The Chicago Field Museum of Natural History is one of the best Chicago attractions to explore with kids. Whether you are a Chicago resident or a tourist, your family will love exploring all the cool exhibits the museum has to offer. It’s an amazing place that combines the allure of Dinosaurs, Ancient Egypt, and the history and culture of Africa, Asia and Ancient Americans into a fun learning experience for all ages. With so many great things to do, are you ready to visit the Field Museum? Let me show you my family’s Field Museum tips to navigating this large museum so it can be a fun and memorable day for all.
Chicago Field Museum of Natural History
The Field Museum has been in Chicago since 1893 and was originally created for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. The museum’s current building was built in 1921 and is huge with 480,000 square feet and a staggering number of exhibits to see. The exhibits range from walking through the history of the earth in Evolving Planet which leads to the kid favorite Dinosaur Hall, to walking through Ancient Egypt, a Pawnee Earth Lodge, the Crown Family Playlab, and so much more. Your kids will be amazed at how much there is to see and do.
The Field Museum is located on the Museum Campus right on the beautiful Chicago Lakefront. You will also find the Shedd Aquarium and Planetarium here. Although all three museums are close with so much to do in each museum, I would stick to exploring one museum a day. Make sure to find time before or after the museum to take a stroll along the lakefront for great views of the city and Lake Michigan.
Field Museum Tips
All parking areas are paid at the museum campus. There is a small lot located just east of the museum which is very convenient but fills up fast. You will also find a large parking garage located across the street at Soldier Field called Solider Field North Garage. During Bears Games, it will be much harder to find parking here. However, this is a great place to park your car in bad weather and off season. Here is a link to this parking garage (Solider Field parking). There is also a small lot located closer to the Planetarium which is in walking distance.
If you do not want to deal with the Chicago traffic, I would suggest taking public transportation. You can take the Metra train from the Suburbs or the L train in the city. Then hop on a bus or cab to take you to the Museum. Here is a link to find directions to the Field Museum (here)
There are three ways to enter the museum. The south side entrance is most convenient for public transportation or if you park in the Solider Field lot. There is also an entrance on the North side of the building entrance if you are walking to the museum. Both of these require you to climb a lot of stairs.
If you have a stroller or need better accessibility, take the entrance located on the east side of the building. There is also a passenger drop off area at this location. Tip: I find that the lines tend to be shorter at this entrance on busy days.
Get a Map
The museum is huge and you will need a map to navigate around. Before you start the day, I would suggest you take a minute to review the map and see which exhibits you don’t want to miss and then devise a plan of how you will walk around. Many of the exhibit spaces are very large and can take a while to walk though.
The bathrooms are pretty spaced out and tend to have long lines so make sure to stop with the little ones when you come across them. There is a family bathroom located on the ground floor near the Siragusa Center (picnic area).
Where to Eat
The Field Bistro – Located on the main level is a small café with breakfast and lunch items. It’s also a great place to stop in for a snack when the kids need an energy boost.
Explorer Café – Located on the ground level is a larger family friendly cafeteria. It can get pretty crowded on busy days so try going at off times for meals.
The Siragusa Center – Want to save some money and bring your own lunch? Head down to the ground level to find a large open picnic table area to eat. They also have several vending machines and it is near family bathrooms.
It is a large museum so being able to push the kids in the stroller when they get tired and hold your stuff will be a big bonus. The down side is the museum has only a few elevators and there tends to be long lines for them.
Field Museum Exhibits
Inside Ancient Egypt
This is a really cool exhibit that make you feel like you are exploring an Egyptian pyramid. You will find mummies to look at and some hands-on exhibits about how ancient Egyptians lived. The downside to this exhibit is it is on two floors with a narrow steep stairway connecting the exhibit. As this doesn’t work well with strollers, you can either park the stroller on the main level and come back for it or you can access the exhibit from the ground level and just skip the upper level exhibit. The majority of the exhibit is located on the stroller friendly ground level.
Tip: If it’s near lunch time, enter this exhibit though the Main level entrance and when you finish, you will be let out on the ground level right across from the Siragusa Center and down the hall from the Explorer Café. You will be right where you need to be for lunch and bathroom breaks.
Crown Family PlayLab
This is a great area for younger children to be able to touch and explore science. It is recommended for ages 2-6 years old but there are some interesting science areas my 9-year-old enjoys, too. Your kids will love digging for dinosaur bones, playing music, growing corn, and so much more. It’s a perfect area to let the little ones’ roam and explore. They also have family friendly restrooms and a stroller parking area.
Pawnee Earth Lodge
A really cool exhibit for kids is the Pawnee Earth Lodge where you can see what it was like to live as a Pawnee Indian. There is usually a docent in this area to answer all the kid questions.
The Dinosaur Hall is always a huge hit with kids. To get to the Dinosaur Hall you enter though the Evolving Planet exhibit. On your way in and out of the hall, you will find all the lifeforms that came before and after the dinosaurs, too. It is a long walk through the exhibit before you get to the dinosaurs so smaller children might get a little anxious to see the dinosaurs.
Hall of Gems
A room you might not think of is the Hall of Gems. If your child loves Minecraft, they will enjoy seeing all the gems and minerals.
There are so many more exhibits than I can mention. Take a minute when you get to the museum to look over the exhibit list and find what your family is most interested in learning about while you’re here.
The question of whether to get a membership depends on how often you plan to visit this museum. If you plan to go multiple times a year, it might be worth purchasing a membership. If not, then just a day ticket would work.
Are you an Illinois resident? Then you are eligible for free entrance on the Field Museum Free Days. This is a great way to explore the basic exhibits at the Field Museum for free. You can also pay to add on some of the fee-based exhibits. Our family usually goes on a free day once a year and have found that there is enough to do for free that we do not need to add on anything extra. However, seeing you aren’t paying for admission, it’s not a bad deal to add on an extra exhibit. We have also found that although there might be a line to get in on a free day, once you are inside, the museum it is so large that it doesn’t seem over crowded.
Field Museum Free Days link (here)
List of All Chicago Museum Free Days (here)
The museum is only open from 9 am to 5 pm and last admission is 4:00 pm. So, I would suggest getting here earlier in the day in order to get the most out of your visit.
I hope these tips will help you have a fun filled family day at the Chicago Field Musuem. It is one of the great attractions in Chicago and you will be so glad your family visited.
Do you have any questions or tips of your own? Please share with us in the comments.
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