top 10 obscure Chicago museums – part# 2
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Are looking for things to do on your upcoming trip to Chicago? Or are you a local looking for a new & different museum experience? Here are my suggestions as a blogger & local tour guide for the past 15+ years of the top 10 obscure Chicago museums – part#2. If you are a museum-goer, you already know about the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium which all reside in our Museum Campus on the beautiful Lake Michigan lakefront.
Also well known, are the Museum of Science & Industry (MSI) and the Art Institute of Chicago. Download the Art Institute app, trust me it’ll make 1 million sq ft of art much more manageable. And make sure you allow enough time at the MSI because it is ginormous! Also, they can get very busy so go early. Here is a link to save you almost 40% on a multiple museums package since they can get expensive.
And for you more adventurous travelers/locals looking for more unknown museums, here are my top 10 Chicago museums – part #2 that don’t make the top lists but are just as fantastic as the big ones, plus smaller crowds. Some are free while others charge an admission fee. I’ve added links to each so you can check. Please note that some of these museums offer virtual as well as in-person exhibits.
how to get there
To get to each location go to the cta trip planner and plug in your starting point & then destination to see multiple cta bus & train routes. I use this myself all the time and highly recommend it to get around Chicago via public transportation. Or take a Divvy bike. Another option is Google maps which provides driving, public transportation, or bike directions.
#1 DePaul Art Museum
935 W Fullerton, Chicago, IL 60614 – plan your visit
DPAM connects people through art and ideas
DePaul Art Museum (DPAM) is a world-class museum located in the heart of Lincoln Park on DePaul University’s campus. DPAM is free and open to everyone, presenting 3-6 exhibitions per year with a permanent collection of nearly 4,000 objects with strengths in local, national, and international modern and contemporary art. Our purpose is to connect people through art and ideas while providing an inclusive platform for innovative artistic voices bridging local and global concerns. Photo & info courtesy of website.
Please note while masks are not mandatory they do recommend making a reservation.
While you are here other suggestions to check out: Head east to a secret garden part of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Read all about it here.
#2 Columbia College Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 South Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605 – plan your visit
All visitors are strongly encouraged to make a reservation here before visiting the museum.
The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) is the world’s premier college art museum dedicated to photography. As an international hub, we generate ideas and provoke dialogue among students, artists, and diverse communities through groundbreaking exhibitions and programming. Our mission is to cultivate a deeper understanding of the artistic, cultural and political roles of photography in our world today.
Founded in 1976 by Columbia College Chicago as the successor to the Chicago Center for Contemporary Photography, the Museum of Contemporary Photography began collecting in the early 1980s and has since grown its collection to include over 16,500 objects by over 1,500 artists. The MoCP is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Go check out the murals in the Wabash Arts Corridor.
#3 American Writers Museum
180 N. Michigan Avenue, 2nd Floor, Chicago, IL 60601 – plan your visit
The mission of the American Writers Museum is to engage the public in celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives.
The American Writers Museum strives to educate the public about American writers, past and present; engage visitors to the Museum in exploring the many exciting worlds created by the spoken and written word, enrich and deepen appreciation for good writing in all its forms, motivate visitors to discover, or rediscover, a love of reading and writing. And inspire the young writers of tomorrow. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Go explore the Loop. Click here for my guide.
#4 Wrightwood 659
659 W. Wrightwood, Chicago, IL 60614 – plan your visit
Wrightwood 659 is a new exhibition space conceived for presenting exhibitions of architecture and socially engaged art. It is designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando, who has transformed a 1920s building with his signature concrete forms and poetic treatment of natural light.
In a city rich with art institutions and internationally known for its architecture, Wrightwood 659 is designed as a site for contemplative experiences of art and architecture, and as a place to engage with the pressing social issues of our time. Located at 659 W. Wrightwood Avenue, in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, it is a private, non-commercial initiative envisioned as an integral part of the cultural and civic fabric of Chicago, as well as a new kind of arts space and cultural resource. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Grab a bite from Del Seoul Korean Street BBQ, walk east on Deming, take the underpass and you’ll find yourself at North Pond. Stroll around the pond and go check out the spectacular butterfly room at #8 Peggy Notebaert Museum.
#5 Chicago Sports Museum
Water Tower Place, Level 7, 835 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611 – plan your visit
The 23,000 square foot Chicago Sports Museum offers a highly interactive experience for visitors to explore the legends and lore of Chicago sports. It combines hi-tech interactive experiences-including skill challenges and simulated experiences-with unique sports memorabilia and an impressive collection of game-used treasures and other artifacts. Photo & info courtesy of Tripadvisor.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Go check out the Historic Water Tower or take in the view at the Signature Lounge at the John Hancock.
#6 Bronzeville Children’s Museum
9301 South Stony Island Ave, Chicago, IL 60617 – plan your visit
Our philosophy of building children’s minds is reinforced by a unique guided tour format that emphasizes the educational message each exhibit is designed to achieve. We believe that this format is critical to ensuring that the hands-on play experience imparts knowledge and that our children remember what they learned, not just that they had time to play.
The exhibits are designed for children ages 4 to 9. Current exhibits (one-hour tours) include: You Are What You Eat to learn about healthy eating and working out while having fun! African American Inventors Changing Lives In our ComEd gallery you can take a journey through time to visit African American inventors who made inventions that changed our lives for the better. Learn about inventions for beauty products, computers, and medical science discoveries and cures. Inventors like Benajmin Banneker from the 17th century to today’s Apple computer engineer Donna Augusta. Journey to our STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) tour where your mission is to discover how your world is surrounded by STEM. Let your imagination take flight on a STEM journey! Bronzeville Landmarks Take a tour and learn about the people and landmarks of historic Bronzeville where you can become a banker or a doctor. Some of Chicago’s most famous and influential African Americans from professional athletes, and musicians to political leaders came from Bronzeville. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Go check out the Stony Island Arts Bank.
#7 Peggy Notebaert Museum
2430 N. Cannon Dr., Chicago IL 60614 – plan your visit
Looking for family-friendly things to do in Chicago? The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is one of Chicago’s most family-friendly science museums for children and adults. Browse our calendar of upcoming events for educational interactive events and programs for families, adults, and groups.
Do you ever wonder how a butterfly gets its colors? Or how turtles hibernate? Do you wonder how birds know where to migrate each year? For 165 years, the Chicago Academy of Sciences / Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum has served a unique role in the city of Chicago connecting children of all ages to nature and science through immersive exhibits, fun family events, important conservation research, and in-depth education programs, inspiring the wonder in all of us.
Community science (also known as citizen science) has grown exponentially in scope and popularity since our flagship community science initiative began 30 years ago. Since then, our programs have been recognized as models for others, and continue to provide opportunities for passionate individuals to get involved in scientific research. Discover how you can contribute to real research—no advanced degree required. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Stroll through Lincoln Park. Click here for a guide.
#8 Made in Chicago Museum
Klairmont Kollections, Marshall Field’s Wing, 3117 North Knox Ave., Chicago, IL 60641 – plan your visit
The Made in Chicago Museum, est. 2015, is a thoroughly unsolicited historical research project focused on collecting, documenting, and celebrating the “everyday objects” produced during Chicago’s 20th-century industrial heyday. What started out as a small collection of rusty metal knick-knacks in Andrew Clayman’s Uptown apartment has since evolved into this website (focused on the histories of Chicago manufacturers) and a proper curated showcase, with exhibitions at the Edgewater Historical Society (2017-2018), Rogers Park / West Ridge Historical Society (2018-2020), and, starting in 2022, the Klairmont Kollections auto museum at 3117 N. Knox Avenue.
There are nearly 400 industrial antiques and vintage wares on display here so far—all of them dating from 1900 to 1970, and all of them, of course, Made in Chicago.
From old advertising tins to tools, toy trains, telephones, and typewriters, each product included in the Made in Chicago Museum provides a rabbit hole to its own unique little origin story—complete with the innovators, immigrants, entrepreneurs, and working stiffs who delivered it to the world. Start weaving the various company histories together and you gradually get a better sense of the city of Chicago itself, and how it became one of the manufacturing capitals of the world. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: Head a little north to the Old Irving Park neighborhood for some of the best BBQ in the city Smoque. Then head to ERIS Brewery & Cider House and enjoy an adult beverage.
#9 The Polish Museum of America
984 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60642 – plan your visit
The Polish Museum of America was established in 1935 as the “Museum and Archives of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America.” The first public display area opened on January 12, 1937, in a specially designed and constructed room within the headquarters building of the PRCUA. From that date, the Museum’s collection and importance grew very rapidly and quickly gained autonomous status as “The Polish Museum of America” with its own governing board of directors.
There were two events that caused the rapid expansion of the Museum’s collections. The first originated from the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City, New York. The year 1939 marked the 20th anniversary of the Second Republic of Poland and the government of Poland marked that anniversary with a large exhibition at that World’s Fair. In September of 1939, Poland was invaded and war had gripped Europe. At the close of the World’s Fair, it became clear that the Polish exhibits could not return to Poland and their disposition was uncertain. In order to preserve at least a portion of the exhibits, the directors of the Museum determined to purchase from the government of Poland nearly three-fourths of the exhibits.
The second significant event was the donation to the Museum of the personal possessions of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (Former Prime Minister of Poland) following his death in June 1941. Both Ignacy Paderewski and his sister, Antonina Paderewska Wilkonska, were enthusiastic supporters and generous sponsors of the Museum. Antonina, the executor of Ignacy’s will, decided to donate these personal possessions to the Museum.
Today, the Museum is a recognized resource for Poland and the Polish-American community materials. Managing this eclectic collection is a very challenging and complex task. Only a relatively small portion of the Museum’s assets are on display at any given time. The remainder must be preserved and stored in ways that allow for convenient reference and future research. The Museum is determined to continue its mission to Polish and Polish-American past for the benefit, instruction and education of current and future generations. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things for you to do: You are close to the neighborhood West Town, go grab a bite.
#10 Medieval Torture Museum
177 N State Street, Chicago, IL, 60601 – plan your visit
We are the largest interactive historical museum in the U.S., occupying more than 6,000 square feet, with over 100 unique implements and devices on display. Enter the minds of fanatics, madmen, and murderers, and discover the world’s most detailed collection of confinement and torture devices. We believe that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and have amassed an unprecedented collection of cruelty, based on historical documents and engravings, offering a chilling look into the darkest parts of human history. Photo & info courtesy of website.
Are you brave enough? I’m not, so you’ll have to let me know what you think about it.
While you are here, other things for you to do: You are in the Loop. Click here for my guide and go explore.
Hope you enjoyed my top 10 obscure Chicago museums PART#2. Again, it was hard to trim the list down to just 20, so stay tuned for a couple more posts on additional super cool, quirky museums. Please leave me a comment about where you went & what you liked about it. Or any that I missed that you would like to share. Here’s PART#1 if you missed it.
Until the next adventure, my friends!