St. Charles, Illinois

Affordable Family Memories

Low-cost, fun things to do with the kids in St. Charles, Illinois

My family and I were looking for a getaway where we could really embrace the outdoors, but we didn’t want to spend a ton of money. We love the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago, but we needed a break from the craziness of our everyday lives between school, after school activities, work and the city. On a tip from a friend, we Googled St. Charles, Illinois, just 40 miles west of the city of Chicago, and discovered it had everything we wanted for our weekend adventure—plenty of parks, places to unplug and outdoor activities.

Though the drive was short, it felt like we were in a different world when we arrived. In contrast to the chaos of the big city, St. Charles was a beautiful, natural oasis (read: trees, a river and flowers amid a town that obviously had a variety of restaurants, entertainment and attractions).

Park play

Wanting to get out and stretch our legs right away, we spent the morning exploring Mt. St. Mary Park. We instantly fell in love with Mt. St. Mary because of all the cool sculptures. Every May new sculptures are added throughout the park from local and national artists. Our kids especially loved Mr. Eggwards, a Humpty-Dumpty-inspired permanent sculpture. It was the perfect backdrop for some super-silly faces.

We spent a few minutes watching the older kids playing in the skate park, doing tricks on the half pipe and grind rails before we went to the playground for some time on the slides and swings.

After quickly checking in to our hotel, wanting to take advantage of gorgeous weather, we headed over to Otter Cove Aquatic Park. We spent the entire afternoon splashing around there, so at only $15 a person, we got a lot of bang for our buck. The boys swirled around the salamander slides and frolicked in the water geysers. While my husband and I did a fair amount of that, we mostly lapped up life floating along the 600-foot lazy river. We had a great time and the kids definitely burned a lot of their energy. We got cleaned up and refueled with a quick dinner before heading out again.

We had heard about an event called STC Live! in downtown St. Charles on Wednesday and Friday nights during the summer. Every night is unique—one show might be an up-and-coming pop band, the next a dance troop, and the next, maybe a talented vocalist or magician. A local jazz band made our night with a high-energy performance that got a big chunk of the audience up on their feet dancing around—our boys included.

Farm life

After a good night’s sleep, we were up and at ‘em early (I swear my kids have two speeds: on and asleep!). Primrose Farm topped our agenda, and the boys were raring to go. The farm is open from dawn to dusk and is free to enter, so we first walked the grounds to see the farm in action before deciding which activities to do.

First, we opted to milk the cows! With some guidance from the friendly farmers, the boys learned how to approach the cow and squeeze and tug in just the right way to get the milk flowing. We all got to pet the cows. I love their velvety noses, long lashes and sweet faces. I have a whimsical piece of cow art hanging in my office, and I know I’ll be thinking of this experience from now on when I see it.

After that we fed chickens. The boys’ faces lit up in excitement (and maybe a little trepidation) when the chickens approached them for a morning snack. We spent some time chatting with the nice folks who worked at Primrose, and they told us there is always a fun activity going on from barn dancing to grooming horses to face painting. I have a feeling this won’t be our last visit to the farm!

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Cool treats

In the afternoon we headed to Pottawatomie Park, a riverfront charmer with plenty to do. We started in the picnic area where we noshed on lunch and plotted our game plan.

Our youngest is a baseball nut so we had to see the baseball field. Luckily a game was going on, so we caught a few minutes of that. We meandered the riverfront, chatting and soaking up the outdoor space. There was a brief debate about miniature golf, but decided as a family to take a ride on one of the really cool paddlewheel riverboats we spotted.

When I stepped aboard the classic boat, I felt like I might be stepping into Mark Twain’s world. During the excursion, the guide highlighted cool points of interest, along with tidbits of local history. We loved spotting the wildlife in and around the water. My husband pointed out an eagle perched on a tree limb. A moment later, it took off and flew in a path right overhead. The boys couldn’t stop talking about it!

That night we were tuckered out from all of the exploring, but what’s a vacation without ice cream? I’m sure it’s possible, but I have no intention of testing the idea. After dinner we surprised our kids with a trip to Kimmer’s Ice Cream. This local shop has tons of fun flavors, and their menu features a Sparkle Cone™! We each decided on something different—Parent Trap with peanut butter and Oreos for our eldest, Cookie Monster for our youngest, Coffee and Donuts for my husband and mint chocolate chip for me. All in Sparkle Cones, of course!

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Breathing in nature

We wanted to make a quick stop before we headed back to Chicago, so we decided on a quick walk on the Riverbend trail. The trail is 4.4 miles, which is a long way for our two little guys, so we just did part of it. I lavished the extra time to see more of the river up close and just breathe in a few more minutes of fresh air. It occurred to me that next time we’d have to bring our bikes.

I couldn’t believe how much fun we were able to pack into such an easy, affordable getaway.

Discover more ways to make memories with the family in St. Charles.
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