Chicago boasts a handful of world-renowned museums, many of which are conveniently located within Museum Campus. While most visitors understandably flock to Chicago’s bigger cultural showcases—like the Shedd Aquarium or the Museum of Science and Industry—the city is home to countless other collections of equal merit.
These seven museums, a number of which are free, are perfect for the frequent visitor or those looking for exhibits slightly off the beaten track.
1. Chicago Design Museum
Photo via Chicago Design Museum
The Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM), located in the Loop, brings together Chicago’s design-minded community for exhibitions and educational programming. “We define design holistically, encompassing graphic design, architecture, urban planning, interior design, systems thinking and more,” says the ChiDM website. The museum’s current exhibit, “The State of Detroit,” which opened May 13, explores the creative ways the city of Detriot is rebounding after years of decline.
Address: 108 N. State Street
2. Smart Museum of Art
The Smart Museum of Art (formally the David and Alfred Smart Museum and informally the Smart) holds its own in a city with more than a few impressive art museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Located on the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park, the museum is home to more than 100,000 permanent artworks spanning from ancient to the contemporary, including pieces by Henri Matisse, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mark Rathko and Pablo Picasso. The museum is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary through 2015.
Address: 5550 S. Greenwood Avenue
3. Chicago Children’s Museum
For those with kids, the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier is a worth-while destination. The museum and its interactive exhibits are designed to inspire imagination. Kids—and kids at heart—can pretend to captain their own vessel along Lake Michigan in the museum’s new summer exhibit or climb on three stories of ship-shaped rigging. Several makerspaces also allow you to build and create using real tools and materials, include the Tinkering Lab, Kraft Artboards Studio and the Skyline exhibit.
Admission: $14 for adults and children, free for children under one
Address: 700 E. Grand ?Avenue
4. Chicago Cultural Center
Housed in the original central branch building of the Chicago Public Library ?across? from Millennium Park sits one of the city’s? best? gems. The Chicago Culture Center hosts a robust schedule or cultural events, from photograph exhibits and theater performances to concerts. If exhibits and performances aren’t your thing, it’s still worth stopping by to take in the impressive interior architecture of the building, which includes the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany Dome.
Address: 78 E. Washington St?reet?
5. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum — The Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences
Chicago is home to plenty of parks and natural spaces, but at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum you can explore the ecological history of the city and surrounding area. Located in Lincoln Park, the Chicago Academy of Sciences has been collecting specimen since 1857 to preserve and serve to educate the public. Today, one of their most popular exhibits is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, which is a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse that houses more than 1,000 butterflies from 75 different species.
Admission: $9 for adults, $7 for students, $6 for children ages three-12, free for children under three
Address: 2430 N. Cannon D?rive
6. Chicago History Museum
When it comes to Chicago, its history book is a page turner filled with characters like Al Capone and marked with plot twists like the Great Chicago Fire. The Chicago History Museum, located in Lincoln Park, is just the place to take it all in. Current exhibits include Lincoln’s Chicago, featuring portraits of the city dating back to the 1860s. Chicago Styled: Fashioning The Magnificent Mile runs until August and spotlights the history of the city’s most famous stretch of road and how it came to be the fashion mecca that it is.
Admission: $14 for adults, $12 for students, free for children under 12
Address: 1601 N. Clark Street
7. DuSable Museum of African American History
Founded in 1961, the DuSable Museum of African American History celebrates and educates visitors about the achievements of African Americans. The museum, located in the Washington Park neighborhood, is also cited as being the first and oldest museum that caters to African American history and art. Current exhibits include Red, White, Blue and Black: A History of Blacks in the Armed Services, as well as Africa Speaks, which features more than 2,000 African artifacts highlighting the diverse people and cultures across the countries of Africa.
Admission: $10 for adults, $?7 for students, $3 for children ages six-11, free for children under five
Address: 740 ?E. 56th Place
Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer and blogger. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India, conquering volcanoes in the Philippines and being humbled in Haiti.