Chicago Experience gifts might be my favorite type of gift for everyone, but especially for my kids! There’s no difficult packaging to open, I don’t have to figure out where I’m going to store it, and we get to make awesome family memories! My mom gifts us with a membership to the Lincoln Park Zoo every year, and it’s such a blessing. Here’s my list of the best Chicago Experience gifts for kids in 2023!
WhirlyBall (7 and up)
We loved Whirlyball! There is a bowling alley, laser tag and arcade games. You could spend most of the day there! Also great spot for a kids birthday party! There is a height requirement to play Whirlyball, so I would check before you go. You can see my experience here!
Jack Frost Pop Up (5 and up!)
With a new location this year in Fulton Market, it’s cute for the kids! Kids can go ice skating and Santa was there when I was there on a Friday night. Drive bumper cars (there’s a height limit for this) and the older kids can take photos, grab festive non-alcoholic drinks, etc. For the adults, there’s drinks, ax throwing and more. I love the city backdrop this year too. They are also open on Christmas Day! It’s all outside, so dress warm 🙂
FORT! At Filament Theatre (5 to 12 years old)
We did this last year and the kids loved it! This is a small theatre in Portage Park that turns their stage into a living room. Kids use their imagination to build a fort of their dreams! You can see my reel here. There is a Jelly Bean store across the street to also take them after for another snack or dinner at Community Tavern!
Afternoon Tea at American Girl – 5 to 10 years old
The ultimate experience gift! Spending time at the American Girl store at the Water Tower Place location is always magical. Not only is there a retail shop, but there’s also a salon, dining room, and an interactive historical exhibit. If your girl already has a doll, she can bring it with her and there will be doll-sized chairs for your table, doll hair styling and manicures, and even a holder for your doll in each bathroom stall! So smart! It looks like their Afternoon Tea Time has some spots in November and January, but there are still plenty of dining options in December. Book your reservations here. P.S. If you’re traveling from out of town or want to make a weekend of it, several Chicago hotels offer American Girl packages, like Westin Michigan Avenue.
American Girl LIVE!
Speaking of American Girl, you can see some of your favorite characters come alive on December 16th at the Copernicus Center in Jefferson Park! Find tickets here!
Color Factory – 4 to 15 years old (lots of photo opps for the older kids!)
The Color Factory immersive art experience in the Willis Tower is fantastic! I took my 6-year-old son when they opened and have been back twice already! They will have a Winter Colorland theme and it’s cute! Highly recommend it!
The Immersive Nutcracker: A Winter Miracle (6/7-16 years old)
Another new immersive exhibit for older kids this holiday is the Nutcracker Immersive, by the same company who produced the Immersive Van Gogh. It’s at the Lighthouse Artspace which is a gorgeous event space – I love their cafe lounge. The kids will be able to dance and explore the space while the iconic Nutcracker music plays and scenes from the ballet are projected from ceiling to floor. The exhibit opens November 19 and tickets can be bought individually or in a discounted family pack. Buy your tickets here before they sell out!
Winterland at Gallagher Way (3 and up)
In its second year now, it’s even better than the year prior. More rides, carnival games, Santa visits, live music in the Lodge and more! I recommend going early and avoiding weekends if you can, it does get busy, but the kids LOVE IT! Their Chalets are also great if you have a families together!
2 Nutcracker Performances (wide range of age depending on which performance)
There are quite a few Nutcracker ballets performed throughout Chicagoland, but two stand-outs are by the Joffrey Ballet and Ballet Chicago. The Joffrey performs throughout December at the beautiful Lyric Opera House. Currently, there is a deal from Groupon for the Joffrey performance.
Blue Man Group (8-18 years old)
The Blue Man Group show (spectacle!) is always a crowd pleaser! Best for ages 8+, the performers are so funny and talented. This is a great memory maker! You can even call the theatre ahead of time if you are celebrating something special and they will announce it on their stage projections before the show. If you want to eat while you’re in the area, I recommend the super fun 2D cafe before or after the show! They are also currently on Groupon too!
Cooking Classes (age depends on the class)
Whatever your kid is into, I bet there is a class in Chicago to help them explore it! We love Schoolhouse Cooking Class in Wicker Park, Portage Park or River Forest and the new (and super-adorable) Bettie’s Chicago has a few kids cookie decorating workshops. The Chopping Block has a teen winter camp that looks super fun, too!
Zoo and Museum Memberships (all ages!)
There are so many great museums in Chicago and having a membership makes life so much easier! We love having a Lincoln Park Zoo membership for the free parking, advance ticket purchase, and discounts! I like to pair these gifts with something my kids can open, like a dinosaur toy with the Field, a telescope with Adler, or art supplies with the Art Institute! Our favorites are:
Get Moving (and tire them out) Memberships (3 and up)
Staycation at Loews Chicago Hotel (all ages!)
Loews Chicago has the cutest package called GingerBed + Breakfast. This special staycation includes a spacious room, a tent for the kids, books to check-out from their Holiday Bedtime Story Cart, hot cocoa, an in-room movie, daily $50 breakfast credit and a gingerbread cookie decoration kit, and valet parking for one car per night.
I hope this gave you some ideas for Chicago experience gifts! Always be sure to check Groupon for deals and steals! If you need other Chicago themed gift ideas, head to this post for more!