Chicago with Teens: A Perfect Family Day

Chicago with Teens: A Family Vacation


Sometimes, when you live in the Chicago suburbs, you know the city is there, but you take it for granted. I was born and raised in the city and decided my teenagers were becoming too suburbanized and needed a mini vacation in Chicago, a place I probably also took for granted as a teen. We planned a full summer day, cramming in as much as we could. Here's my itinerary for a day in Chicago with teens that I guarantee everyone will remember.


Breakfast - Bourgeois Pig

After much deliberation, we settled on Bourgeois Pig, near DePaul University. I heard it had great coffee (it does) and was housed in an old brownstone filled with antiques, which tipped the scale for me. My Chicago-bound teens on the other hand, just liked the name.

I loved the literary feel with packed bookshelves, sandwiches with names like "Hamlet" and a real neighborhood vibe. Students, families, and business travelers were all co-mingling in a great comfortable atmosphere.

The pastries are home made, the juice fresh, and the food is reasonably priced for vacationing families with teens. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can visit any time of the day. Among the extensive menu items are 25 gourmet sandwiches and homemade root beer. My teens' thoughts on the place? They wanted to go back for dinner.

Bourgeois Pig
738 W. Fullerton Parkway
(773) 883-5282
Hours: Opens at 6AM weekdays, 8AM weekends and closes at 11PM

Lincoln Park

Next, we hit the (free) Lincoln Park Zoo, which really packs in a lot of stuff in an urban environment. Even teens seem to still like a zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo
2001 North Clark Street
(312) 742-2000
Hours: Vary; please see website for details
Admission: Free

Visiting Lincoln Park is one of the best family vacation ideas in Chicago. The city's largest park has far more than you can do in a day. We rented a four-person paddleboat ($12 per half-hour) not far from the zoo area on the South Pond. Swan boats also take off ($16 per half-hour) from a small pier by Cafe Brauer. Boat rentals are available from May to September. I was dying to try the two-seater swan-shaped paddleboat, but my teens said something like "wouldn't be caught dead in a swan," so I opted to play a game of tennis on one of the park's many courts.

Lincoln Park
2045 Lincoln Park West
(312) 742-7726

Willis Tower ("Sears Tower" to the locals)

I wasn't looking forward to visiting this famous Chicago attraction. Why wait in line to stand on a glass ledge 103 floors up and look down 1,353 feet? We did it anyway. My kids loved it and talked about it for days. I will now admit that it is one of the best Chicago family vacation ideas. Be advised that weekend waits can be 30-90 minutes. The Willis Tower ( is located on the Magnificent Mile.

Willis Tower
233 S. Wacker Drive
(312) 875-9696
Hours: April-September 9AM-10PM, October-March 10AM-8PM
Admission: $15.95 for adults 12 and up, $11 for youth 3-11, free for children under 3


Oak Street Beach

My kids were dying to go to Oak Street Beach and had worn bathing suits under their clothes and packed sunscreen. The beach is at the north point of the Magnificent Mile and, as you might imagine with an urban beach, it has quite an eclectic crowd. I don't recall actually seeing my kids swimming, just a lot of talking and gawking. This beach has potted palms scattered around, but look up and you can see the tall city buildings around you. It's a really unique sight.

I, however, had entrenched myself nearby at the Oak Street Beachstro. Located right on the sand, it has some of the city's best views. It's a tad pricey, $8 to $15 for a burger, but I was relaxing and didn't even care. I could see the kids from my seat, but I wasn't a total intrusion, which seemed like the perfect way to vacation with teens.

Oak Street Beachstro
Oak Street Beach
(312) 915-4100
Hours: Mon-Fri 11AM-10:30PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-10:30PM

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is just as it says it is, "fun for the whole family." There are a lot of things to do with teenagers and you could easily spend a whole day here. There are tons of unique stores and souvenir stands, restaurants galore, boat cruises, a giant Ferris wheel and our personal choice of excursion, an aero balloon ride.

For $25 (as long as you don't have a fear of heights), you can get an 8-10 minute ride (weather permitting) in a helium-filled balloon that carries 18 passengers. The balloon is 60 feet wide and rises about 350 feet above Lake Michigan. Lots of teens on this balloon didn't seem nervous at all. I can't say the same for myself.

Navy Pier
600 East Grand Avenue
(312) 5959-PIER
Hours: Vary; please see website for details

Millennium Park

Next, we headed over to Millennium Park to check out "The Bean," a giant 3-D mirror sculpture that reflects everything around it. It was really titled "Cloud Gate" by artist Anish Kapoor. The outstanding reflecting capabilities of the sculpture make for phenomenal pictures.

The Park (which starts at 201 E. Randolph at the welcome center) also has an interactive fountain called the "Crown Fountain" with two huge glass brick towers that face each other and water rippling down on faces of Chicagoans projected through the blocks. Water shoots out of their mouths at timed intervals. It is a fantastic, funny fountain.

This park is also home to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion that offers free summertime concerts.

I had a hard time pulling my kids away from the fountain, but I was getting hungry.

Millennium Park
201 East Randolph Street
(312) 742-1168
Welcome Center Hours: 10AM-4PM daily, 9AM-7PM daily in the summer


Park Grill

Because we were all so enamored with Millennium Park, we decided to eat at Park Grill, which is located at the entrance to the park. The views are outstanding and the burgers are too. It offers American fare with an extensive menu.

Park Grill
11 North Michigan Avenue
(312) 521-PARK
Hours: Mon-Thu 11AM-9:30PM, Fri 11AM-10:30PM, Sat 10AM-10:30PM, Sun 10AM-9:30PM

We also noticed a cafe next door where you can get picnic basket food to eat in the park.

Many of Chicago's family vacation attractions require a half-day or full day (such as the Museum of Science and Industry), so we couldn't fit them into our single-day trip. There are so many things to do in Chicago with teens any season of the year, and it doesn't need to be summer for them to have a good time. The Planetarium, The Shedd Aquarium, The Art Institute and the John Hancock Observatory are just a few of the many indoor opportunities.

So, did I keep up with my teens in Chicago? Pretty much, although I did manage to sit a lot more than they did.

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