Top 5 Chicago Museum Memberships for Kids
We hear it as early as Halloween....the grandparents already asking what your kids want for the holidays when all you can think about is gaggle of toys that has already taken over your house (and the amount of toys headed your way from aunts and uncles). Yeah, in my experience there's no way to really go toy-free, nor would you want to but there are some other GREAT gifts that grandparents can purchase that don't take up anymore space on your living room floor. As a self-admitted membership junkie, I'll give you the break down of the must-have Chicago memberships and why they're worth it.
This was probably the first and most important membership we purchased just before my son turned one. I had an early walker that was ready to break free from the confines of our condo/winter and explore with the best of them. I'd say this place is best for kiddos 1-7 but definitely skews a younger with plenty for the littles to do. The trick here is to pay for the "plus parking" (an extra $80) but then you've got free Navy Pier parking for the rest of the year. Cost w/parking for the year is $195. Seem steep but when you think about it, a family of four would normally cost $56 and even with the winter Navy Pier discounted parking ($19), one visit's gonna cost you $75. You go more than twice and it's paid for. Join on January 17th (NPN Family Day) and get $5-10 off depending on the membership you get. Throw the fact that it's a practically empty museum during members hours, this one's a no-brainer. Bring your own snacks (there are snack areas) unless you want to grab something at the NP food court. No food sold withing the museum (outside of one vending machine which does have some healthy options).
I know, I know....why would you get a membership for a free zoo? One word, parking (with a Safari Membership). Well, there are a couple of other reasons, like cafe/gift shop discounts plus members-only special events but zoo parking is a flat $20. For us, it made sense because we could use this parking to visit the Nature Museum, North Ave beach, RJ Grunt's, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Green City Market as well as the zoo. If there was a toddler meltdown, we could just leave and not worry about the $20 we wasted on parking. And, you won't have to worry about driving up and down Stockton for 30 minutes searching for a spot. During the summer we'd go to something in that area at least once per week. If you really want to get your money's worth, go 8 times and your parking's paid for. If your child is in elementary school, you'll also have the benefit of summer camp priority (super competitive). I'd say this membership is great for kids of all ages. Wide variety of food in the food court but not a ton that's super healthy.
MSI is our jam right now. We have a 2.75 year old with a major train obsession and there's no better place to get his fix. That said, their toddler zone (The Idea Factory) is pretty much amazing and will thoroughly entertain any child under 5. Of course, parking is another major consideration in purchasing a membership as it's $20 flat rate each visit without a membership (Household $155). The great news is that the garage is attached (perfect for a polar vortex) to the building. The food court is amazing and FULL of healthy options and let's not forget that this place is HUGE. Plenty of space to roam and burn off energy before an afternoon nap. Membership gives you a few add-ons too (free Omnimax tickets and a grandparent option). This museum has really seen a lot of fantastic upgrades in the last decade. The drive to Hyde Park is typically further than anywhere else I'd travel from the North Side but Lake Shore Drive makes is easy and under 15 mins (from Fullerton). Join us for NPN Family Day in March where memberships will be discounted.
Man, this is not the Adler of yesteryear. This place has made the most changes since I was a kid and for good reasons. It is now SUPER toddler-friendly with their planet explorers playspace (an enclosed area with tons of hands-on activities) and One World, One Sky: Big Bird's Adventure show. They also offer Astro-Overnights for kids 6-10 where families can enjoy hands-on activities, amazing sky shows, telescope observing, light refreshments, and a continental breakfast. Sounds like so much fun! Does anyone have a 6-10 year old I can borrow? If YOU want to take advantage of Adler without without your kiddos, consider checking out their Sun Salutations Yoga or Adler After Dark. If you get their early (like when they open) metered street parking isn't a problem at all. A 1-year Family Plus membership will run you $189 but they throw in show tickets, discounts on cafe/gift shop purchases as well as on birthday parties. Mark your calendar for NPN Free Day on 2/28.
From beluga calves and penguin chicks to tiny tadpoles and a new sea otter pup, Shedd Aquarium knows about families! There is so much for the family to do. There are 32,000 amazing animals, you can talk to divers as they feed the fishes and reach out and touch a sturgeon or a stingray! This museum is super toddler-friendly, has great food (legit Starbucks for mom) and a great area for the kiddos to run around while pretending to be a penguin (Polar Play Zone). If you've got an early, this is the membership for you. The Shedd opens at 9am. Get there early for affordable metered street parking. The Aquatic Show is a must-see with dolphins, beluga whales and even a rescue dog. Your aquatic show tickets are included in a membership and can be reserved before you even arrive at the aquarium. A membership is $195 and covers entry to all exhibits, discounts within the museum as well as recipricol benefits at aquariums and zoos around the country. Regular tickets with this access will set you back about $125 (for a family of four) so pick up a membership, use it twice and it's paid for.