Free, kid-friendly events around Chicago

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Cascade Drive-In Movie Theatre
The Cascade Drive-In is one of the few remaining drive-in movie theaters in the Chicago area. Visitors enjoy nightly double features, and the first (and sometimes second) feature is often geared toward families. Those "in the know" go early to get a good spot, and bring along games, Frisbees, balls and other diversions to keep the kids occupied while waiting for the sun go down and the movie to start. It's a fun part of the experience!

You can save money by bringing in your own food and drinks, and can even grill your own food using the onsite charcoal grill (bring your own charcoal) and picnic area. Sound is provided through in-car speakers or through your car's radio, and a full-service concession stand serves food, snacks and ice cream. Pets are welcome, so bring Fido along.

Where: 1100 E. North Avenue, West Chicago, IL
When: Open nightly throughout the summer; weekends in the fall.
Cost: Adults - $9.00
Children (ages 5 through 11) - $5.00
Children under 5 and pets are admitted free!
On Bargain Tuesdays, admission is just $14.00 per carload upon request
Ages: All ages

Lake Park-- Des Plaines Park District
On the shores of Lake Opeka, this beautiful 76 acre park offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities for all age groups, including: 18-Hole, Par 3 Lake Park Golf Course; Sailing/Paddle Boats; Fishing; Walking/Jogging Path; Sand Volleyball Courts; Picnic Grounds; and Nautical Themed Playground. The park is the site of a free, family-friendly entertainment series on select Wednesday and Thursday evenings in the summer called Live at the Lake, as well as free outdoor movies on select Friday nights. Boating is available at Lake Park for personal watercrafts and rentals of sailboats and paddle boats through the Lake Park Clubhouse. Fishing is another much-enjoyed sport.

Where: 2200 Lee Street, Des Plaines, IL
When: Open daily 8am - dusk
Cost: Free except for boat rentals and golfing
Ages: All ages

Centennial Beach & Naperville Riverwalk
Centennial Beach is a former quarry located in downtown Naperville near the west branch of the DuPage River. This popular beach encompasses almost six acres of fence-enclosed area and boasts:

  • Water play features that add an element of fun and provide children with a convenient place to fill their buckets and cool off
  • Shallow-end slide
  • A large sand beach next to the shallow end that is perfect for toddlers and sandcastle buffs
  • Clean, supervised bathhouses with showers and coin lockers
  • N.C.A.A./U.S.S.-approved diving complex
  • Playground equipment, and Frisbee area

The beach is located along Naperville's Riverwalk, which is a fun destination in itself, with covered bridges, fountains and beautiful landscaping. The Riverwalk is the site of many fairs, festivals and special events throughout the summer, and also hosts a free children's lunchtime entertainment series on most Tuesdays through July.

Where: 500 W. Jackson Avenue, Naperville, IL
When: Open daily through August 19; weekends August 25 – September 3
Cost: Daily fee is $6 for residents; $10 for non residents

Shoreline Water Taxi
Adults can sometimes forget that "getting there" is often half the fun for kids. Shoreline Water Taxis are a fun and unique way to reach some of Chicago's major sites like Navy Pier and the Museum Campus. Kids enjoy the excitement of riding in a boat, but the rides are not so long that kids get bored or whiny. Suburban families can double the fun by taking the train into the city, then hopping on the water taxi near Union Station. Often, the train ride and water taxi ride are plenty of excitement for younger children and you can simply head back home.

Please note that the water taxis are not wheelchair accessible and that some of the docks are not street level (such as Michigan Avenue, Wells/Wacker and Union Station), requiring passengers to climb stairs. This is a consideration for families with strollers, too.

Where: Docks at Union Station, Michigan Avenue Bridge, Navy Pier (Gateway Park and Dock Street) and Museum Campus
When: Shoreline Water Taxi service begins in May and runs through September with additional service throughout the fall and for special events.
Cost: Costs range from $4 - $7 for adults and $2 - $4 for children, depending on the route.
Ages: All ages

Free Summer Bowling for Kids
Many area bowling alleys offer free summer bowling programs for kids, and typically all you need to do is register to take advantage of this fun deal. The program we are featuring today is AMF's Summer Unplugged Program. Parents simply fill out an online registration form, and they receive coupons good for two free games of bowling per day per child 15 years old and younger. If parents, older siblings, or other adults would like to bowl with the children, a pass for $29.95 may be purchased, which is good for up to 4 adults (age 16+) to bowl 2 free games per day all summer.

Where: AMF has 5 Chicago area locations participating; other programs have many more
When: AMF program runs daily through September 3rd.
Cost: FREE
Ages: 15 and under for AMF's program.

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