For family activities, colorful shops, tempting restaurants, and cultural experiences, Chicago’s Chinatown has no shortage of engaging activities for visitors and locals of all ages.
Having spent several weekends over the years immersed in Chicago’s dynamic Chinatown community, I’ve come to view the neighborhood as one of the city’s most culturally energetic area. What better way for visitors to explore it than eating their way through the bustling streets?
Chicago’s Chinatown Neighborhood
Located just south of the Loop, Chinatown is one of Chicago’s most dynamic and historic ethnic neighborhoods. It is near downtown just south of Greektown and is home to the state’s oldest and largest Chinatown, dating back to the 1830s. This community serves as a bustling hub for Chinese culture, commerce, and cuisine in the Midwest.
When I pass through the iconic Chinatown Gate on Wentworth Avenue, I feel transported to the other side of the world. The neighborhood boasts over 50 restaurants featuring regional Chinese staples, open air markets with exotic fruits and vegetables, Chinese bakeries filled with sweet and savory treats, winding alleys adorned with murals and dragon statues, and shops brimming with Chinese medicine, teas, spices, and more.
Where is Chinatown
Chicago’s Chinatown is located just south of the Magnificent Mile and the Downtown Loop neighborhood. It is roughly bordered by the Chicago River to the north, 26th Street to the south, State Street to the west, and Wentworth Avenue to the east.
The area is easily accessible by public transportation, with the CTA’s Red Line stopping at Cermak-Chinatown station and multiple bus routes running through the neighborhood.
How to Get to Chinatown
By CTA ‘L’ Train
The best way to get to Chinatown is by public transportation and on foot. The area is walkable, and you can easily spend half a day here while enjoying family activities. Take the CTA Red line south (towards 95th Dan Ryan) and exit the Cermak-Chinatown stop. Exit the south end of the station if you want to be closer to the oldest part of Chinatown.
By Chicago Water Taxi
The water taxi is a fantastic way to see the city from the water while planning a visit to Chinatown. You can catch the water taxi at any of the three stops in the Chicago Loop along the river including Michigan Ave., LaSalle St., Clark Street, or Madison St. The water taxi stops at Ping Tom Memorial Park on the north end of Chinatown. The water taxi operates from April through October.
By CTA Bus
The CTA bus is relatively the most economical way of traveling to Chinatown. Take CTA bus # 21, #24, or #62 from the downtown area (on State Street or Clark Street). Look for the bus shelter or the bus stop sign with the bus line indicated.
To drive to Chicago Chinatown, you can take the Kennedy Expressway (I-90/94) and exit at 18th Street. If you are wondering where to park in Chinatown, parking is plentiful in the neighborhood. There is limited free parking in the neighborhood streets, but they usually require a residential permit, or the duration is limited. You’ll find paid parking (meters) on 22nd Ave (Cermak Road). You can also use SpotHero.com to find available parking lots.
Best Family Activities and Attractions in Chinatown
Walking around Chinatown is a great way to spend time in warmer weather.
The outdoor area is a hub of activity, featuring colorful pagodas and statues in Chinatown Square, lots of boba tea spots, and some of the best food in the city.
It’s a great place to snap some photos, people-watch, and soak up the lively atmosphere. After spending the day in the neighborhood, we compiled a list of family activities that you can enjoy during your stay.
Marvel the Chinatown Gateway
📍2206 S Wentworth Ave
Chinatown’s iconic gateway is inspired by a wall in Beijing. It was originally established in 1975 and has since been renovated.
The historic gate serves as the main entry to Chicago’s Chinatown, which is home to many stores, restaurants, churches, grocers, and bakeries.
The Chinese characters mean “The world belongs to the commonwealth” and symbolizes the community’s spirit.
Gaze the Nine Dragon Wall
📍170 W Cermak Rd
The Nine Dragon Wall in Chicago’s Chinatown is a significant cultural landmark that symbolizes the rich history and heritage of Chinese culture.
The wall is a replica of the original Nine Dragon Wall in Beijing’s Forbidden City, which was built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to serve as a decorative screen for the imperial palace.
The wall was built in 2003 and is made of glazed tiles.
Nine finely carved and vibrantly colored dragon figures with distinctive poses and expressions are displayed against a backdrop of billowing clouds and crashing seas.
In Chinese culture, dragons are treasured as a representation of power, strength, and luck.
Take a Chinatown Food Tour
What better way to explore the area? On this guided walking food tour around the Chinatown neighborhood, you’ll learn about the Chinese culinary culture in Chicago, the culinary traditions of various parts of China, and how Chinese culture has impacted Chicago and other cities.
And now here is the yummy part! You’ll have free samplings of must-eat foods from some of the best Chinese restaurants in Chicago. This may be the favorite of all the family activities!
Chicago’s Chinatown Food and Walking Tour
On this popular Chinatown scene for foodies, you’ll discover the neighborhood’s influence on Chicago’s culture. With an expert by your side, you’ll taste regional Chinese specialties while learning cuisine styles from across mainland China and Taiwan.
Tastings include traditional Chinese foods, dim sum, dumplings, and more. It’s a great outdoor activity that you can do with or without the kids (in which case, you may want to upgrade to a drink pairing).
📍Wentworth Ave (East of Cermak CTA Station)
A fierce dragon curls and undulates across the weathered brick wall. An colorful painting in bright colors comprise its elegant, sinuous body, while it’s 3-D head pops boldly from the faded urban backdrop.
This fantastical painted Guardian feels at once otherworldly yet fiercely protective of the community who brought this artwork to life from the concrete jungle.
Visit Ping Tom Memorial Park
📍1700 S Wentworth Av
The 2.5-acre Ping Tom Memorial Park is one of the hidden gems of Chicago’s Chinatown. It is a public garden and park that was built as a tribute.
It has nice attractions like pagodas and green space. There is also a nice walking path where you can glimpse parts of the Chicago skyline.
It’s a nice spot to relax with your favorite bubble tea along with some mooncakes and egg tarts.
Pui Tak Center Building
📍2216 S Wentworth Ave
Are you ready to see phenomenal architecture in the heart of Chicago‘s Chinatown? Look no further than the Pui Tak Center Building! The building itself is a feast for the eyes, with its unique blend of Chinese and Western architecture, traditional motifs, and colorful artwork. Don’t miss the stunning zodiac mural on the exterior, which is sure to be a hit on your Instagram feed.
Chinese American Veteran’s Memorial
📍2169 S Archer Ave
The Chinese American Veteran’s Memorial is a popular destination for visitors to Chinatown, and it is a powerful symbol of the resilience and strength of the Chinese American community.
The monument is dedicated to Chinese Americans who served in the United States military. The memorial depicts a brave Chinese American dressed in a uniform from the Korean War era and holding a rifle. It’s interesting to note that his face is modeled after a Chinese American soldier who served in that conflict.
Visit the Chinese American Museum of Chicago
📍238 W 23rd St
Need budget-friendly family activities? There are a few in this list. The Chinese American Museum of Chicago is also free, but they have suggested donations. This museum details and appreciates Chinese American culture through exhibitions, education, and research of Chinese Americans primarily in the Midwest area.
There were two floors with the top floor detailing the history of Chinese Americans living in Chicago. A lot of the exhibits were about those who immigrated to Chicago from San Francisco and those who served in World War II. You’ll also see a brief film about the history of Chinese Americans in Chicago and the community that was created for immigrants just arriving. It tells a moving story of triumph, perseverance, togetherness, and community.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Museum
📍2245 S Wentworth Ave
The museum tells the story of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, known as the “Father of Modern China” for his instrumental role in overthrowing imperial rule in 1912.
You’ll have to climb a flight of stairs to get to the exhibit. It is free, but you can leave a donation. I was a bit skeptical of visiting because the entrance looked run down.
However, learning of revolutionary figures of everyday citizens that built this community illuminates the spirit and resilience behind one of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
Chinese Mural of Immigrants
📍Wentworth Ave (South end of Chinatown Square)
The Chinese Mural of Immigrants is a significant landmark in Chinatown. The large outdoor mural spans two walls and depicts the journey of Chinese immigrants to the United States – from their arrival in San Francisco in the 1800s to their settlement and contributions to Chicago’s Chinatown community.
Chinese Gates of Wisdom and Knowledge
📍Wentworth Ave (South end of Chinatown Square)
On either side of the striking mural depicting Chinese immigrants are the towering gates devoted to wisdom and knowledge. These ceremonious entrances first welcome visitors while pillars signify Chinese innovations such as the compass, gunpowder, paper-making, and printing.
Pausing to admire this fusion of culture, history, and architecture makes for an engaging family activity. Parents can describe the gates’ symbolism and famous inventions while kids will enjoy pointing out intriguing details in the rich mural.
Chinese Zodiac Statues
📍Wentworth Ave (South end of Chinatown Square)
In the open air behind the gates of wisdom and knowledge stand 12 zodiac animal statues that represent the years of the Chinese calendar. Since I was born in the year of the Tiger, and it is my nickname, I like to strike a pose there beause it symbolized strength and bravery.
Spotting all 12 zodiac animals sparks fun competition. Chinatown Square’s scenic central plaza provides the perfect picturesque backdrop for family photos too!
Explore the Shops and Markets in Chinatown Square
📍2133 S China Pl
Looking for more fun things to do in Chicago‘s Chinatown? Chinatown Square is a two-story outdoor shopping mall with a ton of restaurants, boutiques, gift and specialty shops, banks, clinics, beauty shops, and commercial offices. It is also the largest Chinese mall in the United States east of San Francisco and west of New York City.
If you’re looking for Korean, Japanese, Cantonese, Szechuan, Thai, or Asian Fusion cuisines, you are in the right spot! In Chinatown Square, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Chinatown.
Ready to showcase your vocal talents? Don’t miss the Sakura Karaoke Bar! You should add this to your list of family activities to do in Chicago at night.
Must-See Annual Events in Chinatown
The Chinatown festivals are very popular so you should avoid taking a car, if possible. We highly recommend taking a water taxi. It feels like you are on vacation plus you won’t have to fight for a parking spot in the area.
Lunar New Year Parade
If you love lively and colorful parades, this one should be on your list of family activities. Make sure you arrive early to secure a good viewing spot, as the streets can get crowded. And don’t forget…it’s Chicago! You should also dress warmly, as it can be cold in Chicago during the winter months. The Chinese New Year is one of the top family attractions in Chinatown and is celebrated at the end of January or early February, depending on the lunar calendar.
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
Held every May, the community celebrates Asian-Pacific American heritage and hosts several festivals and events to showcase the diverse cultures and traditions of the Asian American community. The events include live music and dance performances, food vendors, and cultural exhibits. If you are in Chicago during this month, be sure to add these family activities to your itinerary.
Chinatown Summer Festival
This is not a traditional city festival with fried twinkies. You will have to get your food at all the amazing local restaurants in the neighborhood. This is a great experience because you’ll have an opportunity to try a new restaurant that you’ve never tried before. So if you do attend, make it a point to have a restaurant in mind. Also, try to get seated before lunchtime or else you will be waiting for a table to open. Then enjoy more family activities like dancing, entertainment, in one of Chicago’s best neighborhoods!
Chicago Dragon Boat Race
Held in Tom Memorial Park, the race features people from all over the city who are ready to row! They compete in colorful dragon boats in celebration of Chinese culture and tradition, and it includes not only the dragon boat races but also cultural performances, food vendors, and family-friendly activities. It’s one of the best free things to do in Chicago and spectators are encouraged to come out and cheer on the teams as they race down the Chicago River.
Chinatown is one of several neighborhoods that marathon runners see as they glide through 26.2 miles of Chicago. Find your favorite spot in the neighborhood to cheer them on! The race is held on the second Sunday of October.
Final Thoughts on Family Activities and Attractions in Chinatown Chicago
This Chicago neighborhood is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the rich cultural heritage of the locals. It’s a nice way to spend the day browsing the stores, sampling some snacks, and picking up a unique souvenir to take home.
Many locals like to come here for its authentic Chinese cuisine. This historic district has an exciting array of attractions and things to do, including unique cuisine and shopping spots.
Stop by for the day or spend a few hours exploring the best family activities and attractions.
Having had the privilege of rediscovering Chicago’s Chinatown several times every year, I heartily endorse spending a full weekend immersing yourself in the Community’s enveloping culture, flavors and hospitality. Just leave room in your stomach – there’s always exciting new restaurants and bakeries popping up worth sampling when I visit next!