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Chicago's Top Children's Museums

BY: TimeOut Chicago Editors | Feb 3, 2017

When the weather turns too cold, hot or rainy, and your kid has played with every toy at your local indoor playground—twice—a children's museum can be a savior. Chicago has some of the best museums in the country, and many feature exhibits specifically for little ones. Of course, there are several museums that cater only to kids—yet another reason why Chicago is one of the best places to raise a family. Check out these top spots for hands-on learning disguised as play.

Chicago Children's Museum in Streeterville

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One of the best children’s museums in the country, there is something for kids of all ages, from babies to school-age children, to enjoy here. Kids can explore the BIG Backyard's oversize flowers and bugs, make their way through a faux forest at the Treehouse Trails exhibit or create something new in the Tinkering Lab using hammers, saws and more. There are even designated spaces for the tiniest of babies to tag along. And because the museum itself is on Navy Pier, there is endless fun to be had before and after visiting the museum.

  • Venue name: Chicago Children's Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: Navy Pier | 700 E Grand Ave Chicago 60611 
  • Cross street: at Lake Shore Drive
  • Opening hours: Fri–Wed 10am–5pm; Thu 10am–8pm
  • Transport: Bus: 2, 29, 65, 66, 124.
  • Price: $14, seniors $13, kids under 1 and members free. Thu 5–8pm is Target Free Family Night. First Sun of the month is free admission for kids 15 and under.

Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park

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There is no better way to teach your kids about the city they live in than at the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park. Kids can become a Chicago-style hot dog, create their own Chicago-style bridges, play with a model of the John Hancock Building and catch a fly ball at U.S. Cellular Field. And the greatest part? Kids under 12 get in for free.

  • Venue name: Chicago History Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 1601 N Clark St Chicago 
  • Cross street: at North Ave
  • Opening hours: Mon–Sat 9:30am–4:30pm; Sun noon–5pm
  • Transport: El: Brown,Purple (rush hrs) to Sedgwick. Bus: 22,36,72.
  • Price: $14; seniors and students $12; members, kids 12 and under free

The Field Museum in the Museum Campus

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This natural history museum will have kids engaged from the moment they see Sue the T. Rex, but there is so much more beyond the massive prehistoric creature. Check out the 3D movies about different animals in the theater, stoke their curiosity in the Crown Family play lab, and learn about cool scienc-y things like DNA and ancient Egypt in the many cool exhibits.

  • Venue name: The Field Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 1400 S Lake Shore Dr Chicago 60605
  • Cross street: at McFetridge Dr
  • Opening hours: Daily 9am–5pm. No entry after 4pm.
  • Transport: El: Green, Orange, Red to Roosevelt. Bus: 12, 30, 146. Train: Elec Main to Millennium Station.
  • Price: $18, seniors and students $15, kids ages 3–11 $13. Discounts for Chicago residents.

Kohl Children's Museum in the Northern Suburbs

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This museum is worth a quick trip to the Northern Suburbs for a chance to explore a mini version of Chicago, among other cool things. Kids can shop for groceries at Whole Foods, create sandwiches at Potbelly and make music at Ravinia. They can also mimic “adult things” like caring for babies, repairing cars and constructing houses.

  • Venue name: Kohl Children's Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 2100 Patriot Blvd Glenview 60026
  • Opening hours: Mon 9:30am–noon (Jun–Aug 9:30am–5pm); Tue–Sat 9:30am–5pm; Sun noon–5pm
  • Transport: Metra: Milwaukee N to North Glenview.
  • Price: $11, seniors $10

Museum of Science and Industry in Hyde Park

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Although some of the exhibits appeal to an older crowd, there is plenty to do with the younger set at MSI. Explore "You! The Experience" to learn more about the human body, marvel at the miniatures at the newly renovated "Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle" and watch 20 model trains traverse 1,400 feet of track at "The Great Train Story" exhibit. Finish the day at Finnigan’s old-fashioned ice cream parlor for a sweet treat.

  • Venue name: Museum of Science and Industry
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 5700 S Lake Shore Dr Chicago 60637 
  • Cross street: at 57th St
  • Opening hours: Daily 9:30am–4pm. See website for extended seasonal hours.
  • Transport: Bus: 6, 15, 28, 55. Train: Metra Electric or South Shore Line to 55th, 56th and 57th Street.
  • Price: $15–$18, seniors $14–$17, kids ages 3–11 $10–$11, kids 2 and under free.

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Lincoln Park

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Kids (and adults) go gaga for the butterfly haven where butterflies can land on you from every direction. Then adventure through an underground cave, climb on a spider web and learn about the how food gets from the farm to the plate.

  • Venue name: The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 2430 N Cannon Dr Chicago 60614 
  • Cross street: at Fullerton Pkwy
  • Opening hours: Mon–Fri 9am–5pm; Sat, Sun 10am–5pm
  • Transport: El: Brown, Purple (rush hrs), Red to Fullerton. Bus: 74, 151.
  • Price: $9, seniors and students $7, kids ages 3–12 $6, kids under 3 free. Thursdays are free for Illinois residents.

Shedd Aquarium in the Museum Campus

Anchoring the aquatic offerings at this 75-year-old institution are enduring favorites such as piranhas, frogs and snakes of the Amazon; rays, turtles and moray eel of the Caribbean; frightening predator sharks and, the most storied of them all, a 100-plus-year-old Australian lungfish believed to be the longest-living fish in any aquarium in the world. A 2009 rehab of the Oceanarium gave Shedd a lifelike river and tide-pool, a reworked otter habitat, and an attempt to revamp its daily mammal presentations with choreography.

  • Venue name: Shedd Aquarium
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 1200 S Lake Shore Dr Chicago 60605
  • Opening hours: Mon–Fri 9am–5pm; Sat, Sun 9am–6pm.
  • Transport: Bus:12,130,146.
  • Price: Admission priced per exhibit: $8–$34.95, kids ages 3–11 $6–$25.95. Discounts for Chicago residents

Swedish American Museum in Andersonville

This may not be the first museum that pops into your head as child-friendly, but within the Swedish American Museum is the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, an interactive play space where kids can pretend to milk a cow or bring in firewood in a replica of a Swedish farmhouse. Kids will love the 20-foot-tall steamship and parents will love that the museum is small enough that they can watch their kids from all angles of the room.

  • Venue name: Swedish American Museum
  • Contact: VISIT WEBSITE
  • Address: 5211 N Clark St Chicago
  • Cross street: between Foster and Farragut Aves
  • Opening hours: General museum hours: Mon–Fri 10am–4pm; Sat, Sun 11am–4pm. Children's Museum hours: Mon–Thu 1–4pm; Fri 10am–4pm; Sat, Sun 11am–4pm.
  • Transport: El: Red to Berwyn. Bus: 22, 50, 92.
  • Price: $4; kids, students and seniors $3; family $10; members and second Tuesdays free

Photo: Lab at Chicago Children's Museum, by Braden Nesin.