Everyone knows about Chicago’s world-class museums, offering entertainment and education for locals and visitors alike. But cultural excitement isn’t confined to the city limits. If you’re willing to explore the suburbs, you’ll find a diverse collection of fascinating places where you and your family can explore art, nature, history, science, and more. Avoid long lines, expensive admission prices, and downtown parking. Instead, get to know some of the hidden gems that dot the Chicagoland landscape.
The western suburbs are rich with museums, starting with the internationally-known Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park. You can tour the place where Wright started his career and his family, and developed the first truly American style of architecture, the Prairie style. The Wright Plus 150 Architectural Housewalk, celebrating Wright’s 150th birthday, features four private Wright homes and other significant local places and takes place on 5/20.
In Naperville, community life is centered around Naper Settlement, a hands-on living museum with a 19th-century village so that families can explore the region’s pioneer past. This season’s main event is Civil War Days, 5/20-5/21, when 300 re-enactors once again create the spectacle of war. June through August, you can enjoy the Naper Nights Community Concert Series two days a month (over one weekend), allowing people to enjoy music under the stars on 6/16-6/17, 7/21-7/22, and 8/18-8/19. Come for Settlement Sundays, with free sundaes and do-it-yourself toppings, family activities, and building tours.
The DuPage Children’s Museum, not far from downtown Naperville, is a great place for families, with two floors of educational play focused on science, art, and math. Special exhibits, performances, and other events take place here regularly. The museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it’s hosting classic programming during every third week through June. Watch for information on a giant birthday celebration 6/24-6/25.
Wheaton’s Cantigny Park is a unique and beautiful spot with something for everyone. This park includes interesting museums, gorgeous gardens, and golf courses. The First Division Museum tells the story of a U.S. Army infantry division, and the Robert R. McCormick Museum lets you look at the life and times of the Chicago Tribune publisher. Events take place year-round, including National Public Gardens Day on 5/12, Family Night – Music and Cars on 6/16, the Art in Bloom Cantigny Art Festival on 6/17-6/18, Dog Days at Cantigny on 8/5, a Perseid Meteor Shower Star Party on 8/12, French Connection Day on 8/13, and Family Night – Music, Cars, and T-Rex on 8/18.
In Elmhurst, you’ll find several small and interesting museums. The Elmhurst Art Museum puts on “Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists, and Chicago” just through 5/7, but is organizing “Mies in Chicago,” a new long-term exhibition focusing on Mies van der Rohe set to open later this year. The Elmhurst History Museum hosts “House & Home” through 5/25, then opens “Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died” (based on the book by Dave Hoekstra) this summer. The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art features more than 200 pieces of jade and hard stone carvings from around the world, along with rock and mineral exhibits, dioramas, mosaics, and gemstones. You can also view Castle Lizzadro, an 18-carat gold sculpture with diamond windows. The Theatre Historical Society of America documents the social, architectural, and cultural history of America’s theaters, and is open by appointment. Every year, Elmhurst hosts Museum Day, during which you can part at any of these four museums and visit the others for free, enjoying activities, special tours, and more. This year’s 21st annual event is 5/21.
The northern suburbs include the Kohl Children’s Museum just north of the Glen retail center in Glenview. This family-friendly institution offers 16 creative playspaces for kids, including the Pet Vet, the Hands On house, SpotHero Car Garage, Whole Foods Market, Water Works, and Turtle Rock (with live creatures!).
In Skokie, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center is dedicated to preserving the legacy of this dark chapter in history by honoring victims and teaching lessons about tolerance. The main Zef and Shifra Permanent Exhibition walks you through the history of the Holocaust. Special exhibit “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann” is up until 6/18 and “How It is, But How It Should Be: An Imagined Life Outside of Gurs” runs through January 2018.
Evanston’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University features “If You Remember, I’ll Remember,” “The Wall of Respect and Chicago’s Mural Movement,” and the “MFA Thesis Exhibition 2017” through 6/18. Later this year, look for “William Blake in the Age of Aquarius” starting 9/23. Also in Evanston, the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian hosts “Contemporary Native Women Opening Doors to Change” and “Connecting Cultures: 40 Years at the Mitchell Museum” through December.
In Rosemont, the Big Ten Experience offers exhibits about the history and accomplishments of the Big Ten NCAA college conference. Also, the Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels displays a collection of porcelain figurines based on the drawings of Sister Mary Innocentia Hummel.
The country’s largest railway museum, the Illinois Railway Museum, located in Union, is a must-see for people of all ages who love trains. The season here opens April 2, and the biggest event of the year is, as always, “Day Out with Thomas”- this year taking place in July, on 7/8-7/9 and 7/15-7/16. Take a ride on a train pulled by Thomas or Percy – kids love this event! Electric cars start operating on 4/2, diesel trains operate starting 5/6, and trolley buses run on select days – 5/27, 7/1-7/2, and 9/2, 9/16, and 9/30. Events take place throughout the summer and include holidays, Railway Post Office Weekend on 6/10-6/11, Chicago Day on 6/17, the 27th Annual Vintage Transport Extravaganza on 8/6, and Museum Showcase Weekend on 9/16-9/17. The museum closes for the season in October, but the Happy Holiday Railway runs on four weekends following Thanksgiving.
The Fox Valley Trolley Museum in South Elgin is another gem for the transit-oriented. It opens 5/14 for the season; visit on Sundays only until June, then weekends and holidays only until the end of October. Come for “Rails to Victory,” a World War II enactment that takes place yearly in early June.
Love cars? Then perhaps the Volo Auto Museum & Antique Malls is the transit-related place for you. This 35-acre museum/shopping center features 35 acres with 400 cars, antiques, military dioramas, and more. Celebrity vehicles include Lightning McQueen, Ghost Rider, the General Lee, James Bond’s Aston Martin, KItt from Knight Rider, and the DeLorean from “Back to the Future.” Zzzzzz
It’s not all about travel in the northwestern suburbs, though. For additional museum happenings, check out the following pages. We list some of the amazing cultural experiences you can have without setting foot in the city. Need more information? Call us at 847-715-4574. We’re here to help.
Suburban Museums By Region
Donald E. Stephens Museum of Hummels
9513 Higgins Rd., Rosemont
This museum houses the world’s largest collection of M.I. Hummels figurines and includes ANRI woodcarvings.
Big Ten Experience
MB Financial Park at Rosemont
5440 Park Place, Rosemont
This digital sports museum celebrates the history and accomplishments of the Big Ten Conference. Enjoy live footage, interactive gaming, audio calls, photo opps, and short films. Located in the headquarters of the Big Ten, this museum is free and open daily.
Billy Graham Center
500 E. College Ave., Wheaton
With visually commanding displays employing thousands of artifacts, photos and video clips, Wheaton’s Billy Graham Center Museum takes you through history to the heart of evangelism in American today, and into the private and public life of its best-known spokesman, Billy Graham.
1 S. 151 Winfield Rd., Wheaton
Cantigny Park includes the First Division Museum, the Robert R. McCormick Museum and many acres of gardens, picnic grounds and nature trails. The Cantigny Golf Courses include a public 18-hole, 9-hole and youth-only 9-hole course in a beautiful setting. Also watch for outdoor displays of vintage tanks and other military vehicles. You’ll find plenty of golf outings, family activities, garden programs, exercise events and performances on-site daily. This season, National Public Gardens Day is 5/12, a Mother’s Day Brunch is 5/14, The Spirited Botanist cocktail demo is 6/14, and Family Night – Music and Cars is 6/16. The Art in Bloom Cantigny Art Festival takes place 6/17-6/18, and there’s a Father’s Day Brunch on 6/19. In August, Dog Days at Cantigny is 8/5, a Perseid Meteor Shower Star Party with the Adler Planetarium is 8/12, French Connection Day is celebrated 8/13, and Family Night – Music, Cars, and T-Rex is 8/18.
Cernan Earth and Space Center
2000 Fifth Ave., River Grove
Explore the wonders of the universe and the latest discoveries in astronomy, space exploration, and earth science at the Cernan Earth and Space Center, a unique space-age facility that combines education and entertainment for people of all ages. Call for a schedule of earth and sky shows, laser shows, and children’s shows.
DuPage Children’s Museum
301 N. Washington St., Naperville
Enjoy self-directed, interactive exhibits focusing on the integration of arts and sciences, in a safe environment designed for adults and kids to learn together. Crafts and drop-in activities take place throughout the season. Special exhibits, performances, and other events take place here regularly. The museum is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, so it’s hosting classic programming during every third week through June. Watch for information on a giant birthday celebration 6/24-6/25.
Elmhurst Art Museum
150 Cottage Hill Avenue, Elmhurst
A significant piece of the museum’s collection is the McCormick House, one of only three homes in the United States designed and built by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, considered the father of modern architecture. Specializing in late 20th-century American art, the museum presents a balance of regional artists and important national shows. Closed Sundays and Mondays, Fridays are free. Current and upcoming exhibits include “Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago, curated by Dan Nadel,” 2/25-5/7 and “Mies in Chicago,” a long-term exhibition focusing on the influential architect.
Elmhurst History Museum
120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst
Ongoing exhibits tell the history of the city of Elmhurst as well as the Glos Mansion. “House & Home” runs through 5/25, and “Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died,” based on the book by Dave Hoekstra, opens this summer.
Ernest Hemingway Birthplace & Museum
200 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park
The first twenty years of Ernest Hemingway’s life are the subject of the Museum’s exhibitions and videos. Permanent exhibitions highlight four main themes: Hemingway’s family life, the important role the outdoors played in his development, his education in the Oak Park public schools, and his pivotal experiences in World War I.
Fabyan Villa Museum and Japanese Garden
2001 S. Batavia Ave., Geneva
kaneforest.com (Cultural/Historic Sites)
Open 5/1-10/15, this Kane County home (remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1907), is a historic home featuring photographs, personal artifacts and original furnishings, telling the story of the Fabyan family and its estate. Site includes natural history specimens and Asian art and is open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and weekends for private tours.
16W680 Old Grand Ave., Bensenville
Believed to be one of the oldest remaining homesteads in DuPage County, this five-acre site was first established in 1838. Set in a forest preserve with prairie, wetland and woodland elements, it’s a good place to enjoy nature and history. Open Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
951 Chicago Ave., Oak Park
The long-time residence of America’s most renowned architect is open daily for guided interior tours. As Wright’s personal design laboratory for the first twenty years of his career as well as the place where he raised his family, this National Historic Landmark features some of the most spectacular spaces in American architecture. You can also take tours of the surrounding Historic District, which features Wright’s work and other architecturally significant homes. Wright Plus 150, the annual housewalk, takes place on 5/20 and will feature tours of four private wright homes, plus six other private homes, the Wright Home & Studio, and the Robie House.
Graue Mill and Museum
1800 York Rd., Oak Brook
Graue Mill is the only operating waterwheel gristmill in Illinois, and one of only three authenticated Underground Railroad sites in the state. Come for milling, spinning, weaving and living history presentations, and view artifacts that illustrate the way local residents lived between 1850 and 1890. The museum is now open for the season. Events include the sheep shearing on 5/22, the annual Fine Arts Festival on 6/3-6/4, Letters from the Oregon Trail on 7/10, a craft beer tasting on 7/15, Cornhusk Make n’ Take on 7/31, Journey on the Underground Railroad pm 8/26-8/27, and Tim Cremona with mid-19th century music on 8/28. The Civil War Encampment takes place 9/3-9/4.
Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art
220 Cottage Hill, Elmhurst
The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art presents the beauty of stone in the form of art objects, mineral specimens, gems and gem materials. People of all ages can be inspired by this unique blending of art and science, the result of over fifty years of collecting by the Joseph F. Lizzadro, Sr. family. Through the Lizzadro family’s great generosity and foresight, the Museum serves as a center for the appreciation of lapidary art and the promotion of the study of earth science. Films, interactive lectures, and field trips take place throughout the year; the museum is closed Mondays but Fridays are free.
523 S. Webster St., Naperville
This museum village of 19th-century homes, shops and public buildings exhibits a collection of historical facts and furnishings. Costumed villagers work, play and tell the story of daily life in Naperville from 1831 to 1900 as it changed from a frontier outpost to a bustling turn-of-the-century community. The Settlement also houses a reference library and archival collection. Current exhibit is “Community Roots: Agriculture In Naperville,” through 6/27. Blacksmithing 101 takes place 5/6, a History Speaks lecture or Margaret Mitchell takes place 5/7, “Victorian Memory and Mourning, plus Cemetery Symbols” is 5/13, and Civil War Days (a re-enactment) is 5/20-5/21. In June, the Naper Nights Community Concert Series takes place on 6/16-6/17 and the 58th annual Naperville Woman’s Club Art Fair is 6/24-6/25. In July, Naper Nights is 7/21-7/22 and in August it’ll be 8/18-8/19. Come for Settlement Sundays in summer, with free sundaes and do-it-yourself toppings, family activities, and building tours.
Oak Park Conservatory
615 Garfield Ave., Oak Park
The Oak Park Conservatory displays greenery from around the world. In the Tropic House, tropical plants such as papaya, coffee, cacao, and bananas abound. Visitors can also find begonias, orchids and carnivorous plants in the Fern House and cacti, aloes and jade plants in the arid climate of the Desert House. The Conservatory also offers a prairie garden of native Illinois flowers and grasses, and an herb garden.
18 W. Benton, Aurora
Aurora’s interactive science and technology center offers over 200 hands-on exhibits demonstrating the principles of electricity, weather, astronomy, and nuclear energy.
Evanston History Center
225 Greenwood, Evanston
The town of Evanston established this small private institution in 1898 to preserve and share local history. It tells the story of Evanston through the Charles Gates Dawes House, interactive museum exhibits, a research room, and educational programs.
Glenview Naval Air Station Museum
2040 Lehigh Ave., Glenview
Dedicated to preserving the memory of those who served at Glenview’s naval air station.
Great Lakes Naval Museum
Naval Station Great Lakes, Building 158
2601A Paul Jones St., Great Lakes
The Great Lakes Naval Museum shows the history of the Navy in the Great Lakes area. Photography and memorabilia are on display.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center
9603 Woods Dr., Skokie(847) 967-4800
Exhibits in this $45 million, 65,000 sq. ft. space include artifacts from Simon Wiesenthal, an original volume of the Nuremberg trial transcripts, a German railcar, art from concentration camps and a collection of letters, postcards and other documents. A Room of Remembrance honors the memory of victims; issues related to current genocides have also been integrated. Special exhibit “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann” is up until 6/18 and “How It is, But How It Should Be: An Imagined Life Outside of Gurs” runs through January 2018.
Kohl Children’s Museum
2100 Patriot Blvd., Glenview
Here’s a place for your kids (up to age 8) to play in a safe and educational yet inspiring environment. They can enjoy water play, musical instruments, an outdoor habitat, a Whole Foods grocery store, an animal hospital, a car care room and other fun areas – including a recent addition, Turtle Rock, with live reptiles.
Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art
Northwestern University, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston
The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is committed to providing excellence in the visual arts for the communities of Northwestern University and the greater Chicago area. The permanent collection contains strong holdings of 20th-century sculpture and 16th- to 21st-century works on paper displayed in the Print, Drawing, and Photography Study Center. Museum admission is free to all; closed Mondays. “If You Remember, I’ll Remember,” “The Wall of Respect and Chicago’s Mural Movement,” and the “MFA Thesis Exhibition 2017” run through 6/18. Later this year, look for “William Blake in the Age of Aquarius” starting 9/23.
Mitchell Museum of the American Indian
2600 Central Park Ave., Evanston
This small museum offers thousands of individual objects dedicated to the native cultures of the Woodlands, Plains, Southwest, Northwest Coast and Arctic regions of North America. Each gallery contains “touching tables” where visitors can handle real examples of Indian artifacts, as well as feel the raw materials—including snakeskin, caribou fur, birch bark, turquoise and buffalo skin—that were used by Native Americans. Closed Mondays. On exhibit: “Contemporary Native Women Opening Doors to Change” and “Connecting Cultures: 40 Years at the Mitchell Museum,” both through December 2017.
Fox River Trolley Museum
3652 S. LaFox St. (Rt. 31), South Elgin
The museum operates a variety of antique trolleys, many from long-vanished tracks that once connected Carpentersville, Elgin, Aurora and Yorkville. The museum opens 5/14 for the season. Visit Sundays only until June, then weekends and holidays only through the end of October. “Rails to Victory, “ a World War II enactment, takes place in early June.
Illinois Railway Museum
7000 Olson Rd., Union
Relive the glory days of the railroad at this museum, which hosts one of the largest collections of railway equipment in the country. Over 400 pieces of equipment—including electric, steam and diesel engines and cars—are preserved, restored and operated here. Highlights include the only running Zephyr in the country and the definitive collection of Chicago streetcars. The season here opens April 2, and the biggest event of the year is, as always, “Day Out with Thomas”- this year taking place in July, on 7/8-7/9 and 7/15-7/16. Take a ride on a train pulled by Thomas or Percy – kids love this event! Electric cars start operating on 4/2, diesel trains operate starting 5/6, and trolley buses run on select days – 5/27, 7/1-7/2, and 9/2, 9/16, and 9/30. Events take place throughout the summer and include holidays, Railway Post Office Weekend on 6/10-6/11, Chicago Day on 6/17, the 27th Annual Vintage Transport Extravaganza on 8/6, and Museum Showcase Weekend on 9/16-9/17. The museum closes for the season in October, but the Happy Holiday Railway runs on four weekends following Thanksgiving.
Volo Auto Museum
27582 Volo Village Rd., Volo
Now in its 50th year, the 30-acre Volo theme park is famous for its multimillion-dollar automobile collection of nearly 300 antique and famous cars displayed in five climate-controlled showrooms. The Volo Military History Museum includes dioramas of WWII, Vietnam and the latest exhibit on The Gulf War. The exhibit also features other historically significant military artifacts. Train rides, military displays, and three large antique malls are also located on site. Closed Mondays.