Originally built over 120 years ago to house fine art for the World’s Fair; the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry is our top pick for Chicago! Sure, it’s important to see the Bean (Cloud Gate), Willis Tower (aka Sears Tower), and get a slice of pizza. However, if you have kids that love to explore and enjoy art and science this will be your number one stop.
I had the opportunity to visit the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry while on a business trip. I had a first-hand knowledge of just how large this place really is. When Tammy and I were planning our Chicago trip I set aside an entire day just for this museum. Tammy questioned me and said we could get it done in ½ of a day. I laughed and told her we couldn’t get it all done if we had 16 hours to explore.
Now that we’ve taken the whole family she’s a believer!
Why is this museum so great? It’s a nice mix between a Smithsonian-like museum and the Exploratorium in San Francisco. There are thousands of hands-on first-class experiments for kids to play with. From trains to the human blood stream there’s something for every child. They even have an entire area discussing genetics where they have a chick hatchery.
In the Science Storms area kids can play in a four story tall tornado and lean what makes them turn, explore lightning from a giant must-see Tesla coil that is so loud it can be heard in much of the museum (they have timers that will let you know when the next firing will occur). Kids can explore water and wave forms, fire, magnetics, light, fluid dynamics, kinetic motion, and so many more things. This was our kids’ favorite areas of the museum. We spent the most time here and had to come back more than once.
For Smaller Children
The idea Factory is for smaller children (under 10 years old). Here they play with simple machines, construction materials, magnetism, water and much more. The water area that lets younger kids learn how water moves. They have water bibs that help keep your little ones dry…but a bib can only do so much. They have a special bathroom and nursing area here. However, it’s not a babysitting area. You have to stay with your child.
The Transportation gallery has a full-sized commuter jet built into the second floor. The airplane’s wings swing out over a gigantic working train model of Chicago and parts of the US (shows how trains connect the country). You can even go inside the airplane, see how they’re made and see the workings of the jet engine (minus the fire of course). They have full-sized trains and a replica of the Wright Brother’s airplane (the Flyer).
Did I mention the museum has a life-size coal mine that you can descend into? It teaches us how we mine resources and turn them into fuel and commodities.
There are interactive art exhibits from major corporations like IBM, HP, Siemens, and others that talk about the future, our Earth, making maps, storing information and so so much more!
Here they discuss eye colors, heredity, the difference between DNA and RNA. They even have a live chick hatchery that the workers change out the hatching eggs and chickens every hour-ish or so. This allows visitors to easily see each step from embryo to a little chicken walking around. You can see actual baby chicks breaking through their eggs, standing for the first time, and walking around. This area is well-manned and well maintained.
The Farm Tech area teach visitors about farm animal, crops, how we use combines to harvest, and transportation to your local supermarket. They have a full-sized combine that you can sit in and play with the controls.
My kids LOVED the genetics area.
There’s a space are of the museum that teaches about rockets and space exploration. They also have a five story wrap-around theater that shows amazing science films.
There are exhibits on the evolution of bicycles, ancient boats, space-age materials, and more.
Finally, no, not finally, there’s too much to talk about. There is a full-sized Russian submarine on display. Anyone that visits can see the sub and learn its story. For an extra fee you can actually go aboard and tour inside the submarine.
Ok, so it’s not the actual Body Worlds, but the museum has had a collection of preserved and plastification bodies for almost 100 years. It was great to teach the kids (age appropriate) about the blood vessels using a real life-sized blood vessel system, or heart, etc. There’s a section on the development of a human fetus/baby. I highly recommend it for the age-appropriate audience. Although not as large as a real Body Worlds exhibit I felt we had experienced enough for the younger Wesley’s.
ToyMaker 3000 Factory
As an engineer, one of my favorite areas was the ToyMaker 3000 Factory area where you follow a family’s desire to manufacture a spinning lighted top toy. They discuss development, marketing and a business model. Visitors then walk into a real life-sized toy factory where the spinning top toy is actually created, assembled, and packaged before your eyes. You can spend a few dollars (between $5 and $10) to have one made just for you. You can follow your toy top as the batteries, lights, and gyro are placed into the molded plastic. The last step is packaging where a robotic arm takes your top and places it in the plastic wrapper. It’s quite a nice keepsake.
There is a life-sized replica of an old 19th century main street complete with a real ice cream shop.
One of the most beautiful exhibits was on the structure of nature. The kids loved the mirror maze.
The museum has traveling exhibits that cost extra to see. While we were there Google had sponsored a fabulous new are just on robots. Visitors get to interact with real robots built for industrial, educational, medical, and entertainment industries. This exhibit is scheduled to end early 2016. But another amazing exhibit will be on its way.
Scattered throughout the facility are small toy mold machines that take $1-$2 and will create an injection molding right in front of you. It’s quick but the kids loved how the toy was warm after every molding. We tried to collect one for each kid from the various areas of the museum. I think we had a tractor, submarine and a space shuttle.
Besides a large gift store the museum has several eating establishments including a food court. Between the three lower floors are a series of escalators. Around these are plenty of family-picnic-friendly tables and chairs. The food was reasonable. The first time I visited I enjoyed a delicious hamburger and fries.
Months later I visited a second time and brought the kids. We enjoyed sandwiches and snacks. I suggest bringing your own water bottle so you can refill it and won’t have to buy one.
I’d recommend bringing a small cooler or a backpack with your food but, if possible, leave it in the car. It’s worth the effort to NOT bring the extra baggage into the museum with you. They will let you leave, travel to your car, retrieve your lunch, etc.
There are bathrooms in several places throughout the building. Just remember Yellow… the restrooms are near the yellow stairwell or in the food court area (as well as others).
There’s so much to do and see in Chicago. The city offers a coupon booklet called the Chicago CityPASS. It gives you options to visit five of the best attractions in Chicago (including our favorites). There are coupons with discounts for admission to the Skydeck. Most of the coupons allow you to skip the line with their “VIP Status”. This might help if you’re a bit busy. It’s a little pricy if you have a large family like us, but it’s a MUST! Other discounts? If you have a membership to a local science museum and they are members of the ASTC Passport program then you might be able to enjoy some of Chicago’s attractions for free. This is how Wesley Adventures enjoyed Chicago! If you’re visiting Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, the ASTC pass could save you enough money to make the membership “free” for a year…depending on how you look at it.
Parking at the museum is expensive. You have been warned. However, if you can manage to get there early you can pay for an all day’s parking pass on the East side (lake-side) of the building for a fraction of the parking garage. If there are only a few of you in the car I might suggest the public bus. A day’s bus pass allows unlimited rides within a 24 hour period and is quite reasonably priced.
The Chicago Museum of Science and Industry reminds me of a day in Disneyland. Seriously, you walk THAT much. Wear comfortable shoes. There are plenty of water fountains and restrooms so you shouldn’t have to carry much.
For more information be sure to check out their website.