Kids' Guide to Chicago

PHOTO: Anish Kapoors Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "The Bean," is a must-see attraction in Millennium Park in Chicago.Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture, also known as "The Bean," is a must-see attraction in Millennium Park in Chicago.

Should we thank Mrs. O’Leary’s cow?

Legend has it the cow kicked over a lantern, starting the famous Chicago Fire on a windy Sunday in 1871 -- though historians aren’t so sure the cow was to blame for the fire that changed Chicago forever. The famous Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue is one of just five public buildings that survived.

But if not for that fire, Chicago might not be the amazing city it is today or such a great place for families to visit, boasting friendly locals (once including the first family, of course), great museums and music, the free Lincoln Park Zoo (one of the last free zoos in the country), sports teams with some of the most devoted fans anywhere, and lots of fun eats.

“Chicago is one of the world’s greatest cities,” declared Ella, 15, who is proud to be a Chicagoan and was one of the many local and visiting kids who offered their take for my Kid’s Guide to Chicago, one of my series of City Guides for Kids.

So what if it’s cold in the winter? As long as you have a warm jacket, hat and mittens, you’ll be fine.

“We always go ice skating at Millennium Park,” said Josh, 12, who visits every winter from Indianapolis. "It’s my favorite part of the trip."

Savvy traveling parents know the more input kids have in vacation planning, the more fun everyone will have.

Here’s the kids’ take on Chicago:

CHICAGO SPEAK:

The “L” is the nickname of Chicago’s public transit system, and the Loop is what downtown is called because it is encircled by the elevated train tracks.

“Make sure you look out the window on the L coming into downtown,” said Marley, 11, from Grand Rapids, Michigan. "You get to see the whole skyline."

MUST SEE

The view is spectacular from the top of the Willis Tower, where you step out in a glass box 1,353 feet in the air.

“Don’t go home without a picture of yourself on the ledge of the Willis Tower,” said Alison, 12.

The city’s huge Museum Campus is home to the Field Museum (the place to see Sue, the largest and best-preserved T-Rex ever found), the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium.

“I love watching the dolphin shows at the aquarium,” said Veda, 11, of Anoka, Minnesota.

At the Museum of Science and Industry,said Vincenzo, 14, from Austin, Texas, "My favorite was the tour of the German submarine used during WWII."

There's also the Art Institute of Chicago, where kids love the Thorne Miniature Rooms, the Touch Gallery, where you can touch the art and, of course, the famous impressionist paintings.

MUST SEE OUTDOORS

The city also has many outdoor attractions.

The Navy Pier has year-round events and the 150-foot high Navy Pier Ferris wheel modeled on the first one built here for the World’s Columbia Expedition.

The famous Lake Michigan lakefront has 18 miles of bike paths.

“The lake is so big it feels like an ocean,” said Posey, 13.

Everyone calls the Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park “the Bean" because of its shape.

"It’s fun to make yourself look really skinny and tall in the reflection,” said Morganne, 11, Round Rock, Texas.

The Magnificent Mile has more than 400 shops stretching on North Michigan Avenue and “all the candy places,” said Caitlyn, 17, from Charlestown, Indiana.

MUST EAT

A Chicago hot dog “dragged through the garden” means with mustard, onions, relish, pickle, tomato and celery salt.

There's also the famous Chicago deep dish pizza at places like Gino’s East.

“The best pizza in the world,” said Samantha, 13. “You bite in and it’s perfect!”

MUST TAKE HOME

Remember to get your hands on some gear from a Chicago sports team.

“I know the Cubs will win a World Series soon!” said Elizabeth, 14.

Eileen Ogintz writes the syndicated column and website Taking the Kids and is the author of the nine Kids Guide books. Follow @TakingtheKids on Twitter and Facebook. This is the seventh in a series looking at major American cities from kids’ perspectives.

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