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Illinois: Chicago, Family Vacations – Clown Fish, Dinosaurs, and Gnomes in a Garden. 206ChicagoKidsBeachFrom the beauty of Lake Michigan and Grant Park to the fireboats on the Chicago River, Chicago is an awesome place. The parks are better than ever and the Sears Tower is still a thrill when it is not in the clouds. Meet Degas at The Art Institute; learn about life before the great fire; count fish at the Shedd; watch butterflies; see dinosaurs; hunt gnomes in a garden. The city offers new family adventures every day.

Imagine unending possibilities for fun. Trying a new pizza place every night could take several vacations. The city offers a true glimpse of the creative energy found in the heartland of America. Now it is easier to decide where and what to see because almost everyplace has a web location. There are so many choices for families that planning is essential. We have a list of ideas and places to consider.

Be a kid again if only for a day. Smack dab in the middle of navy pier, Chicago Children's Museum is the place for preschoolers as well as for children up to age 10. While seasonal changes do occur permanent hands-on exhibits include Dinosaur Expedition which re-creates an expedition to the Sahara, and a dig for the bones of Suchomimus, a Saharan dinosaur and Kovler Family Climbing Schooner, a towering three story schooner with three floors of rigging which allows kids to travel to the ocean’s bottom and see topical fish and to the tip-top and racing through the rope-like tubes. There is also a mini urban adventure center known as Kidstown, which provides a toddler-scale community with grocery store, gas station and school. Bonus points: From time to time young visitors may participate in both arts and crafts as well as storytelling sessions. (Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. 700 E. Grand Ave, (312)527-1000 or www.chicagochildrensmuseum.org)

Enroll in an art experience. The Art Institute of Chicago remains one of the leading museums in the country. They offer new age multi generational programs that allow the seeds of art appreciation to be nurtured. It is not essential to be part of a class in order to enjoy the museum. It is a quieting place in a fast-paced city. The museum is known for its extensive collection of French Impressionists and Post Impressionists. On gallery walls hang works by Degas, Renoir and Monet. Marc Chagall’s stained glass “American Windows” is there. The Kraft Education Center provides family friendly exhibits, programs, games and much more. Bonus points: Each Thursday evening the Museum offers free admission. (The Art Institute of Chicago. 111 South Michigan Avenue. (312) 433-3600 or www.artic.edu and for family programs try (312) 857-7161 or artie@artic.com)

Time travel with your kids. The Chicago Historical Society is an active place where young children are allowed to climb aboard a twelve-ton locomotive. Activities change daily with craft demonstrations, creative history tales and opportunities to explore the hands-on gallery. You can’t miss the Sensing Chicago exhibit which allows kids to explore the sights and sounds of the city. They can ride a high-wheel bicycle, be a Chicago- style hot dog, discover history though smell at the Smell Map, plus much more. Bonus points: For children ages five to nine there is a Saturday afternoon story time and activity. (The Chicago Historical Society. 1601 N. Clark St. (312) 642-4600 or www.chicagohistory.org).

Enjoy a few hours under water. 206ChicagoSheddJohn G. Shedd Aquarium is a grand fish bowl perched on the shore of Lake Michigan - a blast for all ages. Located within walking distance of the Natural History Museum it is a nice complement to a day at the lakeshore. The staff has created a series of action plans to help parents enjoy the museum with their children. The themed “Ten Fun Finds” include things for tots, animal games, all about sharks, thing to make me hungry, and the best dressed at the Shedd. Each tour plan includes a high resolution map which may be downloaded from home. Bonus points: The Aquarium offers family activities like Explorer Weekends, Field Programs, camps for kids and teens and Family Overnights. Need to know: The crowds are generally the greatest during the middle of the day when the feeding cycle occurs in the tanks. Here’s the deal. The Shedd offers 52 Community Discount Days when general admission is free. (John G. Shedd Aquarium. 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive. (312) 939-2438 or www.sheddaquarium.org)

Try an animal encounter. The city boasts two zoos, each with a distinctive personality and both great choices for families. Brookfield Zoo – the larger of the two- is located west of the city about 15 miles. The state of the art complex has more than 20 exhibits and animal houses with butterflies, dolphins, and pachyderms. In habitats designed to replicate nature. The "Tropic World" recreates environments of the rainforests on three continents. The "Fragile Kingdom" imagines the desert, jungle, and mountainous regions. There is also an area dedicated to the sea as well as a Children's Zoo which includes a petting zoo. Bonus points: During the winter months the Motor Safari becomes the "Snow Ball Express" with a heated version. Need to know: Download free Zoocasts from the website read about the adventures of the zoo's animals after the zoo is closed. Created by two Second City Comedy cast members these the adventures include Aussie Polar Bear and Kelsey Giraffe and their friends including Jewel Camel and Carver, the oldest wombat. (Brookfield Zoo. 3300 Golf Road .(708) 485-0263 www.brookfieldzoo.com)

Visit an urban zoo. Lincoln Park Zoo is a city zoo smaller in scale (35 acres) than the Brookfield and therefore an easy morning excursion. It is the perfect size for grandparents who wish to enjoy a zoo experience with little ones and not have to cover too many paths to do it. The complex is green, and free form rustic. Visitors are free to enjoy exhibits which include birds, sea lions, bears, and an animal house. No matter the season this is a nice place to be. The Children's Zoo is designed to allow kids to be more at home in the woods featuring North America animals such as the red wolf and the Eastern fox snake as well as the famous Eastern box and spotted turtles. Not surprising one of the most popular corners is Pritzker Children’s Zoo inviting all to take a walk in the woods. The most interactive spot is the Farm-in-Zoo where rural farm life becomes interactive. From cow milking demonstrations and goat feeding to honey bees and fresh eggs, it’s easy-paced fun. Bonus point: Admission is always free. Need to know: The website includes downloadable fact sheets for young zoologists, and plenty of kid friendly information about the zoo resident. (Lincoln Park Zoo. N. Clark Street. (312) 294-466 or www.lpzoo.com)

Look out from a window on the world. The Field Museum of Natural History is said to be one of the largest marble structures in North America. Bonus points: The museum offers a sleep-in. Each month families are invited to bring their sleeping bags and stay after hours to participate in special learning programs. Activities include a storyteller, scavenger hunts or a flashlight tour of a distinctive part of the museum. It is necessary to call well in advance to secure a spot.  (The Field Museum of Natural History. 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr. For the sleep-ins (312) 322-8854. For general information (312) 922-9410 or fieldmuseum.org)

Picture the universe without leaving the city. The first Friday night each month Adler Planetarium invites visitors to go “far out” and view the moon, and the drama of the night ski through a 20-inch telescope that is connected to a large screen with a closed circuit monitor. To allow children younger than six years of age to also experience the sky's wonder the planetarium conducts afternoon programs on Saturdays and Sundays. Visitors may also view Nergy, the solar car, on display from Northwesten University. Your family might also enjoy a show in the newly renovated 3-D Universe Theatre. Bonus points: It is possible for families to spend the night in the Planetarium. “Astrovernights” include telescope viewing (weather permitting), unique demonstrations, hands-on activities and shows in the Sky Theater. The adventure includes a late-night snack before sleeping in the galleries, and then wake up to a continental breakfast in Galileo's Café. (Adler Planetarium. 1300 S. South Lake Shore Drive. (312) 322-0304 or www.adlerplanetarium.org)

Do the science thing just for fun. If there is time for only one museum The Museum of Science and Industry is the one. It is a museum mall with a contemporary amphitheater rotunda and many interactive experiences. Just riding the escalator is a blast for most little ones. Exhibits include the U-505, the only German submarine in the US, a Coal Mine, and Smart House. Bonus points: Don’t miss Colleen Moore's Fairytale Castle -a miniature fairytale castle donated by silent film star Colleen Moore. It includes tiny hand-painted murals and paintings by Walt Disney himself, tiny chandeliers adored with actually diamonds, the world's tiniest printed bible. Need to know: It is essential to review their website before going because they offer many special seasonal activities for families. (The Museum of Science and Industry. 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. (312) 684-1414, TT/TDD (312) 684-DEAF or www.msichicago.org)

 Go hands-on with nature. 206ChicagoButterflyThis unique museum aspires to inspire people to learn about and care for nature and the environment. The exhibitions and public programs foster green living. Feature exhibits include Lawn Nation, about America's love-hate relationship with lawns as well as a huge outdoor exhibit called the Greening Project. More remarkable and rewarding to share with children is the Butterfly Haven a 2,700 square-foot greenhouse with – you guessed it butterflies. Nearly 1,000 chrysalides arrive each week and each day new butterflies are released into the greenhouse. Enjoy a Hands-on-Habitat exhibit which is both hands-on and, body-on for naturalists ages 3 to 7. During the warm weather months take part in a garden gnome hunt in and around the grounds. Each day join others in a half-hour discovery tour and explore the exciting world of animals and plants large and small. This guided play program for young learners and caregivers provides plenty of interaction. Bonus points: Throughout the week it is possible to watch feedings for praying mantis, water snakes, catfish and sunfish, toads, and water turtles. (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. 2430 N. Cannon Drive. www.naturemuseum.org)

Experience Navy Pier day and night. This energizing lake front location is home to the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a 3-D IMAX Theater, and the Chicago Children's Museum. Spanning 50 acres, The Pier is not-to-be-missed. It has a carnival atmosphere with cotton candy, 15-story Ferris wheel, mimes, street vendors, live music, boat launches and, great restaurants. Half way along the Pier Midway you’ll find Crystal Gardens, with palm trees, fountains and flowers in an enclosed atrium. Enjoy a beautiful carousel and several kiddie carnival rides and a small ice-skating rink. During the summer months the place is lively (often crowed), but is worth the extra effort because the views are great and the atmosphere enjoyable. Bonus points: In the summer months, water taxis shuttle visitors between Navy Pier and other Chicago sights. There are fireworks on several evenings each week. (Navy Pier 600 E. Grand Ave. toll-free 1-800-595-PIER or www.navypier.com)

Planning Details
The Chicago Office of Tourism has a menu of deals and discounts for museums, attractions, and dining spotsTo print the coupons of choice to take advantage of the savings log on to Explorechicago.org
 

Content created by FamilyTravelFiles and images provided by staff, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and City of Chicago. Copyright 2012.
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