Your Guide to Summer 2021 Fun in the Suburbs

After a quieter summer in 2020, it’s no surprise that we cannot contain our excitement for what’s in store in 2021. Strawberry picking, water parks, children’s museum, fishing, outdoor concerts, the list goes on and on. We’ve created one HUGE summer guide for all your family-friendly fun, so don’t forget to bookmark this page. We’ve linked to all of our lists with details on pricing, hours, reservations and safety guidelines. Pick a few from each category to start, then come back again for new ideas. The Kidlist team hopes to keep your family having fun all summer long.

Summer 2021 Fun in Chicago’s Suburbs

Our Top Summer Fun Articles

Free Summer Fun in the Western Suburbs 
Did we say free?! Yes! We have rounded up all of the activities and events you can do this summer that you don’t even need to pull out your wallet for.

2021 Summer Bucket List
Lots of inspiration for summer adventures, including specific activities and ideas for at-home fun, local outings, and more. This year, we’ve included printable cards that you can use for an idea jar, putting on your calendar, or hanging up for inspiration!

Splash Pads
Nearly all splash pads have reopened in 2021. We have all the info on each one and a handy map to help you find a new spot close by!

Summer Camps 2021 Guide
This guide includes great options for your smallest and biggest campers. Sports, arts, dance, STEM, gymnastics, theater and everything in between.

Outdoor Activities

Local Mini-Golf Courses
Take a swing at your local mini-golf course and putt your way through the tiny greens.

Let’s Go Fly a Kite! Making, Buying, and Celebrating Kites
Check out our guide to making your own kite, where to buy one, and kite-flying events in the suburbs.

Boat Rentals
Find out about the ins and outs of renting a boat this summer! Nicole rounded up places to rent boats as well as helpful tips.

Kid-Friendly Train Stops on the BNSF Metra Line
Round up the kids for a leisurely ride on the BNSF Metra line and explore all that your neighboring towns have to offer. A guide with ideas of places to walk to from the train stop.

20 Ideas to Make Your Backyard the Ultimate Summer Oasis
While we’re in a much better place than we were last summer, we’re still spending quality time together at home, too . If you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, put it to good use with these ideas.

Water Fun Destinations

Outdoor Pools with Day Passes in the West Suburbs 
We’ve got all the outdoor pools offering day passes so your little water lovers can pool-hop their way through summer.

Pool Memberships: Early Bird Discounts and Opening Days
Summer just started, so there’s plenty of time to take advantage of a pool membership. Consider purchasing one at your local pool to maximize your fun in the pool.

Water Parks and Beaches
Pack up your shovels and buckets, there are a lot of local beaches and waterparks to choose from.

Exploring Nature This Summer

Where to See Waterfalls Near Chicago
Annie put together this amazing guide to waterfall exploration, including how to find the hidden Blackhawk Waterfall in South Elgin.

Where (and How!) to Take Your Kids Fishing
Your guide to taking the kids out for a fishing expedition.

Best Forest Preserve Trails for Kids
Kidlist readers voted, and these are the best for kids!

Geocaching
A real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game that you can do anywhere you are (locally or on vacation), any day and time using GPS coordinates. Check out the official Geocaching website’s ten tips for safe geocaching in light of COVID-19.

Camping with Kids
Locations within three hours to take your kids camping! This includes a really cool printable checklist to help you pack. Be sure to call ahead about reserving a campsite, and consider going during off-peak times, such as mid-week.

Strawberry Picking: Farms With U-Pick Strawberries
This list breaks down all the strawberry farms that are within an hour and a half drive from our area. It also includes estimated dates when picking is expected to start.

Blueberry Picking: Fields For U-Pick Near Chicago
Where to go blueberry picking, within reasonable driving distance from our area. Blueberry season starts mid-July, so check back for updates to this one.

A Day at the Farm: Farms to Visit with Kids
Local farms that offer a peek into farm life with animal visits, hands-on exploration, and more.

Where to Kayak, Paddleboat, and Canoe (Including Rentals)
Most still require you to call ahead and make a reservation, so be sure to plan ahead.

Horseback Riding for Kids
Find great destinations for kids to saddle up and ride horses in Tinley Park, Plainfield, Palos Hills, Mokena, Frankfort, and more!

Summer-Ready Playgrounds and Parks

New Playgrounds
Find out about the new playgrounds in the west and southwest suburbs. We scoped them out and took photos so you can get a preview of all the fun there.

Ultimate Guide to Parks and Playgrounds in the Western Suburbs
No matter what age your kids are, you are sure to find great playgrounds for them to enjoy in our guides to the best parks and playgrounds.

15 Best Parks and Playgrounds
Kidlist readers voted and came up with the best of the west! Check out the list with photographs and descriptions of each.

Parks with Nearby Coffee Shops
You’ll need a way to keep that energy up while chasing your kids at the park!

Best Parks with Walking Paths
Meet some friends at the park and take a walk between play breaks for the kids. We checked out all of the listed playgrounds and walked on the paths.

Mud-Free Playgrounds
Check out the playground options with a soft, rubbery surface instead of mulch.

Summer Food

Local Ice Cream Shops in the Western Suburbs + Ice Cream Trail Map
Ice cream would be a daily occurrence in our house if it were up to my kids. This list (and map!) will keep the sweet treats coming all summer long.

10 Over-the-Top (Literally!) Milkshakes in Chicagoland
These extreme milkshakes topped with cupcakes, donuts and cookies are taking summertime desserts to the next level.

Farmers Markets and French Markets in the Western Suburbs 
Grab your grocery tote and some cash and make visits to the farmers markets across the suburbs. The lists include a free printable with markets by day!

500+ Restaurants with Outdoor Dining in the Western Suburbs
Nicole did an amazing job rounding up hundreds of local restaurants that offered outdoor dining in 2020. Many are keeping their setups going so you can dine al fresco this year, including tents set up nearby local strip malls that normally don’t have outdoor seating.

Where Kids Eat Free in Chicago’s West Suburbs
Eating at a restaurant can get expensive when everyone’s ordering meals. Lower your bill by enjoying a delicious family out at these spots where Kids Eat Free.

Free Ice Cream at Mars
Every July the Mars Chocolate plant gives away free ice cream bars and novelties. We hope to see this return in 2021. Get the details about when and how to get a tasty treat.

Where to Buy Meat, Produce, and Eggs from Local Farms
Reduce your time in the grocery store, get amazing local food, and support small farmers. It’s a win-win-win.

How to Grow Your Own Food
Annie has the greenest thumb of anyone I know. She put together an amazing guide to growing your own food in the backyard! Kids get really into gardening right alongside you, whether your cucumbers flourish or not.

Summer Events

Kidlist Park Playdate Series
We’re hosting our own events this summer with free entertainment and snacks! Stop by one of the Kidlist Park Playdates to play, have fun, and say hi to the Kidlist team.

Outdoor Movies
Outdoor movies are back in action this summer. Many even have pre-movie activities or entertainment and concessions available. Note: some may require reservations, so check the links in advance.

Drive-In Movie Theaters and Events in Chicagoland
These became incredibly popular last summer, and are making a comeback again in 2021.

Summer Festivals in the Western Suburbs 
Summer isn’t complete without taking the family to a neighborhood festival or two! Think beautiful weather, tasty food, live music and carnival rides – it’s the perfect recipe for summertime fun. This list has the entire line-up in chronological order!

Art Fairs and Festivals Happening in Chicagoland
Support local artists by purchasing a unique piece at these art fairs and festivals.

Classic Car Shows
Classic car shows are a staple of suburban summers. Whether you love vintage rides, have a kid who adores anything on wheels, or just want an excuse to take a stroll with the family, car shows are a fun destination.

Summer Concert Series: Live Music in the West Suburbs
Live music, fresh air and free entertainment add up to a nice night. Summer concerts are a great way to gather with your neighbors, support local bands and enjoy a beautiful summer evening!

Taking the Kids to a Baseball Game
Check out all the teams you can cheer on in the city and western suburbs here! There is also info on awesome Kids Clubs, special events and activities geared towards little ones before and/or during the games.

Vacation Bible School (VBS) in the West Suburbs 
Find a Vacation Bible School where your children can learn about God through fun activities and songs over the summer.

Kidlist Events Calendar
Not sure what to do on your day off? Our calendar is constantly updated with family-friendly events throughout the western suburbs.

Special Exhibits Running in Summer 2021

Celebrate the Life and Art of Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo: Timeless features 26 original works on loan from the Museo Dolores Olmedo, it is the most comprehensive presentation of Kahlo’s work displayed in the Chicago area in over 40 years.

New Jane Goodall Exhibit + Your Guide to Visiting the Field Museum
On top of all the other must-see exhibits at the Field Museum, the new Jane Goodall Exhibit takes a deeper dive into her life and work of with chimpanzees.

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Comes to Oakbrook Center
If you’ve ever wanted to see Michelangelo’s renowned ceiling frescoes up close (and close to home!), head to Oakbrook Center.

Human+Nature at the Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum’s next outdoor art exhibition, Human+Nature (pronounced: Human Nature) features five breath-taking sculptures, and is a must see this summer.

How to Check Out a Museum Adventure Pass from Your Library
With a Museum Adventure Pass from your local library, you can visit dozens of Chicagoland museums, zoos, and other places of interest for free or at a discounted rate.

Indoor Activities

Kids Summer Movie Deals
Many of the local theaters offer a special summer movie series where shows are offered heavily discounted and are usually held in the morning. This has a handy schedule with location details for all the participating theaters in our area.

Nature Centers in the Chicagoland
More and more of our nature centers are reopening their doors this summer. Scope out your next visit!

photo courtesy of DuPage Children’s Museum

Re-Opening Days for Chicago Area Children’s Museums
Spending time at one of the many Chicago area children’s museums will be a day filled with discovery, exploration and excitement.

 25 Things to Do with Kids on a Rainy Day in the Western Suburbs
It’s raining, it’s pouring, staying inside is getting boring! With help from these lists and your imagination boring, rainy days will be a thing of the past.

Chicago-Area Museum Free Days
We are fortunate to live in a metropolitan area with world-class museums that are only a short drive away and we are even more fortunate that these places offer FREE days. 

Fun for the Dog Days of Summer

Dog Parks and Off-Leash Areas
Check out the many on-leash and off-leash destinations in the Chicago suburbs where you can bring your pup for a fun, dog-friendly outing.

Dog-Friendly Hiking Trails in the West and Southwest Suburbs (and Beyond!)
Tired of the same old dog park? Grab the leash and head to these trails! They’re great places for taking your canine companion along for the hike.

Enjoy These Dog-Friendly Restaurant Patios (and Secret Menus!)
Summer patio dining is here, and these restaurants let you bring your pup along! Some even have special menus for dogs. Puppuccino, anyone?

Location Places to Go With Kids

We’ve been visiting as many places as possible to check them out and see what the experience is like with all the changes being made. Here’s what we have so far:


What adventures are you planning with your family for the rest of summer? Let us know in the comments! And remember that you can always check our outdoor activities page for all the latest things to do while the sun is shining.

About the Author

Katie Mayle
Katie is a mother of three children, ages 7, 5, and 2. A Joliet native, she and her husband moved back to his hometown of Naperville after the birth of their second daughter. Her three kids keep her family very active, and she is grateful for the countless indoor and outdoor opportunities available to families in the western suburbs. She looks forward to sharing family-friendly fun with the parents of young children.

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