Five Must-See Museums In Chicago

March 28, 2015 7:00 AM

World class city that it is, Chicago has the houses of the holy and secular art and artifacts that tell the human story. In addition to the colossal awe-inspiring museums downtown (the Art Institute of Chicago and the big three on the Museum Campus that survey the vast universe, the sea and the saga of living creatures on the planet) Chicago offers some remarkable smaller gems just a few miles from the center of the city.

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 East Chicago Ave.
Chicago, IL 60612
(312) 280-2660

Sometimes art can excite more than than anticipated: Case in point – the extraordinary David Bowie Is exhibit that brought thousands of new patrons who also took the opportunity to explore the collection that forms the strengths of the MCA’s holdings. Modern art commandos interpret everything from our present day sense of existential crisis and touch upon subjects such as language, play, sexuality, death and life after death through painting, photography, video, sculpture and out-there performances. The museum’s gift shop offers quite a collection from the quirky to the sublime, too.

Chicago History Museum
1601 North Clark St.
Chicago, IL, 60614

Yes, there’s a ghastly lack of parking in and around Lincoln Park, so make an eco day of it and take public transportation to the Chicago History Museum. Believe it or not hipsters, there was a lot going on in the neighborhoods between the Chicago Fire and your arrival from Flint, Michigan. Learn all about our incredible CIty of Big Shoulders (an audio tour is a nice way to go) and the exhibit, Sensing Chicago, is great one for kids offering interactive opportunities. The museum is compact, so not overwhelming, leaving you plenty of energy to saunter the park or the neighborhood and get a bite to eat at any of the superb eateries in the area.

(Photo Credit: Smart Museum of Art's Facebook)

(Photo Credit: Smart Museum of Art’s Facebook)

Smart Museum of Art
University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
Chicago IL 60637
(773) 702-0200

Surely most of the University of Chicago students brushing past you have off-the-charts IQ’s, but you’re fairly brainy for visiting the Smart Museum of Art that offers a permanent collection of nearly 10,000 objects of Asian and European art, modern art and design and contemporary art.  Popular items include furniture designed by Oak Parker and  Frank Lloyd Wright; sculpture by Rodin and Degas; and pieces by Arthur Dove, Diego Rivera, Henry Moore and Mark Rothko. The free admission museum is named for brothers David and Alfred Smart, who were the publishers of Esquire magazine.

Related:  Best Art Exhibits For Kids In Chicago

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 West 19th St.
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 738-1503

It’s the place to visit every autumn: The fabulous Day of the Dead exhibition that includes arts workshops and sugar skull demonstrations. The largest Mexican cultural center in the country, the museum offers public tours in English and Spanish, family art workshops, a cool gift shop and Mexican art from Pre-Cuauhtémoc to current textiles, folk art, drawings, photography, painting and sculptures. Look deeper beyond Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits and Diego Rivera‘s murals. The museum is compact, so take the time to enjoy an authentic Mexican lunch at the one of the neighborhood family restaurants like Nuevo Leon, or something more nuevo like beets and Burrata at Dusek’s adjacent to the historic Thalia Hall.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
(773) 755-5100

The Chicago Academy of Sciences, established in 1857, became the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in 1999 and both versions were eons ahead of the curve in terms of teaching about environmentalism. Preschoolers to teens and their parents are enchanted by the Butterfly Haven that has become an internationally celebrated habitat to more than 1,000 butterflies (75 species) from Central and South America, Africa and Asia as well an assortment from the Midwest. Chrysalides arrive year round and new delicate fliers emerge wet-winged every day. The museum’s collection also includes specimen’s of birds, insects, mammals, plants, fossils, amphibians, reptiles, mollusks and more. You’re in the heart of Lincoln Park, so pair your visit with a walk along the beach, a stroll through the zoo or the Lincoln Park Conservatory – all free.

Related: Chicago’s Most Interesting Churches

Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at