Tips for Viewing Chicago's Thanksgiving Day Parade With Kids


Brian & Jaclyn Drum / Flickr Creative Commons

Not to be outdone by the iconic Macy's parade in New York City, Chicagoans have their own Chicago Thanksgiving Parade each November, one that has been running since 1934. Nearly half a million spectators line the parade route on State Street to see marching bands, equestrian units, elaborate floats, and enormous balloons flying high above the streets of downtown Chicago. Many of them, naturally, are children. Viewing the Chicago Thanksgiving Parade with kids can be slightly nerve-racking with all the commotion, but if you come prepared, the whole family is guaranteed great fun.

All festivals, block parties, special events, and parades—including the Thanksgiving parade—have been canceled by the City of Chicago for the remainder of 2020.

2020 Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade

Although canceled in 2020, the Chicago Thanksgiving Day Parade would normally take place on the morning of the holiday, typically 8 to 11 a.m., on State Street, between Ida B. Wells Drive and Randolph Street.

Put on by the Chicago Festival Association (CFA), the city calls the parade "Chicago's Grand Holiday Tradition." It features more than 100 groups, including those who sustain the famed character inflatables of Scooby-Doo, Hello Kitty, Paddington Bear, Big Bird, Yogi Bear, and the star of the show, Teddy Turkey.

In addition to the spectators who line Chicago's streets for it, another reported 4 million people watch it live on WGN-TV. In 2019, the audience broadened with a national telecast on WGN America.

Attending the Parade With Kids

The Chicago Thanksgiving Parade is a long-running family tradition, but there are some things to note before turning up to the parade route with kids.

  • Arrive early and come prepared: Although the parade doesn't kick off until 8 a.m., crowds start gathering along the route as early as 5 a.m. Bring folding stools or chairs to make the wait a bit more comfortable.
  • Dress for the weather: Temperatures are typically between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit in late November. From the time you pick out your viewing spot until the end of the parade, you could spend four hours or more standing outside. Be sure to dress warmly—hats and mittens are necessities.
  • Pack essentials: Don't forget your camera, snacks, and some extra layers. You may also want to bring earplugs or noise-canceling headphones for children as the bands and music are loud.
  • Pick a spot wisely: Choose a viewing location as close to the beginning of the route as possible. Once the parade starts, it takes just over an hour for the whole procession to pass by. If you're situated near the beginning of the route, you could be finished before 10 a.m. Spectators with special needs can view the parade from the southeast corner of State Street and Jackson in a designated viewing area. It's also a good idea to position yourself near a coffee shop or department store, where you can nip in for a bathroom break if needed. For younger kids, this can be crucial.
  • Know when to bail: Seeing part of the parade is better than seeing none of it. If it's too cold or the kids get cranky, be prepared to leave early and try again the following year.

Other Kid-Friendly Activities in Chicago

The Windy City offers a wealth of family activities, from conducting science exhibits to seeing rare animals.

  • Brookfield Zoo: Located just west of the city in the suburb of Brookfield, this world-class zoo contains 216 acres of indoor and outdoor viewing areas and thousands of animals—from camels, giraffes, baboons, leopards, and tigers to green sea turtles, dolphins, and more.
  • Chicago Children's Museum: Ideal for kids 10 and under, this museum fills an entire three-story building with interactive, educational exhibits. Kids can play dress-up, dig for dinosaur bones, build a skyscraper, build a fort, take an art lesson, and enjoy a whole range of other fun and engaging activities.
  • 360 Chicago: Formerly called the Hancock Observatory, this landmark offers tremendous views of three states. Take the high-speed elevator up to the Skywalk deck and, if you're a bit brave, check out Tilt, a glass-and-steel enclosed platform that holds eight people and actually tilts forward to deliver better views of the surrounding city.
  • Shedd Aquarium: One of the world’s largest indoor aquariums, the octagonal Shedd aquarium houses thousands of fish and other water creatures from rivers, lakes, and oceans. Exhibits showcase creatures from different parts of the world; if you're short on time, head straight for the shark exhibit and the fascinating Amazon section, with its piranhas and frogs.
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