Chicago family trip on a budget

My family visits Chicago at least once a year. It is only 3.5 hours away and is so different from what we are used to. We live in a smaller city in Michigan so all of the glitz and glamor of a large city’s skyscrapers  always makes for an exciting time. My husband and I have gone for an adults only weekend and my entire family has gone as well. Each time is great. Here are some fun, budget friendly ideas for your next Chicago vacation.

Take the train into the city

We live about 2 hours away from Michigan City which is where we like to pick up the train to  Chicago. We like to use South Shore Line. You are able to park your car there and leave it until you get back for no charge! Round trip tickets for adults are $12 per adult, and  kids 14 and under are free. This means that my family can take a train to Chicago for $24 and not have to pay for parking in the city. The first time the hubs and I went to Chicago, we paid over $150 in parking because we didn’t know any better. Now we spend $24, don’t pay for parking, get brought right to Millennium park, and the kids get to have the fun experience of being on the train. They even have some double decker trains. You aren’t guaranteed to get to ride one, but it is super fun when you do! I think I have as much fun on the trains as the kids do. They aren’t strapped into a boring car and there is more wiggle room and bathrooms!  It’s every parent’s  dream come true.

Chicago City Pass

The first stop for South Shore Line in Chicago, is near the museums. We normally wait for the Millenium park station because it is closer for us to walk to our hotels, but if your plans in Chicago include buying a city pass and staying near the museums, this stop would be for you. We used to go to Chicago every year with my oldest and buy the city pass.  They have changed the city pass now. You can pay for  1, 2, 3, or 5 day all you can do passes. There are 20 different attractions included in these passes and you get to skip the lines! Some attractions included in the city pass are The Shedd Aquarium, The Field Museum, The Museum of Science and Industry, The planetarium, The Skydeck, the Hop on Hop off one day Chicago Bus tour, Navy Pier Centennial Wheel and Rides, Legoland,  the Children’s museum, and so many more fun attractions. The prices of these passes range from $92 for adults and $65 for kids,  to $190 for adults and $130 for kids. This is such a great deal and the fact that you don’t have to wait in line to pay for your ticket, makes it an equally good amazing. Writing this makes me want to plan a 5 day trip and do as many of these attractions as we possibly can!


Millennium Park

Millenium Park is the second train stop in Chicago for the South Shore Line. The train station is literally directly across the street from Millenium Park so you immediately get to see one of Chicago’s great attractions. There is just something about beautiful gardens in the middle of the city, a big dramatic stage, and of course….the bean.

The bean is seriously amazing. It is the perfect picture location, it gives the kids lots to look at  explore, and it highlights the entire city. We make sure to visit the bean every time we are in Chicago.

Walk the city

I know this one is a given, but I have to mention it! Just plain walking around in a big city  full of gorgeous sky scrapers can be enough to brighten your day. My favorite time to do this is during the night. One of the great perks of taking the train is that you have to walk everywhere and really take in the city. We love to hold hands and admire all of the different stores (and of course go into a few of them!) One of my most memorable Chicago moments, was when just the hubs and I went and we were walking back from dinner at Geno’s East (this is  a must visit pizza place!). I had so badly wanted to have drinks on a rooftop, so those were our original plans after dinner. The plans quickly changed when we realized it was pouring outside. We ran through the city in the night with only a pizza box to cover us. The lights were so beautiful and it was August, so the cool rain didn’t bother us. We ran into a Walgreens and bought a couple of cheap umbrellas and a bottle of cheap wine. We walked the rest of the way holding hands and umbrellas as it continued to rain. Everyone else was running around and hiding under awnings, but we were so content to just walk along and take in the beauty of the city in all of it’s night time glory. It is a memory that I will always cherish.

Navy pier

I have only been to Navy Pier twice and this is such a travesty! It is so much fun and truly amazing. We were able to walk from our hotel to navy pier as well, so it didn’t cost any money in transportation. The Ferris wheel is an absolute must! It is huge and the views are breathtaking.

Besides the sky deck, I’m not sure where you could get better city  views.

One year when we went, the air show was going on so we were able to walk the pier and view the air show for free as well. There are many vendors so bring some money to buy little souvenirs and of course snacks!

Lincoln Park Zoo

This is a free zoo people….free! I would suggest taking a bus to the zoo because your feet are really going to be feeling it this trip! This zoo is so awesome. They have everything you could want from a zoo. The  city is the backdrop, so I’m really not sure how you can get any better than that. They have a food court and many different exhibits. We went in April last year and it was a bit chilly, but nothing a jacket couldn’t handle. The zoo is always a home run with the kids.

Every year we so look forward to planning our trip to Chicago. We have gone during every season and have enjoyed ourselves no matter the weather. I highly recommend visiting the windy city with kids.

What is your favorite thing to do in Chicago?


  • Lorraine says:

    Chicago rocks! You have captured it well. Looks like a great day for a walk between scrapers and a pose at the Bean. I agree that the South Shore Line is the way to go; avoid traffic and parking costs. Well done, Ashton.