Recently invited to spend a weekend in Chicago Southland, comprised of 62 communities just outside the city limits, we have a new favorite place to stretch our legs and grab a bite to eat. With a plethora of Metra public transit lines, Chicago Southland is a fantastic spot to hop the train and see what the area has to offer. Define your own adventure, or check out some of our family-friendly finds.
Encompassing five acres of aquatic action, you’ll do a double take when you realize White Water Canyon Water Park is maintained by the Tinley Park Park District. More like a privately-owned attraction than a community swimming pool, White Water Canyon features zero-depth entry, a splash zone, 600-foot lazy river, interactive children’s play area (pictured to the left), drop slide, diving boards, lap swim, and two respectably “awesome” water slides (one body, one tube). Complete with concession stand and sand play area, you can attempt to relax in the sun or under a beach umbrella. For families on a budget, use the money you save on the $13 daily admission fee ($9 after 5PM) for Tinley Junction Miniature Golf, about a mile up the road.
Under the shade of the mature trees at McCarthy Park in Tinley Park is a clever 18-hole miniature golf course designed in a “unique garden model railroad” theme. Feeling a bit like you’ve arrived in Mister Rogers Neighborhood, an electric powered train makes a loop through the course while you putter around. Not too difficult for a younger golfer, your biggest problem may be keeping the kids focused on the task at hand. Grab a bite to eat at the concession stand and watch the big kids in batting cages from the covered pavilion. Check the website for group discounts on golf, food, and special events.
Traveling with young athletes, we purposefully included a sporting event on our weekend itinerary. Chicago Southland’s professional baseball team, the Windy City ThunderBolts, call Standard Bank Stadium in Crestwood their home (slightly off the beaten path, but well worth the drive). Typically less expensive, less crowded, and more accessible than the big league, we prefer minor league games at home and on the road. When parking costs the same as a bag of cotton candy, kids can slap hands with the mascot, and just as many people watch the between-innings shenanigans as the game, you know you’ve found a true American past time.
Not opposed to sneaking in a little education on the road, we ventured out to the Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center in Willow Springs. Visiting the grounds on a rainy day, our exploration was somewhat confined to the main building and original “one room” school house. In the state-of-the art modern facility we explored both the kids’ wing and chatted with the naturalists tending to birds, reptiles, and fish on the self-guided tour through the remainder of the building. Learning about the difference between a slough, a marsh, and a pond, we got up close and personal with some turtles and a crow named Whiskey. Admission is free and leave some time for a picnic or a hike on one of the paved trails.
Adding to our day of distance learning, The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn is a fantastic spot for kids (and parents) to play. Every exhibit at The Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn was created with the Illinois Board of Education curriculum in mind, focusing on hands on learning. Organized with both toddlers and elementary-age kids in mind, we tested every exhibit on both floors over the course of two hours. In a space mall enough to keep tabs on darting siblings, but large enough to keep everyone engaged, we completely forgot about the rainy afternoon.
With plenty of lodging options within a stone’s throw from Interstate-80 (take the Harlem and LaGrange Avenue exits), we enjoyed our over sized room and continental breakfast at the Comfort Suites. Near shopping, dining, and the modern Tinley Park Convention Center, Chicago Southland is a safe and convenient place to re-group, re-fuel, rest, and recharge.