Summer is upon us, and this year things are opening up safely for family fun. We've put together a list of the 50 Best Free Things to do with Kids in Chicago this summer, to keep your family busy all summer long! Find the best free kids events and family activities in Chicago and the suburbs, including plenty of free outdoor nature fun as well as some safe indoor activities.
Note that many destinations have reduced hours and limited activities, and most require that you adhere to COVID safety measures; all information is subject to change. Always check your destination's web site for the most up-to-date details.
Daily 6am - 7pm
Along the Bloomingdale Trail (1800N) between Ashland (1600W) and Ridgeway (3750W)
What was an abandoned rail line is now The 606, with 2.7 miles of multi-use recreational trail and park that serves as an alternative transportation corridor, a living work of art, and a spectacular new green space for all to enjoy. Set above city streets, this 2.7 mile path offers trails for biking, running and strolling, connecting parks, people, and communities.
Daily 8am - 9pm
Southeastern end of Millennium Park, Chicago
Lurie Garden in Millennium Park is an urban oasis. The garden's design pays homage to Chicago'' transformation from flat marshland to innovative green city. Stroll the beautiful Lurie Garden and see the dramatically lit, 15-foot-high "shoulder" hedge, cross the hardwood footbridge, and be inspired to learn about and enjoy the natural world.
Adams Water Playground
1919 N. Seminary Avenue, Chicago
Cool off on a hot day with this Lincoln Park gem that features water play with fountains and sprays that even the tiniest tots can enjoy. The shady playground offers a reprieve from the summer heat.
Garfield Park Conservatory
300 North Central Park Avenue, Chicago
The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the largest and most stunning botanical conservatories in the nation, showcasing thousands of plant species from around the world throughout eight indoor display gardens. Year-round, visitors can enjoy the lush flora and tropical temperatures indoors, or more than 10 acres of outdoor gardens, nature play spaces for children, water lily pond, and much more. Many family programs are offered throughout the year, including free activities, cultural performances, hands-on classes, unique fundraisers, educational demonstrations, and more.
Lincoln Park Zoo
2200 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
Stroll the scenic zoo and visit the local animals, all for free! While the zoo is free, reservations are required, so book your spot ahead of time. Note that select buildings may not be open during your visit.
Bordered by Lake-Cook, Willow, Edens, and Forest Road
The Skokie Lagoons are a prime destination for water exploration in northern Cook County. This network of pools, channels and islands winds between Winnetka, Northfield and Glencoe. Bring the family for boat access, fishing, biking, picnic areas, hiking, kayaking, birdwatching and more.
Maggie Daley Park
337 E Randolph St, Chicago
Maggie Daley Park opens for the season Memorial Day Weekend, and offers the Climbing Park with features on the wall for experts and beginners, the Play Garden, an Enchanted Forest with a mirrored maze and kaleidoscope, The Lagoon, The Sea and The Harbor play apparatus for toddlers, a Wave Lawn for recreation for all ages, and a Slide Crater with a spiral slide.
Dave's Rock Shop
711 Main St., Evanston
Dave's Rock Shop has something for everyone, with more than just rocks. The shop is filled with all kinds of stones and gems, fossils, crystals, shells, jewelry and Native American finds. Kids can visit the fossil museum in the basement, and entertain themselves at the rock table while you shop for unique jewelry (that part is NOT free!)
Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center
9800 Willow Springs Rd., Willow Springs
Explore the Little Red Schoolhouse grounds on three unpaved walking trails or the paved accessible garden trail, and from there you can connect to the Palos Trail System which winds through rolling hills and deep ravines, providing beautiful views of the surrounding landscapes. The grounds, trails and bathrooms are open seven days per week from 8 am to 4 pm, but the Nature Center exhibit buildings and drinking fountains remain closed.
1215 SR-49, Chesterton IN
Indiana Dunes National Park runs along 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, and offers 15,000 acres of beautiful scenery and 50 miles of trails that pass over and through rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers and peaceful forests.
18163 West Checker Road, Long Grove
This expansive 408-acre preserve offers 5.5 miles of gravel trails for walking and biking. Trails run through open areas within the preserve, crossing several creeks, skirting the reservoir and traversing restored prairie. Fishing is allowed in the reservoir.
6705 Route 31, Ringwood
Glacial Park is characterized by its rolling prairie, delta kames, oak savanna and the tranquil presence of the meandering Nippersink Creek. Encompassing 3,439 acres, Glacial Park contains over 490 acres of dedicated nature preserve; harbors 40 state endangered and threatened plant and animal species; is listed as one of the top five areas to view migratory wetland birds in the region.
Lincoln Park Conservatory
2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago
Visit a tropical oasis and other floral scenes at this oasis in the hear of the city, located right next to Lincoln Park Zoo. Bring a blanket and treats and enjoy a picnic, then head to the zoo afterwards for a special day.
Outdoor Exhibit: Behold, Be Held
The Block Museum, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston
Behold, Be Held uses the facades of The Block, the neighboring Ethel M. Barber Theater, and the building Youth & Opportunity United (Y.O.U.) as an outdoor gallery. Reproductions of artworks from the Block Museum collection invite visitors to reflect on how art holds us through moments of crisis. These works capture gestures that we may have taken for granted prior to the pandemic, but we have missed dearly.
Art on the Mart
Merchandise Mart, 222 W Merchandise Mart Plaza, Chicago
Stroll along the Chicago Riverwalk nightly at 8:30 & 9:00 p.m. to view the Spring 2021 Projection Program. Artwork includes the Adler Planetarium's Astrographics and a reprise of The Art Institute of Chicago's projections from Monet and Chicago and expanded work from Bisa Butler: Portraits.
Indian Boundary Park
2500 W Lunt Ave, Chicago
In the Nature Play Center, kids use their imagination and get creative while playing in this incredible outdoor space. Visitors can discover a beautifully restored nature area and duck-filled lagoon. The children’s spray pool may not be open.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
1700 S. Wentworth Ave., Chicago
Ping Tom Memorial Park's 17.44-acre site was originally a Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad yard located along the edge of the South Branch of the Chicago River in the Armour Square Community. Today, Ping Tom Memorial Park holds a children's playground, community gathering areas and Chinese landscape design elements. Outdoor featured include an athletic field, walking paths by the river, and a boat house with kayak rentals. Check first to see if rentals are available.
E Higgins Rd/Rte 72, east of I-290/Hwy 53, near Elk Grove Village
Busse Woods is one of the largest and most diverse locations in the Forest Preserves. The site includes ancient upland forests, one of the largest fishing and boating waters in Cook County, nearly 13 miles of paved trail, an elk pasture and much more, making it one of the best-used natural areas in Illinois.
28285 St. Mary's Road, Mettawa
Old School offers miles of trails, great bass fishing and secluded picnic spots in the heart of Lake County. A 2.7-mile gravel loop trail explores woods and prairies and is open for hiking, biking and horseback riding. The 1-mile lake loop trail encircles the lake and is open to for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. The 1.2-mile fitness trail is open only to foot traffic and offers workout stations that build strength and endurance. A paved 1.5-mile roadway trail winds through the preserve offers a special one-way lane popular for biking and in-line skating, and also for hikers.
Navy Pier, 600 E. Illinois St., Chicago
Navy Pier is Chicago's destination for spectacular, free fireworks. This summer, the fireworks return on Saturdays in May leading up to Memorial Day, and will continue on Wednesday and Saturdays through Labor Day.
Free Concerts and Fireworks at Rosemont's Parkway Bank Park
5501 Park Place, Rosemont
"Rockin' in the Park" and "Friday Night Concert" return this summer, check the web site for the entertainment lineup. Admission to all concerts and Friday night fireworks are free.
Chicago City Farmers Markets
Chicago City Markets sell fresh seasonal produce, flowers, prepared foods, unique Chicago-made products and rare finds. Grab your recyclable bags and head to any or all of Chicago's farmers market, on Daley Plaza, at the historic Maxwell Street Market and more. Visit the web site to see the schedule of days and locations.
7402 W Lake Katherine Drive, Palos Heights
Lake Katherine's grounds are open to the public. Bring your family and stroll around the gardens, and explore the trails around the lake and along the Cal-Sag channel. Don't miss the man-made waterfall, and the buzz n' bloom prairie where you can find species such as compass plant, bee balm and Indian grass. There's also an organic garden where crops are harvested and donated to the local food pantry. On the south side of Lake Katherine is the arboretum full of different species ranging from sweet gum to native oaks to beeches, with a children's forest comprised of wetlands, the schoolhouse arch, a salamander mound, a spider maze and more.
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave., Chicago
The Museum of Contemporary Art has re-opened, with advance registration required. You can reserve tickets online at the regular suggested price, which includes free admission for anyone ages 18 and under. You may also find discounted or pay-what-you-can tickets on the day of your visit as a walk-up, if there are tickets available.
Night Out in the Parks
Various Chicago Parks, Chicago
The Chicago Park District plans to continue its Night Out in the Parks events this summer, bringing neighbors together to laugh, dance, sing, and engage. Night Out in the Parks has provided thousands of hours of safe, diverse, and unique arts programming where artists and audiences connect and celebrate Chicago’s rich cultural tapestry in neighborhood parks. The summer lineup is to be determined, check with the park district web site for updates and information as it becomes available.
Starlight Concerts and Movies in the Park
Various Evanston Parks
Evanston's 2021 Starlight Concert Series will feature free outdoor concerts at park locations throughout the city and are being planned for Tuesdays in June and July, and the Movies in the Park are being planned for Tuesdays and Saturdays July 31 - August 28, plus Saturdays in September. The series is presented by the City's Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department. Concerts will begin at 7 p.m., unless noted otherwise in the online schedule, and movies will begin at dusk.
Palmisano Park (formerly Stearns Quarry)
2700 S. Halsted St., Chicago
This former quarry offers a fishing pond, interpretive wetlands, preserved quarry walls, trails, an athletic field, a running track, and a hill with spectacular city views. Over 1.7 miles of paths, including recycled timber boardwalks, concrete walks, a crushed stone running path, and metal grating walkways traverse the park.
Emily Oaks Nature Center
4650 Brummel, Skokie
Explore this natural oasis full of native wildflowers, grasses, oak trees, a 3-acre pond and trails, and try to spot native animals like great Great Blue Herons, Coyotes, Flying Squirrels, Northern Water Snakes, Red Foxes and Cooper's Hawks. The nature center offers a variety of free programs for kids. The Visitor Center is currently only open to program participants and rental groups.
Des Plaines History Center
781 Pearson Street, Des Plaines
The Des Plaines History Center offers tours of the restored 1906-07 Kinder House. Kids can learn what a stereo viewer is, how to work a boot jack, and why 1907 light fixtures used both gas and electricity. The experience during this interactive tour features hands-on objects that kids can try out for themselves. Tours are available upon request during History Center's regular open hours.
Crabtree Nature Center
3 Stover Road, Barrington
Over a thousand acres of rolling, glacier formed landscape in northwest Cook County has been set aside as Crabtree Nature Center. Teach your kids about "Birding," with more than 260 possible bird species to spot. Take in the self-guided hiking trails and spot ducks, geese and wildflowers. The Nature Center offers a variety of free family-friendly summer events. Nature Center exhibit buildings remain closed during COVID, and drinking fountains are not available.
North Park Village Nature Center
5801 North Pulaski Road, Chicago
This 46-acre nature preserve and educational facility offers trails that wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna. Kids can get hands-on with nature in the discovery room, handling natural objects and learning with interactive displays.
Wildwood Nature Center
529 Forestview Avenue, Park Ridge
Visit Wildwood Nature Center and take a self-guided walk through the five acre nature haven and enjoy the two ponds and butterfly garden. Stop by the Nature Nook, a free, interactive, educational area complete with books, puzzles, puppets, games, and activities. The Animal Exhibit Room is home to over 35 animals, including Ball Python Snakes, Red Tailed Boa Constrictor Snake, Rabbit, Guinea Pig, Prairie Dogs, Soft Shelled Turtles, Aquatic Turtles, Box Turtles, Tiger Salamander, Ferret, Iquana, Tree Frogs and more.
Old Town Aquarium
1538 N Wells Street, Chicago
Little ones are easily entertained in this kid-friendly aquarium store, with dozens of tanks and displays. Kids can get up close to hundreds of beautiful fish and sea life, and see stunning corals, starfish, snails, sea cucumbers and many more exotic water residents.
Chicago Women's Park & Gardens Indoor Play Space
1802 S. Indiana Ave., Chicago
Chicago Women's Park and Gardens honors the contributions women have made to the city throughout its history and provides a quiet respite for the community. Outside, the park offers a beautiful garden, and indoors is a playground with multi-level play apparatus, a toddler climbing wall, and more.
Kline Creek Farm
1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago
Step back in time to experience life on a working farm in the 1890s at Kline Creek Farm in West Chicago. Stroll through restored farmstead structures and meet the historically costumed interpreters operating this living history farm using the tools and techniques of the past. Activities and events at the farm re-create the seasonal rhythms that have governed farm life for centuries.
Little Bear Garden at Gallery Park, 2001 Patriot Boulevard, Glenview
Daily at the Storybook Trail, kids can walk, skip, jog, or, better yet, bike along the path, to read a perfect seasonal story. Presented by the Glenview Park District, the Bike Glenview Initiative, and the Glenview Public Library.
Thorn Creek Nature Center & Preserve
247 Monee Road, Park Forest
Explore over 3 1/2 miles of trails that take you through an oak-hickory woodland, floodplain and scenic ravines and pine plantations. Trails are open daily, the nature center is open Fridays and Sundays from Noon - 4pm.
Hidden Oaks Nature Center
419 Trout Farm Road, Bolingbrook
Hunt for animal homes, learn the history of the land, and discover items found on the site. The Nature Center has suspended operations until further notice, but families may enjoy the trails and outdoor spaces around the center.
Major Taylor Bike Trail
105th St. to 129th St., Chicago
This 6+ mile path was named after legendary African American cyclist Marshall "Major" Taylor, and stretches through several sections of the city and through the neighborhoods of Brainerd, Gresham, Beverly, Morgan Park, Roseland and West Pullman, as well as the Village of Riverdale.
Clark Playlot Park
3400 N. Rockwell St., Chicago
Richard Clark Park comprises nearly 19 acres of greenspace along the east bank of the Chicago River in the North Center neighborhood. At the park you'll find soccer field, the WMS Boat House, and new Kerry Wood Cubs Field. Bring your bikes to The Garden and try out a set of dirt jumps. There are 3 jump lines and a pump track with multiple routes, and terrain for all ages and skill levels.
1510 Wagner Road, Glenview
Historic Wagner Farm is one of the last working dairy farms in Cook County. The farm provides a unique opportunity for families to learn about our farming heritage and experience first-hand "the way things used to be." The Wagner Farm Heritage Center Museum and Main Exhibits are closed, but you may register for programming online. The grounds remain open for visitation.
Plum Creek Nature Center
27064 S. Dutton Road, Beecher
The Plum Creek Nature Center offers visitors a place to explore the natural world, with hands-on exhibits in addition to a natural playscape for outdoor educational experiences, featuring a pollinator garden, rain garden, and interactive play elements. Kids can touch feathers and rocks, see animal skulls, and watch the birds. Closed on Mondays.
River Trail Nature Center
3120 Milwaukee Ave, Northbrook
River Trail Nature Center tells the story of native plants and animals that remain in the urban environment, and visitors may walk through sugar maple woods along the river on self-guiding trails, learn of the past and present in the exhibit building, and visit a few of our native animals. The Nature Center grounds, trails and bathrooms are currently open seven days per week, from 8 am to 4 pm. Nature Center exhibit buildings remain closed and drinking fountains are not available.
31st Street Beach (Burroughs Beach Park)
3100 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago
The 31st Street Beach offers plenty of features to keep kids busy, including a playground with rope structures, a climbing wall and a water spray area, plus slides, swings and more.
Heller Nature Center
2821 Ridge Road, Highland Park
Oak-hickory forests, tall grass prairie, oak savanna and natural wetlands are an oasis for native plants and animals at this 97-acre preserve. Visitors can enjoy a picnic in our woodlandsand explore 3 miles of trails. The Heller nature Center Building and water fountains are closed. Trails are open from 7:30am to Dusk.
Downers Grove Museum
831 Maple Avenue, Downers Grove
Step across the threshold of the Blodgett House for a glimpse of the past. Enter a bygone era when families rested on fainting couches instead of recliners, stored food in iceboxes instead of refrigerators, and entertained themselves with parlor games instead of cyber games. Kids will find a treasure trove of fascinating facts and fun, and can view the museum collections that include everything from buttonhooks to butter paddles, washboards to wedding dresses, and baby frocks to clocks. Make a reservation for self-guided and guided tours, along with access to the Museum's research library and archival collection.
4400 N. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago
Pack your blankets, picnic and frisbees - and bring your dog, too! This is a great family friendly beach where you can enjoy free parking, restroom and grills. An ADA accessible beach walk is available. A dog friendly beach is located at north end of Montrose Beach, and south of the recreational beach is a natural area that attracts migratory birds during the fall and spring seasons. A serene dune habitat has a rare panne habitat and endangered plant life thrives at this location.
Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary
1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg
Hike and birdwatch in fields, forests, marshes and streams. Spring Valley is an outdoor living museum, where visitors can learn about nature and local history. Along with exploring, discovering, observing and listening, visitors can take a walk, birdwatch, relax and learn. The Monarch Rearing Station operates from May – September and includes daily butterfly releases, weather permitting. Visitors to the Nature Center are limited to 12 people maximum per half-hour and are encouraged to make a reservation by calling (847) 985-2100. Interior restrooms are not open to the public at this time.
Volkening Heritage Farm
201 S. Plum Grove Road, Schaumburg
Step back into the 1880s for a look at when Schaumburg was a rural German farm community. Help with seasonal farm chores, participate in family activities and games of the 1880s or simply visit the livestock and soak in the quiet. Authentically dressed interpreters welcome and guide visitors through the site. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. Visitors are limited in each building (Visitor Center/Museum Store and Farmhouse) to six people maximum per half-hour, Visitors are encouraged to make a reservation by calling (847) 985-2102. Interior restrooms are not open to the public at this time. Hours and facility availability may expand as the season progresses.
Oak Park Conservatory
615 Garfield St, Oak Park
The Oak Park Conservatory is open with no advance registration is needed to visit. Explore the flora and fauna throughout three indoor Conservatory showrooms including a Mediterranean room, Tropical room and Desert room. Outside, urban gardens representing Illinois native ecosystems. Wednesdays at 10am and 11am, kids can enjoy stories, songs, and puppets led by our volunteer docents - registration for story time is required.
Illinois Beach State Park
1 Lake Front Dr, Zion
Illinois Beach State Park stretches 6.5 miles along the sandy shore of Lake Michigan and offers a full range of recreation opportunities. Illinois Beach is the only remaining beach ridge shoreline left in the state, with dunes and swales, sprawling marshes, forests of oak and vast arrays of animal life and vegetation. Explore and check out the swimming, boating, picnicking, hiking, fishing, camping and nature.