Chicago on a Family Budget
Navy Pier is one of the country's top family attractions during the summer, however, it's not very budget friendly when you're paying for four or more people. The restaurants, beyond the garden variety fast food eateries, as well as attractions and kiddie rides cost a pretty penny.
That's why we've put together this helpful guide of nine notable ways you can enjoy summer in Chicago without breaking the bank. From free theatrical productions and movies in the park to cruising all over town for $9 a day, these activities are certain to put a smile on everybody's faces.
Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center lures hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with numerous free events and proximity to tourist mecca Millennium Park. Besides featuring free music, dance and theater performances, the center frequently shows films, conducts lectures, displays art exhibits and offers family events. Architecture buffs also flock to the structure because it's a landmark building; it was built in 1897 as the city's first central public library. The interior details are stunning as it was originally intended to be a showpiece building to build Chicago's cachet as a sophisticated city to be taken seriously--a reputation not previously afforded to it in the mid-1800s. The skilled craftsmanship is obvious with the use of imported marble, hardwoods, polished brass, glass mosaics and stone. The show stopper is the 38 foot diameter Tiffany stained glass dome located on the south side of the building. Find out about events happening at the Chicago Cultural Center right here. 78 E. Washington St., 312-744-6630
For even more deals on Chicago's top museums, purchase the Go Chicago Card.
Reconstruction of the Chicago Riverwalk started in the early 1990s and was finally completed spring 2015. The walkway is situated six blocks along the Chicago River from State Street west to Lake Street with distinctive identities, thematically named: The Marina (from State to Dearborn); The Cove (Dearborn to Clark); The River Theater (Clark to LaSalle); The Swimming Hole (LaSalle to Wells); The Jetty (Wells to Franklin) and The Boardwalk (Franklin to Lake). There are a number of restaurants and bars along the walk, but visitors may explore it on their own. Bring lunch and settle outside and watch kayaks and architectural boat cruises float by. East Upper Wacker Drive, 312-742-7529
Designer Outlet Malls
No great vacation is complete without shopping, but for the absolute best bargains, you'll need to leave the city limits. If you're coming to Chicago by way of O'Hare International Airport, the Fashion Outlets of Chicago is located only a few minutes away in Rosemont. You'll have to travel a little further to explore Chicago Premium Outlets, Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall and Prime Outlets Huntley Mall, but the bargains you'll find will make the trip worth it.
There are so many cool ways to explore the city: There is the Chicago Architecture Walking Tour, Chicago Gangster Tours and a number of boat tours along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. But for only $9.95 per person, you can get a 24-hour Divvy bike pass, which allows you to get around the city on your own terms. You'll find thousands of bikes at hundreds of stations from Andersonville to Hyde Park, and as long as the rides are 30 minutes or less (You have to check into a docking station every 30 minutes), you're good to go. One exciting new cycling adventure is The 606, with the beautiful new elevated Bloomingdale Trail as its centerpiece. It's connected to six neighborhood parks at ground level, a wheel-friendly event plaza, an observatory, art installations, educational programming and other amenities. You must be 16 years or older to ride Divvy.
Grant Park is home to Buckingham Fountain--one of the city's most famous landmarks--as well as the Grant Park Musical Festival, which offers a free summer classical concert series. Pack a picnic, then head down to the park for the late morning or afternoon rehearsals, which are free. There are also lectures before almost every performance. View the entire schedule right here. 337 E. Randolph St., 312-742-3918
Lincoln Park Conservatory/Lincoln Park Zoo
Located at the north end of Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory features four serene greenhouses (Orchid House, Fernery, Palm House and Show House) all displaying fantastic arrays of flora. During summer, venture outdoors to find a lush, French garden filled with a large variety of plants and flowers, and a beautiful fountain. Many Chicago residents utilize this space to sit and read, toss a football around, let their kids run freely or just take in the beauty of nature.
For its part, Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest in the United States. It was established in 1868, yet has been continuously updated and is amongst the most contemporary in terms of education, recreation and conservation. The zoo is unique in that it offers an intimate setting that allows visitors a closer look at the animals than most sprawling zoo settings. It is dedicated to permanently keeping its admission policy free for everyone. The zoo, in fact, is the only free zoo in Chicagoland, and one of the last free major wildlife attractions in the country. 2001 N. Clark St., 312-742-2000
South Shore Cultural Center
Located only a few minutes south from Hyde Park's Museum of Science & Industry, the South Shore Cultural Center has been an iconic structure in the neighborhood since 1905. Throughout the summer it focuses on rich programming that is free to all. Entertainment ranges from West African dance performances to live jazz or classical music. Check the schedule for more information right here. 7059 S. South Shore Dr., 773-256-0149
Theater on the Lake
The historic Theater on the Lake building is under renovation, which means that the shows travel to other parks for the 2015 summer season. The majority of productions are $10 per person, but some are free for all. This is an opportunity to showcase the rich off-Loop theater community such as Bailiwick Chicago and Definition Theatre Company. Here is a schedule of what to expect and where to go to see the productions. You may also pack a picnic basket for the family. Call 312-742-7994 for more information.