Explore Chicago neighborhoods with your kids this summer

Written by: Kathleen Dragan

Photo: The author's son having a close encounter with the art at the National Museum of Mexican Art.

We all get stuck in it: the “neighborhood rut.” We know our parks, our coffee shops, our favorite routes. Months can go by, even years, and we realize we haven’t left our zip code—short of the odd errand to Costco or inconveniently located birthday party.

Then one day we realize that we live in a city with 77 neighborhoods, and we’ve barely been to a quarter of them. I was exactly the same way until I researched and wrote my first children’s book last summer about Chicago’s neighborhoods. It turns out, it’s a good idea to actually visit them if you’re going to write about them!

For six months, my two children and I explored nine of Chicago’s neighborhoods: Lincoln Park, Rogers Park, Portage Park, Pilsen, Chinatown, Beverly, Pullman, Hyde Park and Bronzeville. I should mention we don’t live in any of these neighborhoods. We don’t even live close to some of these neighborhoods. The experience left us with a deeper love of neighborhoods near and far, and a better understanding of what makes Chicago so great.

Why explore new neighborhoods?

  • You’ll find hidden gems you never knew existed. Your brand new favorite pizza place might be tucked away in a different neighborhood just waiting for you to find it—I’m looking at you, Pequod’s.
  • A new neighborhood can feel like a totally different country, but a CTA pass is way cheaper than a plane ticket AND you don’t need a passport.
  • If your children misbehave in another neighborhood, no one will even know you to judge the meltdown.

Over the next few months, I’ll be featuring a different neighborhood and the treasures we found there on this blog. To get you started, though, I’ll offer my No. 1 tip for new neighborhood exploration: Pick three things to do.

It’s tempting to try to do ALL THE THINGS when you visit a new place, but I recommend that you do three things: one indoor, one outdoor, one that involves food.

For example, for a day in Pilsen with kids I recommend:

  1.  Visit the National Museum of Mexican Art.
  2. Play at Harrison Park’s newly revamped playground.
  3. Eat a paleta: Mexican-style popsicle with delicious chunks of real fruit (or bubble gum, if you’re into that sort of thing).

Doing three things gives you a taste of the neighborhood without burning out—or blowing through naptime. You can always go back another day to do three more things!

I hope you’ll have fun visiting neighborhoods this summer and playing tourist in your own town!

Kathleen Dragan is a South Looper and a mom of two Chicagoans. Her first children’s book, Rickshaw Reggie: Chicago Neighborhoods, will be published by Reedy Press in the summer of 2017.

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Posted on June 15, 2017 at 2:31 PM