Walk This Way! Colorful Spots for Fall Family Strolls

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Fall is around the corner and will come through Chicago in a blaze of red, yellow, orange and gold. In between apple picking and pumpkin patch hopping, color your family’s world and take a nature walk—maybe even turn it into a family bike ride. Whether you’re pushing a stroller, pumping those legs on a bike or lacing up little hiking boots, there are plenty of leafy paradises to explore in and around the city. Scroll through to find the best spots for fall family strolls.

photo: Chicago Park District

Garden of the Phoenix at Jackson Park

Yet another reason to spend an afternoon on the South Side, The Garden of the Phoenix is modeled after traditional Japanese "stroll gardens," where each turn gives way to a photo-worthy panorama. The newly revamped garden symbolizes Japan and the U.S.'s complicated 160-year story of friendship, turmoil and prosperity. It's even home to Skylanding, Yoko Ono's first permanent art installation in the United States comprised of a dozen lotus-shaped petals. Take snaps of the fall colors, as well as the pagoda and curved walking ridges. The garden was originally designed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition by Frederick Law Olmsted, the mastermind behind New York City's Central Park. You'll find it at the south end of the Museum of Science and Industry.

6401 S. Stony Island Dr., Hyde Park; Online: gardenofthephoenix.org

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

This North Shore destination is 26 gardens in one—and each has a different feel and plenty of vibrant colors. Stroll the 385 acres of land and pause at the most photogenic sites. They include the Japanese Garden, where you can pose and play amidst striking bonsai plants. And don't miss the English Walled Garden, where you can make like you're in the Cotswalds. Through October 11 you can also experience the Model Railroad Garden, which features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel. Due to COVID, you'll need to reserve your timed-entry slot. 

1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe; Online chicagobotanic.org

Pilcher Park Nature Center

Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at this worth-the-drive oasis. You might already know it for its Fairy Fest, a kid-idolized dress-up extravaganza held every May. In autumn, it's a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres that's peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas.

2501 Highland Park Dr., Joliet; Online: jolietpark.org

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond

Hidden just north of Lincoln Park Zoo, this tree-spangled paradise has landscape architecture history that grownups appreciate; it was designed by Alfred Caldwell in the Prairie School style and named a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Kids go bananas for the rich fall colors and water lilies that float in the pool. 

Entrance on the south side of Fullerton Pkwy., between Stockton and Cannon Drives. Open mid-April through mid-November. Online: lincolnparkconservancy.org

Morton Arboretum

The 1,700 acres of verdant green space are the stuff dream backyards are made of. Wander the 16 miles of paved and wood-chipped walking paths, and romp around the Children's Garden; it has secret streams, huge wooden playground structures and photo opportunities so pretty you'll do backflips.

A visit to the Arboretum this fall is extra special because you can walk the Scarecrow Trail and see the five massive outdoor sculptures that make up the temporary Human + Nature exhibit. 

4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle; Online: mortonarb.org

North Park Village Nature Center

Give autumn a shout-out at one of the city's adored nature centers. Its trails wind through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna—and fall colors take hold everywhere. Drop by the birding area for peeks at rare birds. During non-COVID times, visit the Discovery Room, which has an area where you can touch and feel nature objects native to the area.

5801 N. Pulaski Rd., Chicago; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Promontory Point in Burnham Park

This man-made peninsula can be accessed by Chicago's Lakefront Trail and has excellent views of the skyline from afar. But you're more likely to be peeping the fall foliage. Blazing red and yellow leaves look at all more picturesque when set against the backdrop of Lake Michigan and skyscrapers. Of note to architecture buffs: The landscaping was designed by noted designer Alfred Caldwell and includes stone rings along the lakefront that are now used as fire pits.

Lake Shore Dr. & 55th St., Chicago; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Rock Cut State Park

Fall color clusters around two shimmering bodies of water—Pierce Lake and Olson Lake—at this destination located just outside Rockford. The restored prairie land looks not only painterly, but it's also a great place for bird watching. If you don't want to walk the trails, there are also opportunities for horseback riding.

7318 Harlem Rd., Loves Park; Online: dnr.state.il.us

Starved Rock

Take a short road trip an hour and a half southwest of Chicago to explore land that was once home to Native American tribes. It has 13 miles of well-marked walking trails that cut down and around rugged rock formations. The trails jag in and out of canyons and are not stroller friendly. However, if you have older kids they're worth the trek, even if only for the beautiful waterfalls that dot the way. If you have a stroller, stick to the one-mile sidewalk that surrounds the observation deck behind Starved Rock Lodge, the park's onsite family friendly hotel.

2668 E. 875th Rd., Oglesby; Online: starvedrockstatepark.org

— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon

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When all else fails, add water. A kid who’s cranky, bored or restless becomes a whole new person when you get them in the bathtub or shower. Add the awesome toys below, and you’ve turned bath time into a place for both learning and fun.

SoaPen

SoaPen is a soap-filled pen that lets kids draw on their hands, then work up a lather with water to clean off their drawing. SoaPen makes handwashing fun, so kiddos don't complain about washing their hands, while also mitigating serious health concerns that come from improper hand hygiene.

Growing up in India, SoaPen's co-founders, Amanat and Shubham, saw first-hand the critical lack of good hand hygiene. After winning a UNICEF award back in 2016 for the SoaPen concept, they began working on making it a reality. For every pack of SoaPens sold in the US, they donate one SoaPen to a low-income school.

Get yours here

BabyBibi Bath Books

Baby bookworms will love to turn these pages in the tub. There's a four-book set all about color recognition (available at amazon.com; $18.99), a four-book set that teaches ABCs with animals (amazon.com, $15.99), and a 13-book mega set that includes both four-book sets and adds fruits, numbers & shapes, letters & colors, and more (amazon.com, $34.99). Each book is waterproof, floats on water, and has a squeaking noise maker inside for even more fun. 

Tommee Tippee Bath Toys

We love the fun and functional new Splashtime line from Tommee Tippee! The Squirtee Bath Floats (shown above) are cute animals that bob around in floating rings. Give their tummies a squeeze and water squirts out. Best of all: These toys unscrew in the middle for easy cleaning so they don't grow mold as other squirt toys can. The Super Spinners have suction cups that attach to the tub or shower walls. Pour water over the top to watch the wheels spin.

Available at amazon.com, $12.33 for the bath floats and $9.97 for the spinner toys.

photo: HABA USA

Wash Away Bath Book—Farm Animal by HABA USA

Your toddler will have a blast scrubbing all the farm animals clean and helping Grandma do the laundry. When the pages of this ingenious book come in contact with water, all the "dirt" on the pictures disappears. When the pages dry, the spots reappear. This book is also great for the backyard kiddie pool!

Available at habausa.com, $7.99.

photo: Amazon

Alex Rub a Dub Star Crayon

This star-shaped bathtub crayon is easy for little hands to grip. Kids can color on the tub, tiles or even themselves, and the color washes off with soap and water (wipe down non-porous surfaces). We love that there are no caps or lids that kids could choke on. 

Available at amazon.com, $6.99.

photo: Edushape

Edushape Floating Blocks

Calling all future architects and engineers! When wet, these floating blocks stick together and encourage creative building on the foam base. The set comes with architectural features such as doors and windows to encourage imaginative play.

Available at edushape.com, $19.99.

photo: Amazon

Boon Jellies Suction Cup Bath Toys

This set of nine colorful jellyfish are tons of fun in the bath. Thanks to the suction cups, kids can stack, link and build cool shapes with them, or stick them to the tub walls and pull them off.

Available at amazon.com, $12.99.

photo: Edushape

Edushape Sea-Me Whirly

This water wand has three pieces that kids can play with on their own and also snap together for even more fun. Let your little scientists see what happens when water moves through the three sections. 

Available at edushape.com, $11.99.

photo: Amazon

ConservCo Bath & Shower Wand

If your child is afraid of getting water on their head, this cute duck can help. Give it a silly voice and have fun splashing around with it with your child. It also comes as a frog, rhino or hippo. 

Available at amazon.com, $12.

photo: Skip Hop

Skip Hop Moby Bath Accessories

Keep bath time safe as well as fun with these cute and colorful whale accessories from Skip Hop. The foam elbow rest has a non-slip backing and pocket for small items. The bath kneeler has lots of padding to keep knees comfortable during tub time. With a textured, non-slip surface, all-over suction cups and perforations to aid in drainage, the in-tub bath mat keeps kids from slipping around. And the rubber spout cover fits snugly on most tub spouts to protect kids' heads.

Available at skiphop.com.

—Shelley Massey & Eva Ingvarson Cerise

 

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It’s that time of year where kids are excitedly making their Christmas lists (and checking it way more than twice). We can guarantee all their biggest wishes can be found on the shelves of a local Chicago toy store. To keep shoppers safe, many are offering online ordering, curbside pick-up and personal shopping. Scroll through to see our favorites and be sure to check with each directly for any COVID-related procedures.

Featured photo: Nathan Legakis via Pixabay

Toys et Cetera

Learning and play intertwine at this shop, which is located in the historic neighborhood of Hyde Park. It's big on safe, eco-friendly fun that's also educational, developmentally and culturally sensitive. They've been going strong since 1976, so they have their finger on the pulse of what kids like. They seek out good craftsmanship and clever toy inventors. 

1502 E. 55th St., Hyde Park; Online: toysetcetera.com

Play

This hotspot is full of fun and educational finds, and it has a sweet nostalgic twist. Owner Ann Kienzle has worked in the toy biz for eons and stays on top of the latest innovations. She has a passion for the importance of play in a child's life and has created a well-designed space that inspires awe in all who step into one of Play's three shops.

3 locations in Logan Square, Lincoln Square & Andersonville; Online: playtoysandbooks.com

Cat & Mouse Game Store

With a focus on games, puzzles and brainteasers, this West Loop shop has grownups hooked, too. Everyone that works there is seriously addicted to games and puzzles and the huge selection in the store reflects that. Staff members are always willing to demo a game and introduce your family to something new.

Shipping and pickup is available for online orders, walk-in shopping available Tues.-Sun and personal shopping appointments can be scheduled.

1112 W. Madison, West Loop; Online: cat-n-mouse.com

Berwyn’s Toys & Trains

Have a wannabe conductor on your hands? This specialty shop is worth the trip. Follow the glowing neon sign to a train lover's dream that has everything from collectibles to Thomas merchandise. Its specialty is O-Gauge electric engines, which were popular in the mid-1900s, from makers like Lionel and Mike's Train House. There's a separate toy room that has LEGOs, Playmobils and slot cars.

7025 Ogden Ave., Berwyn; Online: berwynstoytrains.com

Building Blocks Toy Store

Saying this old-fashioned toy store is packed to the rim isn't an exaggeration. Its three locations fill every nook with play-rich, high-quality toys and books. You'll find everything from developmental playthings for babies to science kits that grandparents can't keep their hands off of. Building Blocks is known for its deep selection of Thomas, Brio and Chuggington trains, but you'll also discover lesser-known finds. Owner Katherine Nguyen is passionate about supporting small, local companies.

3 locations in Wicker Park, Lakeview & Lincoln Park; Online: buildinblockstoys.com

Geppetto’s Toy Box

Like Pinocchio, your kiddo will want no strings to hold him down at this Oak Park treasure. Cut him loose to explore art kits, building blocks, puzzles, developmental diversions and lots more. The owners of Geppetto's stand behind "slow toys" — back-to-basics playthings that children need time to explore and grow from. To that end, you won't see a lot of beeps, flashes and electronic brouhaha on the shelves.

730 Lake St., Oak Park; Online: geppettostoybox.com

Timeless Toys

This Lincoln Square mainstay is what we think Santa's workshop looks like—toys, toys, everywhere. Also, a big air of whimsy. Timeless Toys has been around since 1993 and is known for championing educational play. Go for games, puzzles, puppets, trikes, dolls, outdoor games, books and just about anything else your little tinkerer's heart desires.

4749 N. Lincoln Ave., Lincoln Square; Online: timelesstoyschicago.com

Becky & Me Toys

This North Shore shops were started by a schoolteacher and her daughter, who try every product before they order it for the store. They encourage non-virtual playtime and stock tons of toys for make-believe. We're especially impressed by the selection of puppets (for fingers and hands) and puppet theaters.

620 Grove St., Evanston; Online: beckyandmetoys.com

Oakridge Hobbies & Toys

This mom-and-pop creation offers over 250,000 products via their online store, but they have the best-of-the-best on display in their Lemont showroom. You'll find a sampling of hobby, craft, gift, toy and home & garden decor products offering on their website.

15800 New Ave., Lemont; Online: oakridgestores.com

— Kelly Aiglon & Maria Chambers

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How lucky are we that the waterpark capital of the world (yes, world!) is just three hours from Chicago? No need to wait a whole year for summer to take a dip, this kid-tastic destination is hopping year-round. You won’t whiz down an outdoor water slide or bask in the sun on a lazy river, but the Wisconsin Dells still has plenty to offer. Here’s the scoop on where to stay, eat, play and be entertained on the cool weather vacay you know you need.

photo: Chula Vista Resort

STAY
You’ll feel like you’re in Mexico with palm trees towering over the water slides at Chula Vista Resort (2501 River Rd., 855-388-4782 or chulavistaresort.com), which we’re assuming is just fine with you. The water is heated to a cozy level, greenery surrounds you at every turn and indoor structures are modeled after Mayan temples. Relaxed yet? Chula Vista is one of the more toddler-friendly waterpark resorts in the Dells (its oversized wading pool has mini tipping buckets and gentle geysers). But, they also kept the more adventurous in mind with an uphill water roller coaster.

Passes to the waterpark are included in your night’s stay. For an extra fee you can play games in the onsite arcade and catch a flick in the 4-D movie theater. Chula Vista’s restaurants range from a chop house to a casual buffet breakfast spot, and there are also waterpark-side snacks. Depending on how many people you’re traveling with, you can pick from hotel rooms, suites, condos or villas that overlook the Wisconsin River.

On the other side of town, other lodging options with big-time indoor waterparks include Kalahari Resort, Wilderness Hotel & Golf Resort and Great Wolf Lodge. Kalahari has a safari theme (tigers are known to camp out in the lobby in an enclosed area). Wilderness Hotel has a massive indoor amusement park with go-karting, laser tag and bumper boats. And Great Wolf Lodge caters to tiny swimmers with a four-story waterpark treehouse and lily pad walk, plus a kids’ spa.

photo: MagiQuest at Great Wolf Lodge

PLAY
Make like Harry Potter and grab a magic wand at MagiQuest (1400 Great Wolf Dr., 608-253-2222 or greatwolf.com). The indoor role-playing adventure challenges you to navigate a realistic-looking enchanted kingdom, unlocking clues and fighting virtual dragons along the way. While best suited for kids ages five and up (there is some strategic thinking involved), younger kids will appreciate the visual effects, which include animated fairies and engaging touch screens.

If fantasy and sci-fi is your thing, head deeper into downtown Dells for Wizard Quest (105 Broadway, 608-254-2184 or wizardquest.com), a digitally-interactive game played in a real-life massive labyrinth; it was all developed by a local Dells family. Your mission is to answer riddles and navigate secret passages to unlock imprisoned wizards, while staying on your guard for the minions that will try to stop you in your tracks.

photo: Knuckleheads

Give your body a rest and exercise your brain by heading to a whopper of an amusement park: Knuckleheads (150 Gasser Rd., 608-254-7332 or knuckleheadspark.com). You’ll burn off energy on the indoor ropes course, bumper cars, bowling lanes, 4-D roller coaster and other whirly-twirlies. Their indoor trampoline park has wall-to-wall trampolines. If your tiny bouncer isn’t ready for high-intensity jumping, check out the “jumping pillow,” where they can hop in a more contained environment.

How about spending the day learning how stuff works? Get those noggins turning with science and robot fun at Tommy Bartlett’s Exploratory (560 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., 608-254-2525 or tommybartlett.com). It’s the only place on earth where you can see and jump right into an authentic Russian Space Station MIR core module (this was the operational nerve center for space explorers living on the MIR Space Station). Another highlight is the Van De Graaff Generator – Bridge of Fire exhibit, a static electricity generator built by Dr. Robert J. Van de Graaff in the early 1940s. Your hair will stand on end as you pick up electro charges from the generator, which has the power of a thundercloud! Daredevils big and small can also feel the thrill of riding a bicycle across a tightrope.

Cap off the fun with a photo memory at Old Abe’s Old Time Portraits (217 Broadway Ave., 608-254-5663, oldabes.com). This is your family’s chance to step back in time and capture an image of what you would’ve looked like as visitors aboard the Titanic, as Wild West cowboys and gals or immigrants to 1870’s Wisconsin. A large variety of old-time sets and a huge selection of costumes make it easier than ever to time travel when the DeLorean is in the shop.

photo: Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty

EAT
It’s impossible to miss Paul Bunyan’s Cook Shanty (411 Highway 13, 608-254-8717 or dellspaulbunyans.com) with huge statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox standing tall to greet you at the entrance of this Dells cult classic. You’ll find meals fit for a lumberjack with all-you-can-eat, family-style feasts served in a cabin that would look right at home in the Wisconsin northwoods. If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, be sure to at least stop in for sugar donuts and a trip to their gift shop, where you can buy wilderness-inspired loot (think slingshots and fur caps). In order to prep for the busy summer season and spend time with family, Paul Bunyan’s is closed mid-October through March, so it’s only an option if you plan a late winter/early spring getaway.

photo: Buffalo Phil’s

You’ve probably noshed at a restaurant where food arrives at your table via mini train, but there’s nothing quite like Buffalo Phil’s (150 Gasser Rd., 608-254-7300 or buffalophilsgrille.com). Mini locomotives circle overhead and table-side train service chugs over Lil’ Buckaroo meals (pasta, chicken, burgers), plus surprise toys to play with while you wait. If there’s a line to snag a table to experience this train mania, amuse yourself on the ride-on horse or sit atop the taxidermy buffalo for a photo opp. Buffalo Phil’s is attached to Knuckleheads, and you could easily spend an afternoon bopping between the two.

Head to the old-school House of Embers (935 Wisconsin Dells Pkwy., 608-253-6411, houseofembers.com) for a Wisconsin Supper Club style feast. BBQ baby back ribs are the house specialty, but if you happen to be visiting on a Friday, the unbeatable Friday night fish fry is a don’t-miss.

The Dells has other dining options that are less overtly kid-focused and may appeal to more gourmet tastes. On the downtown strip, MACS (208 Broadway, 608-678-2300 or macandcheeseshop.com) serves inventive takes on mac ‘n’ cheese, including Popeye Mac (provolone, mozzarella, spinach, sauteed onions and mushrooms) and Chicken Bacon Ranch Mac (cheddar, mozzarella, chicken, bacon, ranch).

photo: iStock

EXPLORE
When the weather is right, hit the outdoors and trade water slides for ski slopes at Cascade Mountain (W10441 Cascade Mountain Rd., Portage, 608-742-5588 or cascademountain.com), located 15 minutes from downtown Dells. Kids ages 4-10 can participate in the Cascade Kids program to learn the snowy ropes of snowboarding and skiing. You’ll also find a tubing hill that measures 900 feet long, with a surface lift that zips you right back up for more downhill fun. Tubes are provided and no experience is required.

Take your pick between 15 downhill runs that satisfy the needs of beginners to more seasoned black diamond riders at Christmas Mountain Village (S944 Christmas Mountain Rd., 608-253-1000 or christmasmountainvillage.com). Their trails are perfect for cross-country skiing and there’s also tubing, for more slippery fun.

Spend an evening or afternoon bowling at Chalet Lanes (740 Elm St., 608-254-8727, chaletlanes.com), a family fun center that features awesome rock & bowl lanes complete with colorful lights, a mega sound system and even a fog machine. Automatic scoring and bumper bowling make this an easy pick for family fun.

photo: Palace Theater courtesy of Michelle J. via Yelp

Introduce your kids to the magic of live performances at Palace Theater (564 Wisconsin Dells Parkway South, 608-253-4000 or dellspalace.com). Its wholesome entertainment focuses on Broadway shows and Disney classics.

For more information on the area’s hotspots, check with the Wisconsin Dells Visitors Bureau online at wisdells.com.

— Amy Bizzarri & Kelly Aiglon

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Christkindlmarket — Chicago’s take on a traditional German Christmas market — is back with locations in the Loop and Wrigleyville. Should you take the kids? Ja!  Shop, eat, enjoy free entertainment, shop some more, and even say “guten tag” to Santa Claus. Read on for the highlights and a few tips on what to do while you’re in the area.

christkindlmarketphoto: courtesy of ©Adam Alexander

When and Where?

Taking place November 15-December 24 at Daley Plaza and November 22-December 31 at Wrigleyville’s Gallagher Way, you’ll see the market’s signature wooden cabins topped with festive red-and-white-striped canopies. Inspired by the real deal in Nuremburg, each cabin is packed with handmade gifts, food and drinks from around the world and many are run by native German speakers. The market is outdoors and we all know how cold our fair city can get, so bundle up and spend your time there wisely.

christkindphoto: courtesy of City of Chicago

Meet a Real-Life Fairy

The market’s ethereal, angelic mascot is a crowned fairy with gold and white robes. Called “The Christkind,” she flits throughout the market, greeting kids and stopping for photos. She’s rooted in folklore that dates back to the 1500s, when a “grand angel” led holiday parades in Germany. The Christkind is thought to be the gift bearer in most German-speaking countries (much like Santa Claus is here). If you happen to catch her at the market, she’ll visit with children and hand out take-home activities.

ornament-house-christkindlphoto: courtesy of Kelly Aiglon

Highlights at the Daley Location

Franks Ornament House
Head to the northeast corner of the Daley Plaza market to this walk-in heated cabin. You’ll find sentimental gifts for everybody on your list. Nested in baskets are thousands of glass ornaments, organized by theme, shape and color. Look for those related to your kids’ interests (there’s everything from soccer balls to pianos) or pick up glittery starts, orbs and diamonds. Most ornaments cost less than $10.

Santa’s House
Santa’s abode comes to the market courtesy of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events for the City of Chicago and sits next to the City’s official Christmas tree. You have to stand outside in line to see the big guy in red, but it’s worth the wait for a one-on-one meeting. Snap photos, dish what’s on your list, and savor the “ho, ho, ho.”

german-sausagesphoto: courtesy of German American Services

Food, Food & More Food
There are nearly 20 food and drink stands at the Daley location — most run by German vendors who came from as far as Tuttlingen and Stuttgart. Go for the warming delights, like schnitzel, potato pancakes and goulash soup (you can get it all at Schnitzelhaus at Cabin 30). For a Chicago tradition, stop by Cabin 11 for stollen (a traditional German holiday cake) from Dinkel’s Bakery. Don’t forget hot spiced cider and hot chocolate, available at numerous cabins as well as inside the Grand Timber House next to the stage, which has seats and tables if you want to cozy up for awhile.

toys-christkindlmarketphoto: courtesy of City of Chicago

Best Shopping Picks
Hand-poured candles made from German honey. Wooden cuckoo clocks crafted in the Black Forest. Mouth-blown glass vases from Poland. Stoneware beer steins as big as your head. Every cabin at Christkindlmarket is filled with charms and it’s tough to play favorites. But if you have kids to entertain, there are some obvious stops. Go to Toy Wonderland at Cabin 35 for wooden toys and games from Dresden, Germany; and Gifts from Eastern Europe at Cabin 23 to eye up Russian nesting dolls and papier-mâché laquer boxes. Kids also love wooden nutcrackers from Hoffmann Company from Dresden in Cabin 36. Our favorite is Cabin 43, where Der Lindwurm & Wyvern’s Liar from Altenhain, Germany, displays intricate wood-carved animals, dragons and fairytale creatures.

photo: Christkindlmarket at Gallagher Way

Highlights at the Gallagher Way Location

Children’s Lantern Parade
Experience a typical celebration of St. Martin’s Day in Germany with the Children’s Lantern Parade, December 11, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. The tradition of St. Martin is celebrated by German schoolchildren in honor of good samaritans. Families are invited to parade around the market plaza, let by Christkind, while singing German and English Christmas carols. Christkind

CR_IceSkate (1)photo: courtesy of ©Cesar Rus

While You’re in the Loop

  • Ice Skating at Millennium Park happens daily in front of “The Bean” sculpture and Park Grill, along Michigan Avenue, between Randolph & Washington streets. They even offer free ice skating lessons, Fri.-Sun. and on school holidays.
  • The Disney Store is located within the Block 37 shops. Bigger than the average Disney Store, it shows cartoon shorts and movie clips on a wall-sized screen.
  • Stop in to chat with Santa and the holiday window displays that Macy’s State Street is known for.
  • Watch the winking and blinking of holiday lights with a tour with the Chicago Trolley Co. The lightly narrated two-and-a-half-hour adventure shows the best of Chicago’s holiday lights, including a stop at Christkindlmarket.

photo: Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville

While You’re in Wrigleyville

  • Besides Christkindlmarket, Gallagher Way will be decked out with holiday flare bigger and brighter than ever before during this year’s Winterland. Celebrate the holidays by taking part in the many Winterland programs happening Nov. 22-Feb. 16, including ice skating, curling and skating lessons, Santa’s Workshop, wreath-making classes, holiday movies and much more.
  • Join Lincoln Park Zoo for their 25th annual celebration of ZooLights at Lincoln Park Zoo. This one-of-a-kind, festive holiday experience offers a free, merry, family-oriented celebration of joy right in the heart of the city.

photo: courtesy of Maria Chambers

Insider Tips

  • If possible, visit the markets on weekdays when it tends to be less crowded.
  • Some booths are cash only, so be sure to make a stop at an ATM on the way.
  • Reserve discounted parking before you ever leave the house by using spothero.com.
  • Print the Christkindlmarket scavenger hunt and passport to keep the kids entertained and engaged throughout the market.
  • Special events like a lantern parade, Hawaiian dancers, special kids days and more will be hosted regularly, so be sure to check out both the Chicago and Wrigleyville calendars.
  • If you have a child that is wheelchair-bound, everything at the market is wheelchair accessible.

Christkindlmarket Chicago
Held daily Nov. 15-Dec. 24
Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Eve, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission is free
Daley Plaza, between Dearborn, Washington & Clark streets
Online: christkindlmarket.com

Christkindlmarket Wrigleyville
Held daily Nov. 22-Dec. 31
Mon.-Thurs., 3 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Eve., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Closed Christmas Day
Admission is free
Gallagher Way, 3635 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville
Online: christkindlmarket.com

— Kelly Aiglon and Maria Chambers

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If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands. Good. Now that’s out of the way and you can try something new: music classes at Stomp and Shout Chicago. Read on to hear why you should add this to your early childhood bucket list.

stomp-and-shout

Classes (for ages six months to 4 years) aren’t your usual song and dance. That’s because they introduce a music curriculum that’s unique in Chicago. It’s called Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals and it grabs influences from rock, blues, folk, jazz and pop. Lyrics focus on life in the city and are an edgy change from the norm.

The program was started 17 years ago by a Brooklyn dad and has been featured on Nick Jr. and Noggin. It’s coming to Chicago thanks to Stomp and Shout owner and teacher Cassie Slater, a graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.

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The Songs
Each session gets kids singing and moving to original music that explores urban sights and sounds. The song “Wake Up City” talks about the rumble of the subway, the opening of a coffee shop in the morning, and the thrill of running through the park. Kids chant and shake rhythm sticks to replicate the downtown thrum. In “Taxi,” a ditty about riding in the back of a cab, kids mimic the movements of rolling windows up and down and putting money through the slot.

Puppets and shakers add verve to the melodies. Kids are encouraged to stand up, sit down and move their bodies in all sorts of ways. Toward the end of each class, there’s a jam session; Cassie brings out drums and other instruments and encourages everyone to let it rip. It all ends with a lullaby with the lights dimmed.

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The Setup
Classes are mixed-age, which helps young and old socialize and learn from each other. They take place in two local yoga studios that are clean and simple with little distractions — just a blanket spread on the floor to make everyone comfy. Parents stay for the duration of class and get lost in the music just like the kids do.

Cassie’s ultimate goal is to start a preschool and Kindergarten program in creative dramatics and music. Until then, little ones will be enlightened by Stomp and Shout’s 45-minute classes, which run for eight-week sessions starting September 9 (prorated classes are available for late starters). Free trial classes are offered, so you can get a taste of things.

It will rock your world.

Stomp and Shout Chicago
Online: stompandshoutchicago.com

— Kelly Aiglon

Photos: Karlie Sherman Photography / Courtesy of Stomp and Shout Chicago

Go West: Check Out a Cowboy Theme Park

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Your little buckaroo would love to meet a real cowboy (why else would he spend playtime chasing bad guys and roping imaginary cattle?). Skip the flight to Wyoming and do the next best thing: spend a day at Donley’s Wild West Town in the quiet village of Union, Illinois. Nestled an hour northwest of Chicago in the pretty McHenry County countryside, it packs a restaurant, museum and more than a dozen rides and activities, plus an exciting Western gunfight show starring cowboys, villains and cops.

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Wild West Town has been open and run by the same family since 1974. Despite its long history and incredible charm, it remains a mostly undiscovered gem. Take advantage of all there is to see and do before the secret gets out about the old-timey fun, which includes everything from panning for faux gold to tomahawk throwing. Kids ages 3-10 will get the biggest kick out of it; in fact, many come dressed in cowboy boots, hats and bandanas. They blend right in with the costumed employees who greet you at every turn with a friendly “Howdy, partner.”

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The first — and original — part of the park is a museum filled with authentic cowboy and Native American memorabilia, such as spurs, police badges, pistols, moccasins and headdresses. Attached to it is an ice cream parlor and popcorn shop attached to an old-fashioned movie theater that reels silent films throughout the day.

While inside is great when you need to cool down, your herd will want to flock to outdoor attractions first. The park is a re-creation of an Old West town — saloon, general store, county jail and all — and you can quickly get the lay of the land on a train ride. After that, giddyap to theme park rides, including a kids’ canoe water ride and mini roller coaster called Runaway Mine Cars (there are no loops, but bumpy drops make you feel like you’re gliding down the side of Jackson Peak).

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Walk-up activities give kids a taste of what life was like on the open range. Learn to use a slingshot with balloon targets, fire off cork pop guns, get a cattle-roping lesson (using fiberglass cows) and draw back a kid-friendly bow at an archery range. A petting zoo, pony rides, carousel, playground and gold-panning area (complete with a huge wooden clapboard “mine” and water chutes) make sure there is never a dull moment.

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Several times a day, a live Wild West show brings excitement to an enclosed outdoor theater. In the show, Black Bart is a villain on the loose and he’s threatening to take down the town. Luckily, a brave sheriff, his goofy deputy and a cancan-dancing damsel are there to put up a fight. The show has professional stunts and gunfights, which are a thrill to watch.

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Eating at the onsite at either Clayton’s Saloon or the Ice Cream Parlor is a bang-up time in itself. Kids will love the fun menu items perfect for a budding cowboy at the Parlor, like walking tacos, nachos and pulled pork sandwiches, and can wash it down at Clayton’s with a cool Sarsaparilla Soda.

All of the rides and attractions at the park are included in admission of $17/person. It’s a great deal and wonderful escape for urbanities looking for a breath of fresh, country air.

So go West, bronco busters.

Donley’s Wild West Town
8512 S. Union Rd.
Union, IL
815-923-9000
Open daily thru August 20, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Open weekends only from August 26-October 29, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Admission: $17/person; free for ages 2 & under (find a $3 off admission coupon online)
Online: www.wildwesttown.com

Have you been to Donley’s Wild West Town? Let us know what you think in the Comments section below.

— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglonx

Photos: Courtesy of Donley’s Wild West Town and Kelly Aiglon