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If you have an ever-expanding baby bump or a friend with a babe due any day, get ready to wow everyone. From an art center to a bakery to a rustic-chic office space (really!), we found baby shower venues in Chicago that mom-to-be and her guests will remember forever. Scroll down to see all of our picks — and read our list of top to-dos with baby in Chicago — and start the prep!

Ravenswood Loft

This fully furnished 2,000-square-foot open studio space in the heart of Ravenswood accommodates up to 150 people. It features two private bathrooms, kitchenette and reasonably priced hourly rates. They’re uber accommodating with catering—use your own or select from their preferred vendors—and they offer decor and event planning services should you need a bit of assistance.

4437 N. Ravenswood, Ravenswood; 312-479-1390; Online: ravenswoodloft.com

Catalyst Ranch

You'll "ooh" and "aah" when you walk in—promise. Catalyst Ranch is a unique space with a variety of rooms. It’s super-versatile, fun, large but not cavernous, cozy, bright and cheerful. In other words: everything you want in a baby shower spot. Also, it's perfect for people coming from the 'burbs, as it’s right off of the Kennedy.

656 W. Randolph St., West Loop; 312-207-1710, Online: catalystranch.com

Free Range Office

Yep, a baby shower in an office -- and one you'll always remember for it's flexibility and rustic-chic appeal. You can bring in your own food and drinks, so it's the most reasonably priced of the bunch. They have tables, chairs, a sofa lounge area, an outdoor terrace, a kitchen and an assistant to help with your bash. This private loft space is a great option for those who want room to roam and a creative vibe.

2141 W. North Ave., Bucktown; 312-725-3063; Online: freerangeoffice.com

 

Beverly Arts Center

We'll let you in on a little southside secret: This is truly a gorgeous building that not enough people know about. On staff are wonderful party planners that pretty much do everything, including budgeting, working with your vendors, decorating and more. Parking is plentiful and there are several rooms within the space that will change the vibe of your event (including an art gallery with rotating exhibits — fun!). Plus, they have in-house bartenders.

2407 W. 111th St., Beverly; 773-445-3838; Online: beverelyartcenter.org

Blue Sky Bakery

This adorable café and bakery has excellent brunch and afternoon tea options, with food served family-style (perfect for a cozy gaggle of ladies). You can also feel good about booking as they provide homeless and at-risk youth with jobs.

3720 N. Lincoln Ave., Northcenter; 773-880-9910; Online: blue-sky-bakery.org

 

The Clubhouse

Big, bold and club-y like no other, Oakbrook's go-to has a whopping six private dining rooms. The menu choice is vast, with a wide variety of platters, stations, buffets and plated meals (think steaks, bacon-wrapped scallops and the like). This is definitely “the spot” if price is no object.

298 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook; 630-472-0600; Online: theclubhouse.com

Urban Icing

If you're looking for bright and cheerful, this ray of sunshine in Bucktown is your spot. Total bonus that you can have an incredibly beautiful — and delicious — cake waiting for you when you arrive. They'll even help with the logistics of catering, decorations, setup and all those little tiny details that go into making an event memorable for mama-to-be.

1944 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown; 773-384-4418; Online: urbanicing.com

Space 1858

This loft-style brick building was designed to pay homage to the urban essence of Chicago with exposed wood beams, large windows and a brick focal wall. It's beautiful, fresh simplicity provides the perfect blank canvas for your party. And an upside for a city location, parking is ample and guest access is convenient.

1858 W. Grand Ave., Ukranian Village; 312-651-6619; Online: space1858.com

The Lytle House

Have a baby shower that oozes cool at this 2,800 square foot space that has free-flowing indoor-outdoor spaces separated by a full-glass garage door and featuring high ceilings, exposed brick, factory windows, original industrial features and green space. You can even color customize the interior and landscape lighting — perfect for a gender reveal, perhaps?

5517 N. Broadway, Edgewater; 872-228-5591; Online: thelytlehouse.com

—  Maria Chambers & Christa Reed

Cover photo: Kelly Sikkema via Unsplash

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And when baby comes and you can’t muster the energy to cook one.more.meal. . . Dinner Is Served: Meal Delivery Services for Busy Chicago Families.

Build Your Sitter Bench with these Popular Services

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Fess up. You’d give up your credit card PIN and all your passwords before you’d pony up your favorite sitter’s digits. Guess what? Your friends feel the same way. Finding a good babysitter is hard and all the lessons we’ve learned about sharing fly out the window when it comes to this topic. Good news is there are plenty of services that make building your bench of trusted caregivers easy-peasy. . . and you don’t even need to break into your neighbor’s Rolodex. Read on to get the scoop on the most popular babysitting services for savvy Chicagoans.

Sittercity

Sittercity has been helping parents find nannies and babysitters for two decades. You post your job and review applicant profiles. It’s just that simple. You can look for coverage on a specific date or book an interview and evaluate for needs you have in the future. Need a part-time or short-term nanny? You can find one here. Bonus: They offer services nationally and offer specialty services for pet and senior care. 

Online: sittercity.com or the Sittercity app

UrbanSitter

UrbanSitter is great about using technology to connect users with sitters in their “network”, allowing searches based on local school or parent groups. You can also sync your account with social media pages so you can see what sitters your friends have already used. Get to know great sitters through video profiles, parent reviews and repeat family badges. Booking is fast and you can post one-time or recurring jobs. This is also a great site to use when looking for a tutor or virtual babysitting.

Online: urbansitter.com or the UrbanSitter app

College Nannies + Sitters + Tutors

Similar to K.Grace in that they’re a concierge-focused service, they also provide specific caregivers that specialize in after-school pickup and tutoring, as well as short notice care 24/7. 

Online: collegenanniesandtutors.com

Care.com

Care.com began in 2006 with a belief that quality care for your family is fundamental to the success of economic growth and stability. Research also suggested when seniors have quality in-home care, healthcare costs decline due to fewer hospital stays. They're still going strong 15 years later, never wavering from their commitment to family. Care.com not only offers a robust network of caregivers but payroll services for families to help track and manage costs.

Online: care.com

K Grace

K Grace is a mom-owned business and offers a strictly concierge-focused model. They specialize in last-minute and emergency care. In order to use their service, you need to be registered with them in advance and pay a subscription but they can likely accommodate any of your more unpredictable special requests—overnights, temporary nannies, hotel stays, etc. Expecting a baby and need middle-of-the-night care for your toddler for when you go into labor? They'll have you covered.


Online: kgracechildcare.net

— Maria Chambers & Christa Reed

Featured photo: publicdomainpictures via Pixabay

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Chicago’s Newest Sweet Spot: Dylan’s Candy Bar

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Yes, we know. As a local, traversing the mag mile with your kiddos is a hard pill to swallow. But, we think we might just have something to sweeten the experience. Dylan’s Candy Bar (named after the owner, Dylan) has brought her unparalleled sugary experience that’s already a staple in New York, Houston, Florida and California, to Chicago. Read on to hear how she not only offers 13,000 varieties of candy, but plays host to one of the coolest and unique birthday parties in town.

Dylan's Candy Bar 2

The Scoop on the history of Dylan’s
Founded by the daughter of Ralph Lauren, this mom of 10-month-old twins has created a Willy Wonka-esque desination that seeing is believing. This two-story behemoth, smack dab in the middle of the action has a café that offers salads, sandwiches and a variety of decadent treats including sundaes, s’mores, “fun-due” and cupcakes.

Dylan's Candy Bar Event Spacephoto: Dylan’s Candy Bar event space

Party like it’s your birthday at Dylan’s
If you’re looking for a birthday party venue that won’t disappoint, you can stop your search now. Dylan’s party planners specialize in customizing, well . . . everything! You can even customize buckets with your guest’s name that they can take around the store and fill with any bulk candy of their choice. Their second floor party room can easily handle a party for 30 kids and for a smaller (and more affordable) party; you can reserve some tables in the café. Even if you don’t host a party, it’s also a great place to choose a special gift for your favorite candy-lover on their big day as there are Jelly Belly, M&M, fudge and several other specialty stations that are all impressive in their own right.

Dylan's Candy Bar Cafe 2photo: Dylan’s Candy Bar Cafe

Dylan’s, it’s not just for the little sweeties
Need a fun adults-only happy hour venue that’ll make you feel like a kid again? They offer a full, candy-inspired bar that features Pop Rocks Explosion and Creamsicle martinis. When it’s starts to warm up, take a break and venture out to the outside patio that overlooks Michigan Avenue. You’d be hard pressed to find a more stellar spot for all your people-watching needs.

Dylan's Candy Bar

Why shopping Dylan’s is a purchase you can feel good about
Your dentist may not fully endorse a trip to Dylan’s, but every animal lover you know definitely approves. Dylan’s has a soft spot for animal welfare and supports shelters all over the country (including PAWS right here in Chicago).

Dylan's Candy Bar Chicago Chocolate Fountain

So, if you’re looking for a special treat or gift, happy hour with mom friends or an epic birthday party that your kid won’t soon forget, check it out. Got grandparents in town? This may be a must-visit. Dylan’s has one of the largest collections of retro candy in the world. There really is something for everyone.

Dylan’s Candy Bar
445 N. Michigan Ave.
Magnificent Mile
Online: dylanscandybar.com
Hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Have you been to Dylan’s on Michigan Ave. yet? Tell us about your experience in the Comments below!

—Christa Reed

Where to Donate Your Gently Used Toys & Books

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Ready, set, purge! Get ahead of the game by donating your gently used toys to make room for the mountain of goodies that will make their way into your homes this holiday season. Whether you involve the kiddos in the chore or you sneak the loot out while they sleep, you’ll be making a difference not only to the organization of your house, but to Chicago families in need. Read on to find local organizations that will happily accept your generosity.

photo: FeeLoona via Pixabay

Share Our Spare
This non-profit started by 10 Chicago women with a desire to help mothers less fortunate than themselves provides families living in low-income and homeless situations with the essentials they need to thrive. They typically take baby gear, diapers and other necessities, but a complete list of accepted items is available on their website.

935 W. Chestnut St., River West
Online: shareourspare.org

Lurie’s Children’s Hospital
If your child receives a duplicate gift this Christmas, consider giving the extra to Lurie’s Children’s.  Due to health risks with their patients, they can only accept new, recently purchased toys and games for children of all ages. Have cause/effect toys, play medical kits, blocks, musical toys, peaceful aquariums, books, linking toys? These are all items on their toddler wishlist.

225 E. Chicago, Streeterville
Online: luriechildrens.org

photo: PublicDomainPictures via Pixabay

Cornerstone Community Outreach
Cornerstone has a long standing commitment to providing shelter and finding homes for families and individuals who are at the greatest risk of being excluded from necessary services. They take a very wide variety of things for their residents and neighbors in Uptown, 7 days a week. They’ll not only take your used toys but other things like cribs, winter coats, sleeping bags, mittens, maternity clothing, jeans, diapers, wipes, as well as toiletries like toothpaste, soap, shampoo and everyday necessitates. Check their website for a complete list.

4628 N. Clifton Ave., Uptown
Online: ccolife.org

Toy Box Connection
This option is perfect for those in the South suburbs and accepts all clean and working toys, especially legos, puzzles, games, video games/systems, sports equipment, bikes, trikes and infant toys. TBC supports a myriad of non-profits that need them the most, including battered women shelters, orphanages, cancer camps, the Ronald McDonald House and more. Drop offs are on Mondays and Wednesdays and the occasional Saturday. Check their website for details.

159th & LaGrange Rd., Orland Park
Online: toyboxconnection.com

photo: mentatdgt via Pexels

Bookfirst
While you’re cleaning out the toy bins, consider making a separate stack of kids books for the friendly folks at Booksfirst. Booksfirst is an organization made up of local families that collect books to start libraries in Chicago Public Schools that wouldn’t otherwise have them. These schools have at least 25% homeless students. They truly believe that every family, every child can make a difference in the life of another child, another family. This is a great way to get your kids involved. For drop off locations, click here.

—Christa Reed

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8 Places for End-of-Summer Drop-In Play

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Not that you haven’t been loving summer. It’s just that the kids are starting to drive you a little batty and you could use some new diversions. We have ideas that fit your spontaneous, anything-goes schedule. Read on to discover great places with drop-in play opportunities, from indoor activities centers to swim schools that welcome you on the fly.

Yu Kids Island

photo: Yu Kids Island

Yu Kids Island
Two indoor play places will knock your socks off. Well, actually you have to keep them on in this open play establishment with spinning palms, dancing balloons and so much more. The perfect kind of leverage when you need to convince the kids to go on a mall run with you. Kids must be under 48” and unlimited play Mon.-Thurs. is $10/child and $12/child from Fri.-Sun.

5 Woodfield Mall #G144
Schaumburg
847-969-9000
&
122 Hawthorn Center # 401
Vernon Hills
phone: 847-680-3800
Online: yukidschicago.com

Lakeshore Sport and Fitness
If you’re looking for something with full drop-off, check out Lakeshore Sport and Fitness’ PeeWee camp. This perfect for your preschooler program lets them do everything including arts, games, playground time with a big bonus: a swim lesson included. Pee Wee is half day and totally flexible based on your ever-changing schedule. Prices vary.

1320 W. Fullerton Ave.
Lincoln Park
773-FITNESS
Online: lakeshoresf.com

Little Beans Café
The party doesn’t stop just because it’s summer. Little Beans Cafe is a fantastic go-to option for the littles as they offer great flexible drop in play with all sorts of special experiences every Friday. Check out their schedule for yoga, an art party, a beach party, a bounce house and special concert by Mr. Singer & Kerry Appleberry (all free with play space admission).

1809 W. Webster Ave.
Lincoln Park
773-251-1025
&
430 Asbury Ave.
Evanston
847-807-3731
Online: littlebeanscafe.com

foss-6

 

photo: Foss Swim School

Foss Swim School
No need to worry about the weather in these heated family-friendly pools. Foss’ open family swim is on Friday and Sunday evenings and lets you get a taste of their programs without committing to a session. They’ve got all the pool toys you need, a great changing area and some of the best instructors in town.

3026 N. Ashland Ave.
Lakeview
773-248-3677
Online: fossswimschool.com

Pump It Up
When it’s too hot to go outside but still need to blow off some steam, check out Pump It Up for “Summer Jumps.” The open play hours are designed for kids of different age groups so you never have to worry about your littles getting bounced on. Celebrate their birthday the last week of August with a special party that includes face painting, pizza and more.

821 W. Eastman St.
Lincoln Park
312-664-7867
Online: pumpitupparty.com

Hyde Park Neighborhood Club 
This mainstay is perfect for infants and toddlers, and only costs $9 per child. You get full gym access and a new gated infant play area for non-walkers within. This is a great drop-in opportunity on Tuesdays and Thursdays that caters to families that have a variety of children of different ages. Easy street parking, too.

5480 S. Kenwood Ave.
Hyde Park
773.643.4062
Online: hpnclub.org

For a Long, Bumpy Ride: Ball Factory

photo: Ball Factory

Ball Factory Indoor Play & Cafe Fun –864 S. Route 59, Naperville
This super-fun play place will challenge kids to reach, think, interact, explore and have fun. There’s a four-level play structure (easy to see your kids as they climb), a huge triple slide, a ball blasting arena and much more. Kids under 4 years old can also play at Parent & Tot Lounge if you need to keep the littles close. There’s a full coffee bar with a respectable café menu. 6 months-4 years $9; 5 & up $12; crawlers free with paid admission of an older sibling.

864 S. Route 59
Naperville
630-445-8365
Online: ballfactoryfun.com

Neighborhood Parents Network
The NPN calendar is full of great free or low-cost drop-in playdates for those that have some flexibility this summer. Get in on the fun at local parks and playspaces 2-3 times per week; most are open to the public. Check out their calendar at www.npnparents.org/calendar.

What is your favorite place for drop-in play? Let us know in the Comments!

— Christa Reed

 

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It’s the most anticipated green space since Maggie Daley Park. And like downtown’s massive playground and skating ribbon, Bloomingdale Trail does not disappoint. This 2.7-mile biking-walking-running-scooting path is part of an elevated trail and park system (commonly called “The 606”) that cuts through Wicker Park, Bucktown, Logan Square and Humboldt Park on the former railroad line connecting those neighborhoods. It just opened after a decade of planning. Here are the secrets of this urban oasis perfect for families (and dogs, too!).

606-7

photo: Kiran Advani

Here’s the Skinny …
The trail is paved and elevated, allowing for awesome city views. There are 12 access points on it (all with ramps perfects for strollers, scooters and bikes) and four of them are located next to ground-level parks (at Damen, Milwaukee, Ashland and Albany). If you planned to walk the trail and bike envy kicks in, there are Divvy stations just north of the Marshfield, Damen, Western and Albany access points. Dogs are allowed and especially welcome at the dog park at the Damen access point. Come ready to be inspired — everyone is talking about the trail’s convenience, beauty and how it will spur families to get healthy exercise together.

606-3

photo: Christa Reed

For the Kids …
There’s some really fantastic El train watching on the bridge near Winnebago (close to the Milwaukee access point). Fences are high enough to keep little ones in, and the water fountains are low enough to keep them hydrated. Plan a playdate at the Damen access point where there is a large sitting space with benches and Churchill Field, a baseball field at ground level. Or hit the the playground at Yates Elementary between the Humboldt and California access points (shown below). When CPS is out for the summer, this is a great park that’s close to the trail’s halfway point and perfect for your little climber. You can also find fun right off the trail at Cat & Mouse Game Store (at the Milwaukee access point) or Mindy’s Hot Chocolate for a snack (at the Damen access point).

606-1 photo: Christa Reed

Be Aware …
On our trip down the trail, we didn’t see any public restrooms or garbage cans, and parking was scarce. And the foliage is new so it’s going to take some time before there’s any legitimate shade from the trees. If you plan on taking small children there, be aware that although it’s pretty well fenced-in, there are still some unfinished drop-off spots (most notably near access points).

The path itself is smooth, but not flat. So if you’re there with your jogging stroller, be prepared for some hills. It’s not as wide as the Lakeshore Path that snakes by the Museum Campus, but does have water fountains and a rubber border. Also, be mindful of children on bikes; some have no been briefed yet on the “on-you-left” protocol.

606-2

photo: Christa Reed 

Overall, while not finished, Bloomingdale Trail beautiful and a true asset to the city. Go now — and often — while you can still take in the delightful smell of new mulch and community spirit!

For more information on Bloomingdale Trail/The 606, go to the606.org.

Have you visited this awesome new attraction yet? Let us know what you think in the Comments!

— Christa Reed