The Windy City Could Be Your Kind of Vacation Town

Chicago has more than 40 fascinating museums, multiple interactive children’s museums, vibrant ethnic communities, and countless other noteworthy places to explore, so finding something to do when you’re in town is easy. Does someone in your family like learning about the solar system or have an interest in finding out more about ancient and current cultures from around the world? Or, are you raising a future artist? Either way, the Windy City is an ideal backdrop for a family vacation (and staycations, too). Read on to learn about some of the places our family has enjoyed visiting over the years.

The Adler Planetarium is known for its interactive exhibits for adults and children. It also offers fascinating shows about the solar system (that are shown in two different domed theatres). Families can also take a guided tour of the Atwood Sphere, Chicago’s oldest planetarium, and have the opportunity to identify stars and the constellations they form.

Adler Planetarium

Exhibits at the Field Museum always seem to make learning more about anthropology, botany, geology and zoology more fun than textbooks ever can. Families can also learn about different cultures while at the Museum thanks such areas as the Cyrus Tang Hall of China and the Africa Exbibit.

Field Museum of Natural History

It’s easy to see why the Art Institute of Chicago was named Trip Advisor’s #1 thing to do out of 711. In addition to the top-notch collections and exhibits that would appeal to adults and older teens, it also has activities, workshops and performances for younger kids. Admission is free for any child 14 and under. And, teens up to 18 who reside in the city of Chicago can also get in free.

Art Institute of Chicago

Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum highlights achievements and experiences of Africans and African Americans through a variety of fascinating exhibits, programs and activities. During your visit, you can either explore the museum on your own or participate in a 45-minute docent-led tour.

Did you know that the Museum of Science and Industry is the largest science museum in the Western Hemisphere? I didn’t until recently. But, it makes sense that it would have earned this title. It houses more than 30,000 artifacts, offers hands-on laboratory experiences, presents films covering a variety of subjects in it’s five-story movie theater, as well as hosts an assortment of programming for visitors interested in–or teaching–science.

Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art is home to one of the largest Mexican art collections and the only Latino museum accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It also hosts cultural programming including featuring music, dance, theater and other elements that showcase the rich diversity of Mexican culture. 

National Museum of Mexican Art

In addition to the DuSable Museum and the National Museum of Mexican Art, Chicago is also home to other cultural museums and I hope to be able to visit several of them soon. Included on my “to-visit” list are the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian, National Hellenic Museum, Chinese-American Museum of Chicago, and National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. Check each museum’s website for details about each place.

In addition, within an hour’s drive from the city is Six Flags Great America theme park in Gurnee; Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield; Kohl Children’s Museum in Glenview–which has both indoor and outdoor exhibit areas–and SciTech Hands On Museum in Aurora.

For more ideas on what to see and visit when you’re in town (cultural institutions, ethnic museums, family-friendly restaurants, concert venues, art galleries, etc.), visit the below websites:

  1. Choose Chicago
  2. Enjoy Illinois

The City Pass link below is an affiliate link. If you click on the link and purchase the pass, I will receive a small commission.

To save more than 50% on admissions to several of the Windy City’s most popular cultural institutions such as the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and Art Institute–and avoid standing in line to buy tickets–click here to purchase a CityPASS for each person who’ll be traveling with you. When ordering online, you can choose to have the discounted tickets emailed to you or request to have actual ticket booklets shipped to your home.

(This article was updated October 14, 2019.)

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