The Shedd Aquarium; the Chicago Children’s Museum; Lincoln Park Zoo; the Museum of Science and Industry: all great destinations for families. But they are not exactly off the beaten track, are they? And the crowds at these popular spots on any given weekend day reflect that. So what do you do when you want some family fun without all those crowds? Try one of these less well-known spots and expand your horizons a little. It’s a big town – especially if you include the suburbs — and most of us have just barely scratched the surface.

Swedish-American Museum

5211 N. Clark St.
Chicago, IL 60640

In the heart of Andersonville you will the find the Swedish-American Museum, a museum and cultural center celebrating the history of Swedes in America, with a particular focus on Chicago and the Midwest. Recently renovated, the museum is home to rotating exhibits, a Nordic genealogy center and a store with charming Swedish crafts and books. Families will definitely want to visit the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, a hands-on, interactive museum with exhibits on life in the old country, the immigrants’ long sea voyage and finally, life in America. While the focus is on the Swedish immigrant experience, the larger idea — that America is a country of immigrants — will be meaningful to all. Please note, the Brunk Children’s Museum is open in the afternoons and on weekends only.

Bronzeville Children’s Museum

9301 S. Stony Island Ave.
Chicago, IL 60617

The first and only African-American children’s museum in the country, the Bronzeville Children’s Museum is named after the Bronzeville neighborhood, which became a hub of African-American commerce and culture in the early part of the 20th century. The interactive exhibits are designed for children ages 3 to 9 and cover such topics as the Great Migration of African-Americans from the rural South to the urban North, African-American inventors and famous figures from Bronzeville’s heyday, and the importance of conserving energy and the Earth’s resources. You can visit on your own or arrange for a group tour.

Indian Boundary Park and Cultural Center

2500 W. Lunt Ave.
Chicago, IL 60645
773 -764 -0338

Off the beaten path, in the West Ridge neighborhood, lies Indian Boundary Park, a hidden gem of the Chicago Park District. A historical landmark, Indian Boundary Park was first established in 1915 and the Tudor-style field house dates to 1929. Today, families will find plenty of open space for picnics and games, a playground with sandbox and a spray pool, a lush lagoon populated by ducks, and a small zoo area with goats, sheep and chickens. The field house is home to numerous classes for children and adults as well as local theater productions. Indian Boundary Park is a residency site for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago’s community outreach program, “In the Park with Civic,” which offers free, family-oriented concert performances throughout the year.

Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art

220 Cottage Hill Ave.
Elmhurst, IL 60126
630 -833-1616

What is “lapidary art,” you ask? Lapidary is the art of cutting and polishing stone. Think sparkling gemstones or intricate carved sculptures made out of jade, amber, or other hard stones. You can learn all about lapidary and see amazing hard stone carvings, mosaics, gems and mineral specimens, and fossils at the Lizzadro Museum in suburban Elmhurst. This unusual museum was founded by a businessman and lapidary collector, Joseph Lizzadro, in 1962. The Rock and Mineral Experience on the lower level, which includes a hands-on touch exhibit, will be of particular interest to families. Everyone will gape at the 18-karat gold Castle Lizzadro with its diamond windows.

Cosley Zoo

1356 N. Gary Ave,
Wheaton, IL 60187

For the preschool set, the Cosley Zoo is a kinder, gentler version of a day at the zoo. You won’t see elephants or polar bears here. The exhibits feature domestic farm animals and native Illinois wildlife, such as red foxes, white-tailed deer, turkey vultures and box turtles. Cosley Zoo offers a more intimate experience than larger zoos, so young kids won’t miss a thing. There are even opportunities to interact with the friendlier animals. Unlike Brookfield Zoo or Lincoln Park Zoo, Cosley Zoo does not offer a lot in the way of concessions, so you may want to bring snacks or even a picnic.

Now get out there and have some fun, everyone!

Emily Paster is a mother of two living in the near west suburbs. She teaches writing at Loyola University School of Law. Read more of her thoughts on balancing work and family and raising kids in the Chicago area on her blog West of the Loop.