When visiting Chicago, you’re likely to find yourself walking around Water Tower Place at some point. It’s a historic place and multi-level shopping area on the Magnificent Mile, filled with street performers and tourists – sorta like Chicago’s version of Times Square. If you’re visiting with kids, don’t miss the Chicago Sports Museum or any of these other kid-friendly attractions.
Taking Kids to Water Tower Place
There’s much more to do than just shop at Water Tower Place. Here are some of our favorite things to do with the kids at Water Tower Place and the nearby area.
Visit the Chicago Sports Museum
Chicago is a serious sports town, and this small downtown museum pays homage to its beloved teams and stars. It’s on a top floor of Water Tower Place, next to Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch Restaurant. Harry Caray is the late, legendary Chicago baseball announcer.
Dine there first, and admission to the museum is free. Otherwise it’s $6 per person, $3 for seniors, and free for ages 3 and under.
Most of the exhibits are about the Chicago Cubs, Bulls and Blackhawks. My kids jumped as high as they could – to hit the highest buttons they could – while measuring themselves up to a jump by Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan.
We walked by lots of colorful memorabilia displays, tried on Super Bowl rings, played a wall-sized computerized trivia game using tablets, and palmed a basketball to see how our hands compared in size to famous Chicago Bulls.
My kids’ favorite part of the museum was the simulated video games that involved imaginary footballs or hockey sticks (it was kind of like Xbox Kinect).
The infamous “Bartman ball” is on display. That’s the famous ball that was nearly caught by fan Steve Bartman. It is widely believed in Chicago that Bartman disrupted what would have been an out in a critical play off game in 2003. Instead, the Cubs ended up losing that game and, ultimately, the series. The ball was later blown up in a publicity stunt. At the museum, visitors can push down on a dynamite-like handle to watch the video of the ball being blown up again.
A few of the exhibits weren’t working when we visited (like the one where you can be a play-by-play broadcaster). But I’d still recommend this museum and found it well worth the admission price. It’s a place you spend an hour, not half a day.
Children’s plays at Broadway Playhouse
Chicago is a great place for children’s theater. At Broadway Playhouse, across the street from Water Tower Place, there are high-quality, well-paced, not-too-long shows that always have audience interaction. The show times are convenient, too, like 10 a.m. – so everyone’s ready to go out for lunch afterward. Best of all, the tickets are reasonably priced (compared to other Chicago theater tickets).
The other Chicago-based TravelingMoms give this theater a big thumbs up, too. Read what Foodie TravelingMom Megy Karydes said about their Charlotte’s Web show, and what Empty Nest TravelingMom Cindy Richards said about Dee Snider’s Rock and Roll Christmas show.
Tilt over the John Hancock building
This attraction, which opened in May 2014, is on the top of the iconic John Hancock skyscraper, next to Water Tower Place. You step into a glass box and it tilts out on an angle, so you feel like you’re tilting 1,000 feet over Chicago. You have to see a video of it to understand what it’s like, but the adventurous kids in your family will love it. Plus, great photo ops! Here’s a video and story I did on it for MapQuest.com.
Shop for Candy!
While the two-level American Girl Doll store is the mall’s big draw, we love Candyality (located on Level 7), a huge retro candy store that includes candy-themed merchandise, Chicago candy (a good place for souvenirs), and fashion displays made with wrappers. When you pay, they do a cute little thing where they assess your “candy personality” – basically, a what-your-candy-choices-say-about-you thing.
Splurge on a room at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago (a Four Seasons Hotel)
It’s high-end, but very family-friendly hotel in Water Tower Place. The indoor pool at The Ritz-Carlton Chicago offers views of the John Hancock building through a glass ceiling. A candy cart visits your room each night and lets everyone pick a few treats. Plus, they have a great make-cookies-with-the-chef program for families. Your still-warm, fresh-baked cookies are immediately to your room, with milk. Kid-sized robes and slippers are provided, and if you ask in advance, they might be able to set up a little play tent in your room before you arrive.
The hotel is offering a new “The Suite Experience” package, which for families, includes an executive suite, a $50 gift card to Water Tower Place, 4 Chicago Sports Museum tickets, free parking (that normally costs more than $50/day) and the kids cookie-making class. Packages start at $565/night.
Eat at Foodlife
While it’s crowded on weekends, and some of the offerings are a little fast-foody, this mall food court-styled restaurant in Water Tower Place has something for everyone, from fried chicken to edamame.
Walk to Oak Street Beach
If the weather is nice, walk a few blocks north on Michigan Avenue and go through the underpass to get to Oak Street Beach. It’s a free public sand beach with a stunning skyline backdrop.