Off the beaten path


Allison Markowitz


If you live in the Chicagoland area, chances are you think you know the best educational kid-friendly attractions. But frustrating crowds, high admission prices and all the "cool stuff" behind glass and rope can leave your family wanting. This winter, put your old standbys on hold and take your kids to these smaller, lesser-known museums, each with something unique to offer. From touching fur hides in a wigwam to climbing atop a real military tank, your kids will have hands-on fun and learn (but that can be our little secret)!



Mitchell Museum of the American Indian


Unique Feature: Features touchable exhibits such as a wigwam, with a ‘fire’ and hides to sit on.


Good Thing to Know: Nothing is held behind glass, so the museum is great for curious little ones.


Contact: (847) 475-1030 or


Museum of Podiatric Medicine


Unique Feature: Kids can gawk at the world’s largest shoe, whose owner was almost 9 feet tall.


Good Thing to Know: The exhibit features displays all about the science of walking, a short film and much more.


Contact: (847) 578-8417 or


Dupage County Historical Museum


Unique Feature: At the interactive exhibit about measurements, kids can make a pretend pie or stew, build a birdhouse and even measure themselves.

Good Thing to Know: The museum focuses on history but makes it kid-friendly. Its haunted house is great for older kids as well.


Contact: (630) 682-7343 or


International Museum of Surgical Science


Unique Feature: A realistic 19th-century street features a dentist’s office and apothecary for kids to explore.


Good Thing to Know: The museum displays surgical tools, which may frighten younger children.


Contact: (312) 642-6502 or


Cantigny Park First Division Museum


Unique Feature: Kids can climb on tanks and artillery that line the grounds—a great photo opportunity for holiday greeting cards.


Good Thing to Know: The museum houses war artifacts such as uniforms, medals and authentic flags and artwork. The grounds are also perfect for a serene winter stroll.


Contact: (630) 668-5185 or


Children’s Museum of Immigration


Unique Feature: Kids can get a ticket for a boat ride and can play house in an authentic 1870s farmhouse.


Good Thing to Know: There aren’t any electronics or computers—the museum focuses on hands-on play that also teaches history.


Contact: (773) 728-8111 or museum.html


Chester Gould-Dick Tracy Museum


Unique Feature: The Crimestopper Club room has hands-on exhibits that help kids feel like real detectives.


Good Thing to Know: The museum features original comic artwork and Dick Tracy memorabilia, perhaps better suited for older kids.


Contact: (815) 338-8281 or www.chester




Unique Feature: Scheduled barn, folk and traditional English and Scottish dancing held on Fermilab’s campus brings different cultures to Chicagoland.


Good Thing to Know: The Lederman Science Center at Fermilab has exhibits that bring physics to life for kids grades K-12. Groups of 6 or more must book in advance.

Contact: (630) 840-2061 for information on barn and folk dancing. (630) 584-0825 for international dancing, for basic museum information.


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