A Family Guide to a Day Out at the Chicago History Museum and More

A new exhibit, burgers and shakes and a little outdoor time equal the perfect Chicago day.

It’s the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, so of course we have to bring the kids to the Chicago History Museum’s fabulous new fire exhibit, City on Fire.

But if you give a child a fascinating museum exhibit and an entire museum to explore, then the child will get hungry. So you’ll need to bring the child to a nearby restaurant. But if you feed the child, he’ll need a place to run. So you’ll bring him to a new zoo exhibit. And if you bring him to a zoo exhibit …

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with our guide to having a fun day out in Lincoln Park, with the Chicago History Museum at the center of it all.

A day out in Lincoln Park

Noon: We chose to visit the Chicago History Museum right when it opened, at 12 p.m. on a Sunday. It was blissfully empty, so no one minded when our kids bickered their way through every.single.exhibit.

We started with the Chicago Fire exhibit, City on Fire. It’s perfect for all ages, as there’s tons of interactive bits: Kids learn about life in the 1800s by washing clothing by hand; they can see toys and dolls saved from the fire; they can play with an old-fashioned fire truck; and they can even answer a few questions to determine if their families would be helped post-fire.

The exhibit is included in admission and took us about 45 minutes to explore.

Other Chicago History exhibits not to miss include the Chicago: Crossroads of America exhibit, where you could visit a fake jazz club; check out some baseball relics and look at photos and drawings of old Chicago. My children also really liked the Abraham Lincoln exhibit, as they typically start learning about him in kindergarten so they chatted on and on about what they learned in school.

The beauty of the Chicago History Museum is you can pack in a lot in just a few hours there; it’s the kind of museum you can return to again and again and always discover something new.

Details: 1601 N. Clark St. Adults are $19 (get $2 off with your Chicago ID), and Illinois kids 18 and under are totally free. Also, Illinois teachers, Chicago police and firefighters, along with U.S. armed service are free. There’s also a free coat check, making this such an easy visit. We found metered street parking within minutes, but the museum also validates for $10 parking.

Photo Credit: Danielle Braff

1:30 p.m.: The kids were hungry after all the learning and exploring they were doing. While the museum offers its popular North & Clark Cafe with fresh-made offerings, including Chicago-style hot dogs and breakfast all day, we decided to explore the neighborhood a bit. We wandered over to Small Cheval (it’s a 10-minute walk from the Chicago History Museum), where you can walk right up to the counter at this time of the day. Score! They’ve got burgers, cheeseburgers, fries, shakes and a very limited number of adult drinks. There’s seating outside with heating lamps. We were in and out in 40 minutes. Across the street is Insomnia Cookies, so save room.

Details: 1345 N. Wells St.

Photo Credit: Danielle Braff

2:30 p.m.: Now that you’ve expanded your minds and your bellies, it’s time to do a little running to burn some energy. Go to the Lincoln Park Zoo and check out its brand new Pepper Family Wildlife Center. We were able to get within 6 inches of an African lioness’ face, separated by a thick sheet of glass. There’s plenty of room to run around indoors while you view the lions from their new habitat.

Details: 2001 N. Clark St. Free admission, parking extra.

4:30 p.m.: When you give the kids room to run, they’re going to need to crash. While it was clear it was time to head home, we all agreed a visit to a favorite part of the city, especially Chicago History Museum, makes for a perfect family day out.

Make plans to see Chicago History Museum’s new exhibit, City on Fire, at chicago1871.org.


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