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Chicago is known for its wide array of museums, but one of the best flies under the radar. The Chicago History Museum may not get the publicity of its larger counterparts farther down the lakeshore - the Field Museum, Art Institute, or the Adler Planetarium – but for ease, value, and history of the Second City, it can't be beat.
We've returned to this gem again and again, unearthing new experiences each time, and introducing family and friends to this treasure trove of Chicago artifacts, history, and factoids you can bring back to impress friends at the bar or dinner table. Here are five reasons you should add it to your Chicago travel list.
1. Vivian Maier's Chicago. We'll start with the exhibit that drew us here in the first place – Vivian Maier's Chicago. This nanny turned photographer documented the lives of everyday life in Urban America for decades, and nobody knew about it until after her death. Her images of the streets of Chicago in the 1960s and 1970s are both beautiful and haunting. You'll be mesmerized.
2. Ease of entry. Located on the southern edge of Lincoln Park near the lake, the Chicago History Museum features street parking that is usually not too hard to find, inexpensive. It's sandwiched between two great neighborhoods, Lincoln Park and Old Town, that have tons of great restaurants, bars, and shops to check out before or after your visit as well. Or, stroll to the Lakeshort Path or around the Nature Boardwalk.
3. Frequently updated exhibits. The museum does a great job of keeping things fresh. Last year's exhibit on the '60s drew hoards of visitors, and this year Chicago Styled: Fashioning the Magnificent Mile, keeps them coming. (But not for long, it closes Aug. 16!). Railroaders; Jack Delano's Homefront Photography, is a must for railroad buffs, and Tom Olin's photos from the Disability Rights Movement will open eyes to a rarely mentioned struggle.
Coming this fall is Chicago Authored, an exhibit on the writers who have made Chicago a home for literary icons. It takes the stage Oct. 17.
The permanent exhibit, Chicago: Crossroads of America, is always fascinating. Check out the original street car, learn the history of the Chicago city flag that is considered among the great flag designs of the world, and explore the tumultuous history of a city at the center of politics, organized crime, corruption, and innovation.
4. Great kids activities. Your little ones won't be bored here. With interactive exhibits on the iconic Chicago Hot Dog, fiction stories for kids, games, and a chance to climb on an old El car and locomotive engine, the only problem will be getting them to move on!
5. Incredible gift shop. The history museum gift shop is among the best places to find Chicago-centric gifts in the city. A huge collection of Chicago books, posters, games, and clothing for the Chicago lover.