Cheap and free indoor play spaces
On scorching or stormy summer days, these indoor play spaces provide respite, minus pricey admissions fees.
Broadway Armory Park
Chicago Park District’s largest recreational building houses a huge gym (great for a pickup game of Capture the Flag) and a newly completed elevated track for speedsters looking to race their buds. (Call ahead because if classes or camps are in session, the gym may be off limits to drop-ins.) On Mondays from 6:30–8:30pm (register online), kids can tackle an awesome 35-foot-tall climbing wall, too. 5917 N Broadway (312-742-7502, chicagoparkdistrict.com). Free. Open Mon–Fri 7am–9pm.
Jumps ’N Jiggles
At this suburban spot that’s ideal for toddlers, kids can chase one another through a maze of tunnels, whoosh down a spiral slide or climb up towers. The wallet-friendly admission fee also scores kids unlimited rides on the stunning indoor carousel (!!!) in the room next door. 1000 Wellington Ave, Elk Grove Village (847-437-9494, elkgroveparks.org). $3.50 per child (10 and under), 12 months and younger free. Open Mon–Fri 10am–noon, plus 1–3pm Tue–Thu.
Grounds For Hope Café
Don’t let the humble strip mall location fool you into thinking this is a forgettable suburban coffee shop. Inside is a series of three themed playrooms: Treasure House (find a giant crown hanging from the ceiling, a stage for playing make-believe and toys in bins), Wonder House (check out the rainbows on the walls and soft mats and beginner toys for infants and crawlers) and Tree House (explore a life-size faux tree with a slide). A regular rotation of craft classes, Spanish lessons and music courses rounds out the impressive offerings. Free Wi-Fi and cheap cappuccinos ($2.60 for a large) are guaranteed parent-pleasers; there’s also a full menu of salads, sandwiches and sweets. 2701 Maple Ave, Lisle (630-390-1290, groundsforhopecafe.org). Free. Ages 10 and under. Open Mon–Sat 9am–7pm; Sun 9am–1pm.
Tree House Court
Mom may want to tackle a couple of errands on a rainy day—but the kids won’t complain if it involves a trip to Northbrook Court mall’s free playground, right by the theater on the lower level. Wee ones can climb inside a giant faux tree house, whiz down a big slide, or pretend play on mock stoves and picnic tables. Benches for grown-ups surround the space. 2171 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook (northbrookcourt.com). Free. Ages 8 and under. Open Mon–Sat 10am–9pm; Sun 11am–6pm.
Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens
After eating quesadillas, pizza or wraps at Cafe Society, head to the back of this Chicago Park District building in the South Loop for some gratis playtime. This under-the-radar spot is tricked out with a climbing wall for primary-school-age kids, and a jungle gym and playhouse for toddlers. Bonus: The floor is padded—perfect for babies who need to practice their tummy time and, later, crawling skills. 1801 S Indiana Ave (312-328-0821). Free. Ages six months–12. Open Mon, Fri 9am–6:30pm; Tue noon–6:30pm; Wed noon–5pm; Thu, Sat 1:30–4:30pm.