As much as I love summer, there comes a time after camp and the family vacation has passed that I start to wonder why are my children still home? They seem to grow crankier and lazier with each passing day.

So, for the sake of my sanity (and yours!) here is a list of some of our favorite summer activities. And since my summer fun budget is more than depleted, you can be sure that they’re all cheap (or better yet–free).

1. Whealen Pool: Only a few miles west on Devon, in the Forest Preserve, this pool is as fun as the Skokie pools but much cheaper. Adults are $5 and kids (4 and up) are only $3. Be sure to wear a swimsuit, even if you don’t plan to swim, to be admitted to the facility.

2. River Park: I mentioned this pool and bike path in my biking post, but it’s worth mentioning here again. The pool is free and close to home, and the park and splash park are fun too. Bring your bikes and a picnic and make a whole day of it.

3. Bowen Park: This park in Waukegan is worth the shlep! It’s great for kids of all ages and unlike any park I’ve seen locally. Add raspberry picking at Thompson Farms, and you have a full day. Call ahead to check on the picking conditions.

4. Millennium Park via the Metra and Water Taxi: This is a fabulous (and cheap!) day for all ages. I recommend doing this with a friend or spouse for the first time, because it can be intimidating on your own. Pack lightly because there’s a lot of public transportation. Here’s how to go, step by step:

  • Park on Lunt, Greenleaf Ave. or Ravenswood, near the Rogers Park Metra station at Ravenswood.
  • Take the train headed downtown (east set of stairs). Check the schedule before to decide which train to take. The train is $2.50 each way for adults and free for kids under 12 (what else is still free for kids under 12 these days?!).
  • Walk to the head of the platform toward the inside of the building. When you arrive, buy your return ticket home at the station, to avoid the $3 surcharge.
  • Pass the escalators and head to the left to walk across the enclosed glass bridge, leading to 2 Riverside Plaza (ask if you’re confused, because everyone there will know where this is).
  • Exit at the doors all the way at the end and walk 10 feet to the Water Taxi. Head down the long flight of stairs to get on the boat. You can buy your tickets ($2 for ages 4 and over) on board. Take the taxi to the Michigan Avenue stop.
  • Head up to Michigan Ave. via the stairs or elevator and head to the right (south) to Millennium Park. (or you could go left to the Hershey’s store).
  • Spend the day there listening to the live music, splashing in the fountain and playing in the museum tents.

5. Loyola Beach: This is not the most glamorous beach along Lake Michigan, but hey, it’s home. You can bike here, it’s so close. And with half a mile of beach front, it’s easy to find an uncrowded spot. I like to park near Greenleaf or Pratt, when I don’t bike there.

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