What to Do & Where to Eat with Kids in Chicago, IL

So the origin story of this blog is our families experience in Chicago. Chicago is one of my favorite cities and for years I have celebrated my birthday by getting a hotel room downtown and spending some time in the city. This was a tradition long before children and once we had more than one, babysitting was a lot harder to come by. I mean, crickets. As relaxing as it can be to have some time away from the kids, I always miss them and we just end up talking about them the whole time. On top of that, my husband and I are not big drinkers or people that want to stay up late "clubbing" so there is nothing that should impede us from having our children share these types of experiences with us. Really, the only frustration is that we cannot try out all the restaurants we would normally want to for fear of how the children will behave. But more than that is finding out whether a particular restaurant even accomodates children.  

When we decided to bring the kids with us to Chicago, my extensive google searching was really not helpful. Places to eat with kids in Chicago gave me suggestions such as Portillos, Rainforest Cafe, and Giordanos. All places I love, but not how I want to spend a special weekend. My husband and I love to try new restaurants and I don't believe that is an experience that has to be only for adults. I'm not saying that you should drag a screaming toddler to the fanciest restaurant in town. That would only ruin the experience for everyone involved. But so many more restaurants than you think are perfectly okay to bring children and my mission was to find out what they were. And if things start going awry? Box up your food and head back to the hotel. It's not the worst thing in the world and a little trial and error never hurt anybody.

I am from a suburb of Chicago so this particular blog will have many future addendums as we return and try out more places. But I am eager to share with you the places we have been to so you can feel comfortable sharing a culinary experience with your children sans anxiety.  

Where to go: 

  • Millenium Park
  • Navy Pier
  • Chicago Children's Museum
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Museum of Science and Industry
  • Field Museum
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Willis Tower Sky deck
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (free) 

I recommend purchasing a CityPASS ahead of time. You get VIP admission to the top 5 Chicago attractions. If you are looking to do everything on the above list anyways, the pass will end up saving you money from buying admission to each attraction separately. 

In the summer there is almost always something going on in Chicago. Make sure to take the time and Google if there are any festivals going on that you might want to check out. 

 

What kid doesn't love an aquarium? Safe bet for any vacation. 

What kid doesn't love an aquarium? Safe bet for any vacation. 

Making friends with a sting ray <3

Making friends with a sting ray <3

My daughter loved the Field Museum. It's a one of a kind experience for a small child with everything being so much larger than they are. And of course an educational experience for older kids. 

My daughter loved the Field Museum. It's a one of a kind experience for a small child with everything being so much larger than they are. And of course an educational experience for older kids. 

The famous Bean.... 

Photo credit: Steve Gadomski

Photo credit: Steve Gadomski

I highly recommend researching your hotel. Look at what activities you want to do and pick a hotel location that will allow you to easily walk / push the stroller to those destinations. If your kids are older and carseats aren't as much of a concern, then by all means take advantage of cabs and Uber. Think about what type of room will suit your needs. With us having toddlers, we need to have some type of suite for separation. None of the members of our family can fall asleep when we are all in the same room and lack of sleep equals crankiness the next day. It just comes down to whatever works best for your family. Some super family friendly options are:

  • Hotel Lincoln: Family suite offers bunkbeds and childrens table and chairs
  • Hotel Palomar: Welcome gifts for kids, safety supplies such as outlet covers, kid sized robes, etc
  • Omni Chicago: Spacious two room suites
  • Hilton Garden Inn: Good sized suites at a good price. Be wary of the windows if you have small children as they completely open up to the outside.  

 

Where to eat: 

There are not enough words to describe how much we loved one particular restaurant in Chicago. Little Goat Diner is directly across the street from the wonderful Girl and the Goat. Both fantastic restaurants from Stephanie Izard of Top Chef Season 4 fame. We stumbled upon this diner because we couldn't get reservations for Girl and the Goat and were just blown out of the water. Not only is this place family friendly, but the food is amazing. Not just good, AMAZING. Even the kids meals were fantastic. We ate a full dinner there and then made sure we ordered breakfast food to go so that we could enjoy it in the hotel the next morning. This is hands down my favorite place in the world. I'm obsessed and getting hungry just thinking about it. Just go here. It's great. Do it. 

 

Tuckered out because we made the unfortunate decision of walking from Navy Pier all the way to Randolph Street. They woke up about 30 min post arrival and loved their kids meals. And c'mon, those cute kids cups are everything.  

Tuckered out because we made the unfortunate decision of walking from Navy Pier all the way to Randolph Street. They woke up about 30 min post arrival and loved their kids meals. And c'mon, those cute kids cups are everything.  

Kobe beef with kimchi. I got a Banh Mi Style burger (not pictured). 

Kobe beef with kimchi. I got a Banh Mi Style burger (not pictured). 

Au Cheval is also amazing and located on Randolph Street. I would definitely feel comfortable bringing the children but the wait can be very long. For any restaurant, aim to eat dinner as early as possible so that the kids don't start getting cranky and the restaurant isn't packed. And since kids get so exhausted when traveling, they will probably start the overtired craziness at least an hour earlier than they would at home.  

Also on Randolph (see a pattern?) is Urbanbelly and BellyQ. They are connected and share the same kitchen from renowned chef Bill Kim. We went to Urbanbelly for lunch but BellyQ looked just as feasible for dinner. The ramen was pretty good and the pork belly was tender. The Phat rice there was great. I don't know that it is the most authentic spot in Chicago for ramen, but I thought it tasted great and it worked out really well for the toddlers. They were obviously too young for their own bowls but they do have a kids menu. Even on the kids menu, if you have very young kids the table could get a little messy since the items were not super easy for the kids to eat. But the large table made clean up easy and I don't necessarily depend on restaurant meals to fill up the kids. It's more about the adults being able to enjoy the food and letting the kids try new things and nibble. I always try and fill the kids up with food they are used to beforehand or that I can whip out of my purse if things are going south. If they are already nearly full, then there is no need to get frustrated if they aren't eating and hopefully they won't get cranky. They can try some of what you are eating or try their own food and it's just an added experience. Our kids have had everything from spicy Thai food to seafood, but I don't need them to finish a meal of it. Chicken nuggets back at the hotel is still a go to meal to fall back on. 

Another area to check out is Chinatown. We have to stop here every time we are in Chicago. The kids loved running around the central area and checking out the statues, and my son loved the tower like staircases and "bridges." One of my favorite restaurants, Joy Yee, has a location there and the menu is so large that there is something for everyone. And the portions are large and meant to be shared. Don't be surprised if there is a long line. Most people are just waiting to grab one of their delicious smoothies and bubble teas. I have never waited an excessively long time to sit and eat, even when they are busy. Which they usually are. Because they are amazing.  

 

Kids enjoying China Town in Chicago, Illinois
Kids enjoying dinner in China Town in Chicago, Illinois

Obviously there are hundreds more amazing restaurants in Chitown and I will update with more family friendly options and our experiences there. In the meantime, if you want to check a place out and you have your kids with you, just try it. The worst that can happen is you need to leave earlier than you intended and that's why it's best to dine at off peak hours. 

 

Happy travels =)