Chicago is a city which offers families dozens of parks, hiking trails, amusements, gardens, and playgrounds. However, being part of the midwest, Chicago can also serve up some truly nasty winters, and extreme summers. We all know that outside play is healthy and necessary for kids, but when the weather conspires against you, what can you do?
After you’ve made Playdoh on your stovetop for the 5th time this month, after you’ve been through every piece on construction paper in the house, after you’ve completed every puzzle you could find, it’s time to get out. Ask any stay at home parent what it’s like to be housebound with little ones for days on end, and most will admit that they’d give anything for a chance to get back outside.
Each parent probably has a few go-to solutions for rainy day activities, but these can get old after a while. Certainly, many indoor play solutions come with a price tag, and it’s perfectly understandable that you’d want to add some less expensive options to your repertoire.
Luckily, there are some wonderful indoor activities for kids in Chicago (and their parents) which can help break up the cabin fever, and allow kids to burn off some of that excess energy. Many of these locations are pretty budget-friendly too, which is especially helpful for larger families.
Here’s my list of the best things to do on a rainy, or windy, or snowy, or scorching Chicago day.
Sky High Sports
Ever heard the term “bouncing off the walls”? Parents know all too well what that looks like when kids have been stuck indoors for too long, but what if you could take them to a place where they (and you!) could actually bounce off some walls?
Sky High Sports is an indoor trampoline park complex, where the trampolines stretch from wall to wall… and then continue up those walls on an incline. If it’s been a while since you’ve been on a trampoline yourself, be prepared for an excellent workout. Your kids will get the chance to run themselves ragged too, but in the best possible way.
There’s a foam pit for kids to jump, flip, or vault into, an obstacle course, and even a few dodge ball arenas. After a few hours here, “excess energy” won’t be an issue anymore.
Location: 6424 Howard Street, Niles
Hamill Family Play Zoo at Brookfield Zoo
The Brookfiend Zoo itself makes a great destination, but when the weather is a little too harsh for your little ones (or the animals!) to be outside, there is still plenty to do in the Hamill Family Play Zoo section. This is an indoor area specifically aimed at younger kids who may get a little overwhelmed by the zoo in its entirety.
Kids can become animal explorers, and find out how to track our 4-legged friends by following footprints. For a more hands-on activity, kids can participate in activities that allow them to build different animal homes, and even meet and pet some friendly animals too.
Location: 8400 W. 31st St., Brookfield
If you’re dreaming of the beach on a dreary, February day, why not take the kids to an indoor beach right here in Chicago? Kids Island is a wonderful indoor play space offering kids the chance to try out all sorts of toys and activities. Although, among the many fun attractions, the crown jewel of this venue is undoubtedly the amazing indoor sandbox.
If sitting in the sand with a dozen preschoolers isn’t exactly your thing, fear not! Kids Island also happens to be a cafe. Parents can meet up for some much-needed coffee and adult conversation while the kids build castles and dig. This can be a great chance to set up some adult “play dates” of your own, or just to make new connections with new friends.
Kids Island even offers some short-term babysitting services, so if mom or dad wants to pop next door for a little shopping, you can take advantage! This is especially helpful during the holidays.
Location: 1358 W Webster Ave. Chicago
Museum of Science and Industry
If you are looking to absolutely fill a day end-to-end with learning, you’d be hard pressed to find a better bet than Chicago’s own Museum of Science and Industry. Honestly, you could probably fill two whole days here, but let’s keep it realistic.
If you’ve never visited before (or if it’s been a while since you have), be sure to visit their website to see all the exhibits available in this amazing space. Not sure where to start? You can explore exhibits by age group, helping to make sure that the things you see aren’t too far over your kids heads, nor too simplistic (although I’d be hard pressed to believe that anyone could get bored here.)
Kids can get up close and personal looks at all types of sciences including chemistry, health, biology, physics, Earth science, environmental sciences, manufacturing, and more. And don’t worry about this being a stuffy, hands-off kind of place. Many exhibits are specifically designed to be interacted with by enthusiastic young scientists.
Location: 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive
Some parents tend to shy away from establishments with the word “Academy” in the title, because it seems like it might be more of a school than a drop-in play place. At Bubbles Academy, you get the best of both worlds.
This establishment offers open play sessions daily, where your little ones can be guided through activities by early childhood development professionals. Because many of these play times are intended to be “mommy/daddy and me” style sessions, parents also get the added benefit of socializing, and making some connections with other local parents.
Of course, if you fall in love with the place, you could find out about signing up for more regular classes. They offer programs for many different age groups, each with a different focus. Music, language, art, and science.
Location: 1504 N Fremont St. Chicago
Fleetwood Skating Rink
If you remember how much fun you had at the roller rink when you were growing up, it might be time to introduce your kids to the joy of skating too. Get nostalgic at Fleetwood Skating Rink, with its impressive 75′ X 165′ hardwood skating rink – just like the ones you remember. Oh, and quad skates are cool again, so it’s okay if you never learned to roller blade.
If your kids are new to skating, you can ask about lessons, or visit one of their open skating times so they can learn they way we did – by hanging onto the wall until we figured it out. Don’t have skates? Don’t worry! They’re always available to rent.
Once they’re more steady on their feet/wheels, be sure to take them to one of the weekend night skate sessions, complete with music and lights!
Location: 7231 W. Archer Ave., Summit
It might be easier to talk about what this venue doesn’t have. There’s a little bit of everything at Pickle’s Playground, and something on the list is sure to please both kids and parents alike.
There’s a large play area featuring a slide and an air traffic control tower among other fun things. Kids can run off some extra energy and then join mom and dad over in the cafe serving up the all-important coffee choices for parents, plus lots of yummy lunch options for both kids and adults.
One last twist: yes, it’s a play place, yes it’s a cafe, and yes, it’s also a salon. If you have little ones who are resistant to getting their hair cut, you may not get as much of an argument if you begin taking them here for their ‘do. Parents need every bargaining chip they can get, and this is one of those great indoor play places to keep in your back pocket.
Location: 2315 W Lawrence Ave. Chicago
Chicago Magazine named the Exploratorium Chicagoland’s “Best Rainy Day Activity Site,” so how’s that for an endorsement? This place really is wonderful, and it’s aimed at children up to age 7 and their parents.
Kids with a little more energy to burn off can begin climbing and exploring the tunnel complex that takes kids up to 2.5 stories up above the ground. Kids more interested in make believe can check out the costume and dress up area to try on fun outfits, and put on impromptu plays.
Kids and grownups alike will love the giant light bright wall, the engineering station, and the water play area.
Location: 4701 Oakton St., Skokie
This is an indoor play space on the South Loop with an eco-friendly focus. Kids can explore, play, and learn about the environment in a safe and fun location.
For parents looking for a deeper dive into some structured activities, check out the weekly schedule to find out which classes are coming up. Whether your child is brand new or getting ready for kindergarten, there is something for them here.
The Sod Room also offers parents the chance to connect with other adults – something very important when you spend most of your time talking with kids.
Location: 1454 S Michigan Ave. 2nd floor, Chicago
Purple Monkey Playroom
The bounce houses and trampoline parks are fun, but it’s also true that they can be a bit nerve wracking for parents of littler kids who aren’t as steady on their feet. Anyone who’s ever watched their 2 year old get accidentally clipped by a towering second grader knows the feeling I’m talking about.
The need for indoor playgrounds with age limits has been answered by places such as the Purple Monkey Playroom. This storefront play place provides safe and separated spaces for the really little ones (pre walkers), some low-challenge and low-height obstacles for newer walkers, and some fun climbing opportunities for preschoolers.
Parents will love how you can see the entire play space at a glance, so even if you have kids in different areas, you can still supervise both. Something else parents will love? Free coffee and WiFi!
Location: 2040 N Western Ave. Chicago
Little Beans Cafe
Bring your socks for this one! Kids from 0 to 6 years old will enjoy playing, climbing, sliding and exploring the Little Beans Village. There’s room to run, play houses to investigate, toys to share, and even a few quiet corners for kids who need a little time to themselves.
If you have bigger “beans”, there’s a room just for them. Kids ages 4-12 can go check out the Big Beans play area, offering more challenging obstacles like foam pits, tumbling mats, balance beams, etc. There’s also a karaoke studio for your budding singer/songwriters, and a library for some more rexaxed story time.
Of course, there’s also the “cafe” part of Little Beans Cafe, making this your one-stop afternoon shop. No need to drag the kids away from all that fun when lunchtime rolls around. Just pop over to the reasonably priced cafe for some healthy and yummy selections, then get right back to playing again.
Location: 430 Asbury Ave., Evanston
Pump It Up
You’ve seen how your kids faces light up when they realize the backyard party they’re attending has rented a bounce house. Now imagine their faces when you bring them to a place with wall-to-wall bounce houses, and tell them they get to try them all!
Pump It Up offers much more than the basic bounce house. Try playing bounce basketball, the giant inflatable slide, or the obstacle courses too. Go at night for a glow in the dark bounce party, or check out one of their themed days for a different experience every time.
Parents need not sit this one out. Check the schedule for family bounce times where moms and dads are welcome and encouraged to try out the fun for themselves. Got littler kids? Look for preschool bounce sessions.
Location: 821 W Eastman St. Chicago
If you keep finding your little ones balancing on the top of the couch, or trying to spider-climb the doorways in your house, you can put all that energy to more constructive (and safe!) use by taking the kids to Vertical Endeavors.
This is an indoor, simulated rock climbing gym, designed to accommodate many age ranges and ability levels. If you have a hesitant first-timer on your hands, you can find out about guided lessons to help them get the feel for the sport. If you have kids that you know will be at the top of any wall in 2 minutes, you can let them try the more technical and challenging courses set up by the pros.
Kids will be fully outfitted in appropriate safety gear before climbing, and given a rundown of the rules. There are professionals all around, ready to jump in and help should a sudden fear of heights kick in.
If your little one becomes so enamored of the sport he or she wants to do it more, there’s a pro shop on the premises to get them outfitted.
Location: 246 Windy Point Drive, Glendale Heights
High Tea With Your Little Prince or Princess
You don’t have to stop having tea parties just because you’re a grownup now. Several hotels in the Chicago area offer a true, elegant, English teatime experience for you and your little ones. Go ahead and get dressed up for this!
I suggest you always call ahead to any tearoom to make sure you can get reservations for a kid-friendly day. On these days, tea rooms will usually offer food options that are less intimidating to kids (although don’t worry! Adults can still opt for the more interesting choices.), along with a selection of mild, caffeine free teas.
Check out the following hotels for parent-child teatime:
The Peninsula Hotel. 103 E. Superior St. Chicago. 312-337-288
The Four Seasons Hotel. 102 E. Delaware Pl. Chicago. 312-799-4900
The Langham Hotel. 330 N. Wabash Ave. Chicago.312-923-7710
First off, let’s just say that nearly every part of Legoland is a great activity for kids and adults alike. If your kids are big fans of the construction bricks, then don’t miss the chance to take them for a day at Legoland!
Begin with a factory tour so the kids can see how these amazing bricks are made. Next, take them to see one of the 4D adventure movies to immerse them in the experience. After that, you’re honestly spoiled for choice.
If you have kids on the younger side, and therefore don’t quite think they’re ready for the small, and easily swallowed Lego bricks, take them over to Duplo Village for some toddler-friendly fun.
There are countless opportunities to build towers, castles, cars, working machines and more. When you need a break from all the construction, check out one of the rides included with the price. If you want to let kids just kick back and be themselves, check out the Pirate Island adventure on the second floor.
And for the big kids in all of us, there are adult nights at Legoland too. If you fall in love with the place, consider getting a sitter for the night, and visiting again without the kids.
Location: 601 N. Martingale Road, Schaumburg
Explore and Much More
This indoor play place might not be as sprawling as some others on this list, but what the square footage it has is packed with lots of fun learning and sensory activities for kids up to age 8.
Among the attractions here are a light table, a climbing wall, a slide, a dressup collection, and tree houses. For kids who thrive more with structured activities, there is a new reason to visit every day. This place offers story time, art class, music class, and more!
Location: 3827 N. Southport Avenue, Chicago
Dave and Buster’s Chicago
What’s not to love about a giant arcade? To be fair, the noise and light levels in an arcade can quickly overstimulate the younger kids, but if you have grade school kids looking for a chance to blow off some steam, you’ll have a great time taking the family here.
No need to send your kids running off with a pocket full of quarters, thanks to the rechargeable game cards used here. Kids can play classic games like skee ball, skill cranes, or pinball, or check out the ultra high tech racing or survival games.
There’s a huge prize station – and yes, they have plenty of small prizes, so even kids who don’t quite have their Pop-a-Shot game down yet can still walk away with some cool prizes for their efforts.
There’s also a full service restaurant (and bar!), so adults looking to meet up for a little fun of their own will definitely also enjoy a visit.
Location: 1030 N Clark St, Chicago
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
Part of the Chicago Academy of sciences, the Peggy Notebaert nature Museum offers many family-friendly activities, as well as structured learning programs.
Of course, families are welcome to drop in any time to explore all of the wonderful things the nature Museum has to offer. Kids might love checking out the hatching and fluttering butterflies on display, or they might enjoy watching the water snakes gobble up their midday meal.
Among the programs offered here are puppet shows, sing-alongs, museum tours, arts and crafts days, and learning experiences. Check the schedule to find out which exciting things are happening on a given day, and let your little ones spend a day at learning and playing somewhere other than the living room.
Location: 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
Double J Riding Club
For the little animal lovers in your life, they will absolutely love visiting the Double J Riding Club. Not many people would immediately think of horseback riding as an indoor event, but at this club, they offer just that.
Kids and adults can schedule a ride, a lesson, or a learning experience at the club. Brand-new riders are welcome, as the trained staff will help guide your children on the proper ways to sit, hold the reins, nudge the horse forward, or come to a stop.
If this activity has been on your to do list for a while, why not take advantage during the next rainy day?
Location: 10545 W. 74th St., Countryside
If you are stuck inside with children of all different age groups, coming up with an activity to accommodate them all can be tricky. Your preteen may be bored to tears by any toddler activities, meanwhile your toddler probably can’t participate in anything that your school-age children might try. It is a dilemma faced by many parents, and one that is also solved at Go Bananas.
This establishment could really be described as an all in one family fun Center. There is a large climbing obstacle course available for the kids who are steadier on their feet, and it happens to be alongside a soft foam play area more appropriate for toddlers.
Kids can also check out some really cool rides like bumper cars, or the Dragon roller coaster. When (more likely “if”) they tire of that, there is an entire arcade full of games for them to check out. When it’s time to refuel, there is a lunch counter and dining area available. Lots of kid friendly choices are on the menu.
Location: 4516 N. Harlem Ave., Norridge
Kid City is an indoor play area featuring 3,000 square feet of space for kids to run around and just be themselves. There are play houses, train tables, small climbing obstacles, dress up wardrobes, and toys, toys, toys. There is also a special toddler area featuring age-appropriate toys and play structures for the littler ones.
There are drop-in playtimes almost every day, making this a great spur of the moment decision to beat the winter blues, or the summer heat. Pack up the kids and let them spend a few hours playing pretend.
Location: 1837 West Grand Ave., Chicago
As we always say to our kids, “rain helps the flowers grow,” and what better way to demonstrate that saying that by taking them to a children’s garden during a total washout?
The Garfield Conservatory features the Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden, which is a wonderful place for kids to explore and learn more about the growing process, and gardening in general.
Some of the activities available for kids include seed planting, soil digging, arts and crafts, and lots of other hands-on experiences for the littlest green thumbs. Once you have finished with the activities, take some time to simply stroll this beautiful indoor garden and Conservatory. You get the feeling of being outside on a day when you might otherwise be stuck inside.
Plus, admission is free!
Location: 300 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago
The Art Institute of Chicago
It’s true that the grandeur and cultural significance of certain works of art might be lost on littler kids, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still enjoying wandering the halls and exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago.
If you are concerned that this outing might not have a lot of staying power, you may not know that the museum has a room specifically dedicated to families with young children. In this case, kids are invited to drop in to create art of their own which they can take home. This can include paintings, clay sculptures, puppets, drawings, and more.
The family room also hosts some workshops, each of which are targeted to a different age group. Preschoolers up through tweens can sign up for monthly workshops which help them embrace their love of the arts, and to improve their skill level.
Once kids have more of a feel for what art means to them personally, they may earn a deeper enjoyment art for its own merits.
Location: 159 E. Monroe St., Chicago
Kidstreet in Grounds for Hope Cafe
The coffee date has become a social lifeline for many parents, so finding a coffee shop that is specifically aimed at parents with young children is a gold strike.
Grounds for Hope Café features a three story playhouse area dubbed “Kidstreet.” Here, children from ages 2 to 7 are welcome to climb, play, explore, meet new friends, and perhaps most important of all, give mom and dad a break from the daily routine.
As an added bonus, each purchase made at the Grounds for Hope Café will directly contribute to project grounds, a community improvement project.
Call up a few friends, and get your much-needed socializing in, while your kids also get a chance to do the same.
Location: 2701 Maple Ave., Lisle
Chicago Children’s Museum
The Chicago children’s Museum offers a wonderfully wide array of activities and programs for kids. Spend the day here, and your children will have spent an entire day learning through play.
Among the available exhibits are a dinosaur excavation, where kids can search for fossils in a replica dig site, a tinkering lab, or kids can practice creating all sorts of machines and devices, and a waterways exhibit where kids can get a hands on experience for different types of boats.
There are plenty of play spaces and climbing attractions as well, so if your kids need to run off a bit of extra energy before sitting down and trying out the next activity, they most certainly can.
Some especially popular exhibits are the zoom room – a giant, multilevel race course where kids get to experiment with sending different cars through, and tree house trails, which allows kids to climb and explore.
Plan to spend most of your day here, as there is so much to see, and you won’t want to miss any of it.
Location: 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
Luigi’s Pizza Fun Center
Pizza can be pretty fun on its own, but add laser tag into the mix, and you’re bound to have some pretty happy kids on your hands. This is one of those fun indoor places that offers a little bit of everything.
Luigi’s also has a pretty impressive game room featuring hundreds of arcade games for kids to try many of which earn them tickets to exchanged for prizes. Don’t forget about the mini bowling lanes too! Kids who have been hesitant to try the real deal might like this sized-down version much better.
Location: 732 Prairie Street, Aurora
You don’t have to be a marine biologist to appreciate the beauty and rarity of the aquatic animals you’ll see at the Shedd aquarium. Take a moment to look around at all the mesmerized little faces staring into the various exhibits, and you will understand why this is such a huge attraction.
Kids will get the opportunity to see sharks, eels, jellyfish, starfish, and stingrays as they glide through their underwater world. Animal experts often hold Q & A sessions to help curious little lines understand marine life a bit better, and there are a few touch tanks, where kids can feel slippery stingrays, rough sea stars, and sandpapery sharks.
The Shedd aquarium can be one of the more expensive activities on this list, but a way to mitigate that might be to consider getting a membership. This way, you can visit multiple times throughout the year and really get your money’s worth.
Location: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
Kohl Children’s Museum
The Kohl children’s Museum is another establishment aimed directly at little learners. There are 16 permanent exhibits on display, with many other temporary exhibits changing from time to time.
Kids are encouraged to get up close and personal with each exhibit to experience and learn something new. Check out cooperation station, habitat Park, all about me, turtle rock, and nature explorers, among many others.
You can drop in and spend a few hours wandering the exhibits on your own time, or you can ask about a special tour. Either way, your kids will be learning, you will all be out of the house, and you will all have a lot of fun.
Location: 2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview
If you’re tired of staring up at a dreary sky, why not change up the view a little? You can spend a morning or afternoon stargazing at the Adler planetarium. With several shows a day, you are guaranteed to see new and exciting displays each time you enter the big dome.
Although, it should be noted that the planetarium experience doesn’t stop and start with the shows projected on the ceiling. Kids can also check out exhibits like Mission Moon, which lets kids learning experience what it must be like to be an astronaut, and the community design lab, which calls on kids to use available materials to solve problems.
Location: 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
If you have a dinosaur fan in your household, you will not want to miss a trip to the Field Museum. Kids can stand face-to-face with life-size replicas of dinosaurs and fossils, all while learning about these incredible extinct giants.
Of course, there is also a wonderfully immersive exhibit on ancient Egypt, where kids can check out hieroglyphics, mummies, and information about the pyramids. Don’t miss the rocks and gems exhibit, or the hall of birds.
There are plenty of hands-on activities here as well, so kids can jump right in and feel like little scientists.
Check out a 3-D movie, or attend a question-and-answer session with one of the scientists on staff to learn some cool facts about their favorite subjects.
Location:1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
Your Local Library
There are too many to list here, but always consider spending an hour or so at your local, Chicago area library when the weather conspires to keep you inside. Many libraries offer story times, or drop-in craft activities which can help get kids’ minds off the yucky conditions outside. Many even have age-appropriate reading clubs, and weekly workshops to help introduce kids to new concepts and ideas.
If there are no events, just spend some time browsing the books, and reading to each other as you come across some favorites. Otherwise, check out some of the kids games on the computers, and let them have a little educational screen time.
Time flies when you’re having fun, and you may realize there’s a lot of fun to be had for free at the library.
When you’re cooped up with kids, everyone’s mental health can take a bit of a nosedive. The kids need a breather every bit as much as you do, so I feel it’s always a good idea to have some indoor play spaces in my back pocket to pull out on a rainy day. Luckily, Chicago is full of great indoor play places.
There are so many fun, exciting, and affordable places all around us here in Chicago. I always encourage my friends to try out as many as they can, because you may find your new favorite among them. If you have friends who struggle to come up with rain day ideas, be sure to share this list on social media. We could all use a little extra inspiration.