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TODAY

Saturday, April 20

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Many times as parents, we rely on word of mouth for our latest finds whether they be a decent restaurant, a small shop with inexpensive clothing or a toy store that doesn't have unsupervised, screaming children running amok. You say there's a cool, café that's very kid-friendly? Where? There's a laundromat out there that doesn't have a hazmat-laden play area? Show Me. You tell me a place exists where all of my children, from youngest to oldest, can have fun? Take me there.

With this in mind, I asked some parents in the city and suburbs to tell us of places they like to take their children in the city. I asked them what is their favorite thing to do with them or if there's a hidden gem -- be it store, local item, food, club, etc. -- that they all love, if they could share with us. Here's what they told me.

Kasia Maslanka, mother of 21-month-old Sasha:

Whenever I am driving around and taking care of errands with Sasha, we very often stop at pet stores (most often PetCo or PetSmart). It's like taking her on a mini-zoo trip. She absolutely loves it every time.

Michelle W., mother of 17-year-old Nick, 15-year-old Zack and 22-month-old Olivia:

Having three children with a huge gap, it is difficult to find things for all three! We like to go to Diversey Driving Range. The older kids can do the range and smaller children can either play on the playground equipment or do the putt-putt course. They also have concession stands and a cute little popcorn/ice cream shop in the Brewster Building (2800 N. Pine Grove).

Sometimes after a visit to Lincoln Park Zoo, we follow up with a meal at RJ Grunts. It is a circa '70s restaurant with fun music and lively atmosphere, even with small children anyone fits in. Great salad bar and generous portions, great prices.

Lastly, the older kids they like to shop on Belmont: The Alley, Ragstock, Belmont Army Surplus, Record Exchange and all the little shops in that area. There is a little hidden find for lunch: Chicken Hut. It is located at 3200 North Broadway Street and has the most awesome chicken and sides and super cheap, it is not fancy and often crowded but for good reason. When I lived in that neighborhood, I used to eat there several times a week.

Lupe Alonso, mother of 19-year-old Jorge, 17-year-old Ruben, 15-year-old Franco and 12-year-old Michelle:

With all of my kids being adolescents, it's really hard finding something we all like to do. I can't make them all happy, but after some brainstorming I thought, what kids don't like movies and food?

At Nova Cinema in Naperville, for only $4.75 matinee (before 6pm) you can see a first-run movie and that price includes popcorn and soda. If you have a big family, like I do, these prices are great. Plus, the older kids don't mind going to the movies as a family, it doesn't make them feel "uncool."

We live in Naperville, so just about every weekend we come into the city, for our taco fix. Our favorite taqueria is La Pasadita on [Ashland and ]Division. They have huge burritos that fill up my older sons and a big variety of tacos so even my youngest one, who is a bit of picky eater, finds something she likes. And while you're there, don't forget to try the salsa negra.

Bob Burns, father of 9-year-old Bobby:

Bobby and I were frequent visitors to the Children's Museum on Navy Pier when he was younger but eventually the chaos of getting there and being there got to us. It's a good time for the younger kids though. Try taking the train, a little kid can get a big kick out of riding the El.

Best low-buck good time in the city? The Conservatories at Lincoln and Garfield Parks. Best thing to maintain your sanity in the winter.

The smell of the place is wonderful when it first hits you as you come through the door. Lots of colors besides the grey/slush/salt colors of Chicago. Check out some plants, toss a penny in the fountain, watch the schedule for kids activities.

Our two favorite summertime activities when we're not out of town: 1) Bicycle rides on the Cook County Forest Preserve District's bike trails. Get out early in the morning to have a nice ride before the hordes arrive.

2) Team Demolition Derby at Route 66 raceway in Joliet. What kid (or fun-loving adult) doesn't want to see cars slamming into each other head-on at 50 miles an hour?

Sarah K., mother of toddler Xander and founder of online group Chitown Mamas:

We live on the North Side of the city, which I recently found out is where OTHER mommies and toddlers live, as well. It took me a while to find them though, I was having a bit of trouble "picking-up" mommy friends at the local playground. But I kept at it, and eventually learned that there are a number of weekly toddler-based activities right in my neighborhood!

On Wednesday morning, there is a play group that meets at the Ebenezer Lutheran Church for cookies, music and general toddler-craziness. Later on in the day, the Women & Children First book shop have book readings that are very popular with the local mommies. After these activities everyone heads over to one of the local parks, and *THIS* is the holy grail of 'picking up' mommy friends!

The information that parents have of what is available in the city is gold -- usually more valuable than information any magazine or television commercial could offer. Why? Because it is honest and tested. Word of mouth has been a savior for me many times, and I'm sure the same holds true for most of you. The next time your wondering what else is out there for you and your family, try one of these suggestions or just ask another parent you know -- they'll tell you.

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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