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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Activity: Garfield Park Conservatory

updated: March 17, 2018

The Garfield Park Conservatory is a great indoor/outdoor conservatory offering a large variety of plants and environments; warm desert to lush tropical plants.  They are constantly expanding and hosting special art exhibits to complement the plant life; so every visit feels a little unique.

There is a nice children's play area - don't miss the fish with legs in the pond!

Their website is fantastic.  Check out the tour options as well!


  • If taking children, younger kids tend to be "done" after visiting the Children's Area, so keep this in consideration.
  • If visiting during cool or cold months, leave your coats in the car if you don't mind a quick run to the entrance as it is very warm in the conservatory.  

Cost Savings:
Free Parking and Free Entry (donations accepted and welcomed) with maps and tours available.

Location & Notes Summary:
East Garfield Park
  • Transit: Green Line stops just a block from the conservatory,       but we usually park in the free lot adjacent to it. 
  • Savings: Suggested donation for entry and free parking

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
We always enjoy it - especially in the winter when we need to get out of the house.

Our most recent visit was thrilling for our 7 year old, as he was excited to read all the names and point out from where each plant originates.  Our 5 year old loved seeing the waterfalls, fish, ants, and bees.  And both loved the children's slide.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Playground: Dvorak Park

Another submission in our "not new adventure, but family favorite" is Dvorak Park.

This park was renovated recently and went from a sleepy park to an immediate favorite. It offers a lot, including shade: Slides of varying heights and difficultly, climbing structures, swings, tunnels, and more!

As a parent in charge of putting on and retaining sunscreen coverage, we like to avoid the argument of whether they can go through water features (thus having to re-apply).  So having a park where the playground is fully separated from the outdoor public pool is a dream!  Win-Win for this parent.

Spider-Man would love this park

  • The playground is next to a field and fieldhouse which hosts CPD classes and community activities.  And bathrooms.  
  • Has a zipline glider for kids!

Cost Savings:
Neighborhood parking is free, but sometimes hard to find.

Street parking only and depending on the activities at the fieldhouse or time of day may be more difficult to find, though we have never had to "leave" from not finding a spot.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
Technically, my son gave this 10 stars.  I reminded him it was on a 5 star scale and he would still like to make 10 stars his final answer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Activity: Firehouse Tour - Engine Co. 103

Today we whisked to a firehouse for a tour and to pat a Dalmatian.

After reading a great article on Red Tricycle about local firehouses that offer tours, we picked the Engine Co. 103.

It was a quick tour, as it is a small firehouse (1 fire engine) and they had just waxed the second story, so we couldn't go up there. But we were able to give treats to Freckles (we brought our own) and sit in the engine and try a hand pump.


  • Call.  Call Again.  Even though I had called the day prior and was told Wednesday would be great, it is important to call again.  As you may arrive while they are eating dinner and it is less than ideal.  For everyone. Regardless, the fire fighter was friendly and fought through his hunger to show us around the fire engine.
  • The Dalmatian is older and sweet.  And barks a lot while the firemen get to the door.  It freaked out my 3 yo so his body didn't touch the floor while we were in the house.  After he greets you, he retires to his cage, so if you want a photo with him, get it fast!

Cost Savings:
Free!  well, there was a $4 cost to the beggin' strips we brought.

West Loop
We drove and were able to find street parking (free) easily.

Kid's Jury: 3.5 stars
Would have loved to have a more lively tour and should have called ahead to ensure timing was ideal. Would have liked to see the second floor, taken a trip down the pole, and maybe put on a pair of boots (but no idea if that ever happens...)

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Playground: Maggie Daley Park

Some may be wondering why on earth we haven't hit up some of the most noteworthy aspects of Chicago: Maggie Daley Park; The Shedd Aquarium; and much much more.

Many of these we have visited and loved, and below is the first of the "Been There; Loved That" series of our favorite haunts:

Quite possibly the best park I have every been to in my life is 
Maggie Daley Park.

Do you like slides? Bridges? Boats? Water Features? Turtle Swings (not sure if this is the actual name or just what we call them)? (Rock) climbing? Lake view? Open areas of grass? Ice Skating?  Gardens? Tennis? Private Party Rooms? Picnics?


It is the greatest bribe we have at our fingertips.

Location & Notes Summary:
  • Parking: We use SpotHero to find parking. You can also take public transit with a little walking.  Some street parking available if you find it (try the Parknav App)
  • Savings: The best way to enjoy the ice rink (seasonally) - own skates.  This reduces cost and helps sidestep what can be a long, long queue for skate rental.
  • Media: The park has a twitter handle: @MaggieDaleyPark - Of course it does.
Kid's Jury: 5 stars
My 5 year old suggested 100 stars.  So, yea, 5 stars.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Road Trip: Washington Park Zoo (Michigan City, IN)

Word of mouth and a friend recommendation led us to the Washington Park Zoo.  It was a picturesque area and the grounds were easy to navigate.  Though the zoo was quaint (which is a sweet way to say small), it carried the key aspects for young families: Train, Petting Zoo, Tigers, Reptiles, and Monkeys.

We could get really close to animals, though a few of the animals were not let out as the evenings are still too chilly for them.  The kids had a great time and the size of the park was perfect for them -- we were able to see all the animals without pushing the youngest to his pre-nap limit.


  • There is a beautiful observatory tower you can climb, boasting views of the lake and lighthouse below.
  • There are free range peacocks which actually stick around the Peacock cafe.  They are gorgeous!
  • The entry line takes a long time as there is only one person taking money/providing tickets.  Although we were only the 10th family in line, it took about 15 minutes to get through the gate.  However, once inside you feel like it is a private tour as there are not too many crowds.
  • The train does a tight circle and though I was concerned the kids would be disappointed, it was a needless worry -- they were all smiles and had buttons to push on each car.
  • You can make a full day out of it as Washington Park also contains a beach, lighthouse museum, parks, playgrounds, and a water feature.  More details here.

Cost Savings:
The zoo is definitely worth the cost of admission.  It is very low cost - check out the site for details!

Michigan City, IN (one hour outside Chicago)
We drove and there was a parking lot adjacent to the zoo.

Kid's Jury: 4 stars
They really enjoyed the day and the weather was fantastic!  We were glad to experience this hidden gem.

Purpose of this photo: evidence
that we brought both children.

Yes, I know he needs a haircut.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Activity: Kids Science Labs

My neighborhood is lucky to house one of the raved about Kids Science Labs facilities.  On their site, the core of their purpose and value can be summarized as "exploring the fundamental questions they ask parents everyday (Why is the sky blue? How does TV work?). Every class starts with a question to explore and....focus(es) on guiding kids to find answers using...hands-on science."

I had heard a lot of positive things, but wasn't sure if my kids would like it; would be able to focus; or at what age it would be best.  But you can sign up for a free trail class. 

And if you know me at all, you know I am immediately drawn to the word free.  So I signed those boys right up.

When picking up the boys and announcing it was an ADvenTURE DaY! (this is meant to be sung, which is hard to translate on a blog, so just try to imagine, but I am not a good singer so that should be taken into consideration) they were excited and asked the usual: Where are we going? What are we doing?

I excitedly told them "We are going to Kids Science Labs!"
Their energy didn't match mine, so I forged ahead: "you will get to do some sort of experiment!  Maybe even with lava (lava is more important to them than candy).
While this perked up my oldest, my youngest was less than thrilled to learn I didn't get to take the class with them.

Regardless, moments after entering the class, they were paying rapt attention to the instructor and focused on their projects.  Both came out asking to come back.


  • This is a drop off class. That's right. For one hour and 15 minutes you are free to live your life with reckless abandon; without children.
  • There is a great waiting area with legos and magna tiles for the kids to play with before class.
  • The lab has a bright, industrial feel (see photos above)

Cost Savings:
I mentioned they have a trail class for free, right?  It's a great way to see if the kids will like it.
Warning: They will

South Loop / There are two locations downtown, we went to the South Loop
While public transit isn't ideal, you do receive a seasonal parking pass (free) to park in a nearby lot. Which is great as street parking there is brutal.

Kid's Jury: 5 stars
While I would love to take our kids to all the classes/sports possible, it just can't logistically happen, and when my older son is willing to give up a sport to start attending Kids Science Labs!  I love their enthusiasm and can't wait to get them enrolled!