Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
- 1. Chicago Children's Museum
- 2. The Field Museum of Natural History
- 3. Museum of Science and Industry
- 4. Shedd Aquarium
- 5. Adler Planetarium
- 6. The Art Institute of Chicago
- 7. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
- 8. The National Museum of Mexican Art
- 9. The DuSable Museum of African American History
- 10. Chicago Architecture Center
- 11. Chicago Botanic Garden
- 12. Chicago History Museum
- 13. Museum of Contemporary Art
- 14. American Writers Museum
Chicago is a world class city filled with world class attractions and world class museums. These Chicago museums are so much fun the kids won’t even know they’re learning something as they walk among the dinosaurs, marvel at the sea life, admire the artwork and splash in the water table.
Ask my kids which of the Chicago’s more than 100 museums is their favorite and chances are an argument will ensue. Ask me, and I know the answer: The Museum of Science and Industry. This behemoth of a hands-on science museum has been my favorite since my first field trip there in the third grade.
It is one of the best museums in the Windy City, but it’s hardly the only Chicago museum worthy of a visit. If you plan to visit more than one of these, I recommend buying a Chicago CityPASS. It’s what I do when I have family in town. Not only does it save you money on admissions, it lets you skip those ticket lines and head straight into the museum to start having fun.
Here are my family’s favorite Chicago museums.
TravelingMom Tip: Always check the website for the latest details before planning your visit. The museum might close early for a special event or might require reservations and face masks. Chicago museums also offer a handful of free museum days for Illinois residents.
Read More: 11 Best Kid Friendly Hotels in Chicago
1. Chicago Children’s Museum
Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Ave.
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 10am-5pm
This is without a doubt one of the best children’s museums in the country. Here, play is the thing. Kids can pretend to be firefighters, make art, race toy cars and climb through a 37-foot-tall structure to reach “The Apartment” at the top. And they can do all of that before lunch!
The museum’s location at Navy Pier makes it a little challenging to get to, but it’s well worth the effort and the cost of parking.
1400 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Open Daily 9am-5pm
Full disclosure: the Field was my least favorite museum growing up in Chicago. I thought it was boring to look at a bunch of dead stuffed animals. Then I met the man who would become my husband and on our first date, he excitedly told me he wanted to take me to his favorite Chicago museum: The Field. Seeing it through his eyes gave me a new appreciation for natural history.
Founded in 1893, The Field Museum is one of the largest natural history museums in the world, housing more than 26 million specimens and artifacts, including Sue, the most complete T. rex fossil ever found. That makes the Field the go-to Chicago museum for dinosaur lovers.
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TravelingMom Tip: There is pricey paid parking at the Museum Campus and the South Loop. if you must drive. However, the Museum Campus is easily (and affordably) accessible by public transit or a leisurely walk along the lakefront.
3. Museum of Science and Industry
5700 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Open daily from 9:30am-4pm. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
Housed in the only building constructed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition that still stands today, the Museum of Science and Industry is in Hyde Park, which is also home to the venerable University of Chicago. Permanent exhibits at the sprawling museum include a coal mine (which I found to be equal parts scary and intriguing when I was a little girl), the World War II-era German submarine that still smells of diesel fuel and an exhibit that explores the Science of Storms.
This is a HUGE museum, with more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space over five floors. You won’t be able to see it all in one day. The museum website has a terrific tool to help you plan your visit to see the exhibits most likely to meet your family’s needs.
TravelingMom Tip: It you visit during the holidays, don’t miss Christmas Around the World at MSI. It’s a collection of Christmas trees showcasing cultures from around the world. A trek to see that has been a mainstay of Christmas in my family.
4. Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm Saturday-Sunday, closed on Christmas Day
Another feature of the Museum Campus, the Shedd is Chicago’s aquarium. Its penguins became YouTube superstars during the pandemic. The Shedd is home to sharks and otters, seahorses and sea stars, jelly fish and stingrays, sea lions, octopi and more. There are add-on “experiences” such as a 30-minute meeting with one of the incredibly cute penguins.
TravelingMom Tip: The Shedd is a pricey ticket, but there are discounts and free admission days for Illinois residents and other ways to save, including buying a CityPASS. You can check them out here.
5. Adler Planetarium
1300 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Reopening March 2022
The Adler is the place we took the kids to get them to understand the universe. It’s where my son went to play with the remote control moon rover. Oh well.
TravelingMom Tip: Don’t miss the Sky Show in the domed theater or the live guided tour of the Atwood Sphere, Chicago’s oldest planetarium. It’s a metal ball with 692 holes drilled in the surface to replicate the night sky as it appeared over Chicago in 1913.
6. The Art Institute of Chicago
111 South Michigan Ave.
Open Thursday-Monday 9am-5pm
One of the premiere art museums in the world, the Art Institute houses one of the largest permanent collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and it’s the place to see iconic American paintings such as Grant Woods’ “American Gothic,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” and Andy Warhol’s “Liz #3.” Kids may not care about any of that. But they will be agog at the 68 meticulously decorated and furnished Thorne Miniature dollhouse rooms.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to check out the lions that guard the front steps of the museum’s Michigan Avenue entrance for a Instagram-worthy photo. During the holidays, they sport evergreen wreaths. When a Chicago sports team makes the playoffs, they get hats or jerseys to celebrate.
7. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N Cannon Drive
Open daily 10am-4pm
This museum in Lincoln Park is the descendent of Chicago’s first private scientific museum, the Chicago Academy of Sciences, which became Chicago’s first public museum when it opened to all visitors in 1869, only to be lost in the Chicago Fire two years later. After 100 years in another location, the museum opened as the Peggy Notebaert Museum in 1999 as a hands-on science museum. The big draw: the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven and storytime for little ones.
TravelingMom Tip: There is plenty of free parking along Cannon and Stockton drives. When you finish at the museum, head over to Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Conservatory, two of the best free things to do in Chicago.
8. The National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W. 19th Street
Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm
This place is pure eye candy — and it’s free to visit! I love the rich colors and the rich culture of the works of art in this museum. Located in the largely Mexican American neighborhood of Pilsen, the museum is home to one of the country’s largest Mexican art collections. Formerly known as the Mexican Fine Arts Museum, it was the first Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums and it’s still the largest Latino cultural institution in the United States. The museum also offers a wide array of cultural performances. Check the calendar before you go to see what’s happening when you plan to visit.
TravelingMom Tip: Parking can be a challenge in Pilsen. Take the Pink line of the L to the museum. After your visit, walk around the neighborhood to see some of the many impressive murals that adorn the buildings in this vibrant community and stop at a local spot for authentic Mexican food for lunch.
9. The DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
The nation’s oldest independent African American museum, the DuSable is named for Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable, the Haitian-born founder of Chicago. Its mission is to collect, document, preserve, study and disseminate the and culture of Africans and African Americans. Special exhibits at this Smithsonian-affiliated museum have explore issues as diverse as medical racism and the rise of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.
TravelingMom Tip: Admission is free on Sundays.
111 E. Wacker Drive
Open daily 10am-5pm, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day
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If you have a teen who is into architecture or worried about our crowded future, this is worth a stop. Even if you don’t want to spend time in the architecture center, head here to book an architecture river cruise. Seeing the city from the Chicago River is one of the best things to do in Chicago on a warm sunny summer day.
11. Chicago Botanic Garden
1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
Open 8am-3pm or later daily, closed on holidays
This gorgeous botanic garden is spread over 385 acres. It includes 27 gardens and four natural areas with six miles of lake shoreline. My brother-in-law lives a few blocks away, so this is an easy-to-access spot for a lovely walk. It’s free to enter, but there’s a fee for parking.
TravelingMom Tip: If you’re visiting Chicago at Christmas, the Botanic Garden has a beautiful holiday light show.
12. Chicago History Museum
1601 N Clark Street
Open Tuesday-Saturday 9:30am-4:30pm, Sunday noon-5pm, closed on Mondays and some holidays
The newest exhibit at this museum explores Chicago’s most notorious moment in history, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Initially blamed on Mrs. O’Leary’s cow (a claim since debunked), the fire destroyed much of the city and killed more than 300 people.
Other exhibits let kids can climb aboard the first CTA public transit car, ride a high-wheel bicycle and catch a fly ball at Comiskey Park.
220 E Chicago Avenue
Open Wednesday–Sunday 10am–5pm, Tuesday 10 am–9 pm
This modern art museum sits a block off of the Magnificent Mile. It’s dedicated to exhibiting new and experimental work in all media.
180 N. Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor
Open Thursday-Monday 10am-5pm
This museum, which opened in 2017, has been on my nto-do list and I hope to get there soon. It celebrates American writers with a emphasis on showcasing writers from underrepresented communities.