Chicagoland Museums Families Should Visit At Least Once

There are so many fascinating for kids of all ages.

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. Also, don’t miss out on free museum days for Illinois residents!

Note: We’re updating our website as quickly as we can, but changes may occur due to COVID-19. Some museums might require purchasing tickets online and some exhibits might be temporary closed. Also, please double check before heading out for the most updated information on safety precautions, vaccine requirements and any last-minute cancellations.

Children’s Museums

Photo credit: Chicago Children’s Museum

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.

DuPage Children’s Museum

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

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.

Bronzeville Children’s Museum

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Chicago History Museum

Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County

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.

Cantigny 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

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.

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

  • Address: 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: $25 Illinois residents, $18 Illinois residents ages 3-11, free for kids under 3 (special rates for Chicago residents)

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: $18 adults, $8 students, $6 kids ages 5-11, free for kids under 5

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

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.

Oriental Institute

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.

Swedish American Museum

  • Address: 5211 N. Clark St., Chicago
  • Cost: $6 adults, $4 students and kids, $15 family (two adults and three kids under 18)
  • 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.

DuSable Museum of African American History

  • Address: 740 East 56th Place, Chicago
  • Cost: $14.50 adults, $5 for kids ages 6-11, free for kids ages 5 and under (special rates for Chicago residents)

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

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.

Pullman Porter Museum

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: $25 adults, $19 kids ages 14-17, free for kids ages 13 and under (special rates for Chicago residents)

Kids will enjoy getting creative at 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.

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.

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.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Family Days on the second Saturday of each month give parents and kids an opportunity to dive into art using different mediums. 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

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

Avid readers will enjoy both the permanent and temporary exhibits. For littles, visit the Children’s Literature Gallery, which features an interactive reading space.

Chicago Architecture Center

Learn more about the city architecture with their interactive exhibits. All ages will love to get out of the museum for an architecture walking, bus or L tour.

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.

Others

Adler Planetarium, photo courtesy of Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium

The Community Design Labs are family-friendly and destinations for all ages. Families can also enjoy the two sky shows.

Chicago Sports Museum

  • Address: 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago
  • Cost: $10 adults, $6 kids ages 4-11, free for kids age 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.

Homewood Science Center

The museum has a combined online and in-person model to teach kids more about STEM topics.

International Museum of Surgical Sciences

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.

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 the Chicago museum.

Museum of Science and Industry

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 (temporarily closed), where they can build and play with water. Older kids love the flight simulator.

Volo Auto Museum

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. Additional tickets are required for Jurassic Gardens, their indoor dinosaur exhibit.

wndr Museum

Head to wndr Museum where visitors can interact with art and experience great photo opportunities.


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