Boo Bashes! Halloween Events You Shouldn’t Miss

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Take a break from getting lost and found in corn mazes and working your way around all the harvest festivals Chicago has to offer to focus on faBOOlous Halloween extravaganzas. Whether you have a lover of all things scary, an animal lover or a candy craver to keep entertained, we’ve dug up spooky Halloween fun for the family. Check out our list of happenings, if you dare . . .

photo: 360 CHICAGO

TILT Terror Nights at 360 Chicago

Celebrate the year’s spookiest month with a longer, faster, scarier ride on TILT. Through Oct. 31. Event details

Pier Pumpkin Lights at Navy Pier

Navy Pier has transformed into an experiential fall spectacle with nearly 1,000 pumpkins. Visitors can explore a variety of pumpkin pop-up installations and enjoy Pier-wide deals and Halloween festivities. Through Oct. 31. Event details

Boo at the Zoo

Little ghosts and goblins of all ages are sure to have a howlin’ good time at Brookfield Zoo’s annual Halloween celebration. The not-so-scary and fun-filled event features free treats as the kids leave the zoo, a corn maze, inflatables, new photo opps, and Halloween-themed crafts and activities each weekend. Through Oct. 24. Event details.

photo: Naper Settlement

All Hallows Eve at Naper Settlement

Prepare to come face-to-face with literature’s most frightening characters of the past, present and future or meet the lost souls of the dead who you won’t soon forget. With 12-acres of must-see Halloween creatures and entertainment, this fear fest is for kids 8-years-old and up. Oct. 15 & 16; Event details.

Trick-or-Treat at Naper Settlement

Slip (or slither) into your best costume and enjoy a low-key trick-or-treat amongst the historical homes at Naper Settlement. Oct. 31. Event details

photo: MSI

Boo Fest at Museum of Science & Industry

Museum of Science and Industry's Boo Fest is two weeks of family friendly science experiments that will get you in the Halloween spirit! Explore specially decorated exhibits, examine the science of Halloween with pumpkin drops and slime, try your hand at eyeball dissection and more. Through Oct. 31. Event details.

Scarecrow Trail at Morton Arboretum

Guests can stroll around Meadow Lake to view scarecrows created by local scout troops and school groups. After your walk, vote for your favorite scarecrow in the visitors center. Daily in October. Event details

photo: Great Wolf Lodge

Halloween Fun at Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge is hosting their annual month-long Howl-O-Ween celebration! This year's activities include Trick-Or-Treat Trail, The Thrill of Howl-O-Ween Yoga Tails, Monster Bash Dance Party and Critter Cartoons, just to name a few. Through Oct. 31. Event details

Halloween at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba

Throughout the Halloween weekend, stop by Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba's take-out window for free trick-or-treating. On Sunday, Oct. 31, wear your costume and your table will get a choice of one free dessert tapas to share. Halloween weekend. Event details.

Geneva Commons Inclusive Halloween Event

Geneva Commons is hosting the ultimate Halloween experience for kids of all ages featuring sensory-friendly and allergy-friendly activities. Don't forget your costumes! Oct. 30. Event details.

photo: Museum of Illusions

Halloween at Museum of Illusions

Museum of Illusions Chicago has completely transformed into the Museum of Spooky Illusions with mind-bending illusions. Through Oct. 31. Event details.

Pumpkin Fest at Siegel's Cottonwood Farm

Harvest memories with your family at Siegel's Pumpkin Fest! Make your way through the Super Mario corn maze, take a hayride, pick your favorite pumpkin, tip-toe through a haunted barn or spooky shed, pet the goats and so much more! Through Oct. 31. Event details.

photo: JoJo's Shake Bar

Pumpkin Patch at Jo Jo's Shake Bar

JoJo's Shake Bar is satisfying your sweet tooth with over-the-top treats AND bringing an authentic fall experience to the heart of Chicago with their elaborate Pumpkin Patch. The 5,000 square foot patio is filled with over 600 pumpkins, a 1954 red Ford truck, hay bales, and a bathtub filled with corn to satisfy your Halloween photo needs. Through Oct. 31. Event details.

Music of Phish for Kids Halloween Party

Thalia Hall welcomes Rock & Roll Playhouse for their Music of Phish for Kids Halloween Party. Oct. 31. Event details.

Free Halloween Movie at North Riverside Mall

Enjoy a free showing of Scoob! Oct. 23. Event details.

Slasher Museum at Replay Lincoln Park

Fear not, Halloween Fans! Replay is back with their latest pop-up installment, Slasher Museum. The gaming area has been transformed into a manor of the macabre filled with frightening replicas of iconic slashers including Michael Myers, Freddy and Leatherface. The space includes themed weekly trivia, costume contests, horror-movie-themed arcade and pinball games and more. Through Oct. 31. Event details.

Fear Month at The Forge: Lemont Quarries

The Forge: Lemont Quarries is inviting all to the largest outdoor adventure course in North America. In addition to regular activities, they are hosting Fear Month with Halloween-themed movies, zombie laser tag, fireside ghost stories and a guided adventure game. Through Oct. 31. Event details

photo: Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce

Socially Distanced Trick-or-Treating

Chicago families looking for a safe and fun trick-or-treating experience can head to The Bucktown Green for a socially distanced event. The day includes 25 businesses from Wicker Park and Bucktown spread out to give candy and a Halloween photo wall with festive displays. Oct. 31. Event details.

Ghost Hunt at North Riverside Park Mall

Calling all ghouls, goblins, superheroes, princesses and more! Join North Riverside Park Mall for a Halloween Ghost Hunt event. Find them all and turn your clue cheat into Customer Service to receive a Halloween pumpkin pop fidget toy. Oct. 30. Event details

photo: Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Saturday with Snakes at Peggy Notebaert Museum

Slither over to the Nature Museum for a sssuper sssensational celebration of snakes! Trick-or-treat with the resident cold-blooded critters, create your own ceramic snake with Lillstreet Art Center, get up close with unique preserved collections, and participate in a costume contest for a special surprise. Oct. 30. Event details.

Pet Costume Parade in Long Grove

Pets are invited to claw into their best Halloween duds and howl at the moon at Halloween Town's annual pet costume parade in downtown Long Grove. Oct. 24. Event details.

Downtown Tinley Boo Bash

This annual event is perfect for families with young kids. Boo Bash features trick-or-treating through business booths, DJ entertainment, a costume contest and much more! Oct. 24. Event details.

Wicker Park Boo-Palooza

Wicker Park bubbles with Halloween fun for the entire family at Boo-Palooza. Kids and their pups can get dressed up and join the costume parade. There's also a pumpkin patch and decorating station, live music, a maze and straw stack and activity tables. Oct. 23. Event details.

UPSIDE DOWN Parade

The 2nd annual UPSIDE DOWN parade will feature dance performances, circus acrobats, musical groups and sports mascots. Don't forget to wear your Halloween costume — and enjoy a complimentary goody bag courtesy of Blommer Chocolate Company, Mars Wrigley and other local candy companies. Oct. 23. Event details.

photo: Arts in the Dark

Arts in the Dark Parade

Arts in the Dark is a magical nighttime parade that draws together world-renowned institutions, celebrated Chicago organizations and aspiring artists in every field. It is a magical evening parade that delights the audience with unique floats, spectacle puppets and creative performances. Oct. 30. Event details.

Halloween Party at Little Beans Evanston

Stop into Little Beans Cafe for a fun Halloween celebration with trick-or-treating, spooky snacks, music and a costume contest. Oct. 30. Event details.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Night of 1,000 Jack-o'-Lanterns at Chicago Botanic Garden

More than 1,000 hand-carved pumpkins—some as large as 150 pounds—will light up the night. The LED-lit jack-o’-lanterns will be staged along a festive paved pathway. Oct. 13-24; Wed.-Sun. Event details. (sold out as of press time)

Glenview Halloween Spooktacular

Get in the Halloween spirit with a ghoulish family friendly outdoor party. You'll find creepy crafts, games, activities and entertainment. Plus, enjoy trunk-or-treats and cozy hayrides around BATtea and Little SCARE Park. Oct. 22. Event details.

BatFest in Batavia

It’s going to get batty at Batavia’s annual Halloween family festival. Fly over for trick-or-treating, Mothers’ Club Parade, pumpkin bowl, contests, BatArt, stories and games! Oct. 30. Event details.

photo: Lincoln Park Zoo

Spooky Zoo Spectacular at Lincoln Park Zoo

Gourd’-ge yourself on free harvest fun at Lincoln Park Zoo! This free celebration includes a pumpkin walk, live pumpkin carvers, a festive pop-up bar, animals chats, live music and more! Through Oct. 31 Event details.

— Maria Chambers

Featured photo: photo: rawpixels via Pexels

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If you’ve tricked out your house in spider webs, ghosts and goblins and your little ones can’t seem to get enough of the gore, it might be time to take them on a scare adventure. From big-league haunted houses to animated farm sheds and farms that offer a bonus corn maze or pumpkin patch, we’ve searched Chicago for the best spots for pint-sized frights with just the right amount of spook for little ones. Read on . . . and get a bit of scream on.

Bengston's Fun Farm and Haunted Barn

Recommended age: The Haunted Barn is PG13, no one under the age of 12 is permitted without an adult; the giggles in the Fun Farm are open to all ages

Experience the frights of Halloween as you navigate the scary and completely animated Haunted Barn. If you chicken out on walking the Haunted Barn or if you're with little ones who prefer a lot less scare factor, get your giggles on in the animated Fun Barn.

13341 W. 151st St., Homer Glen; Online: pumpkinfarm.com

photo: MS(

Museum of Science & Industry Boo Fest

Museum of Science and Industry's Boo Fest is two weeks of family friendly science experiments that will get you in the Halloween spirit! Explore specially decorated exhibits, examine the science of Halloween with pumpkin drops and slime, try your hand at cow eyeball dissection and more. 

5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park; Online: msichicago.org

Goebbert's Pumpkin Farm Haunted House - Pingree Grove

Recommended age: Appropriate for school-age kiddos

Take a walk on the spooky side with twists and turns through this haunted adventure.  Bring a cozy sweater, because there are thrills and chills that will leave your spine-tingling.

42W813 Reinking Rd., Pingree Grove; Online: goebbertspumpkinpatch.com

Goebbert's Pumpkin Farm Haunted House - South Barrington

Recommended age: Appropriate for school-age kiddos

Make no mistake, friends, this 10-room house is designed for kids, but it's not for those who don't like to be big-time spooked. So, be ready to walk it with kiddos jumping on your back like scaredy-dog Scooby Doo.

40 W. Higgins Rd., South Barrington; Online: goebbertspumpkinfarm.com

Sonny Acres Farm Spook Shed

Recommended age: Ghosts and goblins 12 & under; Haunted barn recommended for ages 11 & up.

While Sonny Acres has a haunted hayride and barn appropriate for those who don't mind the daylights being scared out of them, they also have a Spook Shed and daytime hayrides perfect for little ones who'd just like to dip their toes into Halloween fun. The shed is completely automated with no actors.

29W310 North Ave., West Chicago; Online: sonnyacres.com

All Hallows Eve at Naper Settlement

Recommended age: This fear fest is for kids 8-years-old and up. It is not recommended for younger children. Or their scaredy-cat parents.

The creepy-crawlies come out on two of the darkest nights of the year, Oct. 15 & 16, and you don’t want to miss the terrifying fun at Naper Settlement. Naper Settlement will transform into an eerie and bizarre wonderland, featuring spine-chilling attractions and interactive experiences. View performances by magician Steve Chezaday, take a stroll through a zombie maze, browse the mysterious dark art gallery, play a game of laser tag and rock out to monster jams. 

523 S. Webster St., Naperville; Online: napersettlement.org

Scarecrow Trail at Morton Arboretum

Recommended age: Open to all ages

Guests can stroll around Meadow Lake to view scarecrows created by local scout troops and school groups all throughout the month of October. After your walk, vote for your favorite scarecrow in the visitors center. 

4100 Il-Rte. 53, Lisle, Online: mortonarb.org

Great Wolf Lodge

Recommended age: Open to all ages

Great Wolf Lodge is embracing the spooky season with the return of their annual month-long Howl-O-Ween celebration, running Oct. 1-31. This year's activities include Trick-Or-Treat Trail, The Thrill of Howl-O-Ween Yoga Tails, Monster Bash Dance Party and Critter Cartoons, just to name a few.

1700 Nations Dr., Gurnee; Online: greatwolf.com

The Forge: Lemont Quarries

Recommended age: The Forge has a Fear Factor Scale on their website for each activity so you can best figure out which work best for your family

The Forge: Lemont Quarries is inviting all to the largest outdoor adventure course in North America. This fall, in addition to their regular activities, they will host Fear Month to celebrate the change of seasons. The month includes family movie nights, zombie tag, fireside ghost stories and more. 

1001 Main St., Lemont: Online: forgeparks.com

photo: Museum of Illusions

Museum of Illusions

Recommended age: Open to all ages

Museum of Illusions is decking out its space with themed decor for Halloween, making it a go-to destination for the holiday. Playing into the illusions throughout the exhibits, such as their well-known Head on a Platter, Vortex Tunnel, Infinity and Anti-Gravity Room and more, the decorations will serve as a great backdrop. 

25 E. Washington St., Loop; Online: moichicago.com

Scream Scene

EDITOR'S NOTE: CLOSED DUE TO COVID FOR THE 2021 SEASON

Recommended age: Regular haunts recommended for ages 10 & up; parents discretion for "Lights On" experience

Scream Scene has been famously terrifying visitors since 1997 with its insane clown maze, crazed butchers and chainsaw maniacs. However, they tone it down for two days only so little ones can experience the fun with a "Lights On" performance they won't soon forget.

Oakton St. & Skokie Blvd., Skokie; Online: screamscene.org

—Maria Chambers

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COVID Update: Please be sure to check directly with vendors concerning their most up-to-date closures, restrictions and policies, including their cancellation procedures, should COVID numbers continue to spike.

Got a party to plan for a kid with a chilly-weather birthday? We’re here to help get those creative juices flowing with ideas for kids who like to bake or play sports, and everything in between. We even have parties that bring the festivities to you! Read on to get the planning started.

photo: iFly

For Those in Constant Motion

Altitude Trampoline Park. Chicago's first trampoline playspace and activity center features state-of-the-art trampoline entertainment as well as a variety of activities such as Wipe-Out, Basketball, Dodgeball, Rock Wall, Foam Pit, Trapeze, Kids Court for toddlers and a parent lounge for adults.

404 N. Armour St., West Fulton Market; Online: altitudechicago.com

Brooklyn Boulders. This place will make your wall-climbing kids straight-up giddy. They offer several indoor rock climbing terrains for your quests to conquer and knowledgeable instructors are there every step on their way up, up, up. 

Locations in West Loop & Lincoln Park; Online: brooklynboulders.com/chicago

Windy City Ninjas. Got a birthday boy or girl that’s more sporty than spice? Windy City Ninjas' obstacles challenge wanna-be American Ninja Warriors looking to tap their fierce inner Ninja. . . and eat cake with their friends. 

Locations in North Center and Elmhurst; Online: windycityninjas.com

Ultimate Ninjas. This birthday party spot is pretty exciting, with parties led by pro Ninjas from NBC's American Ninja Warrior, so kids get to celebrate with their favorite stars climbing walls, taking on obstacles and dominating at dodgeball. 

Four locations in Naperville, Libertyville, Glenview and Irving Park; Online: ultimateninjas.com

Actors Gymnasium. Fly from a trapeze, learn to juggle, dance or tumble. Whether your birthday kid aspires to join Cirque du Soleil or just wants to learn a new trick or two, these fetes give kids a chance to experience circus arts in a fun and safe environment.

927 Noyes St., Evanston; Online: actorsgymnasium.org

iFly. Following training with an instructor, your little birthday birds will enter a vertical wind tunnel and experience the freedom of flight. Back at home, your child can see their flight session on the DVD included with the birthday package.

3 Chicago locations in Naperville, Rosemont and Lincoln Park; Online: iflyworld.com

Goldfish Swim School. Party-goers enjoy exclusive use of the facility, while staff guide your guests through games, races and water fun, or simply lifeguard as they monkey around in the 90-degree pool. After you’ve all dried off, enjoy pizza, cupcakes and drinks in the decorated party area.

13 locations in Chicagoland; Online: goldfishswimschool.com

photo: Hi-Five Sports Chicago

For the Sports Lovers

Naperville Yard and Westmont Yard. Two words make this venue unique. Nerf Wars. While Nerf mischief between siblings happens on the regular, take the battle (and wartime cleanup) out of your house. A party includes access to a play structure, inflatables, field games, invitations, goodie bags and more!

1607 Legacy Cir., Naperville; Online: napervilleyard.com & 233 W. 63rd St., Westmont; Online: westmontyard.com

Windy City Fieldhouse. The choice is yours at this mega-complex where sports rule. Pick from scavenger hunts, basketball, soccer, kickball, capture the flag, batting cages and more. Everything is customizable and you can hop from one sporting pursuit to the other. They now offer off-site sports-themed parties and virtual scavenger hunts.

2367 W. Logan Blvd., Logan Square; Online: windycityfieldhouse.com

POW! Kids. For kids who harbor fantasies of being a superhero, Ninja warrior, or any other leaping, jumping or swinging creature, Pow! Kids offers fantastic options. The base party gets kids moving with relays, obstacle courses and agility exercises, with optional add-on themes like Ninja, Nerf Skills, Martial Arts or Superhero.

950 W. Washington, West Loop; Online: powgymchicago.com

TOCA Players Indoor Sports Center. Tailor a birthday party package to different age groups so little ones aren't overwhelmed and big kids escape boredom. Young kids stick to kickball and T-ball, while big kids play more competitive games like dodge ball, floor hockey or Bubbleball, a game where players wear an inflatable ball and roll and bounce into each other.

1740 Quincy Ave., Naperville; Online: playersindoor.com

Hi-Five Sports Club
Pick your favorite sport: Soccer, Baseball, Football, Kickball, Dodgeball, Hockey, Lacrosse, Capture the Flag and Hi-Five will plan and staff the fun for up to 25 of your closest pals.

Several Chicagoland locations, but not limited to those venues; Online: hifivesportsclubs.com

photo: Oui Chef Chicago

For the Future Chefs

Oui Chef. First up? Apron decorating! Once they're properly dressed, birthday guests will make cupcakes, an entree of the guest of honor's choice, lemonade, fresh fruit spritzer and fruit salad. And, finally, they indulge in their creations!

2622 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park; Online: ouichefchicago.com

The Kids' Table. Kids measure and mix ingredients for their own cakes, whip up savory dishes, like tacos, pasta or pizza, and throw back a snack and drink. It's delicious, hands-on fun and the best part is. . . you get to sit back and enjoy!

2337 W. North Ave., Wicker Park & 2864 N. Lincoln Ave., Lakeview; Online: kids-table.com

The Chopping Block. During a 2.5-hour block of time, your group will make a meal together, learning about the ingredients, kitchen safety and organization in a fun, party atmosphere. 

The Merchandise Mart Plaza, Ste. 107, River North, & 4747 N Lincoln, Lincoln Square; Online: thechoppingblock.com

Nick's Pizza and Pub. Nick's Pizza and Pub offers the coziness of hosting at home, with none of the clean-up. Party guests get to visit the kitchen to make their own pizza and while that cooks, take a fun behind-the-scenes tour of the restaurant. Not only that, but their menu offers built-in fun with a scavenger hunt and we highly recommend the signature colossal cookie dessert. 

2 locations in Elgin & Crystal Lake; Online: nickspizzapub.com

photo: Medieval Times via Maria Chambers

For Something a Little Different

Dad's Slot Cars. This retro-cool spot has an old-fashioned soda counter where kids can sing Happy Birthday over decadent ice cream delights after they customize and race model cars on an 8-lane track.

700 Lee St., Des Plaines; facebook.com/Dadsslotcars/

Archery Custom Shop. Learn a new skill and make like Robin Hood at an archery-themed party. Kids learn how to shoot the target safely in a one-hour workshop, followed by cake and birthday festivities. Everyone has a blast popping balloon targets.

7240 Madison St., Forest Park; archerycustomshop.com

Medieval Times. Give your little prince or princess a birthday that’ll make them feel like the star of the castle by adding a side of jousting. Celebrate the big day while watching 6 knights battle it out fast and furious on real horses and enjoy a feast fit for royalty.

2001 N. Roselle Rd., Schaumburg; Online: medievaltimes.com

Field Museum. If your kid is more interested in exoskeletons than X-box, then a party where they can step into a bug's shoes, mummify their friends and party with the most famous T.Rex, SUE, may be in order. If you'd prefer to have a party at home, you can coordinate a virtual greeting from SUE.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr, Museum Campus.; Online: fieldmuseum.org

photo: Miss Jamie From the Farm

For Parties that Come to You

Miss Jamie. If your birthday star just can’t stop the music, a completely customizable party with Miss Jamie from the Farm is a must! She's well-known for her original barnyard tunes and magical puppet friends that share the stage during her interactive sing-along, dance-along performance. 

Call 773-609-5045 or visit missjamie.shutterfly.com

The Great Scott. Even parents will get a good chuckle when this magician begins his show by engaging the audience with hilarious jokes that are so great, you'll wish you could trick him into staying longer. 

Call 847-361-0924 or visit thegreatscott.com

Magic, Music & More. Give the birthday star the royal treatment by inviting a princess or fairy over to entertain your queen and her court with a dress-up party, tiara decorating, story time, makeovers, games and dancing. If the guest of honor is less than interested in royalty, check out the Space Wars party options. When they aren't allowing in-person parties, you can schedule a virtual chat. 

Call 773-431-2098 or visit magicmusicmorechicago.com

Smarty Pants. You'll wish you were young enough to star in The Big Balloon Show hosted by Smarty Pants and his wife, Miss Dena. 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 airplane that stays inflated for an entire week. 

Call 773-562-6789 or visit smartypantsworld.com

Mad Science. Science is fun and these party people prove it. Making slippery slime, silly putty and super balls are just some of experiments that guests can do—and take home. They offer add-ons like an awesome rocket launch, a dry ice demo, or the tastiest science project of all, cotton candy making.

Call 773-227-3345 in Chicago, 630-393-3322 in western suburbs or 224-676-1635 in the northern suburbs; or visit madscience.org

— Maria Chambers

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If you’re a super-fan of a particular museum, play space or attraction, maybe it’s high time you became a card-carrying member. Along with scoring sweet perks like access to special events, discounts and free parking, you’re helping an awesome family destination thrive. Often in the case of some of the biggies, after just two visits, the museum membership has paid for itself — and you can avoid those long admission lines. Here is the scoop on memberships your gang should consider having.

SCIENCES

photo: Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium

The Membership: A family membership is $165/year and includes 2 adults and 4 children. The Family & Friends membership is for up to 4 adults and 6 children up to age 17 and is $240/year.
Compare That To: Daily general admission is $19/adults, $8/ages 3-11. To upgrade to the Museum +1 to see a sky show, admission is $28/adults, $17/ages 3-11.
The Biggest Perks: Perks include free coat check, unlimited sky shows, free tickets to the Atwood Historic Sphere, a fast members-only line, free general admission at participating ASTC science centers and museums nationwide, a 15% discount at Space Shop and 10% discount in Cosmic Cafe, and discounts on Adler After Dark, summer camps and birthday parties. 

1300 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: adlerplanetarium.org

The Field Museum

The Membership: The family membership is $150 for one year and $285 for two years. It includes general admission for 2 adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 17 living in the same household. The Family Plus membership is $180 for one year and $345 for two years and includes admission for 3 adults and their children or grandchildren under the age of 17 living in the same household. Discounts are currently available online.
Compare That To: Daily adult admission varies from $24-$38 for IL residents, depending on what you want to see. For kids ages 3-11, it's $17-$27.
The Biggest Perks: Free reciprocal admission to participating science and technology museums, a 10% discount at the Field's restaurant, museum stores and birthday party packages, free coat check, invitations to members-only events, plus discounts on all education programs and 3D movies.

1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: fieldmuseum.org

Museum of Science and Industry

The Membership: A Family membership is $195/year for 2 adults, all household children and one guest. 
Compare That To: Depending on what special exhibits or shows you want to hit, adult daily admission is $21.95-$49.95 and children are $12.95-$29.95. Discounts for admission are available online.
The Biggest Perks: Free parking for members, 10 free Giant Dome Theater tickets, discounted passes for special exhibitions, an invitation to the annual member holiday breakfast and reciprocal admission benefits at select museums.

5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Hyde Park; Online: msichicago.org

ART & HISTORY

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Membership: There are three levels of membership and each includes all children living in a household. The Member membership is $105/year and includes admission for two adults. The Member Plus membership is $150/year and includes admission for 4 adults. Member Ambassador is available for $200/year and grants access for up to 4 adults and invitations to premium exhibition events.
Compare That To: Adult daily admission is $25 for Illinois residents and $20 for City of Chicago residents. Children under 18 years old are always free.
The Biggest Perks: $5 off parking in Millennium Garages (this is for the Member Plus and higher levels only). Member-only classes, lectures, workshops, events and more. The museum also offers special programs and camps for kids. The Member Ambassador option includes reciprocal privileges to 15 art museums around the country and an invitation to private exhibition celebrations.

111 S. Michigan Ave., The Loop; Online: artic.edu

Chicago History Museum

The Membership: A family membership, called Household, for up to four people is $100/year.
Compare That To: General daily adult admission is $19; Free for Illinois residents 18 & under; City of Chicago residents receive $2 discount
The Biggest Perks: You'll like the 10% discount on all purchases made at the Museum Store and North & Clark Café. You'll also get access to the Members'-only events and previews of new exhibitions.

1601 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: chicagohistory.org

Museum of Contemporary Art

The Membership: A Household membership is $85/year and is valid for two adults and as many children under the age of 18 as you have. (Always, member or not, kids under the age of 18 enter the museum for free.)
Compare That To: Daily general admission is $15/ages 19 & up. Students and seniors are $8.
The Biggest Perks: Enjoy invitations to all Members’ Previews of major exhibitions, savings of up to 20% off tickets to MCA performances and lectures, a 10% discount in the MCA Store and discounts at Marisol Restaurant and Bar and a $5 discount on parking.

220 E. Chicago Ave., Downtown; Online: mcachicago.org

Lillstreet

The Membership: A family membership is for 3 or more people and is $110 a year. While this isn't a typical admission-entry spot, membership offers discounts on classes and camps, plus more.
Compare That To: Prices vary by class, but members typically get a $5 discount.
The Biggest Perks: Discounts on classes, workshops and camps; discounts at participating museums and art supply stores; invitations to special events and lecture series; 10% off gallery purchases.

4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ravenswood; Online: lillstreet.com

NATURE

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Chicago Botanic Garden

The Membership: Admission to this natural paradise is free, but there is a charge for parking, which is taken care of once you're a member. Garden 1 Year membership costs $99 for one year, and includes a pass for one vehicle.
Compare That To: Daily parking rates (covered in your membership) cost $25/car.
The Biggest Perks: In addition to the parking, members get a 10% discount at the Garden Shop and a discount coupon for The Garden View Café; discounts for the Model Railroad Garden, Butterflies & Blooms exhibition and tram tours (usually ticketed attractions); discounts on camps for kids; and free admission to 300 botanic gardens and arboreta nationwide.

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

photo: Morton Arboretum

The Morton Arboretum

The Membership: Membership is $145 for one year and $280 for two years for up to 4 people (any combination of adults and children). Another option is paying $180 for one year and $350 for two years, which gets you admission for up to six people children or adults. Memberships are very flexible and can include children and adults not living in the house.
Compare That To: Daily general admission for adults is $10-$15. For kids ages 2-17, it's $7-$10. Those under 2 are free. Wednesdays have discounted admission.
The Biggest Perk: You receive special admission privileges to more than 300 horticultural organizations across North America. You'll also receive a 10% discount at The Arboretum store, a 15% discount on educational programs and free admission into the Children's Garden.

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

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

The Membership:  A family membership is $60 for one year or $110 for two years and includes admission for 2 adults and any children in the same household. A Premier membership is $130 for one year or $200 for two years and offers admission for 4 adults, any children in the same household.
Compare That To: Daily adult admission is $9. For children 3-12, it's $6; and those under 3 are free.
The Biggest Perks: Free coat check and stroller rental, discounts on summer camps and paid programming, a 20% discount in the Gift Shop and Cafe, a 50% discount to popular regional museums and reciprocal free admission to more than 300 museums worldwide, 4 free guest passes for Premier members and an invitation for a behind-the-scenes tour.

2430 N. Cannon Dr., Lincoln Park; Online: naturemuseum.org

CHILDREN’S MUSEUMS

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

Chicago Children's Museum

The Membership: For a family of up to 4 people, membership is $190 a year or $340 for two years. For a family of up to 6 people, the rate starts at $240 a year depending on if you want extra perks like priority invitations to exhibit previews and special events.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $14.95/person.
The Biggest Perks: Free parking in the Navy Pier garage, 50% off general admission at almost 200 participating children's museums through the ACM Reciprocal Program, 10% discount at the gift shop and access during members-only hours.

600 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier; Online: chicagochilddrensmuseum.org

DuPage Children's Museum

The Membership: Memberships start at $125/year for one adult and one child, $150/year for two adults and 4 children, $175/year for 3 adults and 5 children, $200/year for 4 adults and 6 children.
Compare That To: Daily admission rate for adults and children older than one year is $13.
The Biggest Perks: Enjoy members-only events, a 10% discount at the museum’s café and store, a $5 discounted admission for up to 4 guests per visit and discounts on birthday parties. Family memberships receive 50% off general admission at ACM reciprocal network participating institutions for up to 6 people.

301 N. Washington St., Naperville; Online: dupagechildrens.org

Kohl Children's Museum

The Membership: A PlayKCM membership is $165/year and includes admission for 4. There is also the PlayKCM Plus option, which is $170/year for 6 guests.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $14 for adults and children 1 year and older.
The Biggest Perks: Members-only hours and admission lines and discounts on birthday parties, rentals, purchases at the onsite cafe and 50% off 6 admissions at more than 200 children's museums nationwide.

2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview; Online: kohlchildrensmuseum.org

Wonder Works

The Membership: The Family membership is $120 for one year or $230 for two years, and includes admission for up to 4 people, plus grandparents. The CLIMB membership is $175/year and includes the same as the basic membership plus free admission for six people + grandparents to the CLIMB Network Museums and half-price admission for six people to the complete ACM network of reciprocal museums. You can add extra children to each membership for $20/year per child.
Compare That To: Daily admission is $9/person, no matter if it's an adult or child.
The Biggest Perks: Free admission for grandparents under each family membership option, plus discounts on classes and party room packages.

6445 North Ave., Oak Park; Online: wonder-works.org

ZOOS & ANIMALS

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Membership: A Household membership is valid for everyone under your roof and is $95 for a year. This membership is not about free admission (the zoo is always free), but about the extra perks and purpose.
Compare That To: This membership comes with two free parking passes, and discounted parking for each additional visit. Parking is $35 for four hours or more, so this is a sizable savings!
The Biggest Perk: Along with the two parking passes, Household members get invitations to special members-only mornings, ZooLights night and other activities; discounts at zoo shops, restaurants and on stroller rentals; access to the members-only lounge; free or discounted admission to more than 100 zoos nationwide and more.

2001 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: lpzoo.org

Brookfield Zoo

The Membership: The zoo’s membership plans are separated into three categories. The Family Basic is $130 for one year and includes admission for 2 adults and any children living in the household, plus 4 guest passes for the year. The Family Plus package is $158 for one year and includes 2 adults, all children living in the household and one free guest each visit, and 6 guest passes for the year. The Family Unlimited membership is $243 for one year and includes two adults, all children living in the household and one free guest each visit, and 8 guest passes for the year.
Compare That To: Daily admission for adults is $24.95. For kids ages 3-11, it's $17.95.
The Biggest Perk: Members score free parking for one vehicle at the main entrance and discount parking at the south entrance. The Family Plus and Family Unlimited memberships include free admission (limited amounts per year with the family plus package) to zoo attractions like the carousel, Hamill Family Play Zoo and special animal exhibits.
Other Covid-Friendly Gift Ideas: Families can choose to participate in the Animal Adoption program. Choose your favorite animal and donations to the program help provide expert care and feeding of an animal for one year.

8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield; Online: brookfieldzoo.org

photo: Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium

The Membership: The family/household membership is $195 for one year and includes two adults and any number of children living in the house. Shedd also offers an Advocate membership for $250 a year, which includes access for 2 adult cardholders, 2 adult guests and any number of children in the household.
Compare That To: Daily general admission is $39.95/adults and $29.95/children ages 3-11, discount available to Chicago residents.
The Biggest Perks: Members get free admission to all exhibits and can skip the long line and go straight to the members-only line. They also score free tickets to the daily aquatic show and the seasonal Stingray Touch, discounts on the 4D shows and at the onsite restaurants and stores, and invitations to members-only events.

1200 S. Lake Shore Dr., Museum Campus; Online: sheddaquarium.org

PLAYSPACES

Little Beans Cafe

The Membership: For $600/year, families with one child (crawlers or older) have unlimited access to open play at this play space. It's $400 for each additional child. Younger infants enter free with an adult beverage purchase. Adults get free admission.
Compare That To: A daily open play pass is $17, $12 for the first sibling and each additional sibling is $6. A 5-visit pass is $65 for one child, $50 for the first sibling and $25 for each additional sibling.
The Biggest Perks: This place could become your home away from home, with unlimited open play and coffee shop discounts to keep you going.

1809 W. Webster Ave., Lincoln Park & 430 Ashbury Ave., Evanston; Online: littlebeanscafe.com

Purple Monkey Playroom

The Membership: An annual unlimited membership to this infant- and toddler-friendly play space costs $600. Add sibling and the total is $900.
Compare That To: Daily open play admission is $18/child and $10 for a sibling. Ages 0-7 months are $8. There are also 5- and 10-visit passes available, plus a monthly unlimited pass for $95 for one child and $180 for the child plus one sibling.
The Biggest Perks: Breeze past the check-in desk and focus on what matters: good, old-fashioned fun.

2040 N. Western Ave., Bucktown; Online: purplemonkeyplayroom.com

Kidville

The Membership: The Single Class Membership is $99/month and allows for 4 classes/month.
Compare That To: Drop-in classes are $28/class. Admission to the playspace for non-members is $15/visit.
The Biggest Perks: Membership gets you discounts on birthday parties; free access to the playspace with passes; access to events and concerts; and first dibs when new class schedules are released.

1030 W. North Ave., Lincoln Park; Online: kidville.com

x— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon

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Our Best Family Activities for Winter in Chicago

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Oh sure, hunkering down at home in your PJs and baking cookies sounds tempting, but there are loads of winter activities in Chicago. So much so, you’ll want to slip into those winder duds and get outside STAT. From light shows to skating and exploring new neighborhoods, there’s a winter adventure awaiting. Read on for events, exhibits and activities to add to your winter playlist.

BE INSPIRED BY A LIGHTS DISPLAY

photo: Morton Arboretum

Brighten your winter with a drive-thru Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum

Illumination: Tree Lights at Morton Arboretum dazzles us with lights, sights and sounds to transform a Chicago-area wintertime walk in the woods into a colorful, inspiring experience like no other, Nov. 20-Jan. 2. 

photo: Lincoln Park Zoo

Razzle and dazzle at Lincoln Park Zoo’s annual ZooLights

One of the nation’s only free-admission zoos flips the holiday switch with ZooLights, Nov 19.-Jan 2. With the light displays throughout the grounds, your fam can stroll through the twinkling winter wonderland created by over 2 million lights for a festive holiday experience right in the heart of the city.

photo: City of Chicago

See Chicago's Christmas Tree at Millennium Park

Millennium Park's Christmas Tree stands tall and twinkles brightly to help get families in the holiday cheer. Be sure to plan a visit to enjoy the holiday programming and ice skating.

photo: Naper Lights

Stroll Naperville's riverwalk during their annual Naper Lights

Located on Naperville's beautiful riverwalk, you'll find the annual Naper Lights display bringing holiday cheer and festivities. 

photo: Brookfield Zoo

Meander the brightly lit paths at Brookfield Zoo

Zoogoers can safely enjoy Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic by strolling along the many pathways, lit with more than one million twinkling LED lights, including through a brilliantly lit 600-foot-long tunnel featuring thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music.

GET INTO THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT

Pay a visit in person (or virtually) to Santa

Is that the real Santa? How can he be in so many places at once? How does he fit in a chimney? Why does he like to hang out at the mall? Yep, the season of wonder is back (get your answers ready!) and it isn’t complete without a visit with Mr. Claus. Whether you want a few quick Instagram-worthy photos and hear a token ho-ho-ho or are more comfortable with a virtual gab session, we’ll tell you where Santa’s sleigh is parked for the season.

photo: iStock

Spruce up your house with a fresh-cut Christmas tree

Lumberjack your way into the season by visiting a local cut-your-own Christmas tree farm

FORGET THE CHILL & HEAD OUTSIDE

Take the family for a spin at Maggie Daley

The Maggie Daley Park ice skating ribbon is one of the best spots in the city to skate a figure eight. The railing that lines the loop is the perfect pick-me-up for wobbly skaters. 

See eagles at Starved Rock State Park

Winter, spring, summer or fall, all you have to do is haul your crew to Starved Rock State Park for hiking with a stellar view. Starting in mid-January, thousands of eagles migrate to Starved Rock State Park and stay through March. They’re easy to spot as they soar through the sky or perch on the treetops. Bring binoculars!

Bundle up for a wintry hike

We’ll admit, a Chicago winter can be tough. But, a dose of fresh air, unforgettable scenery and a chance to spy on animals in their natural habitat is a guaranteed day of wintry family fun. There are beautiful trails all around the city that'll have you lacing up your boots, strapping an infant to your back and exploring. 

Have a scavenger-hunting adventure

Show your kids the coolness of their hometown with this scavenger hunt idea. It’ll take you to the tippy-top of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel and strolling the Chicago River to see the moveable bridges. Best part? You can do all this in a totally safe, socially distanced way that’ll keep Covid-19 far, far away. Mask up, hop in the car (or two-wheel-it on your bikes) to seek out these Insta-worthy Chicago landmarks. You can download this scavenger hunt for kids here.

SEE (OR HEAR) A HOLIDAY SHOW

photo: Goodman Theatre

Listen to A Christmas Carol from your sofa

There are always a few versions of Marley’s thought-provoking caper across town during the holidays. The one that’s everlasting (and truly tear-jerking) is at The Goodman Theatre. There is something about this timeless story, combined with the world-class actors of The Goodman, that keeps the “bah-humbugs” away. Due to COVID, A Christmas Carol will be available via free audio streaming. Hear the voices you adore and the signature soundscape surrounded by the love of family at home. 

photo: Merchandise Mart

See The Nutcracker on Art on TheMART

With the cancellation of The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcrackera newly animated digital display will be shown as part of Chicago's Art on theMART, the largest digital art projection in the world. The Nutcracker presentation projected on theMART's 2.5-acre river-facade can be viewed nightly.

photo: PlayMakers Laboratory

Get your giggles out with That's Weird, Grandma

From Christmas and Kwanzaa to Hanukkah and New Year’s, PlayMakers Laboratory rings in the holidays with all-new performances of its popular online revue That’s Weird, Grandma. This creative series of stories written by elementary school students, adapted and performed by PML’s professional actors will bring a whole lot of laughter to the season.

photo: Replay Lincoln Park

Put it in park for a holiday drive-in movie experience

Chicagoans are invited to share in the spirit of the holidays at Chicago's biggest and most festive movie experiences: Miracle on West Madison and Holly Jolly Drive-In with Replay Lincoln Park. In an effort to create magical experiences for families during a non-traditional holiday season, guests will experience a holiday-style movie experience, enhanced with twinkling decor and appearances by The Grinch, Santa, Mrs. Claus, reindeer and other favorite characters.

Experience a bit of holiday theatre

Start loading up the calendar with shows that fill your home with holiday spirit. Many have moved to an online format this year, which just means you get to stay in your cozy PJs and sip hot cocoa as you watch. Catching a play, ballet or musical performance is an unforgettable experience for kids—and this season’s Christmas shows in Chicago are real memory creators. 

SHOP SMALL & LOCAL

Find a new favorite neighborhood toy store

We all know 2020 hasn't been easy on small businesses. This Christmas, consider granting your kids' wishes at small, locally owned toy stores. Or, find a new game or puzzle and host a family game night by the fire in your PJs at home.

photo: Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce

Do a bit of window peeping at Wicker Park Bucktown's Window Wonderland

The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce is back with its holiday window program, Window Wonderland. Dozens of businesses across Wicker Park and Bucktown are decorating their windows in holiday themes, and shoppers can vote on the best windows for a chance to win raffle prizes using the hashtag #WPBWindowWonderland2020.

photo: iStock

Knock out some holiday shopping at Miracle on Washington Street

Drinking glühwein out of mugs at Christkindlmarket was an annual holiday tradition for Chicagoans, but has moved to a strictly virtual market for 2020. The Press Room is looking to (safely) save the experience and spread a little holiday cheer with their first annual Christmas market, Miracle on Washington St., Nov. 28-Dec. 23. You'll find an immersive holiday market experience with local vendors and unique gifts and a seasonal menu will feature iconic items traditionally available at Christkindlmarket.

Guten tag, Santa! Christkindlmarkt Chicago is a must-do!

Christkindlmarkt brings the cherished German and European tradition of Germany's famed market to Chicago and adds heaps of local charm. Dates haven't been announced for 2021, but locations are planned in their usual downtown Chicago location and Wrigleyville. 

photo: iStock

Have a vintage-inspired holiday in Long Grove

Historic downtown Long Grove invites holiday revelers to take a break from online shopping and rediscover the magic of the holiday season. The annual Long Grove Vintage Holidays campaign is what the classic holiday experience is all about. . . quaint shops, old-world charms, and family memories. Vintage Holidays 2021 features merchant open houses, holiday music, horse-drawn sleigh rides, holiday selfie station and more! Dates to be announced soon!

EAT LOCAL & SMALL

Hunt for Chicago's best cup of hot cocoa

Make Chicago's winter a little easier to swallow with a steaming cup of hot chocolate. When Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose, it’s time to go sipping. If your kids love cocoa—or need a good introduction to it—check out local restaurants or cafes that make their own from scratch. 

Fill your bellies with a hearty bowl of soup

Slurp it. Stir it. Make waves. Blow on it. Nibble the good stuff and use a straw for the rest. No wonder kids love soup; it’s so fun to eat. And it keeps us warm and cozy, which right now is a very good thing. From a Jewish deli with great Matzah balls to an Argyle Street pho haven, we'll help you get your fix by sharing our favorite Chicago restaurants for soup. 

Intro your kids to a Chicago hot dog

Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago, and if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon. We love the on-the-go ease (no silverware!) and colorful condiments (kids get a pass where the sacrilege of using ketchup is concerned). Grab one at a legendary local hot dog spot and turn eating into an adventure. 

TAKE A MINI VACATION

photo: American Club Resort

Hit the highway for a little escape

Kids dig hotel stays for the chance to sprint down long hallways and jump like monkeys on the bed. Parents love vacay for the squad-bonding opportunity, replacing the same ole for a new scene and having someone else make the bed for a change. Take a winter road-trip escape to destinations that allow for time in the great outdoors and lots of space to socially distance as a family.

photo: Swissotel

Stay in a Santa-inspired suite

Chicago's Swissotel's Annual Santa Suite will include a new private overnight experience. This year, the hotel is unveiling the Holiday Penthouse Hideaway accommodation package available to book in the iconic Santa Suite or Duplex Suite. The experience includes over-the-top holiday decor and guests can cozy up in the comfort of their own space and enjoy activities and amenities for the whole family. The Elf Decorated Room package is also available to book for a more low-key festive stay. 

— Maria Chambers & Amy Bizzarri

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It hardly seems possible, but summer break is quickly coming to a screeching halt. Before that happens, work in a quick staycation into your family agenda and get ready to discover your new home away from home — luckily you won’t need to go far to find it! With amazing amenities, like requesting a gaming console delivered to your room or days spent lazing by the pool, you’ll be lucky if you can get your kids to check out of these hotels. Read through our picks for Chicago’s kid-centric hotel amenities that would make even Eloise go green with envy and be a tourist in your own city.

photo: Kimpton Gray Hotel

Kimpton Gray Hotel

Why we love them: Family-focused complimentary amenities galore!

Kimpton Hotels is now offering complimentary children's kick scooters as an extension of the brand's popular bike loaning amenity. The Kimpton X Micro Kickboard scooters sport a custom design and color scheme and are available in two sizes for ages 2-5 and 5-12. Along with the kid-loved modes of transportation, the hotel also has a hand-picked selection of children's books, they're dog-friendly, yoga mats can be found in every room and they host a complimentary social hour every evening. 

122 W. Monroe, Loop; Online: grayhotelchicago.com

photo: Hotel Monaco

Hotel Monaco

Why we love them: This recently renovated hotel is pet-friendly!

Explore your favorite city this summer with the Classic Chicago package. Located just a few steps away on Chicago's Riverwalk, you'll board the Wendella boat tour, or make your way to the Art Insitute, Shedd and Skydeck and close out the happily packed day with two of Chicago's best locally brewed beers. 

Hotel Monaco invites you to bring your pet along and even offers fun amenities for your furry friends, has complimentary bike rentals, and hosts a nightly wine hour from 5 p.m.-6 p.m. that you can opt to take to have served in your room. 

225 N. Wabash, Loop; Online: monaco-chicago.com

photo: The Neighborhood

The Neighborhood

Why we love them: All the comforts and coziness of home in close proximity to Lincoln Park Zoo, Fullerton Beach & oodles of restaurants and shops. 

Founded by travel enthusiasts, The Neighborhood in Lincoln Park offers a well-equipped, well-designed basecamp for staycationers. The apartment-style property features 14 stylish suites with stocked kitchens, washer/dryers, and a thoughtfully curated collection of art and accessories. Floorplans include 1-3 bedroom options, as well as a coach house. 

2616 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: theneighborhoodhotel.com

photo: Sheraton Grand Chicago

Sheraton Grand Chicago

Why we love them: Fabulous Riverwalk location and the indoor heated pool

This pet-friendly hotel is a perfect home base for a family staycation, as it's steps away from Michigan Ave., the Riverwalk, Millennium Park, Navy Pier and the Mag Mile. (Keep your eyes to the skies for Navy Pier's Wednesday and Saturday evening fireworks all summer long!) 

Pack the swimsuits and goggles because kids will be making a bee-line for the indoor heated pool!

301 E. North Water St., Near North Side; Online: marriott.com

photo: Chicago Children's Museum

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel

Why we love them: Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel is located in the world's largest building designed by a woman, Chicagoan Jeanne Gang

It's easy to explore our city's rich culture from Radisson Blue Aqua Hotel as it's located within minutes from Mag Mile, Millennium Park, Grant Park and Navy Pier. Kids will love the indoor and outdoor pools, outdoor running track, fire pit and full-size basketball court, while the parents can head to the steam and sauna rooms. The Lakeshore East Park is also located just behind the hotel. 

221 N. Columbus Dr., Loop; Online: radissonhotels.com

photo: Four Seasons Hotel

Four Seasons Hotel

Why we love them: Ice cream man who makes in-room sundaes, dedicated play space & 50-foot indoor pool

The kid game is strong with this one. Once kids check-in using a special step stool to fill out their registration (name, age and a promise to have fun), they enter the Sammy the Skyscraper passport program. During their stay, kids complete an activity in each outlet (spa, restaurant and bell desk) to receive a stamp, which earns them free ice cream. In addition, the littlest guests receive a choice of toy from the treasure chest, a welcome amenity, access to the Kids Clubroom with foosball, air hockey, Nintendo Wii, books and toys, and a kids’ shoeshine service where shoes are returned with new laces.

With all this and a 50-foot indoor pool that was in Home Alone 2 and a concierge team that will create a personalized itinerary, you won’t have time for anything but fun.

A popular package for those with kids is the Family Experience, which includes breakfast for 2 adults and complimentary meals for ages 5 & under, one visit from the ice cream man, a tent and glow sticks.

120 E. Delaware Pl., Gold Coast; Online: fourseasons.com

Hotel Zachary

Why we love them: Because we love the Cubs! Also, the architecture is stunning and the activities and energy in the area are rather special.

This relative Chicago newcomer will quickly become a favorite for Cubs fans, as it sits directly across from the iconic Wrigley Field and Gallagher Way, Wrigleyville's exciting new town square. Visit during baseball season to soak up the energy that radiates in and around the stadium or plan your staycation around Gallagher Way's packed social calendar that includes outdoor movie nights, ice skating and Santa's workshop during the holidays, seasonal parties and more. This whole area has undergone a transformation every Chicagoan, suburbanite or urbanite, should see.

3630 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville; Online: hotelzachary.com

InterContinental Chicago

Why we love them: Indoor pool!

InterContinental puts you right in the middle of the action with walkable access to shopping, restaurants, cultural destinations and Lake Michigan. Keep an eye on their "Offers" page because they're always coming up with creative ideas to engage families like fort-building supplies, build-your-own cookie sets and packages that incorporate favorite cultural destinations. Even if they're not a fun package available, kids will be over-the-moon about the junior Olympic-sized swimming pool. 

505 N. Michigan Ave., Mag Mile; Online: icchicagohotel.com

The Langham

Why we love them: Kid's Suite, a playroom just for kids & a 12-seat cinema showing kid flicks

Warning: Your family is going to want to make this place your home away from home because the Langham gets kids. Kids receive a Langham Bear that comes in a cute little backpack and can hang about in the Kid’s Suite, the hotel’s playroom just for kids. The play space has everything from video games to board games, Lincoln Logs to mini electric guitars, and if that’s not enough, there’s a 12-seat cinema suite that can be reserved for private screenings.

Check out the indoor swimming pool with family changing rooms and showers (be sure to ask for a pool noodle for little swimmers!). Of course, there are kid-friendly menus throughout the hotel so picky eaters are welcome. You can also request a personalized bathrobe and slippers, and each kid receives a free cookie upon check-in.

They have several family staycation packages available, including stays that give private access to the pool, cinema or board games and a glamping experience.

COVID Update: As of press time, the Kid's Suite was closed until further notice. Please check their website for updates on re-opening. 

330 N. Wabash Ave., River North; Online: langhamhotels.com

Great Wolf Lodge

Why we love them: The entire hotel is kid-focused, while still being fun for adults

Let’s be honest, the real thrill for kids when it comes to Great Wolf Lodge is the pools. And, the 80,000-square-foot indoor pool with slides and an interactive water fort treehouse and an outdoor pool with a cabana area has no chance of disappointing. In addition to the water play, you'll find a variety of activities including a ropes course, bowling, mini-golf, arcade and rock wall. For kids that like their fun to include a bit of thinking and intrigue, they’ll dig MaqiQuest, the brand’s exclusive live-action adventure game. Kids scour the resort using magic wands to uncover relics and runes needed to defeat dragons and goblins.

1700 Nations Dr., Gurnee; Online: greatwolf.com/illinois

 

Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park

Why we love them: Location, location, location 

The best part of this gem? It's just steps from Chicago's world-renowned museums, restaurants, and of course, Millennium Park, where your kids can take an obligatory Bean selfie.

200 N. Columbus Dr., Millennium Park; Online: fairmont.com

photo: The Omni Chicago

The Omni

Why we love them: Backpacks full of fun activities & American Girl Doll package

The Omni knows how to make kids feel special. At check-in, kids are presented with a backpack overflowing an activity book with stickers, crayons, 2-in-1 card games, binoculars and a small tabletop game. They also receive milk and cookies on the first night of their stay and can make memories by booking the American Girl Place Package. The American Girl Place Package includes a set of doll pajamas and slippers, an American Girl doll bed so AG has her own place to rest in the hotel room, an American Girl book reading, a personal shopping experience at the American Girl Place Store, cookies and milk turndown service and much more.

676 N. Michigan Ave., Mag Mile; Online: omnihotels.com

Loews Chicago and Chicago O'Hare Hotels

Why we love them: Kids Closet packed full of toys, electronics to borrow & child-proofing kits

Loews loves kids, but they obviously love parents too. Their signature Loews Loves Families program is designed to make overnights fun with a complimentary activity book, a “Kids Closet” full of toys, books, car seats, strollers, nightlights and self-contained DVD players with age-appropriate DVDs. Parents appreciate the healthy options on their kid-friendly menu, the cribs and roll-away beds that can be delivered to the room, child-proof kits for families with children under 4 and babysitting which can be arranged by the concierge.

455 N. Park Dr., Streeterville; Online: loewshotels.com & 5300 N. River Rd., Rosemont; Online: loewshotels.com

Hilton Chicago O’Hare

Why we love them: Location next to the airport, which means you can start your vacation early

Make getting to the airport for those early flights a whole lot easier—and majorly affordable. On top of being directly connected to Chicago O’Hare’s domestic terminals thru underground walkways, so you don’t have to deal with iffy Chicago weather, you also get spacious studio suites with a large sitting area, king bed and sofa bed, 42-inch HDTV, mini-bar, WiFi and on-demand movies, video games and access to the indoor pool. Worried about trying to catch some z’s so close to the runway? Sound-resistant windows and blackout drapes will help with all that, so you can arrive bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at your final destination.

O'Hare International Airport, 10000 W. O'Hare Ave., Chicago; Online: hilton.com

photo: Graduate Hotel

Graduate Hotel Madison

Why we love them: Super cool vintage summer camp vibe

This is stretching the staycation notion a bit, but we promise the short drive to Madison, WI will be worth it when you see what Graduate Hotels has to offer. They teamed up with Camp Wandawega and Land of Nod to create their own Camp Wandawega inspired suite.

Never heard of Camp Wandawega? What began as a speakeasy in the 1920s in now . . . well, basically an adult summer camp. All the charm of this retreat that features a fleet of vintage bikes, fishing boats, archery, a swimming beach and so much more is all rolled up into the Camp Wandawega suite in Madison.

The suite features a large main room with entertainment and sleeping areas with a king bed and a workstation, as well as an adjoining semi-private kid's room with bunk beds and a library stocked with summer camp-themed movies. Original camp artifacts such as an antique troopmaster hat, custom Sanborn canoe paddles, and Faribault Woolen Mills blankets are found throughout the space.

601 Langdon St., Madison, WI; Online: graduatemadison.com

—Maria Chambers & Jo Aaron

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Our Ultimate Guide to Pumpkin Patches

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Give Charlie Brown a run for his money and find your own Great Pumpkin. We dug deep to bring you a list of the best destination pumpkin patches. Warm your face on the steam of a hot apple cider, breathe the crisp air and listen to the crunch of leaves underfoot as you hoof your way through these great places.

Siegel’s Cottonwood Farm

Located just outside of Joliet, Siegel’s offers 40 acres of family fun with 30 attractions, including a tractor ride to their u-pick pumpkin patch and a beehive demo. Explore three different play areas that offer physical play, see the farm in style by taking a ride on the Ghost Town Railroad and squeeze in relaxation for the whole family when you sit back in the giant 100-year-old rocking chair. Check their website prior to visiting to make sure your favorite attraction is operating during COVID restrictions.

17250 S. Weber Rd., Crest Hill; Online: ourpumpkinfarm.com

photo: JoJo's Shake Bar

JoJo's Shake BAr

JoJo's Shake Bar is satisfying your sweet tooth with their over-the-top treats AND bringing an authentic fall experience to the heart of Chicago with their elaborate Pumpkin Patch. The 5,000 square foot patio is filled with over 600 pumpkins, a 1954 red Ford truck, hay bales, and a bathtub filled with corn to satisfy your fall photo needs. Pick your favorite pumpkin from the patch and bring fall cheer to your home!

23 W. Hubbard, River North; Online: jojosshakebar.com

Sonny Acres Farm

Shutterbugs looking for a prime pumpkin patch photo to Instagram will love the mountainous spread of pumpkins of varying shapes, sizes and colors sitting under the watchful eye of scarecrows and ghostly wooden cutouts.

Allow time for play and visit the Dizzy Zone spinning tunnel, enjoy a ride atop a friendly pony or camel, take a 15-minute tractor-pulled wagon ride and tiptoe into the haunted barn that’s just the right amount of scary for littles ages 10 & up. Food stands with taffy apples, elephant ears, brats and spiced cider are scattered in the patch. If you’re still on the lookout for the perfect Halloween costume and decorations, don’t fret because they have a novelty shop with masks, wigs and costumes, plus a farm market with gourds, squash and Indian corn.

29W310 North Ave., West Chicago; Online: sonnyacres.com

Pumpkin Party at Gallagher Way

Take the whole family to Gallagher Way's annual Pumpkin Party for an early Halloween celebration on Oct. 28. Trick-or-treat your way through Gallagher Way, snag a free junior pumpkin from the pumpkin patch, sing and dance with the Old Town School of Folk Music, enjoy craft time and balloon animal artists, a slime station, a walking magic show, indulge in seasonal treats and more! Be sure to pack your blankets to stretch out for a free outdoor screening of Hotel Transylvania.

3635 N. Clark St., Wrigleyville; Online: gallagherway.com

Bengtson’s Pumpkin Farm

You can pack a full day’s worth of fun that goes well beyond the pumpkin patch at this gem located about an hour southwest of Chicago. General admission includes unlimited turns on kiddie rides including the Happy Swing, a 90-foot-tall mega fun slide and twirling t-cup honey pots; pig races that occur every hour; adorable furry fun in the petting zoo; a walk through Kid Village with tot-sized fire station, schoolhouse and jail; and lots more. Arrive hungry and grab a freshly baked apple cider donut or Uncle Bub's award-winning BBQ. Call ahead to ensure the availability of activities as things may change throughout the season.

13341 W. 151st St., Homer Glen; Online: pumpkinfarm.com

Didier Farms

Put an unexpected colorful twist on Halloween by going beyond the typical orange roundie and select one of the speckled, green or white pumpkins instead. Visit Pumpkin Playland, where kids can ride the kiddie carousel and ferris wheel, mine for gems, ride mini tractors, play corn hole, get up close and personal with birds in the Parakeet Encounter, conquer a straw bale mountain and weave their way through corn stalk or kiddie straw mazes.

16678 Aptakisic Rd., Lincolnshire; Online: didierfarms.com

County Line Orchard

Well known for their u-pick apple orchard, County Line is also a stop for your fall-inspired favorites like pumpkins as big as a small child, gourds, squash, hay bales, Indian corn, corn stalks, zinnias, sunflowers and mums. Kids can experience feeding time for Peter the Pumpkin-Eating Dino, the miracle of birth bird-style in Chickville and a wide variety of animals like miniature horses, pigs and donkeys, turkeys, chickens, guineas, llamas and goats in the kids farm.

200 County Line Rd., Hobart, IN; Online: countylineorchard.com

Kroll’s Fall Harvest Farm

Whether you want to bake, carve or decorate, Kroll’s carries many specialty breed pumpkins that vary in size, color and shape ready for you to load up in their pumpkin carts. Hayrides with a focus on educating visitors on farming (crop rotation, hay versus straw, pollination) and the crops they grow (gourds, corn, pumpkins) are offered. Continue the education with a visit to the donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and turkeys and learn about each from one of the knowledgeable employees.

13236 W. Town Line Rd., Waukegan; Online: krollsfarm.com

Goebbert’s Pumpkin Patch

A visit to Goebbert’s has been a long-held tradition for local families since they opened their roadside pumpkin stand in 1978. Not only do they have a fantastic assortment of pumpkins eager to adorn your fall displays, but kids will leave with happy memories of the 1/2-mile tour aboard the Pumpkin Express, watching the weekend pig races, experiencing the insatiable appetite of the giant mechanical pumpkin-eating dinosaur and wandering through the corn stalk maze. Don’t leave without a stop into the petting farm where you’ll be greeted by a mama pig and her piglets, the furry residents of Bunny Town, llamas, cows, fuzzy chicks and goats looking down from atop the 25-foot wooden Goat Mountain, as well as an impressive assortment of exotic animals.

42W813 Reinking Rd., Pine Grove; Online: goebbertspumpkinpatch.com

Stade’s Farm and Market

The Shades of Autumn Festival has been a family favorite since its inception in 1995. Take a hayride back and forth between the patch, visit four-legged friends in the petting zoo, test your navigation skills in the corn maze and indulge in your favorite fest foods.  

3709 Mill Rd., McHenry; Online: stadesfarmandmarket.com

Chicago Park District Patches

Pick your personal pumpkin favorite from a field filled with pumpkins of all shapes and personalize it at the pumpkin decorating station. Stop by the Halloween-themed carnival for games and photo opps. 

Oct. 16, Margate Park, 4921 N. Marine, Lincoln Park; Event details

Oct. 24, Hamlin Park, 3035 N Hoyne Ave., North Center; Event details

— Maria Chambers

Featured photo: iStock

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Did you know the first-ever brownie recipe came from right here in Chicago? Yep, it did! This iconic dessert was created at the Palmer House in Chicago. In celebration of Palmer House’s 150th, we’re sharing the recipe so you can celebrate this milestone at home. As a bonus, we’re throwing in Hilton Chicago’s guest-favorite Signature Carrot Cake Pop recipe. Read on for the recipes and a little Chicago brownie history lesson to share with the kids.

photo: Palmer House Hilton

Palmer House Hilton Brownie
The first reference to the “brownie” in America appears in the Sears Roebuck Catalog published in Chicago in 1898. Specifically at the direction of Bertha Palmer to be served at the Columbian Exposition World’s Fair in 1893, the brownie was created in the Palmer House Kitchen in the late 19th century. The recipe below is well over a century old, and is the exact same one used for the brownie served in the Palmer House Hilton today! It remains one of the hotel’s most popular confections.

Ingredients: 
14 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 lb butter
12 oz granulated sugar
4 oz flour
8 eggs
12 oz crushed walnuts
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Directions: 
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl. Combine chocolate and flour mixtures. Stir 4 to 5 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and continue mixing. ​

3. Pour mixture into a 9×12 baking sheet. Sprinkle walnuts on top, pressing down slightly into the mixture with your hand. Bake 30-40 minutes. ​

4. Brownies are done when the edges begin to crisp and has risen about 1/4 of an inch. ​

Note: When the brownie is properly baked, it will remain “gooey” with a toothpick in the middle due to the richness of the mixture.

Glaze: Mix together 1 c. water, 1 c. apricot preserves, and 1 tsp. unflavored gelatin in saucepan. Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil for two minutes. Brush hot glaze on brownies while still warm.

photo: Hilton Chicago

Hilton Chicago’s Signature Carrot Cake Pop Recipe

Ingredients:
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped pecans
3.5 oz. coconut flakes
8 oz crushed pineapple

Directions: 

Baking Process:
1. Spray and paper a 10” cake pan.

2. Combine all of the dry ingredients (flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt).

3. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla.

4. Add the dry ingredient mixture and mix until all of the ingredients are fully combined.

5. Next add the carrot, pecans, coconut, and pineapple mixing gently with a spatula.

6. Pour into the previously prepared cake pan.

7. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 350*F degrees.

8. Let it cool down.

Assembly Process:
1. Combine the soft butter in the mixing bowl until well combined and add the powder sugar and vanilla, and mix until you reach a creamy consistency.

2. You will need to melt your favorite type of chocolate.

3. Place the chilled carrot cake in a mixing bowl and break into little pieces. Add some of the cream cheese filling until you reach a scoop-able consistency. (Note: do not add too much filling because your dough can become too soupy to scoop).

4. Scoop the size that you desire to make your cake pop.  Add stick and freeze for at least an hour.

5. Melt some of your favorite chocolate. Add some food coloring to make some fun color cake pops, if desired.

6. Once the cake pops are of hard consistency, dip in the melted chocolate and let them set for a few minutes.

— Maria Chambers

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Mexico’s proximity to the US, making for reasonable travel times even with kids in tow, and dream weather make it a can’t-go-wrong destination for family vacation planning. Most of us think of heading straight to digging our toes in the sand or wading into the clear-as-bathwater ocean when we dream of heading south of the border. But, there’s so much more to the culturally rich Mexico than beach bumming. A visit to the State of Yucatán will find you at the top of ancient pyramids, swapping the ocean for naturally formed pools deep underground swirling with Mayan mystique, exploring welcoming cities with rich histories and finding a new appreciation for the people of Mexico. Read on to hear about our most favorite places to discover in Yucatán.

ATV Tour of the City Dressed in Yellow: Izamal

How often do you get to see a color-coordinated city? Here's your chance as it's forever golden hour in Yucatan's magical "Yellow City", IzamalWhen Pope John Paul II announced a visit and mass in 1993, the city got to work painting the town yellow, a revered color in Mayan culture. The long-lasting effect of the decision is a city that gives a sense of peace and serenity when walking amongst its buildings—it's impossible not to smile immersed in the happiest of colors. 

Pack along your sense of adventure and take an ATV tour to fully appreciate the monochromatic experience. You'll learn about the history of what is considered the most culturally important Mayan city, zip past the colonial buildings and admire this living-breathing museum to Mayan culture. 

photo: Maria Chambers

Climb to the Top of Kinich Kak Moo

The city of Izamal is home to the largest structure on the Yucatan Peninsula, Kinich Kak Moo, thought to be one of the most important Mayan pyramids because of its size. Visitors can climb the pyramid's 10 levels for 360-degree views of Izamal and the jungle below. The city itself tends to not be overrun with tourists, which means the crowds at the ruins are minimal and entrance is free and open to the public. 

Be sure to pack sneakers or other shoes with grip because the climb is uneven and steep. 

Tour Convent of San Antonio de Padua

Still an active convent, this Franciscan colonial building in Izamal was erected atop the ruins of Pap-Hol-Chac, which was believed to be the largest Mayan pyramid. It was destroyed by the Spaniards and the current structure was built using the same stones from the Mayan site.

Convent of San Antonio de Padua has the distinction of having the largest closed atrium in the Americas and the second-largest in the world, second only to St. Peter's Square in the Vatican. Its size, design and signature Izamal yellow color make it a stunning site to visit. 

Take Home a Handmade Hammock

Not all hammocks are created equally, and the best can be found at Cielo Hamacas in Yucatan. Cielo hammocks are handmade by local artisans in their homes, with each hammock taking 5-7 days to complete. Some more intricate designs can take up to a month and over 900 local families work to fulfill orders from all over the world.

In Yucatan, hammocks aren't just an every-once-in-a-while spot to nap. Homes are built with sturdy clips cemented into the walls and many choose this mode of sleeping over a bed. So, these hammocks are made with that in mind—quality, durability and comfort are top-notch. Stop by one of their storefront locations to pick your favorite and see in person the effort that goes into the art of making a hammock. 

Make it a Farm Day at Hacienda Zamna

We can promise you'll never want to leave Hacienda Zamna, located 25 minutes from the city of Mérida. Regardless of your equestrian skill level, you can escape to their pastures for 1-4 hour horseback rides with an expert guide. The grounds are absolutely gorgeous and pristine, the staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable and kids will get a kick out of the sheep, goats and pigs they see along the way—they may even get a peek at some newborns!

This is seriously one of the most gorgeous and kindly farms we've come across in our travels. It's a must-see and a beautiful way to spend a day disconnected from technology, but connected as a family. 

 

photo: Maria Chambers

Ogle at the Beauty of Chichen Itza

The pages of your kid’s textbook will come alive with a day trip to see what was left behind from Mexico’s mysterious Mayan civilization. The signature Kukulkan Pyramid that dominates Chichen Itza, also known as El Castillo (the castle), was designated as one of the seven wonders of the world in 2007. Built as a physical representation of the Mayan calendar, it has 91 steps on each of the 4 sides totaling 364 steps and its 9 platforms bisected by a staircase on each side represent the 18 months in a Mayan calendar. It’s a shining example of the Mayan’s phenomenally intriguing understanding of math and astronomy.

photo: Maria Chambers

Swim Like a Mayan at Ik Kil

A must-do if you head in the direction of Chichen Itza is a reprieve from the heat in the cool waters of the 135-feet-deep Ik Kil Cenote. If you’re unfamiliar, cenotes are natural sinkholes from the collapse of limestone that expose groundwater underneath, a natural swimming pool, essentially. And, Ik Kil is arguably one of the most beautiful in all of Mexico. Take the stairs 85 feet below ground level and imagine what it must have been like for the Mayans, who considered this sacred ground. The cold of the water and the natural beauty of the landscape equally pillage your breath. 

Let Yourself Feel a Little Hip at Unknown Hotel

New to the scene is Unknown Hotel in Merida's Santiago neighborhood. It's a small boutique hotel, but every detail is well thought out, designed and executed. The goal is for guests to connect with the space and neighborhood and to have nature and architecture merge, which leads to a serene, natural feel to the property.

Each room has a seating area and some have a private plunge pool, as well as access to a swimming pool and garden area, restaurant and bar. It's walkable to shops and restaurants but the inside is so peaceful, you forget you're in a city. 

Experience Local Culture at Mercado Santiago

Or any Mercado, for that matter. If you see one, pull over and spend an hour selecting fresh regional produce or enjoying a meal. We highly recommend seeking out food from where the locals eat when you travel to Yucatán and it doesn't get any more authentic than visiting these markets.

Taqueria La Lupita can be found in Mercado Santiago in Merida's Santiago neighborhood. They've specialized in local dishes and snacks like Cochinita Pibil and Lechón al Horno, making their tacos and dishes fresh daily, for more than 40 years. The vibe is extremely low-key and it's a great way to get a feel for the culture as the area's residents go about their day, shopping for and with their families.

Learn More About Local Cuisine & Dine at Museum of Yucateca Gastronomy

In the heart of Merida's cultural district, you'll find Museo de la Gastronomia Yucateca (MUGY) where you can learn more about the history of food in the region, and get a taste of authentic dishes in the restaurant. Behind the museum is a replica of a small Mayan village where visitors can watch fresh tortillas being made, learn about the different spices used in the cuisine and watch (and taste) as the chef digs up pots of local mainstays that are cooked underground daily.

Shop in Awe at Casa T'HO Concept House

Casa T'HO borrows its name from the fallen Mayan city that stood long ago, taken over by the arrival of the conquistadores. The house itself is a former 19th-century mansion with a center courtyard, with nine boutiques and a gourmet restaurant taking up residence in the home's original rooms. The collective of designers draw inspiration from the local region, work with a focus on sustainability and have an eye for the beauty of simplicity. 

Take Over Hacienda Katanchel

Hacienda Katanchel operated as a hotel for many years, but now this family-owned 17th-century Spanish colonial hacienda is only available for rent to small private groups. Set in the jungle, the 740 secluded acres is a perfect hideway for a family reunion, wedding or anniversary celebration. The property includes a pool, dining area, villas that include private plunge pools and incredible architectural elements you won't find anywhere else. The husband and wife team ensure there is adequate staff to feed and take care of your group and cover every detail to make sure the stay is special and memorable. 

Spoil Yourself at Hacienda Xcanatun

If you've never experienced a Banyan Tree property, now is your chance. The brand is always on-point in all areas: service, design, and attention to detail. Just 15 minutes from downtown Merida, Hacienda Xcanatun's 18 spacious suites were recently renovated to their 18th-century splendor. It's surrounded by 4 acres of private gardens, which include rugged walking trails the kids will enjoy exploring. The Hacienda also has an outdoor pool and spa on site. 

Tour the Town of Valladolid

One of the absolutely best-kept secrets in Mexico is the small town of Valladolid. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, Vallalodid's artful architecture, pastel-colored buildings housing boutique shops and hotels, excellent cuisine, and historic churches make it a quaint home base for a visit to Yucatan. In the city center, you'll find free walking tours that we highly recommend. They'll guide you to all the most interesting spots to see in the city and help you get your bearings to explore on your own. 

Valladolid is located halfway between Cancun and Merida and is a good place to stay if you want to visit Chichen Itza and the area is rich with cenotes of all sizes. 

If you're looking for an interesting dinner spot, La Palapita de los Tamales is a great option. Various regions of Mexico prepare their tamales in different ways—they're wrapped in leaves depending on the vegetation of the region and some are even cooked underground. This spot gives you the opportunity to try versions you may not have tried before. 

photo: Maria Chambers

Test Your Inner Daredevil at Cenote Chukum

This 130-foot Cenote Chukum close to the town of Valladolid is one of the more recently opened cenotes in the region, having only been used as a well until that point. Three natural openings in the ceiling above create an ethereal effect when the sun shines in on the turquoise water, which is 65 feet deep. Three diving platforms, ranging 3 to 15 feet above the water give you a chance to show your kids your best swan dive. Or, for the heights-adverse, you can ease into the crisp, cool waters using the stairs. Either way, the experience is absolutely mesmerizing and dreamlike.

Become Enamored by Zazil Tunich Cenote

One of our favorite cenotes near the town of Valladolid is family-owned Zazil Tunich. You'll not only fall in love with the site, but the family that owns it. This is truly a family operation, with the owner's daughters oftentimes conducting tours that make clear their passion and respect for the land and its history.

Zazil Tunich is a cave cenote, meaning there is no hole in the ground above illuminating the waters like the other cenotes we've highlighted. It's considered to be one of the more spectacular in the region because of its thousands of stalagmites and stalactites, including the largest in Yucatan. 

Spy on the Flamingos on a Tour of Rio Lagartos

Book a boat tour of Rio Lagartos and experience the natural beauty of this 120,000-acre biosphere reserve, which also happens to be a breeding ground for 40,000 flamingos and is home to gators and 395 species of birds. We recommend touring with family-owned Rio Lagartos Adventures because they are highly particular about running their tours in a way that's respectful to the environment and the animals that call this area home. They dock at the Ria Maya Restaurant and Lodge where you can get a fresh seafood lunch before or after your tour. 

— Maria Chambers

This trip was paid for by Yucatán Tourism, but all opinions expressed here belong to the writer

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What’s better than an endless summer? The sights, smells and adventures of a midwest fall! We dug up great ways to play and tire out the kids while keeping spending at a minimum this season—with a few spendy treats thrown into the mix. From fall-themed fests to a scavenger hunt that takes you all over town, here are the best ways to enjoy autumn in Chicago.

photo: Morton Arboretum

Visit Morton Arboretum's Larger-Than-Life Exhibit

Five massive outdoor sculptures rise above the natural landscapes in the Human + Nature exhibition. The 15- to 26-foot-tall sculptures are installed across Morton Arboretum's 1,700-acre site and bring attention to the deep connections between humans and nature.

A Fest That's All About Scarecrows

Nothing says fall like a St. Charles' Scarecrow Fest, Oct. 8-10! Kids will love the handmade scarecrows and the family zone with live entertainment and family activities. You'll also find a festive photo opp area and promotions throughout town. 

Bite Into Lincoln Square Apple Fest

Apples stand as everyone’s favorite fall fruit and this annual festival celebrates them all, from Akanes to Zestas, Oct. 2 & 3. Dozens of vendors will be selling apples in all shapes and forms—apple cider, candy apples, apple pie, apple strudel—as well as handcrafted items. There is also a kid zone full of children’s activities and live music throughout the day.

photo: iStock

Pick a Sweet Treat

Can you even say you lived through fall if you didn't go apple picking? Find out favorite spots to pick apples as a family in our story How ‘Bout These Apples? U-Pick Apple Orchards Worth the Trek.

Meander Along a Scarecrow Trail

Every day in October, guests can stroll around Morton Arboretum's Scarecrow Trail to view scarecrows created by local scout troops and school groups. After your walk, vote for your favorite scarecrow in the visitors center. 

Get Silly at "The Office" Exhibit

Fans of The Office will be transported to the world of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company to celebrate their favorite moments and characters from the widely acclaimed series. The exhibit is in Chicago, Oct. 15-Jan. 17. 

photo: Immersive Van Gogh

Gain a New Appreciation for Van Gogh

Immersive Van Gogh is a visually spectacular digital art exhibition that invites audiences to step inside the iconic works of post-Impressionist artist Vincent Van Gogh. The experience evokes his highly emotional and chaotic inner consciousness through art, light, music, movement and imagination. 

Immerse Yourself in Art

Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce invites families to a month-long art-focused event, WPB Art Quest, to celebrate the artistic roots in the neighborhoods. From Sep. 15-Oct. 15, art enthusiasts are invited to go on a self-curated quest to check out dozens of vibrant murals, sculptures and galleries throughout Wicker Park and Bucktown. 

Tip-Toe Through a Glass Pumpkin Patch

Morton Arboretum welcomes visitors to their annual Glass Pumpkin Patch, Oct. 13-17. The event will feature daily demonstrations of the ancient glass-blowing art form, a Halloween tent with frightful works of art to decorate your home and outdoor spaces and a beautiful display of thousands of hand-blown glass pumpkins. 

Geek Out at MSI's Marvel Exhibit

Through Oct. 24, Museum of Science & Industry's Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes celebrates Marvel history with more than 300 artifacts, including original comic book pages, sculptures, interactive displays and costumes and props from Marvel's blockbuster films.

Lose Yourself in a Corn Maze

Local farms know if they build it, we will come. By “it”, we mean acres of intricate corn mazes to get lost in with your kids. A lot of them have added bells and whistles like petting zoos and pumpkin doughnuts. Lace-up those walking shoes and hear about this year’s crop of corn mazes in our story Field Day! Local Corn Mazes to Get Lost In.

To Market, To Market . . .

Green City Market, with locations in Lincoln Park and West Loop, has become the Saturday (& Wed. in LP) morning stop-and-shop for foodies and families looking to shop local and sustainable.

photo: Chicago Botanic Garden

Excite Your Train Fan!

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, open until Oct. 10. The exhibit features 18 garden-scale trains on 1,600 feet of track with vignettes of tiny people and animals that give it a storybook feel.

Grab a Chicago-Style Dog

Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago, and if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon. We love the on-the-go ease (no silverware!) and colorful condiments (kids get a pass where the sacrilege of using ketchup is concerned). Grab one at a legendary local spot and turn eating into an adventure.

Play a Game of Seek in the City

Intro your kids to some of Chicago’s hometown coolness and iconic locations using our Chicago-themed scavenger hunt as your guide.

photo: Chicago Electric Boats

Captain Your Own Boat

Chicago has been gifted gorgeous weather that’s been boating perfection. While there are several tour companies that narrate a memorable trip along our waterways, sometimes you want to steer the course yourself. Take in the smells and colors of fall by renting a boat from Chicago Electric Boats.

Go Clubbing!

Mini-golf. Putt-putt. Goofy golf. Adventure golf. Shorties. No matter what you call it, you have a blast playing it. Most of Chicago’s mini-golf courses are pure, kitschy fun and are only open for a limited time each year. So grab a short pencil and head to one of our city and suburban favorites.

Take a Colorful Stroll

Tire them out before nap time at North Park Village Nature Center. At the 155-acre paradise, you can hike through woodland, wetland, prairie and savanna. For other ideas for taking a peek at fall colors, read our story Walk This Way! Colorful Spots for Fall Family Strolls.

photo: The Forge: Lemont Quarries

Thrill-Seek as a Family

Hike, bike, paddle and climb your way through The Forge, a 300-acre adventure park featuring the largest aerial adventure course in North America.

See Some Cool Sculptures

Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Gallop. However you make your way down this two-mile trail, you’re sure to enjoy the sights at the North Shore Sculpture Park. The paved path is lined with sculptures from artists across the world.

Cruise on a Piece of History

Once the largest diesel-powered Fireboat in the world, the Fred A. Busse is now set to share a bit of history with its passengers on a Chicago Fireboat Tour.

Hike Those Sillies Out!

Trek to Joliet for a blaze of fall colors at Pilcher Park Nature Center, a worth-the-drive oasis. In autumn, it’s a great place for leisurely walks on forested paths on 640 acres of land that’s peppered with picnic grounds and playground areas. Can't get enough of the trail-walking? We've got more ideas in our stories Hiking Trails That Even Toddlers Will Love and Hit the Trails! Best Hikes with Kids No Matter the Season.

— Maria Chambers

Featured photo: Scott Webb via Pexels

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