Monday, December 12, 2016

Activity: Indoor Snowball Fight

When is it freezing outside and your child (impervious to the cold) asks for a snowball fight, twisting the idea to one that works for all (read: mom) can fix that.

An indoor snowball fight!

All we needed were wadded up paper for the snowballs and a DIY snow fort -- we chose Melissa and Doug bricks. While our youngest prefered to tear down his own fort (and build, and destroy, repeat), the 6 year old and I had a good fight.

Which morphed into bowling for bricks.  And general fort destruction.

All in all, the kids were happy and I was thrilled to stay inside!

Can be recreated in a number of ways, based on what you have at your fingertips.

Cost Savings:

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Easy! Fun!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Annual Event: Holiday Activities

The holiday's are here and with all that is happening in the city, it can cause a little anxiety determining what to do.

We have narrowed our focus to a "top 8" with reviews of each activity throughout the month. Zoolights and Garfield Park we will hit up after Christmas as they run all month long.

Rating scale: One to Five Snowflakes

The Goals and Ratings (if checked off our list):

Navy Pier Winter Wonderfest: ❋❋❋❋❋
This is the highlight of our year. Every. Year.  The best indoor playground to take the kids with a ton of activities fun for the whole family.  Highlights include:

  • Inflatable slides and bounce areas, 
  • Ice skating rink (with rental)
  • Unique rides: inner tube sledding 
  • Ferris wheel and other carnival style rides, 
  • Toddler train (best version yet, this year), 
  • Multiple photo opportunities (includes Santa with Ms. Clause)
Our kids were split in some of the activities they could do, based both on height an interest, so my husband and I divided and conquered the night.

Note:  Be prepared to wait in lines and plan accordingly (phone games, books, etc).

Polar Adventure Day: 
This event was fine. The park had made a great effort - from roasting marshmallows in a fire pit. to arranging a dog sled company and wildlife organizations to bring birds (vulture, barn owl), snakes, and more.

The dog sledding was neat to see, but the mushers didn't speak about the dogs or interact with the kids. My son latched onto a dog (Hawkeye) so we spent a lot of time watching him pet the pup.

The wildlife group brought a wolf, coyote, and porcupine, which couldn't be touched...but we were able to get our hands on a skunk and ground hog!

Two more dates available throughout the winter. There are nice paths for walking or snowshoeing.

Sledding:  ❋❋❋❋❋
With a perfect amount of snow fall, we headed to the Soldier Field sledding hill -- though the link above provides a variety of options which may be closer to you. The boys had a great time and will go back the next time conditions are good.


  • Free parking next to the hill 
  • sled area is wide, allowing for multiple people to go at once.
  • Our 6 and 4 year old where both able to go down by themselves.
  • No one was injured!

The Santa Experience - 12 Days of Santa: ❋❋❋❋❋
From the moment the Shops at Roosevelt Collection opened, it has been a positive impact on our city living experience. The ICON theater, Nando's, The Container Store, the playground...the list goes on and on...there is so much to love about this small and mighty collection.

While the stores alone are great, they knock it even further out of the park with their events. They are always well done and this was no different.  Nestled into a storefront (INSIDE!! next to the Loft Store), it is adorably decorated to feel like a small winter path, entering Santa's home. There are some small ornament crafts as well.

Santa is great - incredibly friendly, talks with the kids, and takes several (free) photos. A very different experience from the "hustle-in-take-photo-go" standard we have grown accustomed to.

And no lines (when we went)!!

CTA Holiday Train - 
The CTA Holiday Train has been a Chicago staple since having children, but let's set expectations. It is, at it's best, a unique experience.

Our past rides have been harried, jam-packed, and one year the train actually zipped right past us -- leaving confused parents and crying kids in it's wake.

This year was the best year yet, thanks to our new tactic: Ride in the evening. We took the 7pm train and it was the first time we found a seat and actually saw the entire train. Even snuck close enough for a Santa photo.

The city added a second train: Elves Workshop Train, which follows Santa's train and helps with overflow. The only difference is the Santa car has...Santa.  Everything else is the same!

Another Chicago staple and we love hitting up the Lincoln Park Zoo!  We lucked out with great weather this year, which makes the whole event more enjoyable. There is a new Polar Bear exhibit we were able to see (and the bear) and quite a few of the animals were still out and about. 

We love going to the zoo in general, and this night was the most packed we had seen it (again, due to the nicer weather), so we hit up our highlights, walked down candy cane lane, and headed home.  

Worth the trip!

---- What holiday activities do you have as "not to miss"?

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Activity: UFC Gym

In honor of tonight's UFC fights, our testing of the UFC Gym was most appropriate. A friend extended us a last minute invitation and we jumped on it!

The best part: Our location has a kids (Youth Fit Fight) class at the same time as an adult class (Boxing Skills and Techniques).

I have always wanted to hit against a bag, so this was an awesome experience.  And to watch my kids doing the same thing a few feet away was so fun.

The kids have been warned that the adults will barely be able to move tomorrow.  I am lucky my fingers are even able to type this much.


  • The Adult class is a series of jumping rope, punches, push-ups, burpies, and sit ups. 
  • At the end you put on gloves and hit against the bags.  It was awesome.
  • Kids had a great time - even our 3 year old!  Class age was mostly K-3 grade kids.

Cost Savings:

  • Promotion running: 5 days free
  • Visit the site for details on membership fees

Various locations throughout Chicago: River North, South Loop, Wrigleyville

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
This was great!  I love being able to work out at the same time as the kids.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Annual Event: Open House Chicago

Embarrassed to admit, after living in Chicago for over 1.5 decades, this is the first year I learned of the Chicago Architectural Foundation's ("CAF") Open House Chicago.

It is an annual event in the city, taking place over 2 days with 200 buildings participating.  No matter what neighborhood you are in, or if you want to see a new one - there are options for you:  The buildings this year were as far North as Northwestern University (Evanston), West for Frank Lloyd Wright Homes (Oak Park), and South for WGN Flag & Decorating (South Shore).

The CAF event website is spectacular, giving a map of all the locations and the neighboring Divvy stations if you prefer to bike around in order to squeeze in more sites.

With the kids in tow, we focused on locations more with their attention span in mind:

  • Jay Pritzker Pavilion - cool photo op
  • Chicago Architectural Foundation - mini Chicago replica in the main lobby 
  • LondonHouse - rooftop with views of the river and lake
  • Marquee at Block 37 - nice rooftop views 
  • Chicago Cultural Museum and Chic-fil-A - both not on the official tour, but hey, we love em. 
Tomorrow we are targeting McCormick Place Rooftop Farm, GEMS World Academy, and Zap Props

  • A few locations are incredibly popular, so the long lines were a deterrent (AON is an example). Though we skipped those, you can purchase a CAF membership to gain priority access and skip the lines.  Most locations were no issue.
  • Some locations have docents or activities
  • The kids loved the rooftops and the mini city replication

Cost Savings:

Something in essentially every neighborhood!  Get out there!!

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
The kids' attention span is a little short, so we have to pace ourselves.  I am already counting the days until this comes around again next year!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Playground: Horner Park

Horner Park has been recently renovated and it is gorgeous.

The climbing options are great, and ones we had never seen before.  As the park was (literally) crawling with families, it was hard to get photos.  Just know you need to find your way to this park if your kids like climbing, tunnels, twists, bridges, slides, merry-go-rounds, or small zip lines!


  • The fieldhouse is next to the playground, so bathrooms are only a few steps away.
  • Playground has a sitting zipline feature - kids were lined up to ride
  • Small toddler area available (see below)
  • Other amenities: tennis, running path, baseball fields, fieldhouse

Cost Savings: Free!

Albany Park at Montrose & California
We drove as parking is plentiful along the street and there is a parking lot (free).

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
SO Great.  Although it isn't too close, we will definitely be coming back!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Activity: Home Depot Kids Workshop

This adventure day is most likely an option for you, no matter where you live!

The Home Depot Kids Workshop is offered at each* of their stores and has continued to impress this family!

On the first Saturday of the month, Home Depot provides a DIY kit for each child with the instructions and tools - typically involves wood glue, hammer, stickers, and paint. You take home the project, Home Depot apron, pin memento, and probably a little paint on your hands (please note the photo above where the table and hammer appear to have seen better, cleaner days).


  • No registration or sign up required - the workshop is available anytime between 9 am - noon.
  • Workshop is located in the store (at the Chicago South Loop, it is in the lumber aisle)
  • Depending on your child's skill level, man-on-man may work best to ensure no one is hammering their finger (or most likely their sibling's finger)
  • Speaking of hammers - recommend using the floor to hammer the nails instead of the provided tables (our family is not a handy people, so this may be obvious to most).  The ground is concrete, so hammering works a lot better on the floor.

Cost Savings:
And you receive a Home Depot apron on your first visit, and it doesn't stop there - little project specific memento pins are given for each project completed!

Any Home Depot*

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We love it!  Will definitely become regulars over the winter months ahead!

*Please call your local Home Depot to confirm they host this workshop, as well as the dates and times.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Activity: Skate Park

Thanks to some friends, we learned about this great idea.  With our kids feeling confident on their scooters and getting pretty solid at their bikes, we thought it would be fun (well, husband thought fun, mom figured terrifying) to take them to a skate park.

The boys loved it.

They quickly settled into their own routes with ramps and inclines - the older one even trying out a little wall climbing action.

While I was indeed terrified, I did my best to hide it and no one walked away injured.  Our oldest fell a few times (one while attempting to take his bike straight up a wall), but no blood was spilled.

Go early in the morning, before the park is packed with legit skateboarders.

Cost Savings:
Free!  ...unless you experience injuries ;)

There is probably a skate park near you!  We used the one at Roosevelt & Michigan, and early morning parking was easy.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Great time!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Annual Event: Midnight Circus

This is the second year we have attended the Midnight Circus in the Parks show and we plan to make it an annual tradition.

In short, it is a legit, talented, and entertaining Circus group under a "little Big Top," performing in Chicago parks all throughout the city.  There are tightrope walkers, hula hoopers, jugglers, acrobats, and perfectly timed comedy (see the photos on their site).

Performance proceeds go toward Chicago Park improvements, so everyone wins! We get a good show, and our parks are improved!


  • Tickets are inexpensive, showtimes are plentiful
  • Arrive early to find a good seat, as they are not assigned
  • At the end of the show, families can meet and talk with the performers.  I may have used my children to speak with certain performers :)

Cost Savings:
Ticket prices vary by location, check here for remaining shows and details!
There are a few shows remaining for October...

Various locations - we typically attend McKinley Park

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Parents also get to vote: 5 stars!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Road Trip: St. Louis

After an amazing, jam-packed, family-friendly trip to St. Louis, wanted to share our experience to make sure you consider a trip to this city.

Quick Family Travel Facts:
  • We like to save money & time where we can
  • We wake up at the crack of 6 am, so we over-prepare and plan to fit in everything we can into each day before the kids tire out and/or have melt downs.  This has continuously worked well for us and wanted to share some of the tips.
  • Assume for each section, we arrive at or before the place opens.

Accommodations, Transportation, & Misc:
We stayed near the airport, and while it was only 20-30 minutes to get to each activity, would look for a new area in the future (open to suggestions) - contemplating downtown or the Galleria area to be near evening activities & restaurants.
  • Car: We drove to St. Louis (5 hours from Chicago). Parking at each venue was inexpensive.
  • Stroller: We used our stroller at the Zoo and Botanical Garden to extend the "life" of our kids.
  • Apps: Used the zoo app a few times to give animal facts to the kids.

Gateway Arch:
The quintessential Gateway Arch monument is a fun stop if you have never been. Not to mention it is the tallest monument in the world (stands 630' high and 630' wide - remember this fact to share during the tour. You're welcome).

If you pre-purchase tickets, the wait is no issue. We purchased online when 3 hours from the city. You leave with your assigned "group" time, then are shuffled to another area for quick facts and then routed to the transit to the top - which may feel claustrophobic to some as 5 people sit in a cozy egg-shaped car. The viewing area can feel congested, but be patient for the ebb and flow to see the nice views of the downtown and river.

Note: During our visit, the grounds surrounding the Arch were under construction, making it a longer walk from where we parked ($6).  However, we loved walking through Laclede's Landing & Riverwalk - the cities oldest district.

After the Arch, we walked to The Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. Kids loved the roaming balloon artist, parents loved the warehouse feel.

St. Louis Zoo
Although the St. Louis Zoo is the Best Free Attraction in the US, it could easily compete with many of the nation's zoos that have an entrance fee.  The zoo is beautifully kept, signage is great, and animals are plentiful (They have a ton of elephants!). We could have spent another day there.

While entry is free, add on costs are: Train, Children's Zoo, Carousel, 4D Theater, Stingrays, and the Sea Lion Show.  Purchasing an Adventure Pass is recommended to save money and/or these areas are free for the first hour the zoo is open (confirm this before going).

Parking is a cost at their lot, but the surrounding area has street parking for free.

Speaking of the surrounding area, the zoo is nestled in the city's gorgeous Forest Park.  It is an expansive park with rolling hills, museums, restaurants, and theater.

Check the zoo website for tips on when divers are active in tanks or feeding is likely to occur.

City Museum
I could write an entire blog about the City Museum.  It is absolutely amazing and unique. The best way to describe it is a real-life Chutes and Ladders.

There are no maps. I repeat - no maps. There were definitely areas of the museum we missed (am guessing ...I mean, there are no maps, so who knows). It is a series of rooms with tunnels, caves, slides, skate board ramps, ball pits, airplanes, buses, human-sized hamster wheels, and more.

My (strong) advice:
  • Wear workout clothes - athletic fit is best to avoid getting caught on slides and ladders. Long-sleeved and pants will protect your skin as you will be sliding and crawling a lot.
  • Wear knee pads - I'm not kidding.  See sentence above. Crawling a lot. On metal. 6 year olds seem unphased.  Those over 30, not the same.
  • Take a flashlight - Many had headlamps and it took everything in me not to steal it off their heads. You will need it to find your way through a lot of the space.
  • Age - Recommend 5 years old and up. Our 3 year old did fine, but held us back. The 5 year old did great. 
We grabbed a quick donut breakfast at Pharaoh's Donuts near the museum. While it is a hole in the wall establishment, you can watch them make the donuts and they are really good. I may have gone back for seconds. 

City Museum: Indoor & Outdoor Climbing Bonanza

Missouri Botanic Garden
The Missouri Botanic Garden was beautiful and had a lot of great areas to enjoy.  The garden (and parking) is free, though the Children's museum is a small cost.  The kids had a blast playing in the different areas - climbing structures, slides, ropes, and a water feature (kids will get soaked).

In the main garden, we were able to touch turtles and feed Koi Fish.  Another nice touch: Water Bottle filling areas, so you can bring and fill up your own bottle!

Recommend visiting Ices Plain & Fancy in the nearby, historic Shaw neighborhood. The ice cream is made in front of you using fast-churn liquid nitrogen. Very futuristic!

The Magic House
The Magic House is hands down our favorite Children's Museum we have visited.  And we've seen a lot. It is massive, pristine, and creative: something to discover at every turn. The entire family had a blast - we came when it opened, and closed it down.

Some of our favorite rooms (though it is hard to narrow down): Coloring a fish and then scanning it onto a projection wall where it moved around; and the Construction Zone - it features a small scale versions of a house.

Not sure if this is standard, but the museum started to clear out around 3 p.m. so we felt like we had the run of the place.

This shows a glimpse of the facility:

This shows some of our favorite areas:
Clockwise from top left: Construction site (was unbelievable), two Presidents!, Little Car Repair, Musical Balls,
Football Test Area, Art to Action, Ice Cream Cart, Puzzles!
All of the restaurants were great with kids and had something for them to do at each spot.  Our favorite area for meals was in the Delmar Loop neighborhood of St. Louis. We ate at Fitz's and Salt + Smoke.

Fitz's Root beer is a St. Louis staple for ginormous root beer floats and a bottling room you can watch in action (check site for the bottling schedule). While no reservations are accepted, place your name on the list, eat at a nearby restaurants (Salt+Smoke!) and then have dessert at Fitz's.

Conclusion: We had a great time and still had more we wanted to see - Grant's Farm, City Garden, Butterfly House, and Myseum. However, we are confident the ones we did were a perfect fit for our family!  Hope you are able to take a trip to this city and this was helpful in your planning!!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Playground: Margate Park

Though this playground doesn't appear on recent "best of" lists for Chicago - it sneaked it's way into our top 10!  The Margate Park Playground was larger than I expected with a lot of structures to climb and slide.

Though it has a bit of wear and tear, it has many more pros: two robust climbing/sliding/swinging structures, toddler area, bathrooms (when fieldhouse is open), water fountain, seating, and tables.

  • Parking (paid) available at the fieldhouse, playground is adjacent.
  • The playground is near lakefront paths and a lot of open grassy areas.
  • The Margate Park neighborhood is so picturesque, we enjoyed walking around.

Cost Savings:
Street parking is free, if you can find it. Otherwise, the playground has a small lot at the fieldhouse (fee).

Margate Park, tucked in Uptown
We drove, as it is just off of Lake Shore Drive (Lawrence exit).  The Lawrence exit has a bridge with a "tent community" -- about 25 homeless people -- and while it was unexpected and startling, we felt completely safe.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
This park was great. I promised the boys we would be back.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Activity: Museum of Science and Industry

Our trip to the Museum of Science+Industry was a huge hit.
We were there 4 hours and could have stayed much longer because there was still so much to experience.

Stops Today:
Level 1
  • The Idea Factory - great for kids and now that the museum rotates groups in and out, we are no longer stuck there all day (!!!).  
  • Farm Tech - we just get into the two large tractors and move on.
  • U-505 Submarine - they have replicas of the living quarters and periscope
  • Circus - has some fun eye spy activities in the wall.
  • Henry Crown Space Center - there are rovers to experiment with and their gift shop has some awesome toys. Watched the National Parks movie ($). Was a bit long, and the kids didn't love it.
Level 2
  • Great Train Story - This is a must stop for our boys. City scape with Freight, Amtrak, Metra, and El trains - bonus for finding the underground Chicago Red Line stop!
  • Mirror Maze - Great! We had a great time getting lost and finding our way out.
  • Genetics - baby chicks! Always enjoy this quick stop.
  • Science Storms - Can see an avalanche, tsunami, tornado and more
- Go early to maximize your time, as the museum can get incredibly packed
- The MSI website is great, giving interesting information for each exhibit to share with your kids.

Cost Savings:
After a few paid experiences, most are not necessary nor ideal for kids. There is so much to see and do, the paid exhibits can take away from the hidden treasures.

Hyde Park
Parking is $22, but if you arrive in the morning you can find free street parking (Parknav App).

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
It's been a few days and the kids are still talking about the museum.  We loved it!

There is still so much to see (whispering wall and toy maker 3000, to name a few), we are definitely going back

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Playground: Margaret Donahue

The Margaret Donahue playground is fantastic! It has a great water area with a shower tower, water activity tables, and wall spouts.  My kids spent a majority of their time in the water (it is a Chicago summer, after all) and dabbled on the equipment.

The park was well thought out as it is fully fenced in, provides a lot of seating and shaded snack tables, has an open space  for running around, AND areas for bikes & stroller parking!

Great neighborhood: retail stores and restaurants abound.
- Coax kids to wear shoes on the equipment if the water feature is on (making things slippery)
- Southport El Stop has a quaint, enjoyable farmer's market: check here for dates and times.

Cost Savings:
Bonus: area restaurants offer free kids' meals: Crosby's Kitchen or The Butcher's Tap, to name a few.

Recommend the KidMealDeal App for kid meal deals in your area, as the above may be outdated.

Lakeview / Southport Corridor
Southport Brown Line stop is so close, I highly recommend. My boys loved being on the train.

Kid's Jury: 4.5 stars
As the playground came into view, my 5 year old excitedly called out: "it looks like the city!"

It is a beautiful playground, with the standout features being the water area and city-scape view. The equipment was good, but slippery when wet (which is always, when the water is turned on). We saw many kids (including mine) injured as a result.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Playground: Ward (Aaron Montgomery) Park

Ward Park is in a serene area nestled along the river, with a beautiful view of the city.  It has a lot of options to play on: rolling hills, monkey bars, swings, slides, teeter-totters, spinning & climbing structures, and a water feature.

- Great outdoor seating with shade umbrellas
- Dog park nearby
- Next to Erie Cafe, which has outdoor seating along the river.
- There was a little hot dog stand on the corner which provided our dinner and everyone loved sitting on a small hill with our feet in the grass.

Cost Savings:

River North
- El Stops: Chicago Brown/Purple line
- There was parking adjacent to the park, which it looked like a lot of patrons used.  Not sure on cost.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Great park, great location.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Activity: Happy Play

Happy Play is unlike any play space we have been to. It is separated into 5 distinct areas, and while the biggest draw is the bunnies and parakeets, the owners still paid special attention to details in the other three spaces.

Please note: Am sad to share this venue is permanently closed :(

Space Summary:

  1. Parakeets: It is safe to say there are over 20 parakeets in a decent sized space, so it can entertain a good number of people at once. Each child receives a seed stick and lots of bird attention - photo evidence above
  2. Bunnies: This area requires a more calm demeanor as the bunnies are more skittish and require more care. And they are adoptable! 
  3. Toddler Area: Full of soft blocks, wedges and more, forming a baby gymnasium. Complete with a mini ball pit!
  4. Tiny Town: This area has an assortment of child-sized homes (and a teepee) with adorable rain clouds as lighting.
  5. Train Room: Blown away. The train tables were spanned across a huge area and the kids can swap out the tracks, bridges, and pieces with any of the extras in the large buckets on the side. Another bonus: the walls have a variety of ball-rolling ramps if the tracks are busy.


  • There is an area next to each section with nice chairs for parents (photo below)
  • A small room in the back allows for a cozy birthday party or gathering.
  • Recommend a 1:1 adult-child ratio when one wants to stay (forever) with the birds and the other has (definitely) had enough.
  • The birds are loud and can be intimidating for first timers. We spent time with the bunnies first to give the kids time to acclimate to the noise level.
  • It is located near a cute yogurt shop Yoberri and the popular Eleven City Diner -- we tested both!
  • My kids didn't appropriately appreciate my walk down memory lane where I shared all about when I lived in that area and what I used to do there. 

Cost Savings:  N/A

Lincoln Park
15 min walk from Fullerton Red Line. Bus routes in the area.
Street parking (for fee)

Kid's Jury: 4.5 stars
We plan to go back to spend more time in each area!

There is still plenty to play with if your child is afraid of the birds

Friday, June 17, 2016

Playground: Skinner Park

As expected, when visiting one of the top Chicago schools, their playground is top notch. There are two large climbing and slide areas, a toddler area, a water feature, community gardens, picnic tables, AND a sandbox. The park itself sprawls for 2 blocks and includes basketball, tennis, and baseball areas.

Both boys found a lot to do, though I was unimpressed with the sandbox. It was small and the only "toys" in the sand where wrappers and other trash people left behind. I threw them away and would like to preemptively apologize to those hoping to use the chip bags as a shovel. It also had a lot of rocks, which the kids actually really liked (photo evidence below)...until they stepped on them.


  • Cool climbing structures, especially the red hoops
  • Dragon - don't worry, it's not real - was a surprise hit (photo above).
  • No bathrooms on site.

Cost Savings:

West Loop
Free street parking along the park area

Kid's Jury: 4.5 stars
My youngest loved the rope web he climbed in; my son liked "the whole park". I had to dock it half a star because of the sandbox.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Playground: Union Park

This park was so handy to get to, being across the street from a train station! The park has a pool, playground with a small (and very popular) water feature, and a lot of unique playground features.

  • The main slide structure has all kinds of unique features, from rock climbing throughout, little plastic hammocks, to angled monkey bars. 
  • Climbing is abundant: the huge rope dome and neighboring rope "course" has bridges, ladders (you guessed it, made of rope), and different layers to climb throughout.
  • 1 out of my 2 kids loved the bucket spinner. The other lost his mind because it was going really fast and when his mom wasn't there to stop it, he (understandably) freaked out.
  • Bathrooms in the fieldhouse.
Showcasing a few special touches incorporated in the main play structure.
Cost Savings:
Free! Especially when a random person holds open the CTA gate to have you walk through.  Who am I to say no?

First time on Pink
AND Green Lines!

West Loop
Incredibly easy access off the Ashland Train Stop via Green or Pink Line - literally across the street.

Kid's Jury: 4.5 stars
The park is great and has a lot of options: playground, swings, green space, tennis, pool, and water feature. My 3 year old didn't have as much to play on, as it was geared to older ages - my 5 year had a great time.

L-R: Open field; bucket spinner (with the one who liked it); pool

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Playground: Mary Bartelme Park

Mary Bartelme Park is an oasis for the neighborhood whether you have kids, dogs, or none of the above.  The park takes up a full city block and includes a robust playground, artwork doubling as misters, dog park (not pictured), and plenty of grass for picnics & ball.

The playground is fenced in, which is great until they figure out how to get out. Truthfully, my husband couldn't figure out how to get in, so our 5 year old showed him how.

The park is located near a Starbucks, and it seemed each family had made a pit-stop there on their walk over. Wishbone restaurant is walking distance or you can head a few blocks over to Greek town for a myriad of (greek) options. Another bonus option: A pop-up juice stand is frequently spotted there, and food trucks seem to meander past from time to time.

  • There are a lot of climbing structures, with a unique feature of rubber mats to climb and jump around (top collage, middle photo).
  • Toddler area has 2 slides and a few teeny hammocks (we think, not quite sure their function).
  • Two rope areas - the web is pictured below; and the other is a series of ropes to climb through.
  • There is some picnic seating within the playground or you can BYO blanket to sit in the grass.
  • No bathrooms, which may also explain all the Starbucks fans / "visits."
  • What is behind the name Mary Bartelme? First Illinois judge and much more.

Cost Savings:
Free!...unless you don't luck out with the parking.

West Loop
Green Line Morgan Station is a 10 min walk, though we typically drive.
Parking: We haven't had issues - some streets are free; others zoned or metered.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We love this park because we love to climb and use our scooters and bikes on the pathways.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Activity: Morton Arboretum Children's Garden

Having heard great feedback on Morton Arboretum, we took a little road trip to Lisle, IL to check it out for ourselves! We didn't even scratch the surface of all the conservatory has to offer and had a great time.  There is a large children's area full of nature and structures to climb, water to play in, slides, mazes, and more!

Here is a picture of the Backyard Discovery Garden from above.  It has a slide, a mister (BIG hit today), and a garden where you can actually water the plants:

There were great signs throughout - some informational, some with tree-themed jokes:

There was no shortage of rope tunnels to climb! And no question where to enter:

Their website has a lot of information and here is a link to their Children's Garden. It has a great video and a visual map on the site to highlight the 10 different areas.


  • Bring extra shoes / clothes as kids will most likely go tadpole hunting in the pond (we saw some!) and want to splash and move rocks around in the river.
  • The children's garden is very close to the entrance, which equates to being close to the bathrooms and cafeteria.
  • There are trails to bike and hike! They offer rentals for bikes in summer and skis in winter.
  • Our friends make a ritual of driving in, biking the area, then playing in the children's area.  
  • Our friends mentioned it is fantastic year round and their lights festival in winter (Illumination) is unsurpassed and worth the visit.

Cost Savings:
A membership would pay for itself in just a few visits.

Lisle, IL (Western suburbs)
Driving Directions / Address on their site.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Our kids loved it and gravitated mostly to the water areas in the adventure woods. We will definitely go back and I want to test out the snow shoe rentals!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Playgrounds: South Loop Playground Run-down

With so many parks in the South Loop, it is the hard to know which direction to travel. Below is the locals run down of our preferred (park titles are linked to addresses/information):

Mary Richardson Jones Park (AKA School Park)
Reason to go: Play areas for all ages, quiet area/community, Close to public transportation.
Had no idea there was an official name for this park other than "school park" until I looked it up just now.

This is great for all ages, as it has 3 sections:
1. Area with swings and a pretty good sized grassy knoll.
2. The west side is a toddler area with a train, station, a small slide and small riding cars.
3. The east side has a jungle gym area with slides and a variety of climbing and monkey bar options.

It is pretty easy to watch both kids and have them both happy.

  • No bathrooms on site. 
  • With zone restricted parking throughout, recommend public transit.  Easily accessible 5 min walk from Roosevelt Red Line; Orange Line; and Green Line.

Coliseum Park (AKA Space Park)
Reasons to go: climbing structures, unique, merry-go-round
This playground was transformed from a teeny tot playground to a more advanced playground with climbing structures and a turtle swing (not sure if this is the technical term). To access the larger slide, kids have to climb a spiderweb of ropes and/or a slender rubberized mat.

  • Some of the play options are 1 person at a time (turtle swing, turning seat thing), so there is a high demand for these and interesting parent/community dynamics can be a result.
  • If it is rainy or misty, the structures can get slippery.  Be careful.  
  • No bathrooms on site.

Mark Twain Park
Reason to go: Quiet, contained area, great for toddlers and younger children.
While this isn't an official park of the Chicago Park District it is very popular for those you can find this hidden gem on the corner of 15th and Prairie.  Great views of soldier field and local trains.

No bathrooms on site.  Recommend walking as parking is very difficult.

Roosevelt Playlot
Reasons to go: Shopping time mixed with play time.
This tiny park packs a solid "play" punch with it's unique playground equipment. It keeps kids of all ages entertained and if you work it right, one of you can sneak off to one of the retail shops and be back before the kids notice. Can even make a day of it if there is a movie you want to see and/or a coffee shop/restaurant that fits the bill.

  • Bathrooms on site 
  • Transportation: free or discounted parking depending on your shopping needs. Also about a 10 min stop from the Roosevelt Train Station.
  • The play area is not fully fenced off, so keep an eye on the kids.  We had one escape and run directly into oncoming traffic. Hats off to our friend who literally jumped the fence and grabbed him before any cars came by. We may still owe him some medical bill payments.

Cotton Tail Park
Reasons to to: sandbox, well enclosed
This park has a strong neighborhood feel. The kids like to use the large circle sidewalk to learn how to ride their scooter, bike, or whatever else has wheels these days.  Have yet to witness a hoverboard. In the center of the circle is a large grassy area used for any number of things: sports, parties, etc.

The jungle gym is good, but "quaint." There is also a two level pirate ship and a gazebo.

  • No bathrooms on site.
  • Sandbox toys are sometimes plentiful, but if you want to ensure your child gets a bucket or shovel, BYO.
  • Sunscreen. There is a high sun quotient here
  • Transportation: parking can be hard to find.

Chicago Women's Park & Garden (Outdoor/Indoor)
Reasons to go: Local park activities, indoor option, historical
This park is comprised of beautiful grass and gardens in the outdoors, nestled along Prairie Avenue -- a historic area of the city.  The Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance does a great job of hosting a variety of events throughout the year and as a result, their calendar entices the community and families to show up in droves!

The indoor area has some climbing and play equipment and is a nice getaway if you are tired of your home and looking for a free option out of the rain or snow (photos below):

It also houses an indoor/outdoor restaurant Spoke & Bird and Kids Science Labs.

  • Bathrooms on site.
  • Transportation: parking is hard to find.

Soldier Field Play Area:
Reasons to go: near the lake, lake front bike path, and museum campus.
We have never taken the kids here, as it is a bit of a hike for us.  The energy in the area is great as there are so many people around and there is a lot to see and do.  Would view this as a great pre or post museum or Soldier Field visit area to go to let the kids run around.  

  • Location - Nested between the Field Museum and Soldier Field. Not easy to spot from the sidewalk, as it is between rolling hills.
  • Transportation - Difficult if there is anything happening at soldier field. Parking is expensive.
  • Bathrooms are in the vicinity.
Did we miss your favorite or one to also highlight?  Let us know - happy to inspect a new location!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Playground: Ping Tom Park

Ping Tom Park offers a lot from a jungle gym for all ages, kayaks, nature walk, water taxi, and bathrooms(ish).  They have a fieldhouse with a pool, multipurpose gym, and scheduled activities, but if you don't want to sign up for classes there is still a lot to offer:

  • The playground has play areas and jungle gym options to appease  toddlers and older.
  • There is a great kayak rental - Urban Kayaks - a short walk away from the playground. We shared a Kayak with our son when 4 yo and plan to all go out this summer (5 and 3 yo).
  • Bathrooms at the fieldhouse (when open), but it is a bit of a jaunt from the playground.
  • Have to wait to rent a kayak (which would be surprising)? Enjoy the nice nature trail or skip back over to the playground.
  • Haven't ridden a Chicago Water Taxi?  Well, now's the time! The Chinatown pickup / drop off location is steps from the playground. And what kid/parent doesn't love a boat ride? 
    • Important note: Tickets must be purchased prior arrival. We learned the hard way, after our kids had selected their seats for an exciting adventure and we finished muscling our stroller onto the boat.  Which reminds me to mention: not all boats are ADA friendly.
Cost Savings:
Free, and can make a day out of it, taking time to explore the fullness of Chinatown and the area.

Transportation: Area is very congested, so recommend public transportation.  Is a 10 min walk from Cermak-Chinatown Red Line.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We love it here and our son is excited to take the bike trails soon.