The Chicago Shedd Aquarium is an amazing place to visit for both kids and adults. This Chicago attraction hosts 32,000 animals from the world’s aquatic environment giving everyone something fun to see and do. Visit at the Shedd dolphins, penguins, beluga whales, lake Michigan fish, pet the sting rays, and watch a 4D movie. It is a full day of fun and adventure. Plan your family’s visit with this helpful guide filled with Shedd Aquarium family tips on parking, where to eat, how to get tickets, free days, exhibits to visit, and much more.
Chicago Shedd Aquarium | Family Tips and Things to Do
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Shedd Aquarium Parking
The Shedd Aquarium does not have their own parking lot for visitors. However, you can park in the Soldier Field North parking garage or in the small lots by the Adler Planetarium Lot and Field Museum East Parking lot. The Shedd is located on the Museum Campus right in between these two Museums. Here is a link to the website for Soldier Field Parking with prices and address. (parking link)
The Aquarium also offers valet parking during most weekends. Located at the guest drop off area on the southside of the Aquarium. For more details or general directions, check out this link to the Shedd Aquarium parking (here).
If you don’t want the stress of parking a car, there are several public transportation options. You can take the Metra or the L down to the city and then take a bus to the Museum Campus.
Shedd Aquarium Tickets
Shedd Aquarium Prices – The Shedd has a set rate for general admission to the Aquarium. This includes the stingray exhibit and animal presentations. If you would like to see the 4D movie, there is an additional cost. When you buy your tickets, make sure to reserve your time for any shows you would like to see as you will need a ticket to enter. At the time of writing this article, prices for general admission were $39.95 for adults and $29.95 for children ages 3-11 years old. Check this link to see any price changes (here)
Shedd Aquarium Membership -It is not cheap to take the family to the Shedd. If you think you may go several times in one year it might be worth getting the membership. It allows you to get in through a member’s line which is great on busy days. You also get discounted tickets to 4D movies, stores, and restaurants.
Tip: Check Groupon for discounted tickets, they often run promos with discounted tickets.
Shedd Aquarium Free Days
Free days are a great way to take the whole family to the Aquarium and save some money. All Illinois residents are eligible for these days, you just need to bring your Illinois state license. However, it is very crowed on free days and the line will reach all the way to the Field Museum. If you choose to go on one of these days, try to get there when they open to avoid the longer lines. If you have younger children, go when the older kids are in school, it’s much less crowded. Here is a link to Shedd Aquarium Free Days for 2018. (Free Days)
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Where to Eat at the Shedd
You will probably spend several hours at the Aquarium to see everything and will need to eat either lunch or a snack. You have three options at the Shedd Aquarium restaurants or you can pack your own lunch.
Bubble Net – This cafeteria style restaurant offers a variety of food to please everyone. It does get very busy at lunch times and when a Dolphin show or 4D movie lets out. I would suggest trying to time your stop for lunch when a show is going on to reduce the number of people eating. The seating overlooks the lakefront so kids can watch the boats go by while they eat.
Tip: The best value is ordering the whole pizza deal with four drinks. Easily feeds a family.
Deep Ocean Café – Located in the lower level at the Polar Play Zone, it has quick snacks like pretzels, popcorn, and hot dogs. They also have picnic tables located across from the dolphins which makes for a great show while you eat
The Deep Ocean CafeSoundings Café – This café offers wraps, fresh salads, and burgers. It tends to be a little less crowded and quieter than the Bubble Net. It also has windows which overlook the lakefront.
Pack your own lunch – Looking to save some money? You are allowed to bring your own food and snacks into the Aquarium. You will find picnic tables and vending machines at the ground level entrance lunch room. My only caution is often field trip groups use this space. I have also let the kids eat in the Polar Play Zone by the Deep Ocean Café. Kids can sit at the table or by the windows to watch the Dolphins swim by.
If the weather is nice, you can find picnic tables outside on the North Terrace Lakeside Lawn. You are able to leave and come back inside if you keep your ticket.
Need something to bring your lunch in? Check out this easy light weight lunch bag I bring with the kids.
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Shedd Aquarium Exhibits
Main Floor Exhibits
Caribbean Reef – When you enter the Aquarium you will see a huge round tank you can walk all the way around and view fish, sting rays, and a really huge tortoise swimming. Often there is a diver in their cleaning or feeding the fish which is cool for the kids to see.
At Home on the Great Lakes – Check out all the animals and fish that live in the Great Lakes area. You can even touch a swimming Sturgeon which is pretty cool for the kids.
Amazon Rising – This is a great area for younger children because the glass windows go all the way to the floor making it easy for everyone to see the fish, birds, snakes and small monkeys. Yes Monkeys!
Wild Reef – From the main floor, take an elevator down a level to the Wild Reef. There is no additional fee for this area. Here you will see Nemo and Dory plus walk through an enormous tank with floor-to-ceiling windows and see sharks and sting rays. They also have interactive iPads to answer questions about all the fish and animals you will see. It is worth the trip down with the kids.
Second Floor Exhibits
Abbott Oceanarium – One floor down from the main level you will find the Abbott Oceanarium. This has two sections – one houses the Beluga Whales and the other side has the Dolphin Show. If there is no show going on, you are able to walk around the large tanks and view them from the top of the water. You will also find stairs on the left side to view otters and a small touch area with star fish. The Dolphin show is fun but it is geared toward being educational so may be a little long for small children. Don’t forget to reserve your ticket time if you want to watch the dolphin show.
4D Movies – On this same level as the Abbott Oceanarium will find the 4D movie. This is a pretty cool experience for kids. You wear 3D glass but you will also feel the seats shake and water or bubbles may spray out at you. They are usually only about 15 minutes long so even younger squirmy kids can make it through. People line up early to get “better” seats but I have found all the seats are pretty good. There is a documentary about sea life to watch in the waiting room, too.
Polar Play Zone – On the bottom level is where you will find the Polar Play Zone. Here kids can touch star fish, watch dolphins and beluga whales in their underwater tanks, and see penguins. There are two play areas also for kids to get some energy out. The Penguin Playscape lets the kids dress up like penguins and crawl and slide all over fake boulders and hills. Across from the Beluga Whales, you will find a huge play submarine for the kids to play in. They can move the gears and pretend they are diving underwater to find sea life.
Stingray Exhibit – Outside from May to October, you will find a tented area housing sting rays. Kids and adults can reach over and touch the sting rays as they swim by. The line for this will often seem long but the staff is very good about moving people along to keep the line moving.
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Final Shedd Aquarium Tips
With so many levels a stroller can be a pain with the long lines for the elevators. I would suggest using an umbrella stroller you can fold up and carry downstairs to save time.
There are coin operated lockers to store winter coats or other things you don’t want to carry around the museum on the main level and ground level entrance.
Get There Early
The Aquarium is not as large as some of the other Chicago museums and can feel pretty crowded as the day goes on. I would suggest coming during the week or when they open to avoid huge crowds. If you need to go on a weekend, try Sunday mornings.
Need a Break
You can re-enter the Aquarium if you keep your ticket. So, if it’s a nice day, take a break with a walk along the waterfront or have a picnic lunch.
Add on a Beach Day
Just east of the Aquarium and south of the Adler Planetarium you will find the 12th Street Beach. You can walk over from the Aquarium with the kids and swim or dig in the sand. This beach has restrooms and a food stand. If you park in the Adler Planetarium Parking lot you can grab all your beach gear on your walk over from the aquarium. I find it to be a fun end to the day in the summer plus keeps you from heading home in rush hour traffic. Here is a link to this Chicago Public beach. (Beach)
I love this beach blanket for families. It’s easy to carry and water resistant. Throw it in your car and pick it up on your walk to the beach from the Aquarium.
I hope these Chicago Shedd Aquarium Tips will help your family have a wonderful day out in Chicago. Do you have any great tips to share? Please leave them in the comments below.