(credit: Jasmyn Martin)

by Jasmyn Martin

On your day off, do you lose hours in front of your computer, as you’re doing now, refreshing Tumblr and tweeting about some idiotic thing someone said on Facebook? No? Well, good for you. You are the 1%.

As for the rest of us, it might be time to go outside and get our brains moving again. If you haven’t visited the Field Museum of Natural History in a few years, it’s high time you returned. Here are some tips so you can make the most of your time.

Now, this may seem like common sense, but you’ve got to start off by choosing the right day for your trip. The museum offers several free days per month (as detailed on their website), so if you’re on a budget, utilize that complimentary edu-tainment. Sure, some of those free days land on Saturdays and Sundays, which may seem like the most obvious way to go, but do not, I repeat, do not go to the Field Museum on a free weekend.

“But it’s the weekend!” you say. “A leisurely Saturday would be the perfect day to go!” you say. Maybe so, but every Tom, Dick, Harry, Jack, Jill, and Leeroy Jenkins thinks exactly the way you do, and they will be there with strollers and rogue children in tow. In the eight times I’ve visited the museum, I’ve only hated my experience once: on an ill-fated, free Saturday, I spent more time squeezing through the crowd and trying not to knee toddlers in the face than I spent looking at the exhibits. So, trust me on this one, and pick a free day in the middle of the week if you’ve got that sort of work schedule. The second Monday of every month is free, as well.

(credit: Jasmyn Martin)

If free tickets don’t make or break your decision-making process, the museum offers three different adult tickets based on access:

Basic Admission ($15) – covers all the permanent exhibits, except one

Discovery Pass ($22) – all the allowances of basic admission, plus one special exhibition OR a show in the 3D theater
All-Access Pass ($29) – grants you freedom to enjoy everything in the museum, including all special exhibitions and 3D shows

Your best bet is to take the middle ground and pick up a Discovery Pass. Unless you’re hell-bent on seeing a specific temporary exhibit while it’s in the city, the one permanent exhibit not covered by Basic Admission is definitely worth the extra money. Also, if you visit the museum on a free day, you’ll still have to pay the fee for any special exhibits you want to check out.

Now you’re in! Sue, the museum’s biggest claim to fame, greets you near the main entrance. She is the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex ever discovered, so get your photo with her before you set off through the rest of the museum. Bonus points if you take that photo with her leering over your shoulder.

Head upstairs first. Here, you’ll find a few of the museum’s smaller displays, such as the Tibet exhibit, which details the nation’s power struggles with China and the exile of the Dalai Lama. Another notable stop is the Grainger Hall of Gems, featuring, among other gigantic stones, a two and a half-pound topaz the size of your face.

(credit: Jasmyn Martin)

Let these whet your appetite for one of the Field’s most eye-opening exhibits, Evolving Planet, located at the north end of the upper level. If you thought Sue had one hell of a bone structure, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This is probably the largest collection of fossils you will ever see, covering some creatures that have long been extinct, and some that have simply undergone a few costume changes. (You know how those little three-toed sloths are bizarrely cute in their lack of purpose? They weren’t always like that. They were ten feet tall and terrifying, actually.) Follow this tour of life on Earth through four billion years of evolution, from Earth’s origin as a ball of lava surrounded by unbreathable air, to our current-day human society, surrounded by somewhat breathable air depending on what CTA line you’re taking later. The center of the exhibit is Dinosaur Hall, where you’ll find all the ancient reptiles you know and love, from the giant, long-necked brontosaurus to the three-horned triceratops. You’ll know you’ve gotten as much as you can out of the exhibit if you leave with an ominous feeling of impending doom, because Evolving Planet makes a point of notifying you that Earth has undergone not just one, but SIX mass extinctions… so far.

Back on the main level, venture through Ancient Americas on the east side of the museum and Africa on the west. There’s also a “Nature Walk,” featuring the world’s creepiest collection of stuffed animals, but if zoology’s your thing, your interest would be better spent on a trip to Brookfield or Lincoln Park Zoo. Continue through Africa, and you will find the Field’s most famous exhibit, Inside Ancient Egypt.

(credit: Jasmyn Martin)

Take the sketchy-looking spiral staircase into a life-sized Egyptian tomb, complete with sarcophagi, hieroglyphs, and jars full of a buried pharaoh’s necessities for the afterlife. Keep going further, and you’ll walk into a bustling day in an ancient marketplace of the Nile River delta. The real gold here is the museum’s extensive collection of mummies; If you weren’t unsettled by Evolving Planet’s announcement that Earth’s not finished wiping its hard drive, the embalmed infants might do the trick.

When you exit Ancient Egypt, you will have reached the ground level, as well as the entrance to the museum’s most fun exhibit: Underground Adventure. This, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone in between, is why you hopefully paid for the Discovery Pass. (Along with Dinosaur Hall, this area is the biggest hit with kids, so if you’ve got children with you, make sure to bring them here.) Under the conceit that the Field Museum has access to a magic ray that shrinks guests to one-hundredth of their normal size, you can enter the soil and find yourself surrounded by massive insects and fungi while learning about their ecosystem. If you happen to suffer from entomophobia, you might have paid seven extra dollars for a panic attack. However, if you saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and said, “Gee, I really wish I could meet a wolf spider a hundred times larger than it’s supposed to be,” then this is the place for you!

Complete your day with a meal at McDonald’s, also on the ground level, or Corner Bakery, located on the main level. If you want to pick up a souvenir or two, there are three gift shops: the primary Field Museum Store, another for whatever temporary exhibits are present, and a third dedicated exclusively to Sue. Personally, because I enjoy souvenirs that are actually useful, I like to collect oversized coffee mugs to support my insomnia. However, the gift shops are packed full of tidbits for every taste, so definitely check them all out if you want mementos from your trip.

The Field Museum is always worth a visit, because there’s something for everyone in this gigantic building and the sheer number of artifacts that live here is staggering. So, if you’ve forgotten how fascinating this place is, embrace your inner field trip chaperone and remind yourself.

For more details, visit the Field Museum online at www.fieldmuseum.org.

Jasmyn Martin, CBS Local Chicago