The Chicago History Museum makes learning fun for kids by having exhibits that are meant for little hands to explore. Most of the exhibits describe the origins and development of the city, highlighting the famous people and major stories that have shaped the Chicago we know today. The museum will be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike because it delivers history as entertainment which kids (and adults) of all ages will appreciate.
The Chicago History Museum is located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of downtown Chicago. Even though we have lived here for ten years, I never had time to visit, but one of my children went to the museum on a class field trip and raved about it. I’m always looking for opportunities to teach my kids about history, so I figured it was time to take the kids on a tour.
What You Can Expect to See
My kids made a bee line for this room as soon as we checked in. Want to see what it’s like to be a life size Chicago hot dog? Wonder what it would be like to ride a high ride bicycle? How about experiencing the sights and sounds of a baseball game? Kids can do all of these fun activities in the Sensing Chicago exhibit, where it’s all about using your five senses to explore the sights, smells, and sounds of the city. I literally had to drag the kids away or we would have been making kid hot dogs all day!
Chicago: Crossroads of America
This area features a full size L (elevated train) car, a recreated jazz club, and an actual locomotive. There’s also plenty of Chicago sports memorabilia, information about Chicago’s Great Fire, and the history of architecture in they city. There is a lot of information to read in this section, but if you pick and choose a few, children will be entertained and not overwhelmed. There are docents throughout the museum willing to share their knowledge, and we had the most wonderful guide explain a diorama of the Chicago Fire. The kids were enthralled as he explained the days before, during, and after the fire ravaged the city. Families will love the activity carts that allow kids to construct their own skyscrapers and bridges.
The Secret Lives of Objects
This is perhaps the most unique exhibit I have ever seen in a museum. The collection consists of artifacts from the vaults of the museum and each has a story to tell. Each one is spotlighted in its own case and a placard tells about the piece in the first person narrative. There’s a pair of eyeglasses that witnessed a murder, the table where Robert E. Lee surrendered, a cane that belonged to Charlie Chaplin. All of these items are fascinating in their own right, but as a collection it is exciting. I loved it and the kids loved it. Kudos to the Chicago History Museum for injecting some creativity into what otherwise would be a bunch of random museum objects. I hope this exhibit stays around for awhile because I think people will love it.
Another kid favorite is a hallway with approximately eight dioramas showing the development of Chicago during the 19th century. The handiwork is spectacular and the kids enjoyed learning about the history through these small figurines and displays. My son remembered these from his last visit and insisted we see them before we left, and I’m glad we did.
The museum has a variety of rotating exhibits, so check the website before you go. When we visited there was a railroad photography exhibit, an Abraham Lincoln exhibit, and a fashion exhibit. All of these were well done, but the ones I listed above were definitely our favorites.
What You Need to Know
1601 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614
There is a designated museum parking lot north across La Salle and west of Stockton Drive. The cost is reduced with museum validation.
For current admission pricing, click here. Illinois residents can take advantage of Illinois Resident discount days (dates on website).
There is a café inside the museum and it is open during museum hours. They serve breakfast all day, soups, sandwiches, salads, coffee, tea, and other beverages. Prices are reasonable, but if you don’t want to eat here, there are plenty of restaurants in the area.
We were thrilled to discover a museum that kids of all ages can enjoy. It was unique and had plenty of hands-on activities which makes it a wonderful destination for families looking for something off the beaten path. The Chicago History Museum does a wonderful job of giving visitors an intimate view of the city we call home and we would highly recommend it.
Considering a visit to Chicago? Why not check out these articles: The Best Way to See Chicago in a Weekend or The Best Things to Do with Kids at Water Tower Place