As the countdown to Memorial Day weekend gets shorter, I can practically hear the sizzle of food on the grill, feel the warmth of the sunshine, and smell the bonfires that will help roast the perfect s’mores. After making it through many rainy spring days, our summertime reward is almost here! I want to make sure to take advantage of these warm months when we get to ditch our coats in favor of sunscreen.
Every May, my family likes to come up with a summer bucket list of things we want to experience and accomplish. Some are simple and quick ideas, while others require more time and planning. Everyone gets to add their ideas, and we take turns checking off what we’ve completed. At the end of summer, we look back at our list and laugh/smile/sometimes cringe at the adventures they’ve brought us.
Whatever mood you’re in, the Kidlist team is here to help you find activities that will fill your days and nights with summer memories you’ll be dreaming about well into next season! Our Summer Bucket List is organized by how much time the activities will take. It’s a great resource to use when you’re coming up with ideas of what your family is excited about. Be sure to read to the end for our free printable, too!
This article is sponsored by the DuPage Children’s Museum.
Play All Day at DuPage Children’s Museum
Explore, create, build, wonder, discover, think, play, and more! Every visit to DuPage Children’s Museum is a new adventure. Make a splash in AWEsome Water, create a work of art in The Studio, build with real tools in the Construction House, feel the wind on your face in AWEsome Air, roll through Make it Move, explore light and shadow in Creativity Connections, and enclose the entire family in one giant bubble!
For the youngest guests, birth–2 years, DCM has special Young Explorers spaces where they can exercise mind and body. There’s no need to pack a lunch, Bean Sprouts Café is open on the Museum’s lower level. Laugh, learn, and love spending time together – Plan your visit today – dupagechildrens.org.
Summer 2023 Local Fun Ideas (~1-3 hours)
1. Visit a New Playground
There are many awesome parks and playgrounds in the western suburbs! Our list of the 10 best playgrounds is a great starting place. There are new additions since last summer at Harvester Park in Burr Ridge (pictured above) and the Sensory Garden Playground in Lisle, as well as a slew of new or renovated playgrounds.
2. Splash Around at a Splash Pad
When my kids start complaining that they’re TOO hot, I know that it’s time to add water play to our day! With dozens of local splash pads, my kids will be checking this off their bucket list several times this summer; Ty Warner is a favorite among my friends.
3. Shop at a Farmers Market
With a local farmers market almost every day of the week, there are many opportunities to support small businesses and family farms while enjoying the fresh air!
4. Touch a Truck
My 3-year-old LOVES trucks. Last summer, I took him to the Clarendon Hills Touch-a-Truck event, and he was smiling and talking about it for weeks. Giving him the chance to sit in the driver’s seat, push buttons, and honk the horn was his idea of paradise!
5. Play Mini Golf
My 6-year-old is at an age where taking her to play mini golf is so entertaining! As her coordination and patience improve, I’m looking forward to visiting some fun mini-golf courses.
6. Watch Fireworks on the 4th of July
My kids thrive on routine, so I have to hype myself up to be prepared to handle any meltdowns that staying up late to watch fireworks might bring. I’ve learned that it helps to have glow sticks, headphones, and lots of snacks! The awe on their faces as they watch the gorgeous light displays makes any tantrums worth it.
7. Fly a Kite
The first time my daughter flew a kite, she was so excited when it started soaring that she let go of the string! We were able to retrieve it, but only because it got stuck in a tree a couple hundred yards away… we definitely learned our lesson. Check out our guide to areas with perfect open spaces for kite flying, as well as some tips.
8. Taste Test Ice Creams
Choose a new ice cream shop each week and take notes on which one is your favorite!
9. Enjoy an Immersive Experience
Two new exhibits include Elmhurst’s picture-perfect Umbrella Sky (through August 31, 2023), and Oak Brook Mall’s Los Trompos exhibit pictured above (through June 4, 2023). These colorful displays are awesome!
10. Visit a Safety Town
Teaching kids about road safety is so important! Elmhurst’s Safety Town is free and is now open to the public daily, from dawn until dusk. Bring a helmet and your child’s preferred method of transportation (bike, scooter, or trike) and explore the miniature town. Tip: many other suburbs also offer Safety Village programs.
11. Get into the Water
Rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat and enjoy the outdoors while getting in a workout.
12. Watch a Drive-In or Outdoor Movie
13. Get Climbing at the Discovery Center
Check out the Discovery Center at Christ Church in Oak Brook. On a day when the weather’s not cooperating, this free destination will let your kids get their jitters out and have a blast climbing the oak tree leaves. Tip: be sure to check their hours before you go; they’re usually open Monday – Thursday from 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm.
14. Head to the Library
No matter the season, a library trip is always a great idea. In addition to outdoor story times, many libraries also have summer reading programs, which offer extra incentives to keep reading, even when school is out! Many also have extra-cool play spaces, such as the Wheaton library pictured above. Here’s our list of the 10 best local libraries.
15. Make the Most of a Rainy Day
When Mother Nature decides to keep you inside, you can head to some tried-and-true favorite indoor play spots, like Playroom Cafe Two in Naperville. We have plenty of other rainy day activity ideas here, too!
Summer 2023 Adventures & Outings (~3+ hours)
16. Channel Your Inner Spiderman
Become one with nature as you complete obstacles in the trees at Go Ape Chicago in Western Springs, with activities for kids ages 2 and up. Or, challenge yourself at an outdoor adventure park. The Forge: Lemont Quarries has activities geared towards kids ages 3 and up.
17. Take a Hike
18. Go to the Zoo
19. Explore Cantigny Park in Wheaton
20. Enjoy a Day at a Museum
If you’re looking to beat the heat, check out one of the many museums in the area. These museums and zoos offer free days or discounted admission. DuPage Children’s Museum is one of my kids’ favorite places to go; we hop on the BNSF Metra and walk from the Naperville stop to the museum.
21. Take in a Baseball Game
It’s hard to rival the excitement of a Major League Baseball Chicago Cubs or White Sox game, but there are also several Minor League teams nearby. The Kane County Cougars, Windy City Thunderbolts, Joliet Slammers, and Schaumburg Boomers have games throughout the summer season. Check their websites for special promotions. Get buy one, get one free tickets to Kane County Cougars games by using the code KIDLIST!
22. Just Keep Swimming
When the heat is too much to handle, head to an outdoor pool to keep cool! There are dozens of local pools that offer day passes. Many of them have features that appeal to kids of all ages, from tot pools and spray playgrounds to diving boards and water slides.
23. Turn Up the Volume at a Concert
To me, life doesn’t get much better than listening to live music outside on a beautiful day. Going to summer concerts with my family is one of my favorite things to do. We pack a big blanket, lots of snacks, and get ready to dance, sing, and enjoy the scene.
24. Watch a Parade
In addition to Memorial Day and 4th of July parades, some towns host parades throughout the summer. La Grange is known for its Pet Parade, which began in 1947.
25. Head to a Festival
Carnivals and festivals always make me feel nostalgic; maybe it’s the smell of funnel cakes or the rides that were there when I was growing up (does anyone else remember Pharaoh’s Fury?). I love watching the glee on my own kids’ faces as they go down the Fun Slide on a potato sack or go around and around on a rocketship.
26. Take in Some Art
Art fairs and festivals are great because not only can you snag some cool art for your home while supporting local artists, but many of them also have activities for kids. I am all about helping to spur my kids’ creativity!
27. Gawk at Classic Cars
There are many classic car shows this summer! Some are recurring weekly, while others are scheduled for one day instead.
28. Go Fishing
Going fishing is an awesome way to help your kids practice patience and have some time outdoors. With fishing derbies for both beginners and experts, as well as many lakes and ponds in the forest preserves, the suburbs are full of opportunities to fish with your family.
29. Pick Fruit
30. Smell the Flowers
Sunflower fields are breathtaking, and many local fields allow you to cut flowers to take home. The photo ops alone are worth the trip! Sunflower season begins mid-to-late July.
31. Amuse Yourselves at an Outdoor Amusement Park
My parents took my daughter to Santa’s Village in East Dundee last summer, and she was on cloud nine when she got home! Six Flags in Gurnee keeps older kids entertained, and Pirate’s Cove in Elk Grove Village appeals to a younger crowd (ages 2-9). We’re lucky to have many different amusement parks to check out.
32. Stroll the Naperville Riverwalk
The 1.75-mile riverwalk has something for everyone. There are paddle boat rentals, parks, and plenty of places to eat nearby!
33. Explore the Morton Arboretum
A new exhibit, “Of the Earth,” is opening on May 26, 2023 and will feature reclaimed tree branches and other natural materials from the Arboretum. The 4-acre Children’s Garden is also filled with fun activities for kids; tadpoles will be hatching around Mother’s Day, so definitely check out Wonder Pond to see the American Toads grow!
34. Head to Chicago
After living downtown for several years, I love experiencing the city through my children’s eyes. The playground at Maggie Daley Park is always a hit; my kids also love Navy Pier. Check out Mia’s review of the new Water City exhibit at the Chicago Children’s Museum, pictured above. Centennial Wheel offers amazing city views, and the cruises or speedboat rides are a fun way to get out onto the water. I’m looking forward to going to the beach and dipping our toes into Lake Michigan, too!
Advance Planning Required
35. Go Camping
This adventure definitely requires some advanced planning, but there are many campsites within a few hours away to bring the family for an outdoor camping experience. If the idea of camping doesn’t appeal to you, set up a tent in your backyard instead!
36. Take a Day Trip to the Renaissance Faire
I have friends who rave about the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin. While it’s a bit of a drive, they say it is well worth it! There’s live music, games, activities, face painting, and great food.
37. Road Trip!
Pack up your car and head to Michigan… or Indiana… or Wisconsin. We’ve rounded up some destination ideas for you, complete with travel tips to help the car ride go smoothly.
Summer 2023 Fun at Home
These ideas for summer fun at home are a great way to round out your bucket list with some less time- and planning-intensive activities.
38. Have a bonfire and make s’mores.
39. Catch fireflies at night.
40. Create your own nature scavenger hunt.
41. Paint rocks to leave around your neighborhood to spread joy.
42. Have a water balloon or water gun fight.
43. Play in a sprinkler or baby pool.
44. Make your own ice cream or popsicles.
45. Plant your own garden.
46. Get creative with chalk and bubbles.
47. Play with magnetic tiles on your garage door.
48. Create your own al fresco restaurant, complete with menus.
49. Have a lemonade stand.
50. Wash your cars, bikes, or scooters.
Summer Camps for 2023
Camps are happening all over the suburbs! Some may be full, but others have spots available. Click here to check out local summer camps.
Places to Add to Your Summer Bucket List
Our big Map of Things to Do with Kids is an awesome tool if you’d like to view activities and destinations based on their location! You may find other things that your family would like to add to your bucket list from here.
Free Summer Bucket List Printable
Our bucket list below can be cut out to pull from a jar, taped to your calendar, or you could keep it intact and cross out the activities as you complete them! We even included empty squares at the end so you can write in your own bucket list items. Enjoy!
Tip: If you’re looking for specific places to go in any of the categories on our bucket list, search up “kidlist ___”. For example, you can type into Google “kidlist splash pads” or “kidlist summer festivals” and our guide will pop up full of ideas and specifics!