Museums, Skyscrapers, Sports & More – Chicago, Illinois


Chicago, the Windy City, lies along the shimmering west coast of Lake Michigan.  Best known for its towering skyline, deep dish pizza and bitterly cold winters, the city is the third largest in the United States.   Numerous trade associations hold annual meetings here every year, so I expect a lot of families accompany conventioneers and seek something to do while the conventions are taking place.

Such a large population center means that there should be a TON of cool things to do, and Chicago delivers.  The challenge for me as your Totally Teen Travel tour guide is to NARROW down the possibilities.  Unless you actually MOVE to Chicago, there is plenty for everyone to do during any given time spent here!  Even locals might argue they’ll never get around to everything!

Segway tour of Chicago
Multiple Segway tour companies

Unlike most cities about which I’ve written, there are multiple appealing attractions and things to do within their own type of category.  For example, Chicago has dozens of compelling world-class museums you can visit.  How the heck do you narrow the list down?  And who doesn’t want to experience the amazing Chicago skyline?  Which viewing opportunities are the most intense?  And how to best get into the sports the Windy City is so famous for?


What I will do here is recommend the most teen-friendly attractions in these categories.  But I suggest you go a step further and research ALL the exciting possibilities available to travelers on Chicago’s online visitors’ bureau.  Scroll down a bit and on the right side of the page you can “create a personalized itinerary” via the Utrip Trip Planner.  Input the requested information and voila!  Recommendations based on time of year, budget, age of participants and more are provided.

Why not save some serious coin while you enjoy all Chicago has to offer?  Massive savings are in store with the Go Chicago card.  Click on the banner below and check out all the discounts!




Art Institute of Chicago
Entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago

More than anywhere else in the USA, I strongly encourage you to visit at least one Chicago museum based on your interests, background, or career plans.  There is something spectacular for everyone here, truly.  Even if you get dragged to your twin brother’s idea of a great museum, I’m confident you’ll still enjoy yourself immensely (and learn a lot, too!).

Here’s just a tiny representation of the museums you can choose from:

Many more exhibits, events and possibilities can be found, again, at the Visit Chicago website.

Now that I’ve gotten museums out of the way… there are plenty of other options for your trip to get totally lit.



Chicago’s skyline is spectacular, and only outdone, arguably, by the world-famous New York skyline.  There are several ways to enjoy the view, “big picture” style as well as up close.

Cycling along Lake Michigan Chicago
Cycling along Lake Michigan
  • Work out your quads as well as your vision via Chicago’s Lakefront Trail.  Not only will you experience lovely skyscraper views along the shore of Lake Michigan, but you will also pass through many beautiful parks, two of which are Jackson Park, with its University of Chicago, and Grant Park, featuring the famous Buckingham Fountain.  Millennium Park and Lincoln Park with its free Zoo are also on your path!  Rent your bike at Bobby’s Bike Hike – 540 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago IL 60611.  Ask for maps and helmets, or why not just sign up for a guided bike tour.

    Navy Pier, Chicago
    Fireworks on the Navy Pier
  • Promenade along the Navy Pier for spectacular skyline views and tons of cool things to do. This is where you’ll find the Children’s Museum, Imax theatre, classic carnival-style rides, plenty of restaurant options and the climate-controlled Centennial (Ferris) Wheel, which offers pristine views of the lake and skyline.  Stick around for the gorgeous sunset, and fireworks at specified days and times.
  • Want to round out your skyline experience from within the concrete jungle itself? Like, from the tip top of a skyscraper?  Then I recommend 360 Chicago.  Check on local sunset times, and plan to be here late in the day (while the sun is still out) to enjoy daytime, twilight, and night time vistas, each of which is guaranteed to take your breath away.
    • Now that you can’t breathe, take your death defying to new “heights” (no pun intended).  Sign up for the heart-pounding TILT experience!  You stand facing the views and are engineered safely to stand OUT and ABOVE the Magnificent Mile, over 1000 feet below!    See it to believe it at the 360 Chicago website.



It should go without saying that Chicago is a sports lover’s town.  What kind of cool stuff is there to do for youse guys besides attending a Bulls, Bears, Sox, or Cubs game?

Wrigley Field Chicago
Entrance to Wrigley Field
  • Wrigley Field is the historic home of the beloved Chicago Cubs. Yes, this is the same Wrigley who probably made the chewing gum you love so much.  The ball park is over 100 years old; hopefully the gum you’re chewing right now isn’t.  Anyway, a tour of this mighty piece of sports history bestows a nostalgic feel for the sport of baseball as it was enjoyed back then.  Enjoy baseball the way your great grandparents did!  Depending on whether there is a game scheduled that day, there are different spots (dug out, press box, home base, etc.) within the ballpark on display.
  • Going back to the museum thing: Another Windy City museum to relish involves great fun with cool sports memorabilia and tons of interactive activities.  Here’s what to do: Have a delicious meal of American comfort food at Harry Caray’s 7th Inning Stretch.  While dining at the ‘Stretch, ask for free tickets to the adjacent Chicago Sports Museum!   No need to be a sports fanatic to have a rollicking good time here.  Do check the online calendar first to avoid disappointment if the museum’s closed for a private event.
iFLY excitement Chicago
iFLY excitement
  • Defy death once again (you did TILT… right?) at iFLY, one of a few nationwide spots for indoor skydiving!   After a short but comprehensive training session, you’re instructed to lean into a fierce wind that lifts you off your feet just a few feet off the ground.  Like Superman, you’ll soar (in place), floating on a big column of air.  It’s completely safe, they say.  But then, they make you wear a helmet and goggles, so maybe not?

I would warn you that you will find this experience completely off the chain!  Follow up on  your newfound love by making a competition out of it.  Yes!   This thrilling new sport is  known as “bodyflight.”


What else would you recommend teens to do in the Windy City?  Let me know in the comments.

Columbus – Ohio’s Capital of Fun

“The Ohio State University… and the insignificant environs over which it forever reigns” would probably be an apt moniker for Columbus, the capital of Ohio.  With a population of over 850,000, there’s a lot going on within the city and off campus, even though die-hard Buckeye fans might think otherwise.  Cee-bus, as we like to call it in Ohio, will entertain you even if you don’t bleed OSU’s famous crimson and gray.  The good stuff can be a little difficult to find, but that’s what I’m here for.

IndoorsColumbus’ own science museum is called the Center of Science and Industry, or COSI (pronounced “Co-Sigh”).  Much of it is geared towards younger folks, but there are cool exhibits for all ages of both permanent and temporary varieties.   My favorite is the “Progress” exhibit, which entices the visitor on a fun pathway of technology from the years 1898 and 1962.   Movies on the Giant Screen Theatre and multiple live shows are available multiple times per day.  We recommend visiting as early in the day as possible.  On weekends the cavernous hall fills up rapidly with families; weekdays see the usual school groups.   Buy your tickets online and avoid the line!


Zoombezi Bay, Columbus
Zoombezi Bay fun

OutdoorsSeasonalI’m seriously not sure that any visit to Ohio’s capital city would be complete without a stop at its world famous Columbus Zoo.  Its famous former director, Jack Hanna, still films here and greets guests as his schedule permits!  Plan on a full day of walking and enjoying the magnificent animal exhibits and aquarium.  Summertime, and the animals would rather snooze in the summer heat than entertain you?  No worries!  Take the time – and extra expense – to chill out at the water park adjacent to the zoo, Zoombezi Bay.


TranspoOutdoorsNow that you’ve sampled the animal delights at the zoo grounds, why not take an afternoon experiencing life up in the air the way the monkeys do?  Columbus offers a magnificent opportunity to do just that at the ZipZone.  According to the attraction’s website, “The (ZipZone) adventure park is a series of platforms in the trees connected by ladders, bridges, ropes, ziplines and obstacles of every kind, all situated in a beautiful forest on the edge of the city.”   Be sure to carefully peruse the park’s website for more information on making reservations, what happens during inclement weather, what to do if you’re afraid of heights, etc.


OutdoorsLooking for a casual, inexpensive day out?  An outstanding, partially forested lake and park facility is located within the city of Columbus itself at Sharon Woods Metro Park.  Locals and tourists alike come here to marvel at the great outdoors along its many paved and unpaved trails, perfect for biking, jogging, hiking, picnicking and strolling.  Fishing in the lake is encouraged if you are 15 or younger.  If you’re visiting the capital city with Fido, he is more than welcome here (on a leash, natch).


CultureIndoorsWould it be a shocker to admit that my intellectually remarkable kids get tired of cultural museums when we travel?  As their Mom, I get tired of trying to keep them entertained while simultaneously helping them glean an appreciation of the exhibits.  The Columbus Museum of Art to the rescue!  Many of the permanent displays in this compact museum hail from world-famous artists of modern eras.  If that weren’t enough to warm the cockles of your art sophisticate self, the museum overflows with interactive displays and miniature hands-on art endeavors for kids of all ages to get into.   Our family had a lot of fun building pipe cleaner sculptures on a particularly memorable Sunday.  Kudos to this fabulous place for truly having something for everyone and working tirelessly (!) to intensify kids’ creativity. [Read more here about my artistic daughter and me roadtripping to the museum in January, 2018!]


Good eatin'CultureIt’s a huge stretch to denote German Village as a Columbus cultural must-see.  But Imma do it anyway, at least if you promise to visit Schmidt’s Sausage Haus.  Splurge on their buffet, which they call the “German Autobahn Buffet,” when you’re super hungry, and sample the multitudes of German wursts begging for a taste.  The so-called “Bahama Mama” is an especially delectable version, which you can enjoy while pondering its mysteriously-nicknamed Caribbean island moniker.  Another challenge: saving enough room to split a half-pound cream puff!  Ja, das ist sehr gut!


OutdoorsOnce you’ve busted a gut at the ‘Haus, do shop for German candies and knickknacks at the gift shop across the parking lot in front of the restaurant.  Then, be sure to stroll through German Village and enjoy its historic architecture and atmosphere.  The neighborhood, while lovely, seems to have little other than Schmidt’s that reminds one visually, or viscerally, of any past travels to Deutschland.  Nevertheless, the area is unique, and a welcome diversion from the monochromatic, cookie-cutter McMansions so popular in today’s exurbia.  Which kind of neighborhood would you prefer to live in?


IndoorsI don’t want to hear how much you hate to read.  You only think so because your ELA teacher forces you to read a particular classic instead of whatever graphic novel series is currently in vogue.  Luckily, you WILL find graphic novels, classic tomes, and more than you ever dreamed of at the fabulous Book Loft located in the heart of the German Village.  It has, I kid you not, 32 (yes, 32) actual ROOMS of every kind of book imaginable.  It’s just an amazing place to “get lost” – in a book – in a bookstore.

Cincinnati – Awesome Places to Check Out

Home of almost a million folks, the “Queen City” enthralls visitors with its major league sports teams, unique food treats and special place in history.  This is the town that put the Underground Railroad on the map, nestled as it is for many miles against the mighty Ohio River.  Noteworthy is the city’s orientation on “Seven Hills,” many of which recall San Francisco due to the steepness and architectural history.  Cincinnati does love its Victorian houses!

Adult visitors will no doubt appreciate Cincinnati’s ever popular food and drink scene.  Never fear, though, my teenaged friends.  Here are some really rad things to do here:



Purple People Bridge:

Purple People Bridge
The Enquirer/Anna Bentley

The most interesting passage between northern Kentucky and the Central Business District (downtown) of Cincinnati picturesquely traverses the mighty Ohio River.  Pedestrian only, and only a half mile long, the officially named “Newport Southbank Bridge” is outfitted with park benches, wrought-iron handrails, gooseneck streetlights, security cameras, call boxes for emergencies, and the always-there-when-you-need-’em trashcans.  What a fabulous way to introduce yourself to the city at your own pace and enjoy its glamorous panorama!


Good eatin'Graeter’s Ice Cream:  Folks, this is very likely the most incredible ice cream you will ever experience.  The proprietors use old-fashioned ice cream-making procedures, which, combined with the old-fashioned, pure ingredients, make a modern mouth as happy as could be!  Especially recommended are any flavors with chocolate chips.  If you do nothing else in Cincinnati, you cannot leave without experiencing truly remarkable Graeter’s.


Good eatin'Good (if pricy) eatin’ along the Ohio River:  Beg, borrow and plead with your folks to take you to one or all, which share gorgeous river views, remarkable food and terrific service:

A special treat that Cincinnatians are happy to indulge in is Montgomery Inn.  It’s most famous entrée is barbecued ribs (well, boiled ribs… served with barbecue sauce) that fall off the bone.  The sauce may be a bit sweeter than most people are used to.  It’s still very much worth trying; just hie to the bathroom after the meal’s over and brush your teeth right away.  The best thing about this Montgomery Inn location is its orientation right on the Ohio River.  There is good seating here with fabulous views of the river and beyond.

The Yard House is an upscale eatery with truly unique entrees, rock music to please your fuddy duddy parents and a fabulous vibe for the young and young-at-heart.  It’s a chain restaurant that’s perfect for splurging on very good food and enjoying all that the Cincinnati riverfront has to offer.

Continuing with the upscale eatery on the river theme, I had the pleasure of dining at Moerlein Lager House around the holidays when the extended family came to visit.  The convivial atmosphere and terrific views over the river were both conducive to good conversation, and the food was as good as any I’ve tried in the area.  It’s evident that a love of sports permeates the place, given its primo location between Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark.  Highly recommended!


CultureIndoorsCincinnati Music Hall:

View of the Music Hall from the park

I am positively giddy, because my mother-in-law has invited the kids and me to a chorale event in this freshly renovated, late nineteenth century architectural treasure next month.  It’s a given that the music will be phenomenal.  As to the building, and the source of my excitement?   To quote Otto M Budig, Jr: “This renovation will affirm Music Hall as one of the world’s greatest performance venues, celebrate the hall’s remarkable history, breathe new life and accessibility into the Music Hall experience and lay the foundation for a bright future. People from all over the country will look to Music Hall as one of the greatest renovations and restorations of this century.”


CultureIndoorsCincinnati Art Museum:   In May 1886, a permanent art museum was completed in Cincinnati and heralded worldwide as “The Art Palace of the West.”

Cincinnati Art Museum. Cavernous

Another really cool building, this one is nestled within the embrace of the aptly-named Eden Park.  This treasure trove houses thousands of pieces of fine art spanning centuries.  For lovers of art of all sorts, this is a must-see venue, which you can top off with a stroll around the gorgeous park.  There is no cost for general admission, and the museum strives to bust out of any stuffy mcstuffiness by appealing through its events and programs to teens and families.


SeasonalKing’s Island:   Is there a teenager anywhere in the tri-state area who hasn’t heard of all the delights on offer at this ginormous theme park just north of Cincinnati?   I’ve seriously lost count of the number of roller coasters on hand.  The Beast, my favorite, looms both very large… and very wooden.  When you are old enough to have witnessed the way wood deteriorates over time, well… let’s just say the fright engendered by this coaster is severely underrated.  The park is an easy drive from anywhere in the city, or plan a stay at a nearby motel.  Great Wolf Lodge, a magical treat for your little brother or sister, lies adjacent to the park.

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