The Best of Chicago’s Museums

Who says museums have to be boring? We think they’re just the thing for a rainy day…or a hot day…or a Saturday…or any day where you just can’t imagine how you’re going to keep the kids occupied. From an interactive fire station to a live chick hatchery, Chicagoland’s museums have something for everyone.

The 7 best children’s museums in Chicago

Museums with kids? Sign us up. At least when it comes to these awesome children’s museums, which have fun attractions for every member of your family.

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Chicago’s quirkiest museum finds

Sure, Sue the T-Rex is awesome, but digging below the surface of
Chicago’s museums yields some pretty quirky items. From a naked man
bench to a 27-foot guitar car, we found all sorts of interesting
things just waiting for some adventurous visitors with an
appreciation for the unusual.

  • nakedmanbenchWhere are his
    clothes?
    The Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier has 27
    sculpted benches where families can take a break, but by far our
    favorite is the Naked Man Bench by sculptor Dan Galemb. With a
    newspaper on his lap to cover things up, this guy would make for
    some weird photos if you put your kid on the bench, but a shot of
    mom and the naked guy? Could be worth the trip.
  • nakedmanbenchTaking music on the
    road.
    When we asked staffers at the Volo Auto Museum to
    tell us about their quirkiest find, they just couldn’t narrow it
    down, so we’ll leave it for you to decide. The museum includes a
    27-foot guitar car, a 100 mph piano car, a 12-foot-tall rollerskate
    car and a bunny-in-the-28-foot carrot car. The cars just returned
    to the Volo museum after visiting 30 countries on a world tour. The
    museum is two blocks long and houses hundreds of cars, including
    famous TV and movie cars.
  • mummyThe dummy mummy.
    This baby and mommy mummy set is sure to creep you out until you
    realize it’s not a real mummy. Made of wood and nails, no one’s
    sure if the original owners of the Fabyan Villa Museum knew it was
    fake or even where it came from. One theory is that it may have
    been part of a circus sideshow.
  • mousetrapBuild a better
    mousetrap.
    Getting those pesky rodents out of the garage
    has been a problem going way back. In 1876, John H. Morris invented
    a wooden tumble-in live mousetrap, which contains a balanced door
    that flies back and resets itself, permitting multiple live
    captures. Not sure what you do once you have a wooden trap full of
    live mice, but a trap based on that design continues to be
    manufactured today. The mousetrap is on display at the Joliet Area
    Historical Museum.
  • Find the hidden deer. sculptureKids will enjoy puzzling
    this one out. From most angles, the four pieces of the bronze
    sculpture in the Kohl Children’s Museum outdoor exhibit appear to
    be a cluster of tree stumps, logs and fallen tree branches. But
    from one vantage point they line up to become a deer lying on the
    ground. If you explore the individual pieces of the sculpture, you
    can find a hidden raccoon, salamander, snake, snails and
    frogs.
  • What
    exactly is it?
    deerThe man who built the Elgin Public
    Museum displayed an Irish deer skull in 1898. Irish deer lived
    during the Ice Age and were huge, about 9 feet tall with antlers
    spanning 6 feet. Somewhere along the way, someone decided the naked
    skull wasn’t attractive and covered the head with elk fur. The
    resulting deer head with giant antlers has a museum-of-curiosities
    feel to it and is the first thing visitors see when they walk into
    the museum.
  • Toothy finds.

Free days for Chicago museums

Chicago’s museums are world-class, but all those bones, weather simulators and rides in Chicago’s first El train car don’t come cheap. Throw in parking, special exhibits and the gift shop, and it adds up fast. But in the philanthropic spirit of our fine city, most museums offer free admission for Illinois residents on certain days. Here’s a complete calendar for the next few months. You’re on your own in the gift shop.

Free days can change at the last minute, so ALWAYS call first to confirm before heading out to the museums.

Check out our complete guide to Chicagoland’s museums featuring reviews, upcoming exhibits and tailored tours for little feet.

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Night at the Museum

Night at the museum, Chicago-style

If your kids have watched the two “Night at the Museum” movies, they may be interested in having their own overnight experience at a local museum. Most of the major museums in Chicago offer families the chance to bunk down with the exhibits and experience your own version of the movies-without the wild horseback rides and gunshots.

A night at the museum lets families visit exhibits at their leisure in a kid-friendly environment. “The museum’s really big and sometimes it takes families a while to get through it,” says Beth Crownover, public programs and operations director at the Field Museum. “(During overnights) they have an extended period of time to explore the building on their own terms. They can sit in front of Sue and draw pictures or visit exhibits at their own pace.”

Age ranges for the nights at local museums vary slightly, but most require that children be at least kindergarten age. “Anybody younger than 6 is going to freak out when the lights go out and you have animals in cases around you,” Crownover says. Many allow children up to 11 or 12 and include plenty of activities for all ages, as well as free time to explore the exhibits.

Be aware that the overnight adventures at the larger museums can sell out months in advance. Prices range from -, depending on age and the museum, and usually includes admission, activities, an evening snack and breakfast.

Remember to dress comfortably and bring a sleeping bag or air mattress. “This is definitely one of those short weekend adventures, so bring just enough so that you can easily carry it up the steps,” Crownover says.

“Have your adventure cap on and be ready to go.”

Asleep with the Fishes Shedd Aquarium www.sheddaquarium.org

Cost: includes admission to the aquarium, Oceanarium and Wild Reef, animal presentations, activities and crafts, dinner, bedtime snack and continental breakfast.

Astrovernights Adler Planetarium www.adlerplanetarium.org

Cost: includes telescope viewing, demonstrations, hands-on activities and shows in the Sky Theater. You’ll get a late-night snack before sleeping in the galleries and wake up to a continental breakfast in Galileo’s Cafe.

Bunking with the Butterflies Overnights Notebaert Nature Museum www.naturemuseum.org

Cost: child, adult; child member, adult member. Fee includes museum admission, activities, evening snack, breakfast and a Bunking with the Butterflies patch.

Dozin’ with the Dinos Field Museum www.fieldmuseum.org Cost: , members includes family workshops, tours and performances. Premium packages cost extra but let visitors reserve a spot in the Evolving Planet or Hall of Dinosaur exhibition areas.

Snoozeum Museum of Science and Industry www.msichicago.org Cost: includes admission, activities, a Snoozeum patch, snack and breakfast.

Readers’ night at the museum

Chicago Parent families tell us what adventure they would expect to have if they spent the night in a museum:

“My children would want to pet, feed and play with the chicks at the Museum of Science and Industry, and perhaps sleep inside the Chicago Trolley for an adventure.” -Jose Carrillo

“I think both boys recognize their adventure would not be anything like the movie, but I do believe that they would both expect some ghostly experiences with the mummies.” -Julie Tremberth

“My two small sons (4 and 5 years old) would expect all the exhibits to come to life, just like in the movie “Night at the Museum.” As a mom, I


5 hidden treasures at the Field Museum

With more than 23 million specimens in its collection, the Field Museum is the gift that keeps on giving. We hear there’s a collection of shrunken heads in the museum’s storage collections somewhere, but without scaring the bejeezus out of your kids, here are the five things at Chicago’s treasure trove you might miss the first time around but that are definitely worth knowing about.

hiddentreasuresDon’t head out without printing our “5 Hidden Treasures at the Field Museum”checklist! See if you can find all five!


Chicago museums’ best online tours


The Museum of Science and Industry has a lot to offer families.On a recent visit, we narrowed down our favorite exhibits for kidswith a seperate list for what adults with love. Keep these exhibitsin mind on your next visit.

Museum of Science and Industry favorites


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