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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 #3. 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. If you plan on going to the Art Institute, you should download their 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 #3 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 The Packingtown Museum
1400 W. 46th St., Chicago, IL 60609 – plan your visit
I just learned about this museum after attending my Auntie Clementine’s 100th birthday party this past June on the south side. While catching up with cousins who I haven’t seen in a very long time, I discovered one of Clem’s granddaughters is a blogger and has documented some of Auntie Clem’s memories of growing up in Back of the Yards as a child. As I read her stories, it really gave me insight into my Dad’s childhood as he was Clem’s youngest brother but never talked about it. He died in 2005, and I heard stories over the years about Back of the Yards and the struggles my family overcame, but I had no idea.
The Packingtown Museum is housed in what is now known as The Plant, a 100,000-square-foot green business incubator containing indoor and outdoor farms, kombucha and beer breweries, a bakery, a cheese distributor, a coffee roaster, and more.
The mission of the Packingtown Museum is to preserve, interpret and present the industrial history and cultural heritage of Chicago’s Union Stock Yard and surrounding neighborhoods.
union stock yards
Since the opening of the Union Stock Yard in 1865, the livestock market and packinghouses attracted a diverse population of workers and others to the neighborhoods surrounding Packingtown. Wave after wave of European immigrants joined native-born Americans, both Black and White, in the neighborhoods of Bridgeport, Canaryville, Back of the Yards, McKinley Park, Bronzeville, and other South Side areas.
In the early years of the stockyards, U.S.-born Whites settled in the area. Large numbers of Irish, German, Austrian, and Czech immigrants soon joined them and found employment in the meat industry. These groups quickly dominated the workforce. During the late 1880s, Polish immigrants arrived in large numbers in Back of the Yards and Bridgeport. By World War One, they came to dominate the immigrant population of Back of the Yards while Lithuanians, Slovaks, Carpatho-Rusyns, Russians, Ukrainians, East European Jews, French Canadians, and others settled in the neighborhood.
African Americans entered the packinghouse workforce in the early 1900s. During World War One, their numbers increased and continued to grow until 1960, and they largely settled in the Bronzeville neighborhood. In the 1920s, Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans joined the ethnic mix of the neighborhood. The Mexican immigrant population faced forced repatriation during the Great Depression and began to grow again during WWII. By the late 1950s, more than eighty percent of packinghouse workers were people of color, primarily Mexicans and African Americans. Today, Back of the Yards continues to thrive as a Mexican/Latino community while having remnants of its Slavic roots. The African American community continues to grow, particularly at the neighborhood’s south edge. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Go check out The Plant (a 100,000-square-foot green business incubator). Click here for details.
#2 Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
800 S. Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60607 – plan your visit
Guests are required to reserve their desired number of tickets for their 1-hour time slot in advance of their visit. Reserve here.
Jane Addams Hull-House Museum serves as a dynamic memorial to social reformer Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, and her colleagues whose work changed the lives of their immigrant neighbors as well as national and international public policy. The Museum preserves and develops the original Hull-House site for the interpretation and continuation of the historic settlement house vision, linking research, education, and social engagement.
It is located in two of the original settlement house buildings on the UIC (University of Illinois Chicago) campus – the Hull Home, a National Historic Landmark, and the Residents’ Dining Hall, a beautiful Arts and Crafts building that has welcomed some of the world’s most important thinkers, artists, and activists.
Its many vibrant programs make connections between the work of Hull-House residents and important contemporary social issues.
Founded in 1889 as a social settlement, Hull-House played a vital role in redefining American democracy in the modern age. Addams and the residents of Hull-House helped pass critical legislation and influenced public policy on public health and education, free speech, fair labor practices, immigrants’ rights, recreation and public space, arts, and philanthropy. Hull-House has long been a center of Chicago’s political and cultural life, establishing Chicago’s first public playground and public art gallery, helping to desegregate the Chicago Public Schools, and influencing philanthropy and culture. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore Little Italy. Head west on Taylor and get an Italian Ice at Mario’s. Or a beef sandwich at Al’s Beef. In the mood for an old-school Italian meal? Go to Tufano’s.
#3 Chicago Maritime Museum
1200 W 35th St, River Level, Bridgeport Art Center, Chicago, IL 60609 – plan your visit
Chicago’s history and development stem from its axis at the foot of the Great Lakes. This strategic location gave the city access to the St Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the radiating rivers that lead to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, a great network of freight trains serves the city, moving Midwestern produce and products to the world and returning with goods from around the nation and the world. At varying times, Chicago has been the busiest port or one of the busiest ports in the world. It is a tall order to tell the story of Chicago’s waterways and their emotional and prosperous impact on 19th, 20th, and 21st-century American growth.
Welcome to the Chicago Maritime Museum and our developing story of Chicago’s maritime traditions and impact. Come visit our museum on the shores of Bubbly Creek at the Bridgeport Art Center.
The Chicago Maritime Museum, located on the River Level of the Bridgeport Art Center at 35th Street and Racine Ave., opened in July of 2016. The museum offers visitors a chronological walk through local maritime history, including the eras of French fur traders, sail and steam-powered vessels, modern commercial Great Lakes frigates, recreational sailing, and the Ralph and Rita Frese Canoe Collection. Designed by renowned architect and CMM chairman Dirk Lohan, the 10,000-square-foot museum serves as a window into Chicago’s maritime history. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore the galleries of the Bridgeport Art Center. Make sure you check out Project Onward. This is a studio and gallery dedicated to the creative growth of adult artists whose lives are impacted by mental illness and developmental disabilities.
#4 National Hellenic Museum
333 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60661 – reopening 9/16/22 – plan your visit
Founded in 1983 as the Hellenic Museum and Cultural Center, the NHM’s current location was built in 2011. Our building is constructed with natural limestone and glass, materials that represent the artistic and technological traditions Greeks have impacted from the Classical Age to the modern day. Containing design elements associated with Aristotle, such as earth, wind, and fire, although water is not physically present, light and glassy surfaces are incorporated to represent the importance of water. The symbolic heart of our building is a dramatic, sky-lit east-to-west-staircase that represents the immigrant experience, cultural ties to Greece, and the limitless potential – the resilience – of Greek Americans in the United States. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Go grab a delicious breakfast or lunch down the street from the museum at Meli Cafe.
#5 Ukrainian National Museum
2249 W. Superior St, Chicago, IL 60612 – plan your visit
The Ukrainian National Museum of Chicago was founded in 1952 by displaced scholars: Olexa Hankewych, Julian Kamenetcky, Orest Horodyskyj, and with the extraordinary assistance of philanthropist and community activist Dr. Myroslav Simynovycz. The goal of the Museum was the establishment of a museum and archives that would reflect the lives of those forced by cruel circumstances to leave their homeland and who, in love and longing for that ancestral home, formed Ukrainian organizations for cultural continuity and life in their new settlements.
Today the Museum is highlighted as the finest achievement of the Ukrainian American community. Its unparalleled array of folk art, an exceptional collection of fine art, and extensive compendium of archival materials make it one of the most unique and dynamic museums in the USA, with broad appeal to diverse audiences.
The folk art collection, with more than 10,000 objects, is one of the most important collections outside of Ukraine. It features wedding and festive attire from various regions of Ukraine, ritual cloths (rushnyky and kylyms), and a broad selection of richly embroidered and woven textiles. This unique collection also includes ceramics, metalwork, and decorative wood-carved objects from the 19th and 20th centuries. The Museum holds an impressive collection of pysanky or Ukrainian Easter eggs.
The fine arts collection consists of some 500 paintings, drawings, graphic works, and sculptures by noted Ukrainian artists who worked in Ukraine, Europe, the United States, and elsewhere, primarily in the 20th century. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore Ukie Village.
#5 The National Puerto Rican Museum
3015 W Division St, Chicago, IL 60622 – plan your visit
Located in Humboldt Park, in the heart of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture (NMPRAC) is the only self-standing museum in the nation devoted to showcasing Puerto Rican arts and cultural exhibitions year-round.
Founded in 2000 by members of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community and local supporters of arts and culture, NMPRAC serves as a one-of-a-kind institution that celebrates the best of Puerto Rico’s identity and heritage. The early years of the museum centered on renovating the historic Humboldt Park Stables and Receptory, an iconic building that has been culturally and historically significant to Chicago since the late 1800s. After more than 20 years of not inducting any new museums in the park, NMPRAC made recent history and was named the latest City of Chicago’s Museums in the Park in February 2012.
In 2014, the name of the museum was changed to reflect our status as the only museum in the country dedicated exclusively to Puerto Rican arts and culture. The national recognition is paving the way for national accreditation through the American Alliance of Museums. Since its inception, NMPRAC has offered a variety of quality community arts and cultural programming, including visual art exhibitions, hands-on community arts workshops, films in the park, and an annual outdoor fine arts and crafts festival.
Visitors to the museum will enter through the dramatic brick archway of the original carriage receptory into a magnificent brick courtyard adorned with mosaic artwork depicting the island of Puerto Rico and many of its cultural elements. The courtyard is surrounded on all sides by the unique Queen Anne architectural features of the former stables. Each room in the stables has been transformed into part of a fully functional museum.
NMPRAC currently houses three galleries, performance spaces, art classrooms, and curatorial and administrative offices. The museum also features a gift shop and a catering area. The courtyard serves as the ideal space for art festivals, outdoor performances, weddings, and other private rentals.
NMPRAC gives people from all walks of life an opportunity to be inspired by the power of artistic tradition, allowing guests to explore and appreciate the incredible beauty, intensity, and tradition of Puerto Rican art and culture. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore the Humboldt Park neighborhood.
#6 Swedish American Museum
5211 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60640 – plan your visit
The Swedish American Museum has been active for over 40 years in the heart of Andersonville, a traditionally Swedish area on the north side of Chicago. Andersonville, the “Little Sweden” of Chicago, is one of the most concentrated areas of Swedish heritage in the United States, with Swedish roots dating back to the 19th century. Tourists visit the area continually to sample Swedish food, buy gifts, visit the Museum, and partake in traditional Swedish holidays such as Midsommar and Julmiddag.
Our 24,000 square-foot cultural museum features two gallery spaces with special art exhibits, “The Dream of America” exhibit, the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration, a genealogy center, and our Museum Store. All areas are wheelchair accessible. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore Andersonville. Voted the coolest neighborhood in the U.S. by Timeout Magazine.
#7 Chinese American Museum of Chicago
238 W 23rd St, Chicago, IL 60616 – plan your visit
Our mission is to advance the appreciation of Chinese American culture through exhibitions, education, and research and to preserve the past, present, and future of Chinese Americans, primarily in the Midwest.
Our vision is to work with organizations, visitors, and community leaders across the country to tell the story of Chinese Americans, primarily in the Midwest, and to build a community around a continuous dialogue illustrating how Chinese American culture and contributions are an important part of the American fabric.
The museum building, formerly the Quong Yick Co., is located in Chicago’s Chinatown in Chicago. The Museum opened to the public on May 21, 2005. After a devastating fire in September of 2008, the Museum was closed for renovation and reopened in 2010. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: If you are visiting in the summer, take the water taxi to Chinatown. The coolest way to get there! Regardless of the time of year, go get some dumplings. Read all about it here.
#8 Charnley-Persky House Museum
1365 N Astor St, Chicago, IL 60610 – plan your visit
Located in Chicago, this National Historic Landmark building serves as the headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians. It was designed by Louis Sullivan with assistance from his junior draftsman, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Sullivan and FLW are major figures in American architecture. Sullivan, Wright’s architectural mentor, hired the younger man in 1887 as a draftsman to assist with producing construction drawings for the Auditorium Building (1887–1889) in Chicago. As a junior draftsman, Wright also assisted with residential commissions such as the James Charnley House (1891–1892).
The Charnley-Persky House (1891-1892) has long been recognized internationally as a pivotal work of modern American architecture. It stands as evidence of the extraordinary power of Sullivan and Wright’s creativity in collaboration. With the Charnley-Persky House, Sullivan rejected the historical details common to Victorian architecture in favor of abstract forms that later became the hallmarks of modern architecture.
It is a sign of Sullivan’s admiration for Wright and a testament to their friendship and working relationship that the senior architect allowed his draftsman to become involved in the design process at all. The exterior of Charnley-Persky House is a virtually unadorned brick and limestone facade that commands its corner location. The dramatic interior of the house is dominated by an atrium that soars from the first-floor hall to a skylight two floors above. The house is symmetrical in plan, with one room located on either side of the central atrium on each floor. The ornament found throughout the interior and exterior of the building reflects both Sullivan’s love of sinuous plant forms intertwined with underlying geometric forms and Wright’s variations of these themes. Info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: The Gold Coast is one of the best neighborhoods to stay in while visiting Chicago. Click here to read all about it.
#9 The A. Philip Randolph National Pullman Porter Museum
10406 S Maryland Ave, Chicago, IL 60628 – plan your visit
The Historic Pullman District has been designated as a National Monument site under the National Park Service. The Pullman National Monument is unique because it is a district and not a single building.
Located roughly a half-square-mile on the Far South Side, the boundaries are 103rd to 115th and Cottage Grove to the Bishop Ford Expressway. A monument to labor and racial history has achieved national monument status. Built in 1880 by business mogul George Pullman strategically outside Chicago’s boundaries, only to be annexed into the city later. The community included more than 1,700 company-owned houses, a church, a school, and a building that housed offices, stores, a library, and a bank. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore the Historic Pullman District. Click here for details.
#10 National Veterans Art Museum
4041 N Milwaukee Ave, 2nd flr, Chicago, IL 60641 – plan your visit
dedicated to showing veteran-created art
NVAM is the National Veterans Art Museum. Dedicated to presenting art inspired by military service and combat by artists who are military veterans, its subject matter is broad and often focused on the impact of military conflict, especially that which is directly experienced by fighters, service members, and civilians. NVAM collects art from all the branches of the military and from artists who have seen war, military conflicts, and peacekeeping missions.
The artists’ work in our collection is primarily from US-based artists but includes works from artists around the world. Our collection focuses on works that show combat veteran art that engages all audiences to think about the impact of conflict on our society, community, and nation. The majority of the NVAM collection is contemporary, covering WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War through to the present day. We continue to expand our collection as the history of veteran art extends far beyond the works currently in our collection.
NVAM is a national museum with an extensive collection of over 2,500 artworks collected over the past 35 years. Our permanent collection is on display on a rotating basis in Chicago, IL, USA, and pieces of our collection are regularly on display in special exhibitions around the world. Photo & info courtesy of website.
While you are here, other things to do: Explore the Old Irving Park neighborhood. Go check out ERIS brewery & cider house or get some delicious Thai food at Arun’s or check out what’s happening at the American-Irish Heritage Center.
I hope you enjoyed my top 10 obscure Chicago museums PART #3. Again, it was hard to trim the list down, so stay tuned for 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 #2 if you missed it.
Until the next adventure, my friends!