Halloween Costume Shops That Rock (& Shock!)

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It’s time to begin pondering one of life’s big questions—what to be for Halloween. Large gatherings or door-to-door trick-or-treating may not be in the game plan, but kids always love an excuse to dress up (themselves AND the house). Whether you want to have a dress-up party as a family, spookify the house or invite a few friends for a low-key meet-up, we have you covered with some of our favorite places to shop for costumes, accessories and décor. Perhaps you’re giving your doorbell-ringing finger a break this year, but keep the Halloween spirit alive with the help of these local shops in the city and the ‘burbs.

photo: iStock

For a Vintage Vibe: Lost Eras

The cool speakeasy of costume shops, Lost Eras is a hidden gem with a throwback twist. It houses a showroom full of vintage and antique collectibles, and is known for renting props and costumes to theater and movie sets (Ferris Bueller's Day OffThe Untouchables, and Public Enemies – yep, Johnny Depp wore their clothes!). At Halloween, they add to their stock and go gangbusters. If you’re looking for funky décor—Halloween or otherwise—Lost Eras has a lot to choose from.

1511 W. Howard St.
, Rogers Park
; 773-764-7400
; Online: losteras.com

For Treasure Hunting: Chicago Costume Company

Don't let its small facade deceive you: Chicago Costume is crammed to the rafters with costumes, makeup, accessories and anything else you need to transform your look. Kiddies will go bananas for the selection of Disney, Star Wars, superhero and comic book costumes. This is one of just a handful of year-round costume shops so don’t panic when your little superhero needs a new costume in January. Too busy to shop in the store? Purchase online and have your costume shipped to you or pick it up for free at one of their two Chicago locations.

1120 W. Fullerton, Lincoln Park; 773-528-1264 & 4727 W. Montrose St., Portage Park; 773-282-1264; Online: chicagocostume.com

For a Spooky Setting: Halloween Hallway

Known for its robust selection of adult costumes, Halloween Hallway also caters to kids with four Chicago locations (River North, Wicker Park, Downtown, Lincoln Park) that are open during Halloween season only. We love the overabundance of accessories. They take decorating seriously and some of the décor (zombies, vampires and other things that go bump in the night) might be a little scary for little ones—yet super-duper cool for big kids!

Click here for locations.

For the Procrastinator or Late-Night Shopper: Fantasy Costumes

This year-round costume headquarters is a Chicago classic and known for helpful service. So helpful, in fact, that for the last few days before Halloween, they stay open 24 hours a day so if your little goblin won’t go to sleep, maybe consider costume shopping! Kids will love the Fortnite costume selection—and with so many adult costumes, your whole family can dress up together! Fantasy Costumes goes above and beyond in the accessories department, so expect to find an enormous selection of makeup, wigs, masquerade masks and other dodads to complete the transformation.

4065 N. Milwaukee Ave., Portage Park; Online: fantasycostumes.com

For Kids, Pumpkins & Pets: Spirit Halloween

North, south, east, west, no matter where you turn, Spirit is like your friendly-ghost neighbor. With costumes for everyone—including pets—a dedicated pumpkin carving area and a "glow" section of accessories that will last well beyond Halloween, you'll find everything you need here.

Many locations are seasonal brick-and-mortar stores, open only during the holiday time. Click here for locations.

Online: spirithalloween.com

photo: Hanna Andersson

For Keeping it Simple: Hanna Andersson & Old Navy

"Aww"-worthy costumes and Halloween-themed pjs that can pass for costumes pop up for the season at both Hanna Andersson and Old Navy. This is an especially great option for babies and toddlers who haven't completely bought into the holiday yet, but have parents who want to dress up their dolls. You'll often find all the popular themes with a much smaller price tag than an actual costume. Practical parents love the soft cotton ones that can even double as pajamas. Bonus: You can usually score trick-or-treat bags, too.

— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson


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Editor’s Note: What’s open and what’s not is ever-changing during COVID-19 mitigations, so please check with each sled hill prior to a visit to inquire on availability.

Make the climb and then down, down, down you go. Where will you stop? At the bottom of one of Chicago’s awesome sledding hills—with a humongous smile on your cheeks. We’ve already seen quite a bit of the white stuff, so take advantage of the powder for some downhill family fun in the snow. We’ve got you covered from Soldier Field to Vernon Hills.

photo: iStock


Dan Ryan Woods

Located in the Beverly neighborhood, this slope is a well-kept South Side secret. It's rarely crowded, has hills for both sleds and snowboards and is great for all ages—especially little ones thanks to the easy “up” paths. Fun fact to share with the kiddos: Surrounded by a pretty forest, the hill is the remaining basin of a glacier. W. 87th St. & S. Western Ave. Online: fpdcc.com.

Palmisano Park

The kids will think it’s neat they're sledding on a former garbage dump—minus the stink—turned sledding hill. Enjoy the magnificent southern view of Chicago's skyline and the park's pond and wetlands, and warm up with coffee from Jackalope Coffee or Bridgeport Coffeehouse, located just down the street. 2700 S. Halsted St. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Caldwell Woods

The famous toboggan slides from this Northwest-side hill are gone, but this is still a great place to whiz down a snowdrift. It’s easy for small kids to manage, is lit at night, has ample parking and indoor bathrooms (which are off-limits right now due to COVID). Go around lunch or dinner to enjoy Superdawg just around the corner. Devon and Milwaukee Avenues. Online: fpdcc.com.

cpd-sleddingphoto: Chicago Park District 

Oz Park

It may not be the biggest sledding hill to be found, but its convenient location keeps Lincoln Park families flocking there. When the kiddos retire their sleds for the day, take a stroll through the park to check out the Wizard of Oz statues: Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and Dorothy & Toto. 2021 N. Burling St. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Soldier Field 

The magnificence of Soldier Field is overshadowed in the eyes of children in the winter by the nearby sledding hill.  The Chicago Park District creates its own faux snow to supplement the real stuff, so the hill is kept white and fluffy. With a 33-foot vertical drop, this one is great for the thrill-seekers in your family. Be sure to call (312-235-7000) before you head south for the winter, as sledding is not always available. 425 E. McFetridge Dr. Online: soldierfield.net.

Humboldt Park

Another hidden gem can be found at Humboldt Park, one of the few hills located on the west side. If the kids aren't worn out from sledding, enjoy free ice skating in the park. 1400 N. Sacramento Ave. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com.

photo: reksik004 via Pixabay

Montrose Harbor

Shhhh . . . the harbor's Cricket Hill isn't officially designated for sledding, but come winter it's one of the favorite downhill fun spots for city dwellers. Total bonus: this hill has beautiful lakeshore views, and the boat harbor is just as stunning in winter as it is in summer. 601 W. Montrose Dr. Online: chicagoharbors.info.

Gompers Park

A wetland destination in the summertime, Gompers Park slicks up in winter, covering nearly 39 acres in the North Park neighborhood. With its smaller hills, it's perfect for newbies looking for a minor thrill. 4222 W. Foster Ave. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Horner Park

An Irving Park neighborhood gem, Horner Park is mostly known for its seasonal events and summer sports. However, in between holiday festivities the park’s hills are filled with sled-toting families lined up for snowy thrill-seeking in one of the North Side’s biggest parks. 2741 W. Montrose Ave. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com.

Warren Park

Here you get the perk of a big parking lot that’s rarely full, plus plenty of street parking. Situated in the heart of Rogers Park, the hill is a decent size and known for being a popular destination for toboggan users. It’s also great for little ones since the hill has stairs on either side, starting gates at the top of the hill and a nearby warming house. If you tire of sledding, this park also has one of the city’s best outdoor ice rinks. 6601 N. Western Ave. Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com.

photo: ddimitrova via Pixabay



James Park — Evanston

Some people know this park by its former life as a landfill. In fact, its biggest hill is lovingly called "Mount Trashmore" by locals. Pay that no mind—the sledding here is an absolute joy, even if the most massive mount is off-limits (the four adjacent slopes, of small and medium steepness, are open for sledding). Dodge Ave. & Mulford St. Online: cityofevanston.org.

Blackwell Forest Preserve — Warrenville

Beautiful oak trees surround the 800-foot Mount Hoy sledding hill where $10 rents you a tube for the day. Mount Hoy is only open on the weekends and school holidays (and closes at 4 p.m.) and only for tubing. Never fear sledders, the park does have smaller sledding hills. Nearby you’ll find an ice rink, sleigh rides (check website for updates, as availability has not yet been announced) and snowshoe rental. Butterfield Rd. west of Winfield Rd. Online: dupageforest.org.

Barrie Park — Oak Park

Climb the stairs to the tippy-top of this gentle slope that’s oh-so-popular on snowy Saturdays. The hill was redesigned for better flow but still can get icy which means the big kids will love going fast and little ones may need a grown-up to ride with them. 1011 S. Lombard Ave. Online: pdop.org.

Eldridge Park — Elmhurst

BYO toboggan or sled and let it rip at this spacious, lighted sledding hill. If practicing figure 8s is more your speed, head to the park’s lagoon for skating (allowed when ice is eight inches thick). 363 Commonwealth Ln. Online: epd.org.

Flick Park — Glenview

This lighted sledding hill has a roughly 30-degree slope that cascades into an open field. Bonus: convenient adjacent parking. 3600 Glenview Rd. Online: glenviewparks.org.

photo: Pezibear via Pixabay

Caboose Park — Lake Villa

In addition to a sizable hill, Caboose Park has one of the few toboggan chutes in the area. It’s also one of the few hills lit for late-night sled goers. The lights are on daily, 5:30 p.m.-10 pm. 27908 Fairfield Rd. Online: lakevillatownship.org.

Riverwalk Sled Hill at Rotary Hill — Naperville

Right on the Naperville Riverwalk, this sledding hill allows for easy pre- or post-sledding fun with a nearby ice rink and lots of dining options in downtown Naperville. Le Chocolat has the most amazing selection of hot chocolate, for those looking for a liquid warm-up. 441 Aurora Ave. Online: napervilleparks.org.

Techny Prairie Park and Field — Northbrook

With a 28-foot hill, Techny Prairie Park and Fields may seem overwhelming for smaller sledders. However, the hill has stairs making it a ball for kids of all ages. It is well lit at night and has a warming house for kids (or parents) who need a burst of heat. 1750 Techny Rd. Online: nbparks.org).

Century Park — Vernon Hills

We love this one because of its awesome warming shelter (open weekends only) and nearby restrooms. Sledding is permitted when snow is considered by the Park District to be deep enough; a sign posted near the hill will tell you if sledding is permitted on any given day. Century Park has an ice rink with skate rentals, as well as candy and hot drinks available for purchase. 1401 Indianwood Dr. Online: vhparkdistrict.org.

North Salk Park — Rolling Meadows

Very family friendly, especially for little ones because it’s one of the few hills with steps for the climb back up. There is no sledding allowed if a red flag is posted; a yellow flag means use caution. In the evenings, the hill is lit up. 3160 Owl Dr. Online: rmparks.org.

— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson

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Capri Sun? Been there, sipped that. Now introduce your kid to Chicago’s fresh-squeezed juice scene. (Psst. . . it’s a great way to sneak in veggies!) We hopped around to town to find juice bars and cafes that focus on the all-natural stuff and have family-friendly atmospheres to boot. Grab a tall, healthy glass at one of these sunny spots, or take it to go and mosey through a park.

photo: Real Good Juice Co.

Real Good Juice Co.
Why it deserves a squeeze: The locally owned spot will be your new favorite place to pop in for a sandwich and cold-pressed juice, and treat the kids to a special smoothie. They also get points for convenience with their online ordering option.

Real Good Juice Co. now has several locations in the city and you can find them in Whole Foods, as well. They offer 10-ounce cold-pressed juices which boast three pounds of organic produce per bottle and come with witty names like Juicille Ball and Punky Juice-ster. For a snack, there is dehydrated fruit and granola, or try the AB & J toast topped with homemade almond butter and jam.

Locations in the city and the ‘burbs
Online: realgoodjuiceco.com

Why it deserves a squeeze: A must-visit for weekend brunch, this Greektown staple has fresh squeezes on the daily, good for sipping on the spot or on the go.

You may know this neighborhood fave for its Greek-inflected breakfast and brunch menu. We’re talking scramblers, omelets, breakfast sandwiches, French toast, pancakes and waffles, plus vegan and gluten-free options (hello, polenta pancakes). But you’d be remiss in missing the juice bar, a pivotal portion of Meli’s menu. Beyond your standard OJ and apple juice (which are both available for traditionalists), Meli ventures into hearty meal-in-a-glass territory with juice blends such as celery-apple-carrot, mango-orange-kiwi-honey and wheatgrass-pineapple-apple-pear-lemon.

301 S. Halsted St., Greektown
Online: melicafe.com

Why it deserves a squeeze: This LA-based franchise has been blending juices and smoothies for twenty years so they know how to create a tasty and healthy treat.

This is the only Illinois location of Robeks and juice and smoothie lovers have flocked here for years for favorites like the G-Snap with ginger, carrot and orange and the ABC with apple, beet and carrot juices.

2936 Showplace Dr., Naperville
Online: robeks.com

photo: Harvest Juicery

Harvest Juicery
Why it deserves a squeeze: The owners boast backgrounds in both the restaurant and fitness industries, resulting in the best of both worlds in their unique juice blends.

Fresh, locally sourced, and seasonal fruits and vegetables are the stars of the bottles at Harvest Juicery. Bolstered with life-affirming spices and herbs, each juice medley tastes more like a composed entree or dessert that just so happens to be drinkable. Give your teeth a rest and “chow down” on fruit-based concoctions and green juices. There’s even a watermelon juice and dessert-y smoothies the kids will crave.

Several locations in the city
Online: harvestjuicery.com

The Lifeway Kefir Shop
Why it deserves a squeeze: Come for the frozen kefir, yogurt’s quirky BFF, and stay for the just-as-tasty juice.

While they may have built their reputation on frozen kefir (think frozen yogurt, but with more probiotic cultures), Lifeway knows what it’s doing when it comes to fruit. In case the name didn’t make that obvious. Put down the kefir and the spoons for a minute and try their juices. You won’t be disappointed. Especially when the flavor options are as vibrant and alluring as Limelight with apple, cucumber and lime or Invincible that blends apple, lemon and orange.

Three locations in the city
Online: lifewaykefirshop.com

photo: Belli’s

Why it deserves a squeeze: You can get your juice with a side of vegan pizza.

Founded thanks to a Kickstarter campaign and named after owner Alexandra Curatolo’s pet French Bulldog, Belli’s brings healthy, local food to Pilsen. When you walk in, you’re greeted by a colorful menu with concoctions featuring fresh local and organic leafy greens for a daily dose of essential vitamins. For the more adventurous, there is even Kombucha on tap.

1307 W. 18th St., Pilsen
Online: bellischicago.com

Left Coast Food and Juice
Why it deserves a squeeze: famed Chicago Chef, Paul Kahan, developed the menu.

Start your morning with a Mornin’ Buzz smoothie for you (espresso, cacao, peanut butter, macca powder, banana and dates) and a kid’s Sophia’s Strawberry Milk (cashew milk, strawberries, beet juice powder, agave and vanilla) for your little sidekick. If you’re looking for something more substantial to go with your juice or smoothie, Left Coast has a complete menu divided into First Wave (breakfast), Greens, Grains, Wraps, and, of course, Kiddos.

Locations in Lincoln Park, River North & Loop
Online: leftcoastfood.com

— Jen Peterson & Matt Kirouac


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Chicago has enough sights, sounds and photo opps for playing tourist, you never need to leave the city limits. But if you haven’t left it lately, now is the time to cross the border. Head north of Howard Street and discover a whole new world of family attractions to the north. Scroll to find your family’s new favorites.

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Gallop. However you make your way down this two-mile trail, you're sure to enjoy the sights. The paved path is lined with sculptures from artists across the world. If you want to know more about the eye candy, the park offers docent-led tours or you can download info online here.

Located along the east side of McCormick Blvd., between Dempster St. & Touhy Ave., Skokie; Admission is free; Online: sculpturepark.org

Baha'i Temple

If your kids know how to use their indoor voices, you will get lost in the charms of this house of worship for followers of the Baha'i faith (it's open to the public for free, self-guided tours). The beautiful domed building was constructed in 1953 and designed by French Canadian Louis Bourgeois. It wows with architectural feats (check out the intricately carved stone pillars) and surrounding manicured gardens. Come for a performance of the a cappella Baha’i Choir or Young Voices of Unity Choir made up of singers ages 9-16.

100 Linden Ave., Wilmette; Admission is free; Online: bahai.us

Skokie Water Playground

If the ginormous bucket of 300 gallons of water that tilts down and drenches anyone in sight is any indication, this is one fun place. Splash on three water slides, a fully accessible sprayground, lap lanes and more. There's an onsite concession stand, if you need to refuel before heading back into the water or going down the street to the Adventure Mini Golf course.

4701 Oakton St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org

Robert Crown Community Center and Ice Complex

When the sun really beats down, grab your skates and hit the ice. The massive indoor rink keeps families busy with skating lessons and open skate, plus hockey and broomball (look for the drop-in game schedule posted online).

1701 Main St., Evanston; Online: cityofevanston.org

Prairie Joe's

Treasures from floor to ceiling (original oil paintings, figurines and even a fake shark) keep little eyes flitting to and fro. Meanwhile, breakfast and favorites (Denver omelettes, granola bowls and Mexican specialties) keep bellies full. High chairs are on hand. Keep in mind: This spot is cash only.

1921 Central St., Evanston; Online: prairiejoes.com

photo: Wilmette French Market

Farmers' Markets

The near North Shore has the pick of the crop when it comes to free-entry farmers markets. Every Saturday, the year-round Evanston Farmers Market bubbles over with seasonal fruits, veggies and flowers. You can also try a tamale or crepe, dance to live music, and learn how to make the most of your bounty at cooking or canning demos. Continue north on Saturday for the Wilmette French Market or visit the Skokie Farmers Market on Sunday.

Evanston Farmers Market is located at the intersection of University Place & Oak Ave. in warm months and at the Evanston Ecology Center, 2024 McCormick Blvd. during cold-weather months; Online: cityofevanston.org

Wilmette French Market is help April-November at 1200 Wilmette Ave.; Online: wilmette.com

Skokie Farmers Market is held June-October at 5127 Oakton Ave.; Online: skokie.org

photo: Skokie Exploritorium

Skokie Exploritorium

This hidden-gem museum delights kids with hands-on exhibits about light, water, wind and more. Come wearing your thinking cap -- or just romp around. Attractions include a giant “light bright” peg board, musical instruments, and climbing tubes and tunnels that stretch two-and-a-half stories.

4701 Oakton St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org


Painting. Playdough. Puppets. That's just part of what you'll find at Evanston's art and play space when you drop-in for play Monday-Saturday. There is always an art project to tackle, or kids can draw on the giant magnetic chalkboard, fiddle at the train table, dress up in costumes, play grocery store and more. Parents are invited to relax and enjoy complimentary coffee or tea. In the back, there's a quiet room called the Nest for reading, nursing or napping with toys for younger kids, books and a LEGO table.

602 Davis St., Evanston; Online: gathereverywhere.com

photo: Skokie Park District

Emily Oaks Nature Center

Slip away from the noise of the city. You'll see lush greenery, hear birds chirp and maybe even spot a deer at this leafy paradise. Before you explore, stop at the visitors center for an interactive preview of what's ahead and pick up a trail map. Kids ages six and older get a Trail Pack full of fun and educational activities to enjoy on their walk. There are plenty of picnic tables for snack breaks, so bring along a sack lunch.

4650 Brummel St., Skokie; Online: skokieparks.org

Maya Papaya & Tony Macarony

Maya and Tony are the monkey mascots of this bright, cheerful boutique. It's certainly fitting, because you'll go bananas when you see the nicely curated selection of clothes, accessories, shoes, toys and gifts for kids ages newborn to 10. With brands like Tea Collection, Appaman, Milk Barn, Blowfish and Hatley, you sure to find something for any occasion.

1901 Central St., Evanston; Online: maya-tony.com

Bent Fork Bakery

This family-owned bakery makes their goodies fresh daily, so hide your diet away for a day because their treats will make all your sweet dreams come true. While they don’t claim to be totally allergy-free, they do offer some gluten-free treats and even have a few vegan options on the menu for animal-friendly folks. Need a birthday cake? Ask for a custom-designed cake in the flavor of your choice, but make sure to place your order a few days in advance. Trust us, each bite will be worth the wait.

335 Waukegan Ave., Highwood; Online: thebentfork.com

North Shore Center For The Performing Arts

Youtheatre is a North Shore staple for kindergarten-12th graders, so if you haven’t brought the kids to one of their performances, run, don’t walk to a box office near you! They offer captivating one-hour productions which inspire creative learning opportunities that enhance Common Core standards and infuse empathy and imagination.

9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; Online: northshorecenter.org

Hot Ground Gym

Instead of making kids drop and give them 20, Hot Ground Gym’s Junior Boots program, inspires kids grades K-8 through positive encouragement. Kids take part in fun and physically engaging missions that include activities like rope climbing, tire jumps, crawling, wall climbing or monkey bars. Looking for a new North Shore birthday party hotspot? Celebrate with an action-packed, 90-minute American Ninja Warrior-style birthday party.

Locations in Vernon Hills & Northbrook; Online: hotgroundgym.com

— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson


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As summer winds down, the days are short and the nights are long, but that’s no reason to hibernate. Head out after dark and experience the kid-friendly activities that come alive at bedtime. Flip through our photo album and get to know our favorites, from painting to glow-in-the-dark bowling.

photo: Laser Quest Downers Grove

Be Overtaken by the Giggles at Laser Quest

Hide-and-seek meets tag -- in the dark -- at these suburban palaces. Duck around corners and surprise family members while lasers, fog and music stirs around you. Because so much darkness can be scary for little ones and players carry a pack, Laser Quest is recommended for kids who are at least 48 inches tall (although some parents have worn the pack for their kids).

4167 N. Harlem Ave., Norridge (708-457-2002); 1524-C Butterfield Rd., Downers Grove (630-705-0500) & 644 E. Rand Rd., Arlington Heights (847-222-9900). Cost: $9 per person per game. For tickets and more info, go to laserquest.com.

photo: Waveland Bowl

Watch them Light Up with Cosmic Bowl at Waveland Bowl

Black lights, eye-catching neon and bowling pins come together for a real knockout at Waveland Bowl. During its regularly scheduled Cosmic Bowling, families enjoy glow-in-the-dark bowling, 80s music, hot dogs and pizza. 

3700 N. Western Ave., Lakeview (773-472-5900 or online at wavelandbowl.com)
KidZone Cosmic Bowing happens Fri., 3 p.m.-5 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 1 p.m.-3 p.m.

photo: Shedd Aqarium

Make the Late-Night Fun Educational with Museum Sleepovers

What exactly does go on in Chicago's museums after dark? Bring your PJs and sleeping bag to find out. At the Field Museum’s Dozin’ with the Dinos, you get up-close with insects, dissect owl pellets and explore ancient Egypt in the dark (bring your flashlight!). At the Museum of Science and Industry, families participate in special science experiments and a scavenger hunt during the popular Snoozeum events. And at Shedd Aquarium's overnights, you play games and watch sea creatures before morning breakfast and a day at the Aquarium. These events sell out far in advance, so book your spot early.

Field Museum's Dozin’ with the Dinos happens Jan. 18 & 25; Feb. 8; Mar. 1, 8, 22 & 29; Apr. 6. Reserve online at fieldmuseum.org.

Museum of Science and Industry's Snoozeum happens Dec. 7 (with a special combo Apollo 8 and holiday theme!), Jan. 18, Feb. 22, Mar. 15 & April 5. Reserve online at msichicago.org.

Shedd's Asleep with the Fishes is scheduled for Oct. 26, Nov. 9 & Dec. 7. Reserve online at sheddaquarium.org.

Get in Touch with Your Inner Child with Flashlight Tag

Before snow blankets the ground, huddle up at a park for a game of flashlight tag. We recommend Lincoln Square’s Welles Park for its manageable size and friendly neighborhood. When you're done, walk down Lincoln Avenue to Café Selmarie for homemade hot chocolate and cookies. If you don't know the rules of flashlight tag, here's a rundown: The person who is “it” holds the flashlight and counts while everyone else hides. You tag people by pointing the flashlight at them and saying their name. The first person found is the new “it.”

Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave., Lincoln Square. Open until 11 p.m. daily. (312-742-7511 or chicagoparkdistrict.com)

Photo: Jikatu on Flickr creative commons

photo: Hollywood Palms

Plan a Family Date at Hollywood Palms

The whole dinner-and-a-movie thing has been done before -- but not quite like at Hollywood Palms Cinema in Naperville. Sit down in comfier-than-usual leather rocking chairs and order off a big menu of gussied-up favorites (Santa Monica shrimp and fries, Momma Mia pizza burgers). Dinner comes to you during the show. Allow enough time to explore the cinema before settling in. The owner flew to Miami to purchase real palm trees for the space and the entire lobby has the feel of an Indiana Jones film, bamboo-roofed box office, cascading waterfall and all.

352 S. Route 59, Naperville (630-428-5800). For tickets and info, go to hollywoodpalmscinema.com.

Get Creative at Glazed Expressions

Get a jump on holiday gift making at this paint-your-own pottery studio. Your petite Picasso can select a pre-fired clay piece and paint it using the studio’s materials. Make it even more personal by adding your child’s handprint or footprint on a plate or platter. Good news for really young ones: Finger painting is not only allowed, it's encouraged.

717 W. Armitage Ave., Lincoln Park (312-876-1792) & 5117 Main St., Downers Grove, (630-852-8700). Get more info online at glazedexpressionsstudio.weebly.com.

— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson

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Pancakes, flapjacks, silver dollars – no matter what your kids call them, we know they love them. This year, March 4 is National Pancake Day, so we’ve done the hard work of finding the best spots in our brunch-loving city to find pancake paradise all year long. From plain ol’ tried and true to the gourmet, read on to find the top choices for every taste.

For Nutella goodness: Sugar Factory
Do you need to know anything more than the fact that they have a Nutella-focused breakfast treat? It’s topped with melted hazelnut chocolate, whipped cream and served with warm maple syrup. ‘Nuf said.

5445 Park Place, Rosemont (847-233-9010 or sugarfactory.com); 55 E. Grand Ave., River North (312-946-2002 or sugarfactory.com)

For fruity delights: M.henry
The blackberry bliss cakes live up to their name. These heavenly hotcakes are pillows of pancake-y goodness with silky vanilla marscapone slathered on each bite. Topped with blackberries and an apple crisp-like crumble, they will make the whole family dream for days.

5707 N. Clark St., Andersonville (773-561-1600 or mhenry.net)

For sweet simplicity: Sweet Maple Cafe
No need to be fancy: These no-frill pancakes are made from an original family recipe and served with Vermont maple syrup and pure butter. The space itself is small and homey (with free parking across the street); it’ll remind you of rolling out of bed at Grandma’s to the smell of pancakes on the griddle.

1339 W. Taylor St., Little Italy (312-243-8908 or sweetmaplecafe.com)

bongo-roomphoto: Bongo Room via Daniel L. on Yelp

For total indulgence: Bongo Room
Warning: If you let your littles indulge in more than a short stack they may be bouncing off the walls until the end of the day. The good news is you’ll happily volunteer to clean their plates yourself. From gingerbread and caramelized pear to cranberry and cinnamon swirl pancakes (selections change often), these over-the-top creations taste more like dessert than breakfast.

1470 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wicker Park (773-489-0690); 5022 N. Clark St., Andersonville (773-728-7900); 1152 S. Wabash St., South Loop (312-291-0100); Online: thebongoroom.com

For birthday pancakes: Southport Grocery and Cafe
Whoever thought to use cupcake batter to make pancakes is probably more of a genius to your child than Albert Einstein. This cafe makes some of the best cupcakes in town, which translates perfectly to the not-too-sweet griddled version served with vanilla butter. Oh, by the way, did we mention they’re gluten free?

3552 N. Southport Ave., Lakeview (773-665-0100 or southportgrocery.com)

walker-brosphoto: Walker Bros via Anya C. on Yelp

For sheer variety: Walker Bros.
This North Shore mainstay (it’s been around for over 50 years!) knows flapjacks. The menu has over a dozen varieties from the kiddie favorite “little dollars” to the oven-baked thick and gooey apple cinnamon pancake. Each location is super kid-friendly with plenty of high chairs and spots to sit while you wait for your table. Because, let’s face it: There will be a wait.

Locations in: Arlington Hts., Glenview, Highland Park, Lake Zurich, LincolnshireWilmette and Schaumburg

For good old fashioned goodness: Delia’s Kitchen
These pancakes are so delicious you’ll forget they could even be good for you! They’re made with healthy whole grain buckwheat and simplicity is key. The old-fashioned stack is served in a classic manner with butter and syrup. The only challenge may be ignoring the bacon pancakes listed on the menu. Be sure to try their blueberry lemon ricotta stacks. So, so, so good!

1034 W. Lake St., Oak Park (708-358-1300 or deliaskitchen.net)

blueberry-hill photo: Blueberry Hill

For the fluffiest around: Blueberry Hill
If large fluffy flapjacks smothered in fruit are your pancake style, this is your holy grail. Triple berry, apple cinnamon, peach, pumpkin spiced and blueberry banana are just a few of the ways to top off your favorite breakfast treat.

Locations in: Oakbrook, Darien, Homer Glen, Aurora, LaGrange, Homewood and Plainfield; Online: blueberrybreakfastcafe.com

For a cultural twist: Svea Restaurant
Andersonville still brims with Scandinavian cultural influences, including the Swedish American Museum, which has a hands-on exhibition area for kids. But first, stop by Svea, an authentic Swedish restaurant-meets-diner. Try the paper-thin Swedish pancakes served with the fun-to-say, slightly tart lingonberry jam.

5236 N. Clark St., Andersonville (773-275-7738 or facebook.com/Svea-Restaurant)

For ooey gooey goodness: Wildberry

Cinnamon spice and everything nice (like a warm vanilla glaze) is what these pancakes are all about. Every bite mixes sweet and spicy perfectly. And if you visit the Chicago Randolph Street location, you and your kids can run off your sugar buzz across the street at Maggie Daley Park.

Locations in: Chicago (brand new Water Tower location), Libertyville and Schaumburg; Online: wildberrycafe.com

Pannenkoeken Cafephoto: Pannenkoeken Cafe

For a Dutch treat: Pannenkoeken Cafe

The owner of Pannenkoeken Café fell so in love with Holland’s large, thin, open-faced pancakes, that she studied how to make them and brought her skills back home to Chicago. The result is a small café with big pannenkoeken that come sweet (yummy chocolate banana) or savory (bacon and cheese? Yes, please!).

4757 N. Western Ave., Lincoln Square (773-769-8800 or pannenkoekencafe.com)

For a healthy start: Prasino
Gluten-free? Vegetarian? Vegan? Prasino has ‘em all and they are all delicious. We’re partial to the carrot cakes (vegetarian) made with fresh grated carrot, cinnamon and nutmeg topped with raisins, sweet cream and pecans.

93 S. La Grange, La Grange (708-469-7058 or prasino.com)

For a lunchtime pancake: CornerStone Cafe
You’ve probably driven by the CornerStone Café a million times. Next time, stop for pancakes — especially at lunchtime when you can have pigs in a blanket. We’re talking old-school pigs in a blanket with three sausage links wrapped in some of the fluffiest pancakes you’ll ever eat.

2753 N. Western Ave., Bucktown (773-235-1155); 2200 N. Clybourn, Lincoln Park (773-270-4343); Online: chicagocornerstonecafe.com

By popular demand: The Original Pancake House
Time and time again Chicagoans shout the praises of The Original Pancake House. And, holy cow, with their speciality being The Original World Famous Apple Pancake oven baked with sliced Granny Smith apples and cinnamon sugar glaze, anyone can understand why. Snuggle in with that on a cold winter’s day and don’t even feel a tiny bit guilty about it.

Locations in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park, Oak Forest, Orland Park and Gold Coast

What is YOUR favorite place to throw down this sweet breakfast treat? Let us know in the Comments!

— Maria Chambers and Jen Peterson

Get the Kinders in on the Oktoberfest Fun!

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Ready to polka your way into fall? Celebrate the traditional autumn festival with oompah bands, games, crafts and authentic eats. Whether you’re looking for a traditional German celebration or just a way to enjoy one more fest before the cold weather hits, read on to find the scoop on the area’s best Oktoberfests.

hofbrauhaus-hornphoto: Hofbräuhaus Chicago

Hofbräuhaus Chicago Oktoberfest
The sister location to the legendary original in Munich is surprisingly family friendly on weekend afternoons. And through October 23, it makes kinder feel even more special during its annual Oktoberfest event. In a grand dining hall packed with communal tables, you can get excited about a rotating array of European musicians that play oompah music on stage (brace yourself for the chicken dance). There are also kids’ parades and games, and you might even see an aplhorn, a long horn used by Swiss mountain dwellers. Come hungry: The kids’ menu features hot dogs, noodles and chicken tenders, but if they’re up for authentic German fare, order the wurstplatte (a plate stacked with Vienna-style frankfurters, pork and chicken sausages) or sauerbraten (Bavarian-style pot roast). Don’t leave without trying a freshly baked pretzel imported from Munich!

Sept. 16 -Oct. 23
Cost: Free
5500 Park Place
MB Financial Park
Online: hofbrauhauschicago.com

St. Benedict’s Oktoberfest
Chicago’s North Center neighborhood celebrates is German roots at the St. Benedict’s Oktoberfest. German music and dancers take the stage and kids can get their thrills with carnival rides and games. Food from Himmel’s makes for a great way to introduce German favorites to your kids. This is the 52nd, annual event so you know everyone loves it!

Sep. 29, 3 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sep. 30, 1 p.m.-10 p.m.; Oct. 1, 1 p.m.-8 p.m.
Cost: Free
St. Benedict’s
2215 W. Irving Park Rd.
North Center
Online: stbensoktoberfest.com

st-alphonsus-oktoberfestphoto: Oktoberfest Chicago at St. Alphonsus

Oktoberfest at St. Alphonsus
A Chicago favorite, we love this fest for its dedicated Kinderfest where kids can learn how to polka, listen to German folktales, bounce in the bouncy house and even master an obstacle course. With plenty of German food and music, we understand why USA Today named this one of the best fests in the country. After the family fun, head back after hours for 80’s and Dave Matthews cover bands like 16 Candles and Trippin’ Billies.

Sep. 29, 6 p.m.-10 p.m.; Sep. 30, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Oct. 1, 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Kinderfest, Sat. & Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Cost: $5/person.
St. Alphonsus Church
1429 W. Wellington St.
Online: oktoberfestchicago.org


lynfred-oktoberfestphoto: Lynfred Winery

Lynfred Winery Oktoberfest
Stomp grapes, sing and let the spirit move you at this west suburban winery and inn, which throws this bash in celebration of the grape harvest. Young and old are invited to join in on the grape stomping and grape spitting contests. There’s also a German sing-a-long, cork tossing contest and lederhosen costume contest. Dig into pork sandwiches from a pig roast and heap on a side of German potato salad. Don’t leave without buying a caramel apple, strudel or a slice of delicious German chocolate cake.

Sep. 30, 3 p.m.-9 p.m. & Oct. 1, noon-7 p.m.
Cost: $10/person; free for ages 13 & under
15 S. Roselle Rd.
Online: lynfredwinery.com

Naper Settlement Oktoberfest
Hop under a heated tent at the Naper Settlement for classic German music and dancing. Naper Settlement is a living history museum dedicated to the pioneer era and their event celebrates all things autumn including fall-inspired food and crafts. The children’s activities include hoola hoops, bag toss, tours of the buildings and the Harvard Playscape area, which has a Conestoga wagon for climbing, sensory prairie garden and playground.

Oct. 6, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Oct. 7, noon-10 p.m.; Oct. 8, noon-5 p.m.; family activities Sat., noon-3 p.m
Cost: $15/adults; $10/ages 4-12
523 S. Webster St.
Online: napersettlement.com

Evanston Oktoberfest
The formerly dry town of Evanston rolls out the barrel for their craft beer festival (the town is now home to craft breweries and a distillery). Beer lovers can sample brews from each of the town’s breweries and everyone can fill up on food from some of Evanston’s favorite restaurants. Local favorite play space, Gather, will create an interactive kid zone with art activities and games. Look for giant games of Scrabble and Jenga, too.

Oct. 15, 1 p.m.–6 p.m. (kids activities from 2 p.m.–5 p.m.)
Cost: $10; free for kids 12 & under
University Place & Oak Avenue (behind the Hilton Garden Inn hotel)
Online: eventbrite.com

Where will you celebrate Oktoberfest? Let us know in the Comments!

— Maria Chambers & Jen Peterson

Coffee Shops That Will Keep Your Kids Busy

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Coffee is the nectar of the Gods – or at least of all parents. While we all dream of drinking a steaming hot cup of java in peace, sometimes the reality is hitting a coffee shop with the kids in tow. We have the lowdown on places kids will love so much that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy that well-deserved cup of coffee.

perkolatorphoto: Perkolator

Kids can nosh on animal-shaped cookies and drink a cup of milk as parents get their caffeine fix at this family-owned shop. Or perhaps you and the cute future-coffee drinker can split a yummy Banana Nutella Panini. In good weather, they spread plush recliners, chairs and tables outside so you can enjoy your drink (or play on the wide sidewalk) with the backdrop of cheerful Portage Park. Inside, a special kids’ corner offers those naturally animated kids an inviting space filled with puzzles, blocks and games.

6032 W. Irving Park Rd.
Portage Park
Online: perkolatorcoffee.com

Red June
Relax on a comfy couch in the back of this Bucktown cafe, where your little one will gravitate toward a kid corner filled with board games, books and toys. Parents can indulge in a Nutella Latte as your kids explore their inner Picasso in one of the many coloring books. And there’s a kid’s menu and dessert! Try a yummy doughnut (from Roeser’s Bakery). They even have an adorable flower mural on their wall outside that’s just waiting to grace your Instagram page.

2020 N. Leavitt St.
Online: redjunecafe.com

wormhole-2photo: The Wormhole

The Wormhole
Get your coffee buzz on at this kitschy coffee shop that has everything from 80s movie posters, to a stuffed ET, to the “Back to the Future”-like DeLorean (yes, the car is inside). Kids will go crazy for the chocolate-chip pretzel cookie while they sip on a Honey Bear Latte and play Super Mario on an old-school TV. Mom and Dad will geek out at the iconic lunchboxes and 80s toys displayed under glass tables.

1462 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Wicker Park
Online: thewormhole.us

Jackalope Coffee & Tea House
Eclectic décor shines brightly in this colorful destination. On your visit, sip a Jackafrappuccino as your kids play Uno or another available game near the bright pink fireplace. Indulge in a maple bacon doughnut (from Bridgeport Bakery) as you sit on a shiny, sparkly chair under the lampshade made of dolls. If all this isn’t exciting enough, there are chalkboards for kids to get extra creative.

755 W. 32nd St.
Online: jackalopecoffee.com

cup-spoonphoto: Cup and Spoon

Cup and Spoon
Parents don’t need to sport flannel to enjoy the Lumberjack Latte with its perfect mix of maple syrup, salt and coffee. The pop tarts with seasonal fruit will be a kid favorite as they play games at one of the pint-size tables.

2415 W. North Ave.
Wicker Park
Online: cupandspoonchicago.com

Young train fans will love that ArrivaDolce is just blocks away from the Highland Park Metra station. Coffee drinking parents will love the delicious coffee creations like almond lattes and mocha smoothies. Littles can try a frozen hot chocolate or a cinnamon roll bigger than their heads. The folks at ArrivaDolce love dogs (seriously – the number of dog themed mugs is incredible!) so feel free to bring your pup, too.

1823 Saint Johns Ave.
Highland Park
Online: facebook.com/ArrivaDolce

Buzz Café
The eclectic coffeehouse offers coffee, tea and plenty more for your mini-me. A “Just for Kids” menu includes everything from cheese pizza to Three Little Pigs in a Blanket. In the back sitting area, toy bins will occupy your kids while you drink bottom-less cups of coffee, and get crazy with an organic egg sandwich. Bring your baby on the first Friday of every month at 10 a.m. when the La Leche League meets.

905 S. Lombard Ave.
Oak Park
Online: thebuzzcafe.com

Grounds for Hope Cafe & KidStreet Play Spacephoto: Grounds for Hope Cafe

Grounds for Hope Cafe 
While parents drink coffee or hot cider, kids let loose in the enclosed play structure, toddler playroom and giant slide dropping from an excellent treehouse. Although the coffeehouse is owned by Trinity Lutheran Church, all faiths are welcome — the caffeine and play are definitely ecumenical. Check their website for kids events like story times or arts and crafts that happen each weekday at 10:30 a.m.

2701 Maple Ave.
Online: groundsforhopecafe.org

The Rock House
Elementary-age kids rock out at this hybrid — part-coffee house, part-music school, with guitars hanging on the wall and chandeliers dangling from the ceiling. If you’re lucky, you can hear kids practicing upstairs, or performing on the small stage in the front. In the “Priscilla” bathroom (the other one is “Elvis”), a pink guitar hangs on the wall, and a flip-down potty training seat gets the little ones in the right mood.  Your little one can jam with the hot chocolate or grind their axe with old-school candy from the time when grandma was a listening to Bill Haley and the Comets.

1150 Central Ave.
Online: therockhouseinc.com

Take your kiddos on a trip to Europe without leaving the Chicago area by visiting Leonidas. From traditional lattes and macchiatos to European favorites like affogato (vanilla ice cream with espresso drizzled over the top), the coffee is worth the trip. Little ones can enjoy sipping chocolate and everyone will gobble up sweet crepes and handmade chocolates.

59 E. Chicago Ave., Near North Side
1907 Central St., Evanston
1348 Shermer Rd., Northbrook
Online: leonidas-usa.com/

What is YOUR favorite kid-friendly coffee shop? Let us know in the Comments!

— Jen Peterson & Kelly Haramis

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Fourth of July falls on a Monday this year so use the three-day weekend as your excuse to head outside the city (and far beyond!) to take in fun-filled family days with legendary fireworks shows. We put our eyes to the skies in search of the most amazing displays and found spots well worth the drive. With kids’ activities, parades and more, the fireworks are only part of the fun! Read on for the bang-up scoop.

geneva-mattphoto: Grand Geneva / Matt Mason Photography

Lake Geneva
Just over 90 minutes from the city, Lake Geneva is a popular getaway spot for many Chicago families. The area’s largest resort, Grand Geneva, opens its doors to everyone — even those not staying onsite — to enjoy face painters, inflatables and carnival games (pools and other facilities are for guests only). In the evening hours, camp out along the water to watch the American Legion Color Guard, UW Marching Band and Bucky Badger before a giant fireworks show explodes.

When: July 2 & 3, games begin at 3 p.m.; fireworks show begins at dusk July 3
Where: Grand Geneva Resort, 7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva
Cost: Fireworks attendees are asked to bring two non-perishable food items for Lake Geneva Area Food Pantry
Online: grandgeneva.com

Peoria/East Peoria
Looking for a giant Independence Day celebration? Then pack up the car and head down to the Peoria and East Peoria riverfront for Red, White, & Boom! which claims to be the largest in Illinois (and one of the top in the country) with over 175,000 attendees. Billing itself as a “Pyromusical,” this spectacular shoots over $3,500 worth of fireworks per minute and synchronizes them with six local radio stations. Prior to the fireworks and evening concerts, head over to the Kid Zone for inflatables, a mini zoo, and karate demonstrations. New for this year, your little super heroes can visit with Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash, Cat Woman, Green Arrow, Bat Girl and Harley Quinn

When: July 4, vendors, live entertainment, and the Kid Zone begin at 4 p.m.; fireworks begin at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Fireworks all along the riverfront. Kid Zone located in the parking lot south of the River Station.
Cost: Fireworks are free. Some concerts and Kid Zone activities have fees.
Online: redwhiteandboom.us

Fireworksphoto: maf04 via flickr

Rockford has a magic number: 5,000. That’s how many shells the city will fire in its magnificent fireworks over downtown. Prior to the fireworks spectacle, listen to live music or spend the day at Magic Waters Waterpark where military personnel receive free admission.

When: July 4; fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Fireworks over downtown Rockford. Premium viewing at Davis Park.
Cost: Free but there is a premium viewing area available at Davis Park. $6 per person, children 4 & under free with paid adult.
Online: rockfordfireandice.com

A little closer to home, the Skokie Fourth of July Fireworks is a 3-D extravaganza with the first 10,000 patrons receiving a free pair of 3-D glasses. The day begins with a parade through downtown Skokie with an evening concert and then the big show. Break out those 3-D glasses and get ready for a fireworks show that will appear to pop out at you!

When: July 4, parade at noon; live music at 5 p.m.; fireworks at dusk
Where: Parade is in downtown Skokie. Live music and fireworks happen at Niles West High School, 5701 Oakton St., Skokie
Cost: Free
Online: skokieparks.org

arlington-parkphoto: Arlington Park

Arlington Park
Spend July 4 at the track when Arlington Park gets super family-friendly a Junior Jockey Zone with pony rides, petting zoo, face painting and more. After the third race, begin getting patriotic with the live national anthem followed by the presentation of colors. Between the last race and the fireworks over the track at dusk, Arlington keeps everyone entertained with music, contests and giveaways.

When: July 4, gates open at 1 p.m.; first race at 3 p.m.; fireworks at dusk
Where: Arlington Racecourse, 2200 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights
Cost: $18 adults, $4 kids 4-17, under 4 free
Online: arlingtonpark.com

With the largest fireworks display in the Chicago area, the tiny town of Itasca swells from 9,000 people to over 50,000 people on July 4. That’s because the Itasca fireworks are so huge that they feel like they are going off right above you, and the finale is one for the record books. Because this is a popular choice for many families, pack a picnic and get there early.

When: July 4, music begins at 5:30 p.m.; fireworks begin at 9:45 p.m.
Where: Hamilton Lakes Office Campus, I-290 & Thorndale, Itasca
Cost: Free but parking is $25 per car
Online: itasca.com

Glen Ellyn
For a small-town celebration with a big bang, head west for Glen Ellyn’s Independence Day festivities. After catching the parade through downtown, make you’re way to Lake Ellyn Park and claim your spot for the fireworks. While waiting for them to explode, purchase a wristband and play on the moonwalk, conquer the obstacle course, win prizes at the carnival games or rock out to the live music. Then head back to your blanket at dusk for the fantastic fireworks event over the lake.

When: July 4, parade starts at noon, Lake Ellyn games 1-4 p.m., fireworks at dusk
Where: Parade is in downtown Glen Ellyn. Games and fireworks happen in Lake Ellyn Park, 645 Lenox Rd., Glen Ellyn
Cost: Free for fireworks, $3 for wristband to play games
Online: glenellyn4thofjuly.org

Indiana Dunes
For an old-fashioned family Fourth of July with a little beach fun thrown in, too, pack up the car and head to the Indiana Dunes for the Family Fourth Fest. The day starts with a pancake breakfast and a parade followed by free games and activities including bounce houses and a Turtle Derby – yes, turtles racing for gold medals.

When: July 4 9 a.m.–11 p.m. (fireworks at dusk)
Where:  Hawthrone Park, 500 Ackerman Dr., Porter, IN
Cost: Free
Online: indianadunes.com

St. Charles
Waiting for the fireworks is tough for both kids and grown ups, but St. Charles’ fireworks take place in Pottawatomie Park home to 90 acres of fun. Enjoy nature walks, bike riding on beautiful trails, volleyball games on sand lots, a game of tennis or a game of mini golf right on the banks of the Fox River. Little ones can burn energy in the play area with its tree house, climbing walls and multiple slides. If it’s a hot day, pack a swimsuit and jump into the Swanson Pool! Or, putt around playing an elaborate 18 holes featuring sand traps, babbling brooks, windmills and more at River View Miniature Golf.

When: July 4; fireworks at dusk
Where: Pottawatomie Park, 8 North Ave., St. Charles
Cost: Free (additional fee for mini golf and swimming)
Online: st-charlesparks.org

Where will you watch the Fourth of July fireworks this year? Let us know in the Comments!

— Jen Peterson