38 Chicagoland Museums Families Should Visit At Least Once

Chicago is filled with amazing museums. From the Art Institute to the International Museum of Surgical Sciences, it’s hard to run out of places to learn, to touch artifacts and to create.

Our local museums offer interactive exhibits and resources to teach kids of all ages about everything from history to how their heart works and how to conserve energy. These are 38 not-to-miss museums for Chicagoans of all ages.

Note: We’re updating our website as quickly as we can, but changes may occur due to COVID-19. Please double check before heading out for the most updated information on safety precautions and any last-minute cancellations. Stay safe!

Children’s Museums

Chicago Children’s Museum, photo courtesy of CCM

Discovery Center Museum

Exhibits for ages up to tweens include a planetarium, sports dress-up, sound waves, electricity, an outdoor discovery park, a tot spot, health and body, weather, bubbles and more. Monthly activities rotate and highlight science, nature and agriculture among others, helping kids discover their passions. It’s worth the trip to Rockford to try it out. Through May 2021, the museum is hosting Hot Wheels: Race to Win, an interactive exhibit for kids to learn more about cars and racing vehicles.

DuPage Children’s Museum

  • Address: 301 N. Washington St., Naperville
  • Cost: Book private, 90-minute play times for up to 10 people, $150-$250
  • COVID-19 updates: Private play times during the pandemic include different experiences and full access to specific exhibits.

Daily drop-in events include story time, music and movement, and time in the studio. Rotating exhibitions add to permanent hands-on exhibits about energy, architecture, physics and art, and there’s even a spot designed just for kids under 2.

Kohl Children’s Museum

  • Address: 2100 Patriot Boulevard, Glenview
  • Cost: Book 90-minute, Very Important Play sessions for $100-$250 for up to 10 people
  • COVID-19 updates: The museum was among the first during the pandemic to switch to private play times (V.I.P. reservations) that allowed children and families to play mask free in the museum.

Kids can play, test, try and put their hands on nearly everything at Kohl. The museum has opportunities for littles put on coats to be doctors, play on a train board, explore outdoors and so much more. In addition to a revolving exhibition area, the museum hosts events and festivals throughout the year. In 2020, it was voted No. 4 in the USA Today 10 Best Children’s Museums in North America competition.

Oak Lawn Children’s Museum

Exhibits range from water and sand tables to gravity experiments to a grocery store and moo cafe to a crawlers/infant-only area. Kids learn about air, dairy, movement, STEM practicals and music. Always check the website before you go, and the “kite” system tells families how many field trips are expected that day.

Located at the Metra train stop in Oak Lawn, this is easy access for families who don’t wish to drive. Limited play times are available in the mornings and afternoons, and the museum is located next to an ice cream shop.

Bronzeville’s Children’s Museum

  • Address: 9301 S. Stony Island Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $5, Free members
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

The country’s first African American children’s museum, exhibits include a tour of healthy eating, African American inventors who changed lives, Bronzeville’s top landmarks and STEM activities. The museum is best for kids ages 3-9.

Chicago Children’s Museum

  • Address: Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $19, Free members and under 1 year
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum closed when Navy Pier closed in March 2020, and remains closed as Navy Pier is closed.

Two levels of hands-on activities include rotating exhibitions, playing with a fire engine, climbing a tower to the second floor, exploring Cloud Buster that looks over Navy Pier, architecture experiments, an art studio and exhibits that will attract toddlers through tweens.

Wonder Works Children’s Museum

  • Address: 6445 West North Ave., Oak Park
  • Cost: $9, special rates apply for families of military, teachers, seniors, first responders and those with EBT or WIC cards.
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

The hands-on museum is recommended for birth to age 8 and is all located on one floor. Kids can play dress-up, sort groceries, visit the “fire house,” ride in kid-sized vehicles, make art and one of the five “experience zones” includes an outdoor organic garden. Weekly and monthly specials include story times, art, sewing, nature and science, transportation, the senses and more.

Animals

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Shedd Aquarium

  • Address: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $39.95, $29.95 ages 3-11, special rates for Chicago residents, free members; timed ticket or registration required

Kids can touch aquatic animals or see them up close at one of the daily presentations. Exhibits include fish, sharks, penguins, dolphins, sea lions and other water animals in their regular habitats, showing life in rivers, streams and different ocean environments. For families not ready to return to a museum, virtual experiences include encounters with sea otters, sharks and sea lions.

Wildlife Discovery Center

The City of Lake Forest maintains the Wildlife Discovery Center as a living natural history museum. Kids can meet reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals while enjoying hands-on interaction with nature. Programs exist for preschoolers through college students to keep them in tune with nature. The indoor exhibits are open Tuesdays and Fridays-Sundays for groups as many as six people.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

  • Address: 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $9, $7 students and seniors, $6 ages 3-12, free members and under 3 years
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

Daily story times and Critter Connections that let kids touch and feel animals keep families coming back to Peggy Notebaert. Those, and the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, where butterflies of all kinds, colors and sizes fly around and even land on visitors. Hands-on exhibits let kids learn about water, rivers, the environment and a climbing structure keeps them active. Revolving exhibits have recently involved dragons, bugs, treehouses, amphibians and Dora & Diego.

History

Chicago History Museum

Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

  • Address: 1899 West Winchester Road, Libertyville
  • Cost: $10, $6 residents, seniors, ages 4-17 and students with ID, $3 resident seniors and kids, free 3 and under; timed tickets are required for 90-minute visits

Located in the Lake County Forest Preserves, the museum includes a Dryptosaurus skeleton, information about prehistoric Lake County, lessons and artifacts about Native Americans who lived in Lake County, the American Frontier and Civil War. Great for kids ages 6 and older, there are also rotating art exhibits and monthly events and programs.

The museum reopened after a long closure due to the pandemic and allows visitors in 90-minute segments Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Virtual programs are also available, including online tours and story times.

Cantigny Park

  • Address: 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
  • Cost: Free, $5 parking, $10 parking weekends May-September
  • COVID-19 updates: Second Saturday family programs are virtual for the time being, with craft supplies available for pickup at the park.

The former home of Colonel Robert McCormick, longtime editor and publisher of the Chicago Tribune and member of the U.S. Army’s First Division, two museums sit on the 500-acre land in the western suburbs. The Robert R. McCormick Museum teaches visitors about the public and private life of the man while The First Division Museum houses interactive military historical exhibits.

Monthly and season events bring visitors to the grounds, which also includes three miles of walking trails, a golf course, classes in the education center, and a cafe and gift shop in the visitors center.

Chicago History Museum

  • Address: 1601 N. Clark St., Chicago
  • Cost: $19, $17 seniors & students ages 19-22, free Illinois children 18 and under; timed ticketing required for morning or afternoon visits

Learn about Chicago and Illinois in the time of Lincoln and Robert McCormick and beyond, then view the photographic archives of the Chicago Sun-Times and squeeze yourself into a Chicago-style hot dog. This museum is most fun for kids ages 6 and older who have a background in U.S. history.

Capacity requirements limit ticket sales, and virtual programs include tours of Chicago neighborhoods and historical events as well as a living history of artifacts and stories submitted by Chicagoans during the pandemic.

Elmhurst History Museum

Rotating exhibitions have included trains, marriage, political posters, Snoopy, the power of children, roller skating and Disco Demolition. Weekly and monthly events include crafts and workshops geared toward preschool to late elementary students. Virtual programs have included crafts, historical discussions and streamed radio plays.

Field Museum

Seeing Sue the T.rex is on every Chicagoan’s bucket list. But Sue isn’t the only dino at the Field Museum, and they are not the only thing there. Kids can learn about ancient civilizations, meet and talk to scientists, learn about Earth conservation and test out the hands-on space in the Crown Family PlayLab.

Some high-touch elements have been closed due to the pandemic, and virtual exhibitions include Sue Saturdays when families can be introduced to dinosaurs and other STEM topics.

Illinois Holocaust Museum

  • Address: 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie
  • Cost: $15, $10 seniors, $8 ages 12-22, $6 ages 5-11, free members; advanced ticketing required
  • Best for ages 8 and older (because of the subject matter), the Harvey L. Miller Family Youth Exhibition center teaches kids about Upstanders and how to stand up for themselves. They can peek into the school lockers of kids like Rosa Parks, help solve problems and even tell their own stories. Permanent exhibits include interactive hologram and survivor stories experiences.

Naper Settlement

  • Address: 523 S. Webster St., Naperville
  • Cost: $12, $10 seniors, $8 ages 4-12, free residents, members and under 4 (summer admission; winter admission is halved); advanced ticketing recommended

The living history community tells the story of Naperville in its early settlement days. Historic buildings can be toured in the summer months and the visitor’s center is open year round for revolving exhibits. Kids will be charmed by costumed villagers and special events include a summer outdoor concert series. Outdoor walking tours are available with a guided app, and masks are required inside buildings and when social distancing isn’t possible outdoors.

Oriental Institute

  • Address: 1155 E. 58th St., Chicago
  • Cost: $10, $5 under 12
  • COVID-19 updates: Advanced ticketing required for one-hour visits

Located within the University of Chicago, visitors can learn about ancient Middle East with artifacts excavated by the school’s archeologists. Galleries about Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia, and the ancient site of Megiddo are permanent and rotating exhibitions include events for kids, adults and seniors. Families can visit for up to one hour, having the museum to themselves to check out the artifacts.

Swedish American Museum

  • Address: 5211 N. Clark St., Chicago
  • Cost: $6, $4 students and children, $15 family
  • COVID-19 updates: The children’s museum is temporarily closed.

The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration located on the third floor includes a 20-foot steamship and a Swedish farmhouse with cow to milk, table to set and chores to be done. Kids will also learn about pioneer life in a log cabin. Keep an eye on the events calendar for virtual crafts, story times and the Scandinavian Jam. The museum is available weekends with capacity requirements and Tuesdays-Thursdays by appointment only.

DuSable Museum of African American History

  • Address: 740 East 56th Place, Chicago
  • Cost: $14.50, $11 seniors and students with ID, $5 ages 6-11, free 5 and under and members
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

Visitors learn about the Chicago Race Riots, the role of the African American soldier and the history of Harold Washington. TIME Studios selected DuSable to open its virtual reality program “The March” about Martin Luther King’s speech in Washington, D.C. in 1963. This museum is best for students ages 7 and older.

Mitchell Museum of the American Indian

  • Address: 3001 Central Street, Evanston
  • Cost: $7, $5 youth and students, free members and tribal members
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

Weekends at Mitchell are primed for crafts as kids learn about the Native American culture and history through doing. Crafts vary by age and change each month. Past crafts have taught kids to make moccasins, canoes and dolls. Virtual events include artist discussions and films.

Pullman Porter Museum

  • Address: 10406 S. Maryland Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $5
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The museum has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

The museum celebrates African Americans in labor history, focusing on Pullman Porters. On a National Monument dedicated by President Barack Obama in 2015, the museum is best for ages 7 and older, and is great in the summer when your family can also visit the Pullman Monument.

Art

Art Institute of Chicago, photo courtesy of the Art Institute

Art Institute of Chicago

  • Address: 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $22, $16 seniors, students and teens, free children, members and Chicago teens (special rates for Chicago residents); timed tickets and reservations required

Littles will enjoy the gallery story time on the first Thursday of the month, as well as the drop-in family arts programs. There is also a gallery of artwork made by children, families and teens, as well as the chance to visit the gallery’s permanent and rotating exhibits, such as Monet and Chicago and Bisa Butler: Portraits

Elmhurst Art Museum

The museum hosts family day workshops monthly and includes interactive exhibits in its rotating exhibition schedule. The McCormick House, a Mies van der Rohe-designed structure, is on the museum campus, and interactive programs and exhibits are often held there. In addition to in-person exhibits, families can enjoy the museum “At Home,” which includes artist discussions, behind-the-scenes looks at exhibits and more.

Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

Ongoing weekend programs at the museum include workshops for kids to learn about identifying rocks and minerals or learning how to make jewelry. Collections include gemstones, fossils and an ornate castle. Online activities include virtual jewelry classes and rock identification classes.

Museum of Contemporary Art

  • Address: 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $15, $8 seniors, students and teachers, free members and age 18 and under; advanced registration required

Family Days on the second Saturday of each month give parents and kids an opportunity to dive into art using different mediums. The program has continued online during the pandemic. Stroller tours on the first Wednesday of the month give babies and toddlers their first looks at contemporary art without the parent worry of noise in a gallery.

Smart Museum of Art

  • Address: 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: Free; timed reservation required
  • COVID-19 updates: The museum is scheduled to reopen April 8 with capacity requirements and a new exhibition: Lust, Love, and Loss in Renaissance Europe.

In the warmer months, kids of all ages will love visiting the outdoor sculpture garden and all year long families can try their hands and Family Day on the first Saturday of the month. Located on the University of Chicago campus, students, faculty and alumni often contribute to the exhibitions.

American Writers Museum

  • Address: 180 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $14, $9 seniors and teachers with ID, free ages 12 and under
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed.

If your babies or toddlers haven’t been to a Little Squirrels Storytime, use it as a reason on a Saturday morning to visit the Children’s Literature Gallery at the Writers Museum. Tweens and teens will also love the chances to meet authors at semi-regular book launch breakfasts. Currently closed due to the pandemic, families can find online versions of Little Squirrels Storytime on the website plus virtual meet-the-author events.

Chicago Architecture Center

Family days on the second Saturday of the month allow families to work together to learn architectural properties (like how buildings work). Teens can get on Teen Workshops and learn from professionals. All ages will love to get out of the museum for an architecture walking, bus or L tour.

While the museum remains closed, walking tours have returned and virtual exhibitions include more tours as well as discussions about architectural history.

National Museum of Mexican Art

From folk art to photography to textiles, the National Museum of Mexican Art capitalizes on its galleries and exhibitions with ongoing and family-friendly events (for instance, during an exhibit about weaving, patrons were invited to learn to crochet to start their own traditions).

Family Weekend workshops include all-ages art activities and events throughout the year highlight the Mexican culture, like Day of the Dead Xicágo, the Folk Art Festival and Día del Niño Health Walk and Family Festival. While the museum is closed, families can sign up for free virtual tours.

Others

Adler Planetarium, photo courtesy of Adler Planetarium

Chicago Sports Museum

  • Address: 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $10, $8 college students with ID, $6 seniors and ages 4-11, free 3 and under, or with a restaurant reservation at Harry Caray’s adjacent to the museum

The interactive experiences are high-tech and a must for Chicago sports fans of all ages. Kids can try on championship rings, geek out in the fan section and learn about players’ superstitions. Masks are required in the museum, and some high-touch exhibits are closed.

Homewood Science Center

The museum has a combined online and in-person model to teach kids more about STEM topics. Online, families can learn about Science at Home, Girls in STEAM, Watch Video Courses and more. The museum is also open as a pop-up on Saturdays for families to register for a slot to see inside.

International Museum of Surgical Sciences

  • Address: 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $17, $13 students, seniors, teachers and military with ID, $9 ages 4-13, free members and ages 3 and under; advanced ticketing recommended

This is certainly a museum for older kids, but they’ll enjoy everything from the mural gallery to the Hall of Immortals. Watch the museum’s website for family-friendly events and crafts days. Masks are required and the museum’s capacity has been reduced.

Museum of Illusions

There are more than 80 exhibits designed to wow your mind and make you think. There’s also a Smart Playroom with games to challenge yourself or your family. An anti-gravity room, an infinity room, tunnels and a place to take photos of the kids with their heads on a platter are all part of the fun of Chicago’s newest museum. Masks are required.

Museum of Science and Industry

  • Address: 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $21.95, $12.95 ages 3-11, free members and 2 and under (save $2 when you purchase tickets online); advanced tickets required

This is an “everything” museum. From history to STEM to weather to live chicks, MSI has it all. Toddlers through early elementary are drawn to the Idea Factory, where they can build and play with water. Older kids love the flight simulator.

Everyone digs a tour of the U-505 submarine. There is something for every member of the family at MSI. Some elements of the museum are temporarily closed (like the submarine tours, the flight simulator and the Idea Factory), and stylus are provided for interaction with the exhibits. Capacity limits are in place and masks are required.

Volo Auto Museum

  • Address: 27582 Volo Village Road, Volo
  • Cost: $15.95, $13.95 seniors, $12.95 veterans and military with ID, $8.95 ages 5-12, free military in uniform and 4 and under
  • COVID-19 updates: Reopens May 14

An entire section for kids includes vehicles used in the parades at Disney theme parks, a gallery of Warner Bros. vehicles and Disney dioramas, antique arcade and an outdoor playzone with three playgrounds and a gallery of rideable kiddie rides. During the pandemic the museum upgraded exhibits and added new features, including an indoor Jurassic Gardens dedicated to dinosaurs.

wndr Museum

Head to wndr Museum on select Sundays to check out Sunday Morning Cartoons, a series that includes classic cartoons as you remember them and all-you-can-eat cereal (kids 10 and under a free for the cartoon events). It’s also a place to check out stunning installations, new works and an infinity mirror gallery. The museum is open Thursdays-Sundays.

Adler Planetarium

  • Where: 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $19, $3 ages 8-11
  • COVID-19 updates: Temporarily closed. The planetarium has yet to reopen after COVID closures in March 2020, but expects a return when the state reaches Phase 5 of Restore Illinois.

The Community Design Labs are family-friendly and destinations for all ages. One for star seekers under 6 years recently opened and another has been added within Chicago’s Night Sky exhibit.


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