christmas.

I already mentioned the Walnut Room at Macy’s. The giant Christmas tree is a show-stopper, for sure, but the food is very good too. And, it’s kid-friendly with a menu for the little ones.

Another downtown restaurant we enjoyed was the family-owned Tortoise Supper Club.

Disclosure: We were guests of the restaurant on our visit.

Exterior of Tortoise Supper Club decorated for Christmas
For a special night out, we dined at the Tortoise Supper Club in downtown Chicago. Photo courtesy Tortoise Supper Club

While there was some classy holiday decor, the memorable thing for us was the food during our visit. It’s not as kid-friendly, in the sense that there is no kid’s menu or kid portions, but the staff warmly welcomed my kids and the other families in the restaurant.

I’ll write more about it soon, but if you do find yourself there, my tip to you is to get the dessert (key lime pie or tortoise pie).

Ice skating in downtown Chicago

Time did not allow for us to fit in a trip to an outdoor iceskating rink in Chicago, though there are two that were within walking distance of our hotel, Loews Chicago. The one at Millennium Park is traditional oval shaped with a very charming Christmas tree in the background.

The walk from Millennium Park to Maggie Daley Park in Chicago was easy thanks to this cool bridge.

The other is at Maggie Daley Park, which is just a bridge walk from Millennium Park. It’s an ice skating ribbon, which looks a little more fun than just going in loops.

We skipped the ice skating, though, and went straight to the amazing playground at Maggie Daley Park. I think we made the right call on a particularly mild winter day.

Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago has a massive playground as well as an outdoor ice skating ribbon in the winter.

Christmas while you shop in Chicago

The Christkindlmarket was on my wish list to visit for years. Modeled after German Christmas markets, it’s an outdoor market with vendors selling gifts, food, and drinks.

All smiles before the immensity of the crowd at Christkindlmarket really sunk in.

It’s very charming, in theory, but the crowds are overwhelming.  I was warned by many to go early, and man, did I try to get there first thing one morning. We ended up arriving  about 30 minutes after it opened, and it was packed. One particular aisle was crammed, and we shuffled our way barely seeing the booths. My kids still enjoyed it, and found souvenirs for themselves and a gift for one aunt.

An ornament found at the Christkindlmarket in downtown Chicago.

I did, at least, have some tasty pastries and gluhwein, so it wasn’t a total wash.

Christmas is everywhere in stores, and Chicago retailers do it up well. Downtown, you’ll want to check out Macy’s window displays of exquisite scenes.

Shoppers on Black Friday in downtown Chicago.

A train ride away, or in our case, a car ride, is the Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, Ill. We were guests of the mall and got to try out a pretty high tech Santa experience called Santa HQ, presented by HGTV. The cost is comparable to photos with Santa at other malls, but this is an immersive experience that goes beyond the typical wait-in-line-for-a-photo Santa experience.

The entrance to Santa HQ at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago. It’s an immersive experience that ends with kids meeting Santa Claus.

The kids were able to go through the Elf Academy, and make digital elf versions of themselves, step on a Naughty Or Nice detector, and use an iPad to see virtual elves around Santa HQ. Pretty nifty stuff.

My daughter trying out some of the techy fun at Santa HQ at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago.

It ends with photos with Santa, and sharing wish lists with him, plus the kids receive goodie bags.

Where to stay for all the Chicago Christmas fun

I partnered with Loews Hotels for this trip and found the downtown Chicago location to be absolutely ideal for my family’s trip. Many of our destinations, like Millennium Park, are within walking distance.

Our hotel for most of the Chicago trip, Loews Chicago, was located in downtown Chicago.

In the winter, Loews Chicago offers the Snowed Inn package for families, which includes cookies & hot cocoa, a rented movie, and valet parking. Nice right? They also set up a cute tent and campfire set for the kids to play with.

We could see Navy Pier from our window on the 14th floor of Loews Chicago.

Can’t beat the view, either! That’s Navy Pier in the distance, with the big ferris wheel lighting up the background.

The lobby at Loews Chicago was charmingly decorated for Christmas.

If you think Santa HQ is another destination for you, there’s a Loews Hotel location (O’Hare) that’s super close. If the weather hadn’t been crummy, we could’ve walked to it.

The lobby at Loews O’Hare was large and set up for gathering. There were neat artistic touches throughout the hotel.

Check back in a few weeks for reviews about our stay at each hotel – Loews Chicago Downtown and Loews O’Hare! I’ll tell you about the rooms and the family-friendly amenities at each.

If you want to consider a hotel in a different neighborhood, check out this roundup of the best Chicago neighborhoods and why you’d want a hotel in each.

Plan a Chicago Getaway

Want to visit Chicago with your family? Here are a few additional posts to help plan things. Start with my Chicago Holidays Bucket List – there’s quite a bit on the post that isn’t just for Christmas time in the city, too!

Staying In Downtown Chicago With Kids At Loews

Dining With Kids In Chicago

Tips For Visiting 3 Big Chicago Museums With Kids

Staying Near Fashion Outlets Of Chicago – Loews O’Hare

Try some of these tours if you want to see more of Chicago when you’re visiting during the holidays:

Get some more ideas by following my Pinterest board for Chicago!

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Family-friendly things to do in Chicago at Christmas - Where to find displays in downtown Chicago, kid-friendly restaurants, and more #holidays #familytravel #Chicago #OhMyChicagoHoliday

Free Things To Do In The Quad Cities With Kids

During our long weekend to the Quad Cities – a collection of cities around the Mississippi River on both the Iowa and Illinois side – we visited several family-friendly museums and places that I can’t wait to tell you more about. Three things that I want to highlight in this post stand out from the others in one particular way – they are free. If free fits your budget when traveling, read on.

3 free things to do in the Quad Cities that kids will love #Illinois #Iowa #familytravel

Fryxell Geology Museum

Where: Rock Island, Ill.

Hours: Academic year, Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 .m. (plus seven evenings throughout the year)

Tucked in the beautiful Augustana Campus is the Fryxell Geology Museum.  This museum is a bit off the beaten path, but it was so worth the stop. It’s one of the largest and finest collections of rocks, minerals and fossils in the Midwest.

It’s a more hands-on museum than you’d expect, which is great for visiting families. The staff has found engaging ways to get your kids excited about the displays.

Fryxell Geology Museum at Augustana College campus
The Fyxell Geology Museum is a free museum that’s worth a visit for families. Explore fossils, gems and the area’s pre-historic history.

If you’re doing the self-guided thing, you can pick up scavenger hunt cards. They’re simple cards that encourage kids to look closer at displays to find the item that matches the picture.

There’s also a new iPad app that allows kids (or adults, because you know you’re going to want to try it) to aim the iPad at a fossil and see an image or an illustrated video to see what the creature might have looked like back in the day. This was way cool for the kids.

Large dinosaur fossil Inside the Fryxell Geology Museum in Illinois
My family is in the background, learning about the discovery of the Cryolophosaurus, the first (and only) Jurassic dinosaur discovered in Antarctica. It was collected by a team of Augustana geologists led by Dr. William R. Hammer.

The highlighted was walking around with a staff member and having her point out cool fossils – like fossilized poop – and answering questions my kids posed.

Things to look for:

  • There’s a rock display behind curtains in theback of the museum. Take a peek to see the “glowing” rocks. It impressed myyoungest.
  • The Cryolophosaurus. This large dinosaur is one of the first things you encounter at the museum. It’s got a great story– the first dinosaur found in Antarctica AND found by an Augustana professor. There’s a display to learn more about that years-long process of uncovering the bones.

John Deere Pavilion

Where: Moline, Ill.

Hours: Monday–Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Closed major holidays.

This river town is home to John Deere, and lucky for families, it’s home to John Deere Pavilion.

Inside the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois
The John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill., is free to visit. You can climb into the cabs of many of the tractors and machinery.

This pavilion, to me, is half history museum and half children’s museum. Even the website tells you: “The only requirement for kids inside our doors — BE A KID. Climb on board. Pretend you’re driving…”

So, the history part is fairly obvious. You can see the earliest tractors and how they and other farming equipment have evolved over 180 years. Walking the whole length of the pavilion, you can’t help but be impressed. And, when you reach the other end of the building, you get a glimpse at present time and what innovations are ahead.

Antique farming equipment inside the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois
John Deere farming equipment from more than 180 years are on display at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Ill. You can climb into many of the machines.

What’s great for kids is that they can climb into the cabs of many of these huge machines.

The space that felt like a mini children’s museum part, the Discovery Zone, was the area my kids wanted to spend the most time. There are hands-on displays and train table, as well as a stop-motion table. My son’s favorite was a video he can manipulate, speeding the image up or slowing it down.

Kid's play area inside the John Deere Pavilion in Illinois
My daughter and I made a few stop motion movies set on a farm.

There’s a row of screens that you can sit in front of and try out simulations of driving some of the machinery. This appealed to the grown-ups as much as the kids. There were quite a few screens, actually, throughout the pavilion that allowed for a fun way to learn more about the brand and farming.

Exterior of the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois
The John Deere Pavilion was a good rainy day stop for my family during our Quad Cities vacation.

This one was a fairly quick stop for us, whereas I think the others could spend about an hour or so there. If your kid is really interested in the machines, check out this John Deere website with coloring pages and videos.

Davenport Skybridge

Where: Davenport, Iowa

Hours: Daily, 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

I first learned about the Skybridge through pictures, because this hidden gem (or maybe not-so-hidden) gives you a great birds-eye view of the Mississippi River.

The view from inside the Davenport Skybridge in Iowa
If you’re in downtown Davenport, make a quick stop to see the Davenport Skybridge, which has great views of the Mississippi River.

Pretty much, it’s a walkway over a highway from a parking garage to the riverfront. But, it’s done in such a cool way, that it’s worth checking out. If the weather’s crummy, it’s also a nice, long corridor that kids can run up and down. When we were there, two women were running laps for a workout.

Exterior of the Skybridge in Davenport, Iowa
The Davenport Skybridge is safe way to cross a highway from the downtown area to the riverfront. 

At night, I hear the lighting inside is pretty sweet, too. We were there during the day, so I can’t vouch for the lighting. But, the view was neat.

The river was at flood-level, so we could see water seeping up onto the Iowa banks.

Flooded Mississippi River
The Skybridge gave us a nice view of how far up onto shore the Mississippi River has flooded.

We didn’t head downtown just for this view. We actually decided to add a visit to the Skybridge at the last minute since we got downtown in record time and the Figge Art Museum wasn’t open yet. The Skybridge is super close to the Figge and killed about 10 minutes.

Fun things to do that don't cost a thing in the Quad Cities in Iowa and Illinois #familytravel #visitquadcities

Plan a Quad Cities Family Trip

I’ll be sharing more in-depth posts about some of the places we visited in the Quad Cities in upcoming posts. Check back to learn more about:

Fun Things To Do With Kids In The Quad Cities

Where To Stay In The Quad Cities – Illinois Side

The Figge Art Museum And Kids

Exploring The Putnam Museum With Young Kids

Comparing Hotels Around The Quad Cities

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in Omaha, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.