Explore Downtown Chicago with Elementary School Kids: Day One
Day One Itinerary Featuring Top Kid-Friendly Attractions!
Day One: Willis Tower, Millennium Park, Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier & Ohio Street Beach
Chicago is an excellent family-friendly destination with countless attractions to explore. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit this amazing city with our three kids during the summer, using Jeff’s conference hotel as a jumping-off point for our adventure. From the breathtaking views of the Willis Tower to the fascinating miniature rooms at the Art Institute, the city offered us a wide range of kid-friendly experiences.
Our first day in Chicago was jam-packed with family-friendly activities and attractions that left us awestruck. We started with the iconic Willis Tower, where we marveled at the breathtaking views of the city. Next, we visited Millennium Park and its incredible outdoor installations before making our way to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we were immersed in the world of art and culture. Later in the day, we enjoyed a fun-filled evening at Navy Pier, taking in the sights and sounds of the city’s famous landmark. Finally, we ended our day at Ohio Street Beach, enjoying the beautiful sunset views over Lake Michigan. Chicago is truly a kid-friendly destination with so many attractions and experiences to explore.
This post contains some affiliate links.
There is no lack of things to do in Chicago. In fact, the hardest part of the trip is choosing what your kids will enjoy. Many of the big “to-do” items in Chicago are paid activities so it’s important to get good value from your visits, particularly with three kids. I sat down and made a list of what I thought we might be interested in. Then I looked at which activities could be bundled into a pass if there were reciprocal deals with museums we belong to and summer promotions.
I was gifted a Chicago City Pass, which included a number of the “big ticket” items we wanted to check out. If you are going to do all the activities on the City Pass anyway, it’s a great deal as it also lets you skip the line for several attractions. You will need to make advanced reservations for many of the pass activities, so sit down and figure out your Chicago game plan before you arrive.
If you are military, Blue Star Museums covers several of the big-ticket museums like the Shedd Aquarium, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Science and Industry. Blue Star Museums is a program that provides free admission to museums for active-duty military personnel and their families during the summer months. This nationwide initiative is a way for museums to show appreciation for military families and provide them with opportunities for cultural and educational experiences.
ASTC Travel Passport (included in our local science museum membership) included a few museums as well. ASTC Travel Passport Program is a membership program that provides free or discounted admission to science centers and museums around the world for members of participating institutions.
We were staying at the conference hotel, which ended up being a great location. It was easy for us to catch public transport or walk to many of the things we wanted to do around the city. Plus we had gorgeous views of the water.
We started our morning by walking to Sky Deck Chicago at The Willis Tower (formally, but still referred to by locals as The Sears Tower.) This was part of our Chicago City Pass. I grabbed the first reservation of the day, which meant the tower was quiet and we had plenty of time to enjoy the glass boxes that protrude from the building. We made two rounds into the glass boxes and had plenty of time to enjoy the floor-to-ceiling windows that make up the rest of the view. Our only mistake here was that our “skip the line” meant we also missed the Skydeck Experience which is a bunch of fun stuff you can take photos with. This is a great first stop because you can really get a lay of the land from up high.
When you exit the Willis Tower Sky Deck you are kicked out into a food court. The Do-Rite Donuts and Chicken were calling our name, so we stopped for a little treat.
I made a small error in our plans and didn’t check the opening time of the Art Institute of Chicago. While they open to members at 10 am, they don’t open to the public till 11 am. With an extra hour to kill, we headed to Millennium Park. The park is massive and full of outdoor fun. Crown Fountain is a great place to let the kids splash around for a bit. Cloud Gate is another great stop.
The amphitheater in Millennium Park is a great place to take kids for a fun and memorable experience. With its unique design and prime location in the heart of Chicago, it offers a perfect backdrop for concerts, movies, and other family-friendly events throughout the year. We enjoyed watching an orchestra practice.
Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden is a beautiful botanical oasis in the heart of the city, offering a serene and educational experience for kids and adults alike. The garden features a variety of native plants and ecological systems, providing a valuable opportunity for children to learn about the importance of sustainability and environmental conservation. The garden was full of butterflies. It also leads directly to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Then we were off to the Art Institute of Chicago (Included in the Chicago City Pass & Blue Star Museums.) The museum offers a range of educational programs, including guided tours and interactive exhibits, that cater to children of all ages. Families can also enjoy a scavenger hunt throughout the galleries, which encourages kids to explore the museum’s collections while learning about art history and techniques. The Ryan Learning Center, located on the lower level of the museum, provides hands-on activities and workshops for children to engage in and create their own art. Additionally, the museum’s collection includes many iconic artworks that children will recognize, such as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” and Vincent van Gogh’s “The Bedroom.” With so much to see and do, the Art Institute of Chicago is a wonderful destination for families looking to foster a love of art and culture in their children.
The armor collection at the Art Institute of Chicago is one of the largest in the world, featuring a wide range of armor and weaponry from various cultures and historical periods. This impressive collection shows the evolution of armor and the important role it played in the past. It is not to be missed with kids!
The miniature rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago are a fascinating collection of meticulously crafted and highly detailed miniature models of historic interiors from different time periods and cultures. These intricate rooms provide an immersive way for kids to experience the history and gain insight into the daily lives of people in different eras and social classes.
There are several lunch options nearby, we popped out halfway through our Art Institute of Chicago visit to go across the street to Potbellys to grab lunch. There was still so much to see at the museum that we went back inside.
We ended our evening by meeting some friends at Navy Pier. Navy Pier offers a variety of activities and attractions to explore. One of the popular things to do is ride the Ferris wheel (included in our CityPass), which offers great views of the city and the lake.
We did not have time this visit but, families can also visit the Chicago Children’s Museum, which offers interactive exhibits and activities. Additionally, the pier has several restaurants and shops to explore. We ate dinner at Giordano’s: Chicago Style Pizza. (Pro Tip: Order your pizza ahead of time while you wait to be seated and walk around the pier. Chicago Style Pizza takes a long time to cook!)
At the end of the pier, visitors can also see a large anchor on display, which serves as a reminder of Navy Pier’s rich maritime history.
After dinner, our friends suggested we walk over to the nearby Ohio Street Beach for sunset. Ohio Street Beach in Chicago is a wonderful destination for families with kids to visit in the evening. The beach offers stunning views of the sunset over Lake Michigan, creating a picturesque backdrop for a relaxing stroll and family photos.
The only warning is that your kids will want to get in the lake! With plenty of nearby restaurants and attractions, Ohio Street Beach is a perfect spot for families looking for a kid-friendly evening out in Chicago.
Our first day in Chicago was just the beginning of an exciting five-day adventure in this vibrant city. We were thrilled to have explored some of the city’s most iconic landmarks such as the Willis Tower, Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, Navy Pier, and Ohio Street Beach. We had a fantastic time, and we couldn’t wait to see what else the city had in store for us. In the next few days, we planned to visit many more kid-friendly attractions. So stay tuned for more exciting updates from our Chicago trip!
As a disclosure, I want to mention that CityPASS provided our family with free passes for our trip to Chicago. However, all opinions and experiences shared in our blog posts about the trip are completely our own and have not been influenced by CityPASS or any other third party. We are grateful for the opportunity to use the passes and explore Chicago, and we hope that our readers find our posts helpful in planning their own trips.