Most out-of-towners know about Chicago’s world-class museums, offering education and entertainment for locals and visitors alike. But cultural excitement in this town isn’t confined to city limits. In fact, if you’re willing to go out and explore the suburbs, you’ll find a diverse collection of fascinating places where you and your family can explore art, nature, history, science, and much more. Avoid the long lines, the expensive admission prices, and downtown traffic. Instead, get to know the hidden gems that you can find all over Chicagoland.
The western suburbs are rich with institutions of culture and learning, starting with the internationally-known Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio in Oak Park. Tour the place where Wright started his career and family, and developed the first truly American style of architecture, the Prairie Style. The annual Wright Plus Housewalk takes place this year on 5/19, featuring several private Wright homes and other significant residences and buildings.
In Naperville, community life is centered around Naper Settlement, a hands-on living museum with a 19th-century village on the grounds for exploring the region’s pioneer past. This season’s main event is Civil War Days, 5/19-5/20, when hundreds of reenactors create the spectacle of war. June through August, you can enjoy the Naper Nights Community Concert series on 6/15-6/16, 7/20-7/21, and 8/17-8/18, drawing people to sit under the stars and enjoy music. Come also for Settlement Sundays, with free sundaes, family activities, and building tours.
The DuPage Children’s Museum, not far from downtown Naperville, is a great place for young families, with two floors of educational play focused on science, art, and math. Pro tip: There’s water play, so bring a change of clothes! And enjoy weekend Tiny Great Performances, introducing kids to amazing arts groups and performers.
Wheaton’s Cantigny Park is a unique and beautiful spot with something for everyone. You’ve got interesting museums, gorgeous gardens, and golf courses too! The First Division Museum, which was redesigned recently, tells the story of a U.S. Army infantry unit, and the Robert R. McCormick Museum explores the work and home life of the Chicago Tribune publisher. Outdoor concerts begin 5/27 and run throughout the summer. Art in Bloom takes place 6/16-6/17, and Shakespeare in the Park is 7/15. The third annual Military through the Ages encampment creates a timeline from ancient Rome through Operation Desert Storm on 7/28. Don’t miss Dog Days, 8/4, and French Connection Day on 8/12.
In Elmhurst, you’ll find several very interesting museums. The Elmhurst Art Museum stages “Mies’ McCormick House Revealed: New Views” and “Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle: Seeing Red” from 6/10-8/26. The Elmhurst History Museum is showing “Snoopy and the Red Baron” through 6/17, and then “Chicago Rink Rats: The Golden Age of Roller Skating” runs 7/13-11/4. The Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art features jade, stone carvings, and rock and mineral exhibits – dioramas, mosaics, and gemstones abound. You can also check out Castle Lizzadro, an 18-carat gold sculpture with diamond windows.
Want to visit all three Elmhurst museums together? The town hosts its 22nd annual Museum Day on 5/20, when you can take a free trolley to explore all three museums with free admission, family activities (making rock critters at Lizzadro, learn to draw Peanuts characters at the history museum, and making art at the art museum), tours, treats, and more.
The northern suburbs include the Kohl Children’s Museum, just north of the Glen retail center in Glenview. This family-friendly institution is the perfect place to tire out your little ones, with 17 creative playspaces including the Pet Vet, the Hands On House, the SpotHero Car Garage, and Turtle Rock. Enjoy art adventures and storytimes, and the special exhibit Animal Secrets through 8/26.
Actually, the year has been pretty exciting up north, thanks to the reopening/opening of several museums. The Halim Time & Glass Museum, which is now open in Evanston, is new to the scene with a collection of 1,100 timepieces and 30 masterpiece windows that tell the story of the American School of Stained Glass, including treasures of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The reopening of Lake County Discovery Museum as the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County, located in Libertyville, is another highlight of the suburban museum scene. The new space includes a life-sized replica of a 20-foot-long Dryptosaurus, a 420 million-year-old rock, a reproduction of a wigwam and a one-room schoolhouse, and artifacts of the Civil War era. Celebrating the 200th birthday of Illinois, “200 Objects That Make Lake County History” is the special exhibit available now.
And, to round out the cultural openings, the Cuneo Museum and Gardens in Vernon Hills will be open for tours once again on Fridays and Saturdays starting June 2. The Italian Villa-style home, originally built for the founder of ComEd and then bought by the Cuneo family, features an amazing antique collection and beautiful grounds.
The Illinois Railway Museum, the country’s largest railway museum in Union, is a must-see for people of all ages who love trains. The biggest event of the year is always “Day Out with Thomas,” which takes place this year on 7/14-7/15 and 7/21-7/22. Take a ride on a train pulled by Thomas himself, or Percy (extra ticket required) – kids love this event! Electric cars are operating on Sundays, but will operate on Saturdays starting 5/5 and every day starting 5/21. Trolley buses, steam trains, and the Nebraska Zephyr run on select days throughout the season. This year’s special events include Railway Post Office Weekend on 6/9-6/10, Chicago Day on 6/16, the 28th Annual Vintage Transport Extravaganza on 8/5, and Diesel Days on 8/11-8/12.
The Fox Valley Trolley Museum is another great place for transit enthusiasts. It’s mostly open on weekends and holidays starting 5/13, although in May and June it’s only open on Sundays, 5/28, and 6/9. Come for special events such Spring Caboose Days, 6/3 and 6/10, and the Riverfest Express, 8/18-8/19.
Love cars? The perhaps the Volo Auto Museum & Antique Mall is the transit-related place for you. This 35-acre museum/shopping center features 400 cars, 33 exhibits, an antique mall, military dioramas, and more. Celebrity vehicles on site include the General Lee, Herbie, the Batmobile, a DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” and a Landspeeder from “Star Wars.”
But no, it’s not all about travel in the northwestern suburbs. For additional museum happenings all around the area, 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. Watch for daily events, including vintage baseball games, storytimes, kids’ programming, garden activities, and history presentations! These include: the Nancy Neill Jewelry Trunk Show, 5/6; National Public Gardens Day, 5/11; the 10th Annual Birdwatching Open, 5/12; Mother’s Day Brunch, 5/13; the Clayspace Pottery Show, 5/19; Art in Bloom, 6/16-6/17; Shakespeare in the Park, 7/15; Dog Days, 8/4; and French Connection Day, 8/12. Weekly outdoor concerts include Boy Band Night on 5/27, American English on 7/22, and ABBA Salute on 8/19.
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.
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.
Elmhurst History Museum
120 E. Park Ave., Elmhurst
Ongoing exhibits tell the history of the city of Elmhurst as well as the Glos Mansion.
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
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-Saturdays weekly.
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, the annual housewalk, takes place on 5/19 and features walk-throughs of Wright buildings and homes by significant local architects.
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 5/7, the Sixteenth Annual Fine Arts Festival on 6/3-6/4, a Craft Beer Tasting on 7/7, a Master Gardeners lecture on 7/30 and also 8/20, and Journey on the Underground Railroad on 8/25-8/26. The Civil War Encampment takes place 9/2-9/3.
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. Civil War Days takes place 5/19-5/20. The Naper Nights Community Concert series takes place on 6/15-6/16, 7/20-7/21, and 8/17-8/18. Other events during the season include the Happy Illinois Bicentennial Birthday Bash, 5/6; Victorian Memory and Mourning, plus Cemetery Symbols, 5/12, the Tosi Architecture Tour, 6/3; Hometown Picnic, 6/10; and the Naperville Woman’s Club Fine Art Fair, 6/23-6/24. Blacksmithing 101 is open on 7/7 and 7/14, and the site celebrates Illinois’ 200th birthday on 8/4. Walking club events and kids’ programming also take place.
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.
Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County
1899 W. Winchester Rd., Libertyville
This brand-new museum explores the history of Lake County from dinosaur days to the present day. Formerly the Lake County Discovery Museum, it features a collection that includes a 420 million-year-old fossil, a Dryptosaurus skeleton, a full-scale wigwam, a one-room schoolhouse, and much more. The current special exhibit celebrates the Illinois Bicentennial.
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. Current exhibits include “Speak Truth to Power: Human Rights Defenders Who Are Changing Our World,” through 6/24, “The 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising,” through 9/23, and “Where the Children Sleep” through 9/16. “Stories of Survival: Object, Image, Memory” debuts on 7/19.
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 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. Current exhibits include “Experiments in Form: Sam Gilliam, Alan Shields, Frank Stella” through 6/24 and “Hank Willis Thomas: Unbranded” through 8/5. Coming this summer: “I Think We’re Alone Now,” 5/10-6/24 and “Paul Chain: Happiness (finally) after 35,000 years of civilization” from 7/17-11/4.
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 now: “Heritage Markers: Local Native American History and Cultures” and “Native American Woven Arts.”
Cuneo Mansion and Cardens
1350 Milwaukee Ave., Vernon Hills
Built between 1914-1916, the Cuneo Mansion is a beautifully preserved Italian Villa-style home featuring the Cuneo family’s collection of European and American antiques, some hundreds of years old. The site’s 100 acres of green space spectacularly landscaped, and perfect for walking around. Public tours take place Fridays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. starting June 2.
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. Special events days include Mother’s Day on 5/13, Spring Caboose Days on 6/3 and 6/10, Hobo Night on 6/9, Father’s Day on 6/17, and the South Elgin Riverfest on 8/18-8/19. The Pumpkin Trolley will run in October.
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. “Day Out with Thomas” is 7/14-7/15 and 7/21-7/22. This year’s special events include Illinois Day on 5/5, Mother’s Day on 5/13, Railway Post Office Weekend on 6/9-6/10, Chicago Day on 6/16, Father’s Day on 6/17, Trolley Weekend on 6/30-7/1, the 28th Annual Vintage Transport Extravaganza on 8/5, and Diesel Days on 8/11-8/12. While the museum closes in the fall, special event days and holiday trains still happen!
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.