Few things make parents happier than finding free entertainment, especially when it involves water play on a hot summer day. Gather your pennies — so, um, we guess it’s not totally free — because we rounded up water fountains worthy of your wishes. Some you can actually play in! From the world-famous and massive to the tiny and refreshing, these fountains in Chicago will put a smile on your face and a click in your camera.

Crown Fountain

You'll find it hard to find a spot to throw your wishful pennies, but Crown Fountain at Millennium Park should top your bucket list of must-see Chicago fountains. Completed by Spanish Artist Jaume Plensa in 2004, this fountain is unique because of its use of modern mixed media (light, LED display and water). Pack a swim diaper and change of clothes because the fountain's two 50-foot glass-brick towers joined by a 232-foot long granite pool invite visitors to ditch their shoes and take a respite from the summer sun. The faces appearing on the towers were taken from a cross-section of 1,000 Chicago residents and are modern interpretations of traditional gargoyles in fountains from which water, a symbol of life, flows from an open mouth. The fountain is open daily mid-spring to mid-fall.

201 E. Randolph St., Millennium Park; Online: cityofchicago.org

Eli Bates Fountain

You might know it as the “Storks at Play” fountain. Officially, the fountain is named for its donor after he bequeathed money making its 1881 installation possible. Tiny visitors will enjoy the whimsical bronze birds spewing water from their beaks and will be in awe of the half-boy, half-fish creatures holding large fish that appear to come alive, splashing in the water. Tall bronze reeds and cattails protrude from the center of this stunning fountain that serves as the centerpiece for the formal garden just south of the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

East of N. Stockton Dr. & South of Lincoln Park Conservatory, Lincoln Park; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Buckingham Fountain

A list isn't complete without mentioning this Grant Park gem, arguably the most well-known fountain around. Open to the public in 1927, architect Edward H. Bennett designed it to be a focal point for Grant Park without obstructing views of Lake Michigan, in which it was designed to symbolize. The enormity of the lake is embodied by the 15,000 gallons of water re-circulated every minute and the water displays that shoot as high as 150 feet from the ground—something that’s guaranteed to impress the kids! The four states that border Lake Michigan are represented in the four sets of Art Deco-style sea horses in the massive lower basin. The fountain runs from 8 a.m.-11 p.m. daily from May to mid-Oct. and a 20-minute water show begins every hour on the hour.

Columbus Drive  & Congress Parkway, Grant Park; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Triton Fountain

Make this a must-see on your next trip to The Art Institute. You'll have to pay general admission to enter the museum to see it — however, children under 14 enter free and Illinois residents get free admission every Thursday evening from 5-8 p.m. A calming sight, it was designed by famed Swedish sculptor Carl Milles and was dedicated in 1931. It's the centerpiece of the 11,000-square-foot McKinklock Memorial Park, located off the museum cafe and flanked by beautiful Dutch Elm trees. The park is open for dining in the summer and offers plenty of space to stretch little legs.

Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Loop; Online: artic.edu


Fountain of Time

Simply known as "Time", artist Lorado Taft's creation is thought of as the most monumental piece of art in Chicago's Public Art Program and was the first to be completed using concrete. It was created in 1920 as a monument to the first 100 years of peace between the U.S. and Great Britain. Across a reflecting pool, Father Time looks over 100 figures representing birth, the struggle for existence, love, family life, religion, poetry and war. If you want to leave the deep, philosophical discussion aside, just take in its beauty, toss some pennies and snap a few pics. The sheer mass and intricacy of the 110-foot-long sculpture will make this visit to Washington Park a treat.

Cottage Grove Ave. & 59th St., Hyde Park; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Children's Fountain

This bubbling beauty is photo opp gold. It was dedicated in 1982 by Chicago’s first female mayor, Jayne Byrne. Moved from its original location on Upper Wacker Dr., you'll now find it just south of the Chicago History Museum. Turn a trip there into a game of I Spy. Can you spot the frolicking children, musical instruments and arching cranes? Adults will simply appreciate its artfulness. It stands four tiers tall and has a scallop-shaped granite basin as the base. Shapely stairs lead to the fountain where you’ll find a plaque dedicating the fountain to all Chicago children who take from our past to better our future.

North of W. North Ave. & East of N. Clark St., Lincoln Park; Online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Trio of Sculptural Drinking Fountains

We’ve shown you where to toss your wish-carrying pennies and dip your toes, but how about where to wet your whistle? Lincoln Park Zoo has a trio of sculptural drinking fountains that put the old-school drinking fountains to shame. Just west of the Kovler Lion House, you’ll find “Lion Fountain” which depicts a lion pride — an adult male, adult female and three small cubs mounted on a bronze podium where they appear to be sharing a drink with their human friends. North of the Regenstein African Journey near Conservatory Gate is the home to “Elephant Fountain".  A bronze mama and baby elephant wait patiently for visitors to supply them with a cool drink. Lastly “For the Young at Heart” at the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo features a rabbit, dear, raccoon and nut-carrying squirrel frolicking near its three spouts. 

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

Rose Petal Fountain

Three acres at the Chicago Botanic Garden are dedicated to more than 150 varieties of roses, almost 5,000 roses altogether! The shades of these blooms get lighter as visitors near the focal point of the rose garden, the Rose Petal Fountain, a cast-concrete bubbler in the shape of a Tudor rose. Streams of water in varying shapes and heights shoot from its center. Neighboring the fountain, kids can rest their legs and find shade amongst the fragrant climbing roses on the Cedar Arbor.

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

— Maria Chambers

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