Are you visiting Chicago for ALA Annual? Make some time to visit at least one of our historic, world-class museums. If you’re going to multiple museums and attractions, consider purchasing a CityPass for a discount and the chance to skip lines at some locations.
The conference venue, McCormick Place, is conveniently located right next to the Museum Campus. This patch of the lake shore is home to the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium.
If you’re strapped for time and can only make it to one museum, I recommend the Field Museum, both for its high quality and its convenient location. The star of this world-class natural history museum is Sue, the best-preserved, largest, and most complete T-rex fossil ever discovered. You’ll also find mummies, rare gems, artifacts from the ancient Americas, and a pioneering collection of taxidermy. (That last one is, frankly, not my favorite.)
A short walk away, the Shedd Aquarium is home to sharks, stingrays, piranhas, coral reefs, dolphins, beluga whales, sea otters, and penguins. Don’t miss the enormous circular Caribbean Reef tank that can be viewed from all sides.
At the Adler Planetarium, get a good look into space at the Doane Observatory. Plus, view shows in three domed theaters, see pieces of Mars and the moon, and learn about the origins of the universe and how humans have thought about the heavens throughout history.
The Art Institute of Chicago is a few blocks north of the Museum Campus (right next to the Bean, which we all know is what you really come to Chicago to see). It contains over 300,000 works of art and is the second largest art museum in the U.S. It would take forever to list all the famous artists and pieces featured there, but they include Rembrandt, Claude Monet, Vincent van Gosh, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol. Some well-known pieces are A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 by Georges Seurat, The Child’s Bath by Mary Cassatt, American Gothic by Grant Wood, and Nighthawks by Edward Hopper. The Art Institute opened its Modern Wing in 2009, so if you’ve been there before, there may be a whole new building to see.
Other museums will require transportation, but they’re worth the trip. The Chicago History Museum is 5 miles north in Lincoln Park. It highlights Abraham Lincoln and Chicago history. 5 ½ miles south in Hyde Park (home of the Obamas) is the Museum of Science & Industry, a great choice if you are interested in STEM and makerspaces. Just a few of its features are the Apollo 8 spacecraft, railroad artifacts, a WWII German submarine, a life-size coal mine, a model of a Chicago street from the early 20th century, and the infamous collection of body slices and plastinated body parts.
Chicago is also home to several museums celebrating specific cultures. Check out the National Museum of Mexican Art, the Dusable Museum of African American History, the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, the Polish Museum of America, the Ukrainian National Museum, and the Swedish American Museum.