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We’re easing back into birthday parties, and boy is it exciting! For a kid, there’s nothing more exciting than a birthday. And having a great cake—and we mean one that tastes good and looks cool — is an important part of their day. No matter what your child’s superhero, video game or character obsession du jour may be, you will find a Chicago-area bakery to create a canvas for those candles. Here are our favorites. Make a wish!

For Nostalgic Bliss: Sweet Mandy B’s

When you hit up Sweet Mandy B’s you can’t fight the urge to slow the pace and plant yourself to savor whatever treasure you find in the glass encasement and soak up the old-school nostalgia. One taste of their icing will have you wishing you had a vat full and a giant spoon. Call the bakery or stop in to place your special cake order and enjoy the warmth the pastel colors and old-fashioned decor evokes.

1208 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park & 254 E. Ontario, Streeterville; Online: sweetmandybs.com

For Artistic Genius: Alliance Bakery

Break the cake mold and dream beyond the traditional sheet cake with one-dimension designs. Having served as Executive Pastry Chef at downtown hotels and winning or placing in several design competitions, Chef Peter Rios’ Alliance Bakery is ready to show you that if you can think it, he can bake it. Besides his three-dimensional edible works of art, Chef shows off skills he picked up training in Paris with his European-inspired pastries and desserts.

1736 W. Division St., Wicker Park; Online: alliance-bakery.com

For Gluten-Free in the Western 'Burbs: Sweet Ali’s

Inspired by her son’s, and subsequently her own, celiac diagnosis and lack of quality baked goods available in 2007, Ali Graeme set out to blaze gluten-free trails. After playing in her kitchen with different blends of flour and receiving encouragement from family, she opened Sweet Ali’s two years later with recipes perfected that all would enjoy, gluten-free or otherwise. Beyond the cakes, you’ll find pre-packed pasta, bread and baked goods to enjoy later.

13 W. 1st St., Hinsdale & 1107 Waukegan Rd., Glenview; Online: sweetalis.com

For Organic Cool: West Town Bakery & Diner

Whether you’re seeking a traditional cake or need to spin the wheel of dietary restrictions — vegan, nut-free, sugar-free, soy-free and gluten-free — this organic bakery with a funky, retro vibe can knock your cake request out of the ballpark. They strive to use as many local, natural ingredients for everything from the flour down to the eggs and their products come in environmentally friendly packaging.

1916 W. Chicago Ave., West Town; Online: westtownbakery.com

For Gluten-Free Deliciousness: Defloured

Gluten-impervious baker Johanna is only sensitive to wheat in the way she feels that every person should have the ability to enjoy worry-free heavenly desserts. She took on and conquered the challenge of making desserts that were indecipherable from their glutenized counterparts. For kids who might be gluten-sensitive or for anyone just looking for a delicious cake to celebrate their special day, call or send Johanna an email to place an order. Keep your eyes peeled while you’re out and about, you might find samples of these gluten-free goodies at your nearest Whole Foods or coffee shop in addition to their Andersonville storefront.

1477 W. Balmoral, Andersonville; Online: deflouredbakery.com

https://www.instagram.com/p/CPyPOb8BDpd/?hidecaption=true

For Pre-Made, Gotta-Have-It-Now Cakes: Bennison’s Bakery

Let’s face it: Some of us are a little more last-minute with party planning than others. If you find yourself cakeless the day of, you could either pull through the nearest Portillo’s drive-thru and enjoy the reaction when you order an entire chocolate cake with a side of cheese fries or you could find a bakery with amazing pre-made cakes. Bennison’s, a North Shore institution since 1938, is one of those gems that stocks delicious 7” and 9” chocolate and yellow cakes with either fudge or buttercream icing. Ask them to fancy it up with the birthday boy or girls name and you’re good to go.

1000 Davis St., Evanston; Online: bennisoncakes.com

For a Cake that’s the Center of the Party: Urban Icing

If the birthday star wants to share the stage with an over-the-top cake, Urban Icing is the place to go.  Whether you prefer some traditional sweet confections or a 3D-shaped cake, this spot has got you covered.  In addition to being a boutique bakery, Urban Icing is an event space where you can let them take care of all the details of your child’s party.  You can choose from a Lego Party, Mermaid Party, Ice Cream Social and more. There's something fun – and delicious – for everyone!

1944 N. Damen Ave., Bucktown; Online: urbanicing.com

For Sweet Tradition: Roeser’s Bakery

It doesn’t get any more old school than Chicago’s oldest family-owned bakery, which has been servicing Humboldt Park sweet tooths since 1911. As a specialty, Roeser’s offers low-glycemic options for birthday boys and girls who could benefit from reduced sugar, carbs and calories. Follow the bakery’s iconic neon sign to find cakes baked using recipes perfected over 4 generations with culinary skills to decorate to any theme you could possibly imagine, including a wide variety of licensed character cakes. Pop into Roeser’s Party Palace next door to tick decorations off your birthday planning checklist.

3216 W. North Ave., Humboldt Park; Online: roeserscakes.com

— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart

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On your mark. Get set. Go! Race season is in full swing and it’s not just grownups that can sprint to the finish line. From Chicago to the ‘burbs, you’ll find a whole host of fun runs that welcome the entire family. Covid changed the walk/run landscape, but many events have gotten creative and planned virtual activities. We laced up our sneaks and set out to find the best kid-friendly walks and runs. Here’s a rundown of our favorites. 

IN-PERSON EVENTS

photo: Maria Chambers

‘Go Runs
Park Districts and Chicago Area Runners Association have paired up to provide weekly timed runs in Chicago parks. Make the runs a weekly event to explore new areas of Chicago while getting fit with your family. Strollers are welcome so no one needs to be left behind. If you’ve enjoyed the runs, give back by volunteering one week! Bonus . . . Gatorade and water are provided. Saturdays throughout spring & summer; Parks throughout Chicago. More info.

Champion of Trees 10K at Morton Arboretum
Enjoy the first signs of spring at Morton Arboretum's The Champion of Trees 10K. Virtual participants can run or walk the course on a date of their choosing, while in-person runners will find a challenging course with rolling terrain on Apr. 16 or 17. No matter where you run, you'll be supporting the Arboretum's work to plant and protect trees. Apr. 16 & 17; Morton Arboretum, 4100 IL-53, Lisle. More info

Best Buddies Friendship Walk at Soldier Field
Walk, support and celebrate best buddies at the Best Buddies Friendship Walk organized by the Chicago Buddies chapter. The Friendship Walk is the number one walk in the country raising awareness and funds to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. May 1; The Old Post Office Rooftop, 433 W. Van Buren. More info

Life Time Kids Tri Chicago
Rivaling the largest youth triathlons nationwide, the Life Time Kids Tri Chicago attracts more than 1,000 youth athletes ages 7-14 every year! They can swim, bike and run like the grownups, but for shorter distances. The swim takes place in Lake Michigan at Chicago’s Foster Beach and includes a shallow-water start, parallel to the beach. The bike and run take place on closed park roadways and running paths along the lakefront. Aug. 28; Foster Beach, Foster Avenue & Lake Shore Dr., North Side. More info.

ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk
More than 7,000 men in the Chicagoland area will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year alone. The ZERO Prostate Cancer Run/Walk brings the community together to raise awareness and funds. This event features a 10K run, 5K run/walk, 1-mile walk, Kids Superhero Dash for Dad, and virtual Snooze for Dudes program, where you can show your support without attending the event. Sep. 18; Advanced Urology Associates, 1541 Riverboat Center Dr, Joliet. More info.

Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure
The Susan G. Komen Race for the cure is an education and fundraising event that benefits breast cancer. The series of 5K runs and walks raises significant funds for the breast cancer movement, celebrates breast cancer survivorship and honors those who have lost their battle with the disease. Oct. 23; Montrose Harbor, 601 W. Montrose Ave. More info.

VIRTUAL EVENTS

Cooley Run 5K, Virtual Edition
Cooley Run Virtual 5K is all about running (or walking) and supporting Cancer Kiss My Cooley (CKMC)! You can complete your run anytime before May 31, but make it extra special and plan it for Mother's Day! Spend time out with mom and come together as a virtual community and enjoy fun, fitness and charity. May 1-May 31; More info.

Move for the Kids Virtual 5K
Move for the Kids 5K Walk/Run is Lurie Children’s annual signature 5K. The funds from the event support the hospital’s areas of greatest need to ensure patients receive the best care possible to help them live a bright, healthy future. For this event, there will be virtual and small group activities, fitness challenges and celebrations throughout the weekend. May 14-16; Virtual. More info.

Virtual Run for the Zoo
Run for the Zoo is an annual highlight on the Chicago running calendar—and this year they're going virtual. The annual Run for the Zoo benefits Lincoln Park Zoo and helps to keep it free and open 365 days a year. Jun. 5-13; Virtual. More info.

A Safe Haven Virtual 5k Run/Walk
This run/walk and kids’ dash, benefiting A Safe Haven social service agency, supports numerous housing, job placement/training and other programs for the homeless and less fortunate. Once you cross the finish line, you'll be rewarded with the sweet sound of music. Jul. 17-25. More info.

MORE INFORMATION FORTHCOMING

Walk Now for Autism Speaks
The no-pressure, three-mile walk is taking place in two locations, downtown and Northfield. The downtown walk takes you leisurely by the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium and along the lakefront. Strollers—and even Radio Flyer wagons—are welcome. And, that’s right: no registration fees. You won’t get a T-shirt unless you raise at least $150 for Autism Speaks, but anyone is welcome to participate, whether or not you choose to fundraise.

Tip: Like all races, the environment at an Autism Speaks Walk can become overwhelming for people with sensory sensitivities. The Quiet Room can be used as a safe outlet should your loved one living with autism become overwhelmed. TBD (Fall 2021); New Trier High School, 7 N. Happ Rd., Northfield. More info. & TBD (Fall 2021); Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Dr., Museum Campus. More info.

The Color Run
As you run through this 1.8-mile course, your whitest running clothes will turn into your most colorful as 10,000 pounds of color rains down. Kids 12 and under run for free and you can choose how many times to complete the course. As if raining colors wasn't enough, the fest at the end is sure to keep the whole family entertained. Night owls can run through the course after the sun sets and be lit up by black lights and glow-in-the-dark color. TBD (Working to secure a date); Soldier Field, 1410 Museum Campus Dr., Museum Campus. More info

— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart

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In spite of what we’re facing with the COVID-19 crisis, as parents, we still must look forward and make life as normal as possible for our kids. That includes birthday celebrations! We are doing our best to monitor any changes, and encourage you to speak directly to the business owners to make a plan that works best for your family. We want to continue to support our local small businesses including these entertainers who strive to make our kids feel special!

The list of birthday party venues is growing at warp speed, but sometimes the best parties are those at home. And, good thing, because right now you don’t have many other options! We checked in with our favorite in-home birthday party entertainers to see what they’re offering now and when they’ll be back up and running as normal. Many are at a standstill until groups can congregate again, but some have virtual options to keep the party going. Scroll through to find the perfect party option for your kiddo, order a cake and you’ll be making wishes come true in no time!

photo: Smarty Pants Balloon Show

For Carnival Enthusiasts: Smarty Pants

Smarty Pants (yep, that’s his name) and his wife, Miss Dena, offer various balloon show and face painting options. But the one we wish we were young enough to star in is The Big Balloon Show. This ultimate performance art ends with a larger-than-life balloon creation made on the spot for the birthday star. We’re talking a giant kid-sized balloon airplane that stays inflated for an entire week. Parties are great for kids ages 3-8 years old. Plan hosting the show indoors because one little breeze can blow the whole show to bits.

Balloon Twisting starts at $399, balloon show packages start at $699, additional pricing and packages are available at smartypantsworld.com with full booking details on the website!

Covid-19 update: Smarty Pants is offering a Big Balloon package that features a 10-minute Zoom mini balloon show with Smarty Pants in his virtual balloon studio that ends with a big reveal of a balloon installation in your front yard. Check out this adorable installation he did for a 7yo's birthday in May. The cost is $299, plus any applicable travel fees for balloon setup.

photo: Jacob Kepler/The CW -- © 2019 The CW Network, LLC

For Harry Potter Fans: Scott Green

Scott Green is an absolute legend in his industry, having written a best-selling book for magicians about performing magic for family audiences, and it's pretty epic that he's right here in Chicago. He's the only family magician in the world to have appeared on the Penn & Teller: Fool Us television show. If you want examples of his performance, visit his youtube channel, youtube.com/scottgreenmagic, to see for yourselves.

Party packages start at $495 for a 50-minute show, however, prices may vary depending on age, location and number of guests. Book your party by calling 847-361-0924. Get more info online at thegreatscott.com.

Covid-19 Update: During this period of sheltering-in-place, families everywhere can experience Scott Green's interactive show via Zoom. When you schedule a Zoom birthday party, the guest of honor will receive a box they don't open until showtime that will allow the magic to literally happen in their hands. If you want examples of his performance, visit his youtube channel, youtube.com/scottgreenmagic, to see for yourselves.

photo: Miss Jamie

For Soon-to-Be American Idols: Miss Jamie's Farm

If your birthday star just can’t stop the music, a party with Miss Jamie's Farm is a must! Miss Jamie is known throughout the area for her original barnyard tunes and magical puppet friends that she shares with the audience during her interactive sing-along, dance-along performance. Perfect for ages 1-6, each birthday party is completely customizable, so if go ahead and pitch Miss Jamie your birthday boy or girl’s theme-of-the-moment. She can totally handle it!

Prices start around $300 for 30 minutes of music. Book your party by calling 773-609-5054 get more info online at miss-jamie.com.

Covid-19 update: Miss Jamie is offering virtual playdate birthday parties because she believes just because you have to be distant, doesn't mean you can't be social!

photo: Sarah's Pony Rides

For Animal Lovers: Sarah’s Pony Rides

Who doesn’t want a pony for their birthday? Turn that dream into a reality—at least for a few hours—with pony rides. The kind people at Sarah’s travel just about anywhere around the state to bring maned beauties to little cowboys and cowgirls. They can also fill up an on-site petting zoo with ducks, chickens, lambs, llamas and more. You get your bang for your bucks: They’ve done the per guest/per hour/per pony math so your guests get as many rides as possible.

Prices start at $225 plus travel for 1 pony/1-hour; $300 plus travel for 1-hour petting zoo without ponies; additional pricing info is available at sarahsponyrides.com. Book your party by calling 630-802-1316.

Covid-19 update: While their pony parties are on hold, the trails are open for horseback riding, trail rides and pony rides. Small private groups following safety guidelines are allowed. You'll find beautiful trails, amazing horses and wonderful trail guides.

photo: Mad Science

For Wiz Kids: Mad Science

Science is fun and these party people prove it. Pick a theme — Air Blast, Made About Foam or Reactions in Actions — and let the Mad Scientists take care of set-up and clean-up so that you can enjoy the demonstrations along with your child. They even offer add-ons like an awesome rocket launch, a dry ice demo, or the tastiest science project of all, cotton candy making. Perfect for 5-12-year-olds, each 1-hour party is lead by one or two instructors based on the number of guests.

Party packages start at $365; additional pricing information is also available at chicago.madscience.org.

Covid-19 update: While parties as we know it have come to a screeching halt, Wiz Kids has put together online resources to plan a day of science-y fun with your birthday star. They will also be putting links up to virtual summer camps on the website in the next week to keep STEM learning going this summer. 

For Dancing Queens (& Kings): Chicago Loves Dance

Turn your house into a dance club with hip-hop or break dancing instructors that will get your party peeps up and moving. With add-ons like yoga parties, cupcake decorating and princess appearances, CLD is a one-stop party shop. Expect icebreakers like freeze dance, and pump up the fun with a choreographed dance-off. The friendly competition continues with more games until it’s time to hop aboard the people train to the dining room for cake. 

Prices vary based on number of kids and add-ons selected. Book your party by calling 773-485-0777. More info at chicagolovesdance.com.

Covid-19 update: No need to hang up your dancing shoes, follow Chicago Loves Dance's Facebook page to find out about virtual classes (yoga, breakdancing, cheerleading, hip hop, theatre and more!), weekly challenges and Zoom birthday parties for kids (even Zoom Zumba parties for adults!). Birthday parties are $90 for up to 25 people and run 40 minutes in length and everyone sings Happy Birthday at the end.

For Adorable Divas: Rock Candy Salon & Spa

Rock Candy’s stylists will bring all of their salon and spa services to you. From hair chalking to pedicures (even green slime manis), every guest gets pampered. 

Party packages start at $300, plus $150 in travel fees. Book your party by calling 773-883-3000 or get more info online at  rockcandysalonandspa.com.

Covid-19 update: Mobile salon and spa parties are on hold until restrictions are lifted by the state. 

For the Puzzle Solver: Mobile Room Escape

If your kiddo spends his or her days solving riddles, then a Mobile Room Escape party is perfect. Kids 7 and older will be challenged to escape from this mobile chemistry lab before the end of a 60-minute time limit. If you have 45 feet of space, let this lab on wheels pull up to get the party started.

They also launched Mobile Ax Throwing. They have a mobile trailer with lighting and fans to keep you cool during the hot summer months.

Call 773-219-2922 to book your party and get more details at mobileroomescape.com.

Covid-19 update: Mobile Room Escape and Mobile Ax Throwing are open for business with strict restrictions on the size of your parties and the number of parties they allow per day, so they can clean thoroughly between sessions. 

For Gamers: GameTruck

If you have a screen-addicted kid, hiring these guys for his party is going to score you some major parental points. They’ll delivery a truck overflowing with video games that’ll pull up in front of your house and the birthday boy and his friends can play until their fingers go numb. Might sound painful to you but they’ll be in gamer-heaven. You are responsible for arranging street parking and permits but the trailers aren’t much wider than a landscaper’s vehicle (about 6 car lengths of space), so the neighbors shouldn’t be too put out.

Pricing varies based on day and time. Book your party by calling 866-253-3191 or grab details at gametruckparty.com.

Covid-19 update: For gamers, the party never has to end. GameTruck created a new hour-long virtual party experience that allows all the party attendees to stay in their own homes and a GameCoach facilitates the fun. 

For the Wanna-Be Princess: Magic, Music & More

Give the birthday star the royal treatment by inviting a princess or prince over to entertain your queen and her court with a dress-up party, storytime, games and dancing. If the guest of honor is less than interested in royalty, you can also invite villains, superheroes to the bash.

Pricing starts at $235 for a one-hour party. Parties can be booked online by visiting magicmusicmorechicago.com or by calling 773-564-0783.

Covid-19 update: In-person parties are on hold, but you can schedule a 20-minute princess chat that includes storytime, singing, a royalty promise and a Q&A session for $40.

photo: George's Gym

For Gym-tastic Adventures: George’s Gym

Avoid a mini-Lord of the Flies experience at your next at-home shindig by giving the folks at George’s Gym a holler for an organized yet fun-packed party. They’ll create customized birthday party packages for kids that includes awesome games, group activities and creative craft based on whatever theme you’ve dreamed up. Snap pics and relax because they’ll even deal with serving the food and cake.

Geared toward kids ages 2.5 & up, George's pricing ranges from $175-$350. Their newest party option, Carnival Party, has become quite popular. More info at georgesgymllc.com.

Covid-19 Update: George's Gym launched a free YouTube channel with fun, short workouts to take care of the wiggles, as well as fun activities and games the whole family can do together (which could be used for an at-home small family party). For adults, they launched a Facebook group, The Hope Space, as a resource guide/support group with helpful information, inspiration and ways to find hope for people from all walks of life. As we move past phase 3 of reopening the state, they will then offer small, no contact parties and fitness classes.

— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart

Featured photo: Amponsah Nii Davidson via Pexels

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Where are you going to play today? When your living room loses its luster (your kiddos can only bounce off the walls for so long), check out a neighborhood play space. With indoor jungle gyms, pretend play areas and tons of toys, the options in Chicago and the ‘burbs have something for every kind of kid. Plus, many have cafes — with coffee! — for parents. Click through to discover options you have to head to.

Purple Monkey Playroom

Muraled walls fill this place with character and cheer. This spot has become a hub for parents in Bucktown and beyond. Best suited to kids ages 0-4, it's intimately sized to allow little ones free range to gain independence while you keep tabs on things. The focus here is imaginative play; it has a hut-style house including a play kitchen as well as a nice stock of dress-up clothes. Gross motor skills can be developed on the balance beam or small toddler slide.

2040 N. Western Ave., Bucktown; 773-772-8411; Online: purplemonkeyplayroom.com

Little Beans Cafe

Little Beans Cafe was one of the first and remains one of the most popular play spaces. They offer both imaginative and active play, preschool, summer camps, special holiday events, classes and they're a great place to host a birthday party. The cafe serves food a drink and they worked on their patio in 2021 to make it extra inviting to relax . 

430 Asbury Ave., Evanston; 847-807-3731; Online: littlebeanscafe.com

photo: Maggie Rife

Bubbles Academy

Bubbles Academy now offers several ways to enjoy its services. Bubbles North Branch is located across the street from Bubbles Academy and is the space dedicated to all caregiver and child drop-off classes and garage and tent classes. Bubbles Academy is home to the arts-integrated preschool for ages 2.5-5. This location includes an outdoor nature playground that uses materials that inspire play and connection with the natural world. 

They also opened a location at 900 N. Michigan shops that hosts music, movement and art classes, preschool prep, weekly drop-in art experiences and curated retail from local mom-owned businesses. 

If you'd prefer to take in-home classes, their website has over 30 pre-recorded virtual classes available any time and anywhere. 

2184 & 2211 N. Elston, Bucktown; 312-944-7677 & 900 N. Michigan Ave., Mag Mile; Online: bubblesacademy.com

photo: Gather

Gather

Toys, blocks and games are a-okay, but this Evanston play space goes beyond all that. It uses a large portion of its space to encourage creativity through arts and crafts. Go ahead and get messy with play-dough, glue, paint and chalk without worrying about cleanup. Don’t be fooled though, there are also opportunities other than art, including regular music classes.

COVID Update: As of press time, Gather is closed until further notice. Please keep tabs on their website for opening updates. 

602 Davis St., Evanston; 847-859-2312; Online: gathereverywhere.com

photo: Bellaboo Play and Discovery Center via Tiana Kubik

Bellaboo Play and Discovery Center

Why venture to Indiana for a play space? Because this one, which feels like a hybrid of a children's museum and play space, is truly out of this world. Every aspect of Bellaboo is open-ended, play-based and unstructured, which means your kiddo really gets to use his or her imagination. With a circular layout, each themed area is actually an entire room. Have a blast in the blocks room, water room, arts and craft room, train room and more. A full menu in the cafe means you can make a day of it. Weather permitting, they offer an outdoor area as well.

2800 Colorado St., Lake Station, IN; 219-963-2070; mybellaboos.com

photo: Exploritorium

Exploritorium

This hidden-gem 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 “Lite Brite” peg board, musical instruments, and climbing tubes and tunnels that stretch two-and-a-half stories.

4701 Oakton St., Skokie (847-674-1500, ext. 2744 or skokieparks.org). 

— Maria Chambers & Lisa Snart

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On Memorial Day weekend, you get a bonus day to remember those who served in the military—and also have a brilliant time with the family. Plan ahead with our list of must-do’s. You can be patriotic at the downtown parade, see butterflies flutter at Chicago Botanic Garden, catch fireworks at Navy Pier and more. Read on and march on into the holiday weekend.

photo: courtesy of U.S. Army via flickr

1. Catch the downtown Memorial Day Parade & Wreath Laying Ceremony. Lucky for us, one of the largest Memorial Day Parades in the country is right here in Sweet Home Chicago. You’ll tap your feet to high school marching bands, and drum and bugle corps, watch military vehicles pass by, and keep your eyes peeled for Gold Star Pins worn by family members of those lost while serving in the Armed Forces. More details.

2. Take a Brick Safari adventure at Brookfield Zoo. 
Brookfield Zoo’s temporary exhibit, Brick Safari, features more than 40 life-size animal sculptures created from millions of LEGO bricks. You’ll recognize many zoo favorites as you walk along the menagerie of animals located along a winding, wooded path on the east side of the zoo. More details.

photo: courtesy of Scott L via flickr

3. Start off the season with a bang. Catch the fireworks at Navy Pier for the first time of the summer 2019 season. The dazzling show is the perfect way to end a fun-filled day at the recently updated Pier. More details.

4. Go back in time at Kline Creek Farm. Whether your choose to check out the Life on the Farm tours, horse drawn carriage rides, or Memorial Day Remembered Ceremony, you and the kiddos will learn something new while you wander this recreated farm of the 1890s. More details.

5. Sprinkle some Christmas into your Memorial Day. 
Part nostalgic theme park (hello, Tilt-a-Whirl) and part petting zoo (aww, look, it’s a baby deer), Santa’s Village Azoosment Park is open for the season and ready to dazzle with rides that looked ripped out of a retro movies and creatures galore. More details.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden courtesy of H. Michael Miley via flickr

6. Get your train fix.
Experience the delightful sights and sounds of miniature trains traversing high and low tunnels, across bridges and around buildings at the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Model Railroad Garden. More details.

7. Stop to smell the blooms.
Immerse yourself in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beautifies and pretty petals at Chicago Botanic Garden’s new Butterflies and Blooms exhibit. More details.

photo: Chicago City Mini Golf

8. Have old-school fun with mini golf. 
Stop by one of the many mini-golf courses to brush up on your putting skills and test your luck at getting past the amusing obstacles. Don’t let your kids beat you! More details.

9. Enjoy a day built on fun at Morton Arboretum.
Morton Arboretum welcomes back Nature Connects Art with LEGO Bricks by Sean Kenney, who’s a “professional kid” and the first-ever LEGO Certified Professional. LEGO enthusiasts of all ages will be dazzled as they search for 15 larger-than-life, nature-inspired sculptures throughout The Morton Arboretum. More details.

photo: Cirque du Soleil’s Volta

10. Be amazed by Cirque du Soleil.
Get excited! Cirque du Soleil is back, this time presenting VOLTA, a captivating voyage of discovery that showcases never-before-seen under the Big Top acrobatics in a visually striking world. Driven by a stirring melodic score and inspired in part by the adventurous spirit that fuels the culture of street sports, VOLTA is a story of transformation. More details.

11. Take your first dip of the season at Raging Waves.
Splish, Splash! Illinois’ largest waterpark dedicated to family fun for all ages, Raging Waves, is excited to officially kick off its 12th season. You’ll find several family-friendly attractions, including 26 water slides, a huge wave pool, three kiddie pool areas, relaxing lazy river, 37 private cabanas and more. More details.

— Maria Chambers

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Vintage handbags, cheddar, fine wine and Navy Pier . . . all things that get better with time. Navy Pier celebrated the big 1-0-0 in 2016 and with that brought exciting changes that just keep being built upon. Read on to learn more about the iconic Ferris Wheel and activities that make this the top leisure destination in the Midwest.

Navy Pier Ferris Wheelphoto: Navy Pier

Go for a spin. At 196 feet tall and 50 feet larger than the former Ferris Wheel, the Centennial Wheel is the best way to get an overview of the excitement at Navy Pier and take in the Chicago skyline. Believe it or not, the original Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago was actually larger than the Centennial Wheel, but now you’re riding in style thanks to the cushioned seats, video screens and doors that automatically open and close on each of the 42 gondolas.  If you have a family of daredevils, splurge for a private ride for up to four on the glass bottom gondola.

 

Grab a bite. Having your kids by your side won’t leave you yearning for a better dining experience at Navy Pier because the kid friendly communal area includes views of the water, WiFi access, and lots of food options.  Bubba Gump, DMK Burger and Fish Bar, Harry Caray’s are just a few places serving up sit-down lunch and dinner options. Satisfy your sweet tooth after dinner by stopping into the Original Rainbow Cone at the Pier’s South Dock when its warm and Brown Sugar Bakery all year ’round.

Enjoy being green.  As you wander down the Pier, you can rest assured knowing that the updates brought to the Navy Pier have occurred with the environment in mind.  From the behind the scenes infrastructure to the recently planted trees and benches made from reclaimed wood, the greener Navy Pier allows you to enjoy natural elements in an urban environment.

Navy Pier Fireworks 2photo: Navy Pier

Don’t forget the old favorites.  The Chicago Children’s Museum, Crystal Gardens, Amazing Chicago’s Funhouse Maze, IMAX theatre and boat rides are some of the classic Navy Pier destinations that are not to be missed.  No need to worry because these attractions are still around the updated Navy Pier, as is the fireworks display that occurs ever Wednesday and Saturday evening Memorial Day to Labor Day weekends.

Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave.
Navy Pier
Online at: navypier.com

—Lisa Snart

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Chicago Restaurant Week runs January 26 through February 8 — two glorious weeks where you have a legit excuse for not cooking. Participating restaurants offer multi-course menus at nice prices ($22 for lunch and $33-$44 for dinner). The portions are adult-sized, but we figure kids shouldn’t miss out on the fun. Read on to find our top spots that offer great deals for adults, but are kid-approved, so you can all enjoy exploring the culinary delights our great city has to offer.

beatixphoto: Beatrix

Beatrix (lunch or dinner)
If your attempts at healthy eating with the kids has failed thus far, try Beatrix. They make wholesome meals exciting. The meatloaf — made with turkey, sweet potato and greens — is called “neatloaf,” and it may convert (or trick) your kids to be meatloaf and veggie lovers. Other choices on the Restaurant Week menu include (for starters) hummus with veggies and warm naan or tomato soup with cheddar shortbread, and desserts like caramel pie . . . because it doesn’t all need to be healthy, right? If you prefer not to order the full menu for kids, items can be ordered a la carte. The fresh squeezed juices are a highlight and taste so yummy your kids won’t even notice the greens (like kale!) mixed in.

671 N. St Clair St., Streeterville
312-642-0001

519 N. Clark St., River North
312-284-1377

834 W. Fulton Market, Fulton Market
312-733-0370
Online: beatrixchicago.com

Belly Q (dinner only)
If you’re looking for a date night locale where it’s A-OK for the kids to tag along, this is a great pick. The Asian BBQ-inspired menu is packed with flavor, but nothing too adventurous that the kids couldn’t nibble, too. Supplement the Restaurant Week menu or treat kids to tasty plates like Fried Rice or Belly Mac. Fingers crossed they save a bite for you. For an entrée on the prix fixe menu for you, choose a Seafood Bouillabaisse or Lola “Lechon” Pork Loin. For dessert, everyone will enjoy the Mango Cannoli.

1400 W. Randolph St., West Loop
312-563-1010
Online: bellyqchicago.com

ba-baphoto: Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (brunch or dinner, on select days)
An oldie but a goodie, this tapas restaurant has been welcoming families with children of all ages for 31 years! For this pick, we’d recommend taking the kids for brunch, which will be served January 27, 28 and February 3, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Kids will flip for the Bacon Mac’n Cheese, Butternut Waffles served with Nutella and either the Chocolate Truffle Cake or Marcona Almond-Caramel Bar for dessert. They’ll be mesmerized by the bright colors of the restaurant and have fun playing with complimentary Wikki Sticks.

2024 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park
773-935-5000
Online: cafebabareeba.com

Eli’s Cheesecake World (lunch only)
When dessert appears in a restaurant name, it’s sure to make your kid’s ears perk up. This Chicago classic is serving up recipes inspired by the Eli’s Cheesecake Cookbook, including Matzo Ball Soup, a Roast Beef sandwich and your choice of cheesecake for dessert. After enjoying your meal, bring home your choice of a free autographed cookbook or a 9″ Original Plain Cheesecake, which feeds 14 (or just you, 14 times).

6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr., Northwest Side
773-736-3417
Online: elischeesecake.com

photo: River Roast

River Roast (brunch, lunch and dinner)
While you dine on a prix fixe lunch menu that includes a Fish Sandwich or Cubano with smoked pork and ham or a dinner menu with a choice of Roast Beef or a Berkshire Pork Chop, the kids can happily dive into a basket of Golden Gobbets, which is some of the best fried chicken pieces you’ll find in the city, served with a side of honey. We’d also highly recommend choosing the Carrot Cake for your dessert option, which is big enough to offer a few bites to the kids.

315 N. LaSalle St., River North
312-822-0100
Online: riverroastchicago.com

Grange Hall Burger Bar (lunch and dinner)
What’s not to love about burgers and pie? A real indulgence, this West Loop burger-focused joint is offering guaranteed favorites on the prix fixe menu. Enjoy your choice of burger, side and dessert. Rest assured that although this is filling food, the restaurant focuses on farm fresh ingredients. You can choose between grass-fed beef, turkey, chicken, a vegan patty or wild rice and veg burger and choose a gluten-free bun or have your burger served up on a bed of lettuce. To top it off, you get to choose between a Lemon Cheesecake or a gluten-free and vegan Chocolate Pudding PIe. Kids with smaller appetites can order from the Little Farmers menu that includes burgers, grilled cheese and mac n’cheese options.

844 W. Randolph St., West Loop
312-491-0844
Online: grangehallburgerbar.com

photo: Sugar Factory

Sugar Factory (brunch, lunch and dinner)
They have Chocolate Decadence French Toast on their breakfast menu, Rainbow Sliders and Mac & Cheese Lollipops on their lunch and dinner menu and Cookie Jar Old Fashioned Sundaes and Chocolate Old Fashioned Milkshakes — what more do we need to say? Tell the kids you’re going to dinner at a place with the word “Sugar” in the name and we can guarantee they’ll get out the door faster than you’ve ever thought possible.

55 E. Grand Ave., River North
312-946-2002
Online: sugarfactory.com

Pinstripes (lunch and dinner)
Combine a game of bowling with a multi-course meal for a fun day out that’s sure to please. The more casual lunch menu includes a choice of salad, followed by Italian Fettuccini Bolognese or Chicken Parmesan and ends with a scoop of gelato or sorbet. Two dinner menus are offered, the more indulgent option includes Maple Glazed Salmon and a Filet Mignon Trio and the other features Italian Jambalaya or Boneless Short Ribs. Kids won’t be left out of the multi-course meal, as the kids’ menu includes a breadstick starter, entrée, dessert and drink, all for $9.

435 E. Illinois St., Streeterville
312-527-3010
Online: pinstripes.com

For the full list of participating restaurants, go to choosechicago.com.

Where are you going to eat during Chicago Restaurant Week? Shout about it in the Comments!

— Lisa Snart & Samantha Lande