It’s time to bone up on your history—and we mean that quite literally. Prepare to be dazzled by dinosaur bones, gems, and artifacts from around the world at one of the largest natural history museums in the world—the Field Museum. The museum contains a wide range of permanent exhibits, including ancient Egyptian treasures, Chinese artifacts, and dinosaur fossils that’ll make your jaw drop. One of our favorite pieces is the Tsavo Man-Eaters, a pair of (taxidermied) man-eating lions that were depicted in the 1996 Michael Douglas film The Ghost and the Darkness.
The Field Museum is located on the Museum Campus, just a short walk from the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. Make a day of it!
Photo courtesy of The Field Museum of Chicago
With a collection of over 32,000 animals of the watery persuasion, Shedd Aquarium is a massive indoor kingdom celebrating sea life in all its glory. From wild reefs to touchy-feely stingray pools, prepare to be engaged and amazed. This place isn’t just breathtaking beluga shows. The Shedd has dedicated itself to rescuing and rehabbing aquatic animals while educating the public about endangered species. Not only will the aquarium blow your mind, but your admission fee will also be doing some good for the animal kingdom. The Shedd proudly hosts two million visitors annually, so don’t be surprised if a few dozen people share your sea turtle viewing. Bring the kids, or go it alone to explore at a leisurely place and fully absorb everything the aquarium has to offer.
Epically long lines, especially during the busy summer months. Purchase your tickets online and arrive early.
Located in Hyde Park, the Museum of Science and Industry was originally erected as the Palace of Fine Arts during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, it’s the second-most attended attraction in Chicago. From a German U-505 submarine that was captured during WWII, to the Apollo 8 spacecraft that carried the first people to orbit the moon, there’s a lot of neat stuff to see here. Bring the kids; they’ll explore until they’re ready for a nap.
The area’s public transportation options are not the best. If you’re making the trip, consider also checking out the Hyde Park neighborhood and the DuSable Museum of African American History.
Considering how much Mexican culture has influenced Chicago, a visit to the National Museum of Mexican Art in the city’s Pilsen neighborhood seems fitting. The nine thousand objects in the permanent collection demonstrate the diversity of Mexican art, from woven textiles to folk art and paintings. Exhibitions rotate often and have included everything from Latina art showcases to entire street murals. The Dia de Los Muertos exhibit appears annually and makes a splash each fall. The museum’s dedication to social issues makes it not only an emblem of beauty, but also an active advocate of Mexican culture.
The Museum offers free admission, but is closed on Mondays.
Photo courtesy of National Museum of Mexican Art
Scholars, critics, and hip cats from around the world have tried for generations to answer one simple question: “Is that art?” At the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Chicago, that question is finally answered—and the answer is a resounding YES. You never know what you’ll find at the MCA—but whatever it is, it’ll be memorable. The MCA prides itself on being at the cutting edge of the art world, and while it has a large collection of works from 1920 to present, the main draws are its ever-changing installations and guest artist exhibitions. From otherworldly sculptures to art collective takeovers to guest bands doing sonic explorations (aka practicing) in the alcoves, there’s always something new. The MCA has a world class reputation and was the only museum in America to host the renowned “David Bowie Is” exhibit in late 2014.
The MCA has impeccable taste, but that taste might be strong for the average palate. If you’re looking for the old standards, head down to the Art Institute.
A hidden gem of Chicago’s museum scene, the Chicago History Museum easily appeals to history buffs—and their children. Each multimedia exhibition tells the story of Chicago’s evolution. Whether touching on Chicago’s successes in innovation, or struggles with segregation, this museum offers many lessons in the city and country’s story. There’s also an area for taking pictures as a Chicago-style hot dog--with that souvenir photo any visit here is a win!
The Chicago History Museum is free for children ages 12 and under.
Photo courtesy of Chicago History Museum
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is part of Oak Park’s Prairie School of Architecture Historic District, which contains 27 Wright-designed structures, and is a must-see for architecture buffs. While the 60-minute tour of the home and studio is worth the trip alone, there are several other Wright homes in the area that visitors can also check out from the sidewalk. Simply put, Forest Avenue is one of the most architecturally rich suburban streets in the country. As a bonus: Ernest Hemingway’s childhood home is just a short walk away.
Though Oak Park is actually located in a nearby suburb, there is a CTA Green Line stop within walking distance of the studio.
Photo courtesy of Frank Lloyd Wright Trust.
A museum for both art aficionados and people vaguely familiar with the color wheel. The Art Institute of Chicago boasts one of the finest and most accessible art collections in the world. Every turn holds another vision and the Modern Wing is an architectural masterpiece in itself. With free admission Thursday nights, among other discounts for students and Illinois residents, very little stands between you and Andy Warhol. The museum unites everyone on the art-loving spectrum in a creative yet casual space, from art collectors intently studying paintings to schoolchildren and their reminders not to get too close to the displays. If you need a rest from 5,000 years worth of artistic expression, head up to the Modern Wing’s café and wine bar. If you’re looking for a meal as fancy as a Rococo portrait, enjoy the Art Institute’s fine dining experience at Terzo Piano on the third floor.
Nearly one million square feet of this collection make comfortable shoes practically a requirement.
Photos courtesy of Art Institute of Chicago