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  • Writer's pictureErin Schoen Marsh

Best Chicago Family Friendly Attractions: A Tourist's Guide 

A young blonde girl, age 8, with a hat sits on the Chicago Skywalk
My daughter, age 8, sits on the Chicago Skywalk

My husband and I have been to Chicago many times, but our children had never been, so with a long weekend at our disposal, we decided to hop in the car for the short 4-hour drive to the Windy City. 

Alex, my husband, has a tendency to want to conquer every city he enters. This means visiting every landmark, museum, zoo, aquarium – anything of significance. For this reason, our kids, ten and eight years old, are veteran travelers and have no qualms about walking, but in Chicago, this is a daunting task because there is no shortage of museums and attractions (and Alex must peruse every hallway – God forbid we leave a sight unseen!).

So we purchased the Chicago CityPASS, which includes admission to five family friendly attractions for $134 per adult and $104 per child (ages 3-11). We chose the Shedd Aquarium, Skydeck Chicago, Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago and Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour.  

A dad and his daughter pose for a photo on the Ferris Wheel on Chicago's Navy Pier
Alex and daughter enjoy a ride on the Ferris Wheel on Chicago's Navy Pier (you can't tell he's terrified of heights!)

We had two days to cram in all of this sightseeing – plus the Navy Pier, Ferris Wheel and the Chicago Bean. Why would I ever agree to this cockamamie plan? My fatal flaw is getting a good deal, and the more sights we visited, the more we “saved” ostensibly. The CityPASS preyed on my husband’s need to cram in every activity and my love of a good sale. 

The CityPASS is worth every penny if you visit at least four Chicago attractions. An adult ticket to Shedd Aquarium is $35-$42, Skydeck is $32-$37, Field Museum is $30, Art Institute is $32 and River Tour starts at $47. Since we visited Chicago on the weekend when ticket prices are highest, we would have paid $188 for one adult at those five places, rather than $134 with the CityPASS. So with four of us, we saved quite a sum. Plus it makes for a great Chicago review! 

Below are our five family friendly Chicago attractions in order of favorite to least favorite. 

A young girl and boy, both wearing hats, jump in the air in Chicago's Skydeck
Getting over a fear of heights and jumping on the Skydeck!

  1. Skydeck Chicago 

The Skydeck Chicago is super touristy, the lines are long and you are up there for less than a minute (literally – they time you), but it is honestly worth it. It was one of the kids’ favorite experiences – as you can see by their faces – and not something available in many cities. It also allowed my son, who is terrified of heights, to face his fears and step out onto the Skydeck, which was empowering for him. He was so proud of himself. 

Deaf Friendly? Everything was done with verbal cues, so I was completely dependent on my hearing husband. 

A dad and his son pose on the balconey of the Field Museum with dinosaur skeletons in the background.
Alex and son pose at the Field Museum with the dinos

  1. Field Museum 

The Field Museum was our family favorite as far as Chicago museums, but it is HUGE. In hindsight, we wish we had started with this museum and hit it in the morning when we had more energy. We would have also researched the exhibits prior to visiting the Field Museum so we could have spent our energy on what interested us the most. As I mentioned, Alex typically wants to see everything, so that was our plan, but that’s just not possible at the Field Museum – it’s too big. We got about halfway through and then realized we wasted our time on displays that were of minimal interest to us and missed exhibits that would have captivated us. So learn from our mistake and do your groundwork ahead of time.  

Deaf Friendly? When I used my cell to ask for closed caption devices, the young man got to it right away. The caption devices also had stands instead of those awkward cup holders, which made it easier to set up and adjust. The exhibit videos also had open captions (as far as I noticed). A+ for Deaf accessibility! 

  1. Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour

The Architecture River Tour was one of the highlights of the trip for me and Alex. I loved being on the water with the buildings towering over me, and learning about the history of Chicago was an added bonus. This is an absolute must-do in my opinion. Our guide was incredibly informative and, albeit, a bit cheesy at times, but he made us laugh. Our eight year old, who is not as much of a history buff as our ten year old, did start to lose interest the last 20-30 minutes, but she managed to hold on for the last leg of the tour. There were a handful of younger kids on the boat, but I’d say a mature eight is probably the youngest that could handle that duration of lecturing. 

Deaf friendly? We anticipated that we would have a hard time understanding our speaker, and so my daughter and I brought our mics/receivers to clip onto the speaker, but he had a mic and PA system that amplified his voice for the entire boat. We also sat up front so we had access to his face for speechreading, and since he was connected to the mic, he didn’t move around, which meant we understood most of what he said. A+ for hard of hearing! Fully deaf would need an ASL interpreter or to use a phone for transcription (he was clear enough that the phone would properly transcribe). 

A young girl points to a piece of art. It is a mostly blue painting, done in large dots, with a rectangular shape made of red, orange and yellow in the upper right corner.
  1. Art Institute of Chicago 

The Art Institute of Chicago is housed in a grand and beautiful building with many famous and impressive pieces. It’s definitely worth a visit. However, we have a pretty amazing art museum in our hometown, The Toledo Museum of Art, so while we were impressed, we are accustomed to some pretty spectacular art museums.

Deaf friendly? The beauty of art is that you don’t need to hear to appreciate it! However, the tellers wore face masks and had plastic blocking them. When I used my transcription device on my phone to understand her, the woman stopped talking to me and instead spoke to my hearing husband. 

  1. The Shedd Aquarium 

Everyone raves about Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but this was our least favorite experience. The dolphins and the beluga whales are undeniably amazing, but outside of that, it’s full of underwhelming aquariums on display. Certainly not worth the hefty ticket price of $41/adult and $31/child on the weekend. Shedd Aquarium cannot hold a candle to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto (review coming shortly). Shoot, even our aquarium section at the Toledo Zoo beats Shedd overall. If we had spent full price on the tickets ($140+) and it hadn’t been included as part of the CityPASS, I would have been livid (see above about me being somewhat cheap, haha). 

Deaf friendly? When we attempted to watch the 3D movie at Shedd Aquarium, we were told they only had one working closed caption device. The young woman kept talking to me with her face mask on, despite the fact that I told her I was Deaf and couldn’t understand her. At one point she asked if my daughter and I “could just share” the one working closed caption device (which is impossible as they have screens to prevent others from seeing the words). They then made us awkwardly wait while they tried to find a working second machine and we missed the first part of the movie. 

Rapid Review: 

  1. Weather: Typical Midwestern weather – cold and windy in November 

  2. Hotel: Embassy Suites by Hilton Chicago Magnificent Mile

  3. Rooms: Suite with two double beds and sleeper sofa (hearing accessible available)

  4. Activity: Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture River Tour

  5. Must see: Navy Pier + Ferris Wheel and the Chicago Bean

  6. Must do: Skydeck Chicago

  7. Favorite casual restaurant: Nando’s Peri-Peri Streeterville

  8. Favorite fancier restaurant with kids menu: Beatrix Streeterville

  9. Favorite breakfast: Yolk (near Ferris Wheel) 

  10. Best time to go: Spring or early fall (avoid cold or hot weather) 

Mom and daughter, who is wearing a hat, pose with the Chicago River in the background. The buildings are blurry in the background.
Posing along the Chicago River on our way to the Navy Pier.


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