15 Things to Do in Chicago with Teens: Cool Spots and Fun Activities

Our family in the Willis Tower by the Chicago sign

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Exploring Chicago with teenagers can be an adventure filled with diverse attractions that cater to a variety of interests. Whether they’re into thrilling amusement rides, interactive museums, or exploring the great outdoors, the “Windy City” offers an impressive lineup of activities. Picture yourself taking in the skyline from the top of a skyscraper one moment and cheering at a sports game the next.

15 Things to Do in Chicago with Teens: Cool Spots and Fun Activities

During the summer months, the city comes alive with vibrant festivals in Grant Park, such as Lollapalooza, the Taste of Chicago, and JazzFest. When winter descends, trading your walking shoes for ice skates at Millennium Park could be the highlight of your family trip. For those who seek the thrill of roller coasters, Six Flags Great America is a short drive away, promising a day packed with excitement.

And it’s not just about the adrenaline rush. Downtown Chicago’s cultural scene showcases a wealth of discoveries, from the renowned Art Institute to the immersive field trips at the Museum of Science and Industry. No matter your interests, Chicago has a rich palette of experiences awaiting teenagers and the young at heart.

Tips for Traveling With Teens

When you’re hitting the lively city of Chicago with your teens, keeping a few tips in mind can make your trip enjoyable for the whole family.

  • Be Inclusive: Get your teens involved in the planning process. This can be as simple as asking them what they’d like to do from a list of Chicago attractions or having them choose between visiting the Skydeck or the Adler Planetarium.
  • Stay Flexible: While it’s great to have a plan, teenagers often change their minds. Allow some flexibility in your schedule to accommodate any last-minute switches.
  • Balance Activities: Combine educational spots with fun activities. After a morning at a museum, maybe hit an amusement park like Six Flags Great America in the afternoon.
  • Allow Downtime: Everyone can get overwhelmed with a packed itinerary, especially teens. Make sure there’s time to relax at your hotel or a local café.
  • Encourage Exploration: Chicago is known for its neighborhoods. Let your teen pick an area to explore, which can lead to authentic experiences and unexpected discoveries.
  • Account for Budget: Discuss your budget with your teens. Perhaps give them a daily allowance to help them learn to manage their spending and decide on their must-dos.
Teens love stuffy's too

Remember, the key to a successful trip is making it enjoyable for all. Listen to your teens, and you might find they have great ideas that’ll enhance your Chicago adventure.

Snap a Selfie at The Bean

So, this is what started it all for us – our teen was taking a college semester in Norway and texted us asking to pay homage to the Chicago Bean.

From Norway.

Yes, I am still laughing about that but The Bean is one of dozens of cool things to do in Chicago with a teen. This is actually what started the conversation with Choose Chicago to help plan our hosted visit.

We did make sure to visit this particular one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, The Bean. While kind of roped off for construction in the area, we made it work.

Snap a Selfie at The Bean

Officially known as Cloud Gate, this massive, stainless-steel sculpture shines in Millennium Park. It’s not just art; it’s a mirror to the city’s skyline, an invitation to see Chicago in a unique curve.

  • Location: Millennium Park
  • Best time for photos: Morning light for fewer crowds; sunset for dramatic skies

Here’s how to get that perfect shot:

  1. Start at a distance to capture the full reflection of the skyline.
  2. Move in close for that surreal, distorting effect.
  3. Find the angle that puts a twinkle on the cityscape behind you.
  4. Play with perspective—pretend to hold The Bean, or get underneath it for a cool, vortex-like image.

Remember, touch-ups and filters can wait. Relish the live view and the chance to grab a family-pic-turned-keepsake. Post your shots with fun hashtags! #ChicagoBean #BeanThereDoneThat

Lastly, laugh at the inevitable photobombs. It’s all part of the charm of this buzzing tourist hotspot. So, get your phone or camera ready for an unforgettable selfie at The Bean.

Grab Pizza at Gino’s East

When you’re exploring the Windy City with your teens, make sure to grab a slice at Gino’s East. This iconic pizzeria in the former printing district has been serving up deep-dish delights since 1966. Your taste buds will thank you when they sink into the gooey cheese, rich sauce, and buttery crust that Chicago’s famous for.

Gino's East Deep Dish Pizza

The secret to this iconic pie? A special dough recipe by the talented Alice Mae Redmond, who spent 29 years perfecting the pies that made Gino’s famous.

The vibe of this location is totally different than the other Gino’s…no graffiti on the walls but amazing exposed brick, rustic beams, and Edison-style drop lights that all house vintage subway-tile-top tables and more.

breadsticks, cheese sticks, and dips at Gino's East
Sticks and Dip!

Here’s what to expect:

  • Famous Deep Dish: The cheese stretches for what seems like miles, and the toppings are generous. Must-try is the MEATY LEGEND pie (Pepperoni, Italian sausage, Canadian Bacon, and delectable bacon)—the crispy edges are to die for!
  • Get the Sampler: Maybe it is a Wisconsin thing, but who could say “no” to a variety of different hand-breaded cheese sticks and multiple sauces? Sticks and Dip – trust me.
  • Go Green: DEFINITELY get the Brussels- they are almost life-changing!

Pro Tips:

  • Arrive Early: The place can get crowded, so beating the rush ensures you don’t have to wait too long.
  • Savor the Wait: It takes time to bake the perfect deep dish. Relish the anticipation—it’s part of the experience!
  • Cater to Your Clan: Not everyone’s a deep-dish devotee. Thin crust options are available for those craving something a bit less doughy.
Amazing Brussel spouts at Gino's East

Chow down, chat and chill at Gino’s East—where every pizza is a mouthwatering work of art, tailored to your liking. Don’t forget the napkins, it’s going to get deliciously messy!

Gino’s East – South Loop: 521 S Dearborn St, Chicago

Have Fun at the Museum of Illusions

When you’re exploring Chicago with your teenagers and looking for something out of the ordinary, the Museum of Illusions Chicago promises a unique adventure. Located at 25 E. Washington Street, this place is known for its mind-bending experiences that’ll have you questioning reality.

Family fun at the Museum of Illusions

Exhibits to Check Out:

  • Optical Illusions: Walls seemingly vanish and solid floors turn into abysses right under your feet.
  • Holograms: Images that pop out and feel alive will fascinate your tech-savvy teens.
  • Immersive Rooms: These spaces cleverly play with perspective, allowing for some awesome and shareable photo ops.

Pro Tips:

  • Comfortable shoes: You’ll be walking through different exhibits.
  • Camera Ready: Charge your phones for some unique snapshots.
  • Open Mind: Keep an open mind to fully enjoy the illusions.

Your visit will blur the line between science and magic as each exhibit combines visual trickery with educational elements. Whether it’s posing upside down in a room that defies gravity or scratching your head at impossible objects, the Museum of Illusions offers more than 80 experiences that are as engaging as they are Instagram-worthy.

Museum of Illusions photo op

Every corner holds a surprise, and the photo ops are endless!

What we loved:

  • The friendly staff
  • The interactive photo opportunities
  • The way to look at things we have experienced before, but in a different way

If you’ve got curious kids who love a good brain teaser, this spot will not disappoint.

Museum of Illusions

Museum of Illusions Chicago: 25 E Washington St, Chicago

Dine at the Lockwood in the Palmer House Hilton

While you’re exploring Chicago with your teens, make sure to grab a bite at the Lockwood Restaurant inside the Palmer House Hilton. This isn’t just any hotel eatery; it’s a slice of Chicago history, infused with modern cuisine that everyone will love. The Palmer House is also the longest continually operating hotel in Chi-Town.

Lockwood menu and cocktail

Now, before you complain about taking a teen to a fancy restaurant…taking teens to fancy restaurants can be a valuable experience for several reasons:

  • First, it exposes them to new culinary experiences, expanding their palate and appreciation for different cuisines.
  • It also teaches them important social skills, such as proper table manners and etiquette, which are valuable for future social and professional situations.
  • Additionally, dining at fancy restaurants provides an opportunity for teens to learn about the art of fine dining and how to navigate upscale environments, preparing them for future occasions when they may need to dine in similar settings.
  • Lastly, it can be a memorable and enjoyable way for families to celebrate special occasions or simply spend quality time together in a sophisticated atmosphere.
Penne with vodka sauce and grilled chicken at Lockwood

Our teen is STILL raving about the pasta dish they had. Penne with vodka sauce and grilled chicken for the win!

  • Breakfast: Kickstart your day from 6:30 am – 11 am
    • Enjoy classics like pancakes and eggs, or try something new!
  • Lunch: From 11:00 am – 4:00 pm, it’s all about fresh burgers, sandwiches, and salads that will fuel your city adventures.
  • Dinner: 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm is when Lockwood really shines. Treat yourselves to a range of delicious dishes crafted to impress.
The perfect steak dinner at the Lockwood Restaurant

Don’t miss out on the Palmer House brownie at Lockwood Express—it’s a chocolaty invention born right here in the hotel’s pastry kitchen.

Remember to visit the Lockwood Bar for a casual drink. With hours from 11 am to 11 pm, it’s the perfect spot to unwind and recap your day’s experiences in the city – they their legendary brownie old fashioned.

Make sure to cherish the historic ambiance of the Palmer House as you dine; it’s not just a hotel, it’s an iconic piece of the Windy City’s story, right there with your shared family memories.

Lockwood Restaurant & Bar: 17 E Monroe St, Chicago

Play WhirlyBall

We had never heard of this and it was so much fun that our sides hurt from laughing still two days later.

WhirlyBall catching tool

WhirlyBall is essentially a mash-up of sports, combining elements of lacrosse, hockey, basketball, and a hint of bumper cars for good measure. It’s the perfect group activity to enjoy with your teenage crew when you’re in Chicago.

How It Works: It’s easy to get the hang of WhirlyBall. You’re seated in a bumper car called a WhirlyBug, and you’ll use a Jai-Alai style scoop to pass a ball to your teammates, aiming to score points by getting it into a goal.

Be assured that you don’t have to be an athlete to excel at this game. It’s all about having a blast and enjoying the competition without the stress of running on a field or court.

Location: Head to WhirlyBall Chicago to make your reservation. They offer a place to eat and drink as well, making it a perfect spot to chill before or after the game. Seriously, try the pizza, wings, or quesadillas!

Hard at playing WhirlyBall in Chicago

Pro Tips:

  • Phone First: Call ahead and make sure to check availability, especially if you’re planning to go on a weekend or holiday when it can get pretty busy.
  • Make a Day Out of it: You may want to book a game of laser tag while you are there also!

So, jump into your WhirlyBug and see if you can become the next champion of Chicago’s favorite sedentary sport!

WhirlyBall: 1825 W Webster Ave, Chicago

Eat Your Way Through the Museum of Ice Cream

Talk about a sweet dream come true! When you’re in Chicago with your teens, swing by the Museum of Ice Cream for a tasty treat that’s as fun to look at as it is to eat! Imagine a playground but with a sweet twist – each room is a dive into a new flavor or dessert concept that your taste buds will thank you for.

game at the museum of ice

There is nothing like stepping into an ice cream wonderland with 14 magical installations, including a ride on the pink Sprink-L line and a dip in a pool filled with millions of sprinkles.

First Stop: The Entrance
Step through the iconic pink door on Pioneer Plaza and kickstart your journey by dreaming up a creative ice cream name that goes on your sprinkle name tag. It’s like entering a new sugary dimension!

What’s Inside:

  • Unlimited Ice Cream: That’s right, eat ice cream to your heart’s content!
  • Exclusive Treats: Ever heard of an ice cream hot dog? Get ready for a surprise.
  • Interactive Fun: Play dessert-themed putt-putt golf or make a splash in the sprinkle pool.
giant animal circus cookie at the museum of ice cream

Memories and Instagram: Each exhibit isn’t just a feast for your stomach but also for your eyes. Every corner you turn is a new photo op – it’s the perfect place to snap pics that’ll make your friends crave a visit too.

Pro Tip: Get the VIP Experience and use your token for cool craft cocktails and mocktails! (Ask for Soup!) I had a “Cold Fashioned” and the teen went with a “Bubblegummer” mocktail.

Just remember, the Museum isn’t only about eating. It’s a place to reconnect with family and laugh over the shared joy of a sundae or cone. So, grab a spoon, strike a pose, and dig in at one of the sweetest spots in Chi-town.

Soup at the Museum of Ice Cream

Museum of Ice Cream: 435 N Michigan Ave suite G, Chicago

Take a Chicago Architecture Center River Cruise

If you’re exploring Chicago with teens, add a splash of excitement with a Chicago River architecture boat tour. You’ll glide past towering skyscrapers and get unique views of the city’s famous architectural landmarks.

  • The Experience That Gives Back: Your ticket isn’t just a pass to enjoy the scenery; it’s an investment in the future. Funds raised from these cruises fuel programs like Teen Saturday Studio and Girls Build, initiatives dedicated to nurturing the next generation’s passion for design. As someone who values companies that give back, this aspect resonates deeply with us.
  • Learn Fascinating Facts: Expert guides will share stories behind the buildings that shape Chicago’s skyline, from historical to contemporary designs. From obscure historical tidbits like the Jewelers Exchange Building’s car elevator in the 1920s to quirky facts like Chicago’s former moniker as “The Land of Wild Onions,” every moment is an education. My brain feels like it’s on overdrive, absorbing these fascinating insights.
  • Snap Insta-Worthy Pics: Get your phone ready, because you’ll want to capture the up-close views of iconic structures from the water. As the boat glides along the river, every turn offers breathtaking views of the city’s skyline, showcasing the masterpieces of architectural ingenuity.
Chicago architecture tour

What to Expect

  • Indoor & Outdoor Seating: Choose based on the weather or your preference.
  • Food & Beverages: Some tours offer locally sourced snacks to enjoy on your journey.
  • Engaging Guides: Their expertise adds depth to what you’re seeing. Seriously, we never saw her reference any notes!

CAC River Cruise: 112 E Wacker Dr, Chicago – We were on the First Lady

Experience the Color Factory With 5 Senses

When you step into the Color Factory Chicago (located in the iconic Willis Tower), you’re not just walking into another art exhibit; you’re immersing yourself in a world where every color tells a story and every room offers a new adventure. Spanning 14 unique installations, this interactive art museum is designed to evoke all five of your senses.

Sight: Prepare for a visual feast of hues as you wander rooms that radiate with vibrant colors. From dreamy pastels to neon brights, each space presents a photographic playground.

Touch: Textures come alive here. Brush your hands through a sea of vibrant balls in the ball pit or trace your fingers along walls infused with unexpected materials.

having a ball in Chicago at the Color Factory

Taste: Yes, you get to taste the rainbow too! Sample colorful treats that pop not just with flavor but with eye-catching colors.

Smell: Each area enlivens with its distinct fragrance, enhancing the sense of immersion, and transforming mere observation into an experience you can virtually breathe in.

Sound: Surrounding you are the sounds that complement the chromatic journey—whispers of music and the subtle backdrop of Chicago itself become part of the canvas.

baby ice cream at the color factory

Remember, this is your chance to play, to snap that perfect Instagram shot, and to reconnect with the whimsy of colors. Whether you’re celebrating something special or just looking to add a splash of color to your day, the Color Factory is your ticket to joy—especially with teens in tow. Get ready to engage with color in a way you never thought possible!

Color Factory Chicago: 320 W Jackson Blvd Lower Level 2, Chicago

Get a City Pass

When exploring Chicago with teens, a cost-effective way to see some of the best attractions is to snag a Chicago CityPASS. It offers significant savings and grants you access to a lot of attractions throughout the city. These are the ones we hit with this visit:

Shedd Aquarium hands on fun

Learn at the Shedd Aquarium

At the Shedd Aquarium, dive into the underwater world and discover a variety of aquatic animals. Your pass gets you in to witness the marvels of marine life!

From the mesmerizing jellyfish to the playful penguins, there’s something for everyone. Where else can you watch a video about penguins and then go see them live? Yes, please!

Shedd Aquarium: 1200 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr, Chicago

Get Scientific at the Museum of Science and Industry

You’ll get hands-on with science at the Museum of Science and Industry, where interactive exhibits are designed to spark your curiosity and immerse you in a world of innovation.

It is a Zephyr in Chicago

I loved the fact that the Effie Dean car from the Zephyr train is in Wisconsin with the Mark Twain Zephyr at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad.

Museum of Science and Industry: 5700 S DuSable Lake Shore Dr, Chicago

Visit the Art Institute of Chicago

Art aficionados will appreciate the chance to stroll through the Art Institute of Chicago, home to thousands of artworks spanning centuries. Your pass includes entry, making it easier to inspire your creative side.

ancient art at the art institute of chicago

Check out the current film and video exhibits – get the commentary from your teen. Ours also enjoyed the Impressionists.

Art Institute of Chicago: 111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago

Check Out the View from Willis Tower Skydeck

For a breathtaking view of the city and beyond, ascend to the Willis Tower Skydeck. Here, you can step onto the glass ledge—if you dare—and look down on the bustling city streets below.

Our family in the Willis Tower by the Chicago sign
This makes for a fun family photo

Pro Tip: the interactive exhibits are like a mini Chicago museum!! Skip the expedited line and have a ton of fun!

Skydeck Chicago: 233 S Wacker Dr, Chicago

Ride the Centennial Wheel

When you’re in Chicago with your teens, a must-do is the Centennial Wheel. It’s not just any Ferris wheel; it’s an iconic part of the city’s skyline at Navy Pier, offering breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and downtown.

Height & Comfort: Standing 200 feet tall, each enclosed gondola is climate-controlled, so you can enjoy the ride, rain or shine, hot or cold.

The big wheel in Chicago
  • Duration: The ride lasts about 15 minutes, giving you ample time to snap those Insta-worthy photos of the panoramic vistas.
  • Lighting: At night, the wheel lights up offering a whole new experience.

From the top, you’ll spot numerous city landmarks, and on a clear day, you can see for miles. It’s a thrill that combines sightseeing with a touch of amusement. Make sure your phone’s charged; you’ll want to remember this view!

Centennial Wheel: Floor 1, Navy Pier, Chicago

Get a Burger at Kindling

When you’re roaming around Chicago with your hungry teens in tow, treat yourselves to a scrumptious burger at Kindling. Nestled in the heart of the city, this spot is a favorite for locals and tourists alike, serving up flame-grilled goodness that will satisfy even the pickiest eaters.

Burger at Kindling

Menu Favorites:

  • The Classic: A must-try with its juicy patty and classic toppings.
  • The Innovator: Get adventurous with unique toppings that change regularly.
  • Veggie Delight: Keeping it green? Their veggie burgers are to die for! (According to the next table over)
killer elote at Chicago's Kindling restaurant

Pro Tips:

  • Get there early: Kindling can get busy, especially on weekends.
  • Get the Elote: Seriously. Amazing.
  • Customize: Don’t be shy to ask for your burger just the way you like it.

Prices are reasonable, and the vibe is laid-back—perfect for a family lunch or a casual dinner after exploring the city. Enjoy a relaxed atmosphere where you can just kick back and savor your meal.

Kindling Chicago

Kindling: 202 S Franklin St, Chicago

Have Lunch at Beatrix – River North

If you’re exploring Chicago with your teenagers and hunger strikes around midday, consider stopping at Beatrix for lunch. This neighborhood restaurant and coffeehouse is a great spot for a family meal that will satisfy a range of tastes.

hummus at Beatrix

I thought it a perfect blend of a neighborhood restaurant where you can have conversations over everything from coffee to cocktails and love the eclectic and energetic vibe it has going on.

The menu is a delicious mix of healthy specials, and their in-house bakery and coffee bar are not to be missed. You’ll find a mix of comfort food and healthy options to keep everyone in the family happy. We loved the hummus plate! With warm pita bread and a colorful array of veggies to dip we had a perfect starter.

The teen raved about the Prime Burger.

Allergy friendly plate label
  • Allergies/Dietary Restrictions: We loved that they accommodate a range of dietary restrictions with menu items marked for gluten-free and vegetarian options, so no one’s left out.

When you dine at Beatrix, you’re set for a culinary experience that’ll please your palate while keeping the meal fun for your teens. Remember to savor a cup of their artisanal coffee—perfect for a pick-me-up before you continue your Chicago adventures.

Beatrix – River North: 519 N Clark St, Chicago

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Final Thoughts

Exploring Chicago with your teens can be an exhilarating experience that balances both education and fun. Remember, Chicago’s diverse activities cater to teens with various interests—whether it’s art, science, heights, or high-speed coasters, the city has it all to make your trip memorable.

Yes, we are starting to plan our next visit!

Frequently Asked Questions

Navigating the bustling cityscape of Chicago with teens can be an adventure. Let’s tackle some common questions to bring a bevy of options right to your fingertips.

What are the top attractions for teenagers in Chicago?

For a blend of cultural intrigue and picturesque views, teens love experiencing the Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel, stretching into Lake Michigan with a host of attractions.

Any suggestions for unique birthday celebration spots for a 16-year-old in Chicago?

For a birthday that hits all the right notes, consider booking an escape room experience downtown or taking a group to the Adler Planetarium for a night under the stars.

What are some cool hangouts for young adults in downtown Chicago?

Downtown Chicago is rich with hip cafes and interactive museums. Places like the Art Institute of Chicago or the vibrant scene at Grant Park are popular spots to chill and soak up the city vibe.

Can you recommend any fun weekend activities for teens in Chicago?

From ice skating in Millennium Park during winter to attending popular festivals like Lollapalooza in the summer, Chicago is teeming with fun weekend activities for teens to enjoy all year round.

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