On our recent visit to Chicago, we spent an entire day at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI). Located in the Hyde Park neighborhood, near the shores of Lake Michigan, the museum has been bringing science and technology to life for millions of visitors since 1933. As lovers of all things science and tech-related, we made a point to give an entire day to exploring this big slice of geek heaven.
The museum is housed in an amazing building that was constructed as a Palace of Fine Arts for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. It was transformed into the Western Hemisphere’s largest science museum for the 1933 Century of Progress event. Today, the museum features a mix of permanent and temporary exhibits.
Before we started exploring, we hit the restrooms in the Entry Hall. We knew that once Little Dude saw this place, he was not going to want to stop for a bathroom break for awhile! It’s packed with amazing stuff for the whole family to see and do.
There is so much more to experience here than anyone can do in one day. Especially when you’ve got kids. So, I recommend planning ahead which exhibits are your must-do’s, and then fill in with the others as time allows. But, always be flexible, like we had to when Little Dude did NOT want to leave The Idea Factory.
Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze
Math-loving Little Dude really enjoyed this exhibit, which explores the mathematical patterns that exist in the natural world. Patterns in nature are displayed. Then, you have to navigate a 1600-square foot mirror maze, which then leads you to an awesome interactive gallery. We had a blast bumbling through the maze and eventually found our way through! Included with museum entry, but requires a free, timed-entry ticket.
The Great Train Story
We are huge fans of miniatures and model trains and this exhibit was quite impressive. This interactive model features over 20 trains traveling between Chicago and Seattle. Little ones can press buttons to lift bridges or knock down trees. There are also full-size train cars nearby to explore as well. Included with museum entry.
This exhibit features the only German sub captured by the United States during World War II. The sub fills a basement room and is surrounded by interactive displays that give visitors an idea of what life on the sub was like, and the history behind its capture. Included with museum entry. There is an optional on-board tour that requires an additional purchase of a timed-entry ticket. The tour is recommended if you have older kids or if you’re really interested in submarines.
This hands-on play area for kids 10 and under was Little Dude’s favorite experience, besides the Mirror Maze. The Idea Factory lets kids play with simple machines like conveyors and pulleys, as well as move balls across the room through pressurized air tubes or along the huge Water Spectacle. Rain slickers are available for kids who love to splash. There’s some seating available for parents as well as a family restroom. Included with museum entry. Entrance is time-controlled on busy days, with entry on the hour and half hour, so plan ahead.
Baby Chick Hatchery
The hatchery is located in an interesting exhibit on genetics that explains what DNA is and how variations in it define different traits in all living things. The highlight of the exhibit is the incubator, where visitors can watch baby chicks hatching from their shells. It’s a memorable experience. Included with museum entry.
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle
Hubby and his siblings still talk about first seeing this one-of-a-kind fairy castle back in the 1970’s. In fact, it’s been at the museum since 1949! Hollywood movie star Colleen Moore dreamed up this enchanting castle back in the 1930’s. She filled it with amazing details, like chandeliers, tiny table settings, miniature pieces of art, and one-inch square books. There is so much to see, so take your time here, especially if you or your kids love miniatures like we do. Included with museum entry.
There are so many other exhibits to explore at MSI. Little Dude loved the interactive Future Energy Chicago exhibit. Kids who love vehicles will enjoy the Transportation Gallery, filled with planes and trains to explore. Other highlights included the Swiss Jolly Ball, the largest pinball machine in the world, Farm Tech, all about the science and technology of farming, and Science Storms, where you can experience the science behind tornadoes, tsunamis, and avalanches. There’s also a five-story domed wraparound movie theater, showing awesome science documentaries.
TIPS FOR A GREAT VISIT:
- Get there early! The museum is HUGE and you’ll need the entire day if you want to even attempt to see half of it.
- If you’re visiting on a cold day, and arrived by bus or taxi, there’s a Coat Check in the Entry Hall to drop off your winter gear, just $3.00 per item. Use it as there are lots of hands-on exhibits to enjoy. If you arrived by car, leave your coats there and save some money.
- If you have a little one, bring an umbrella stroller. There’s lots of walking, so the stroller is awesome to have when your kiddo gets tired and needs a break. If you didn’t bring a stroller, you can always rent one when you arrive in the Entry Hall. They are only $3.00 for a single and $5.00 for a double stroller.
- If you plan to let your little ones splash in the Idea Factory, you may want to bring a change of clothes for them.
- If an exhibit requires a timed entry ticket, try to visit those earlier in the day, if possible, to keep your wait time shorter. While your waiting, just visit whatever exhibit is next to it and the time will just fly by!
- There is a food court and cafe on site. They get busy during the peak lunch hour, so I recommend taking some snacks to eat late morning, then having lunch closer to 1:00 pm or 1:30 pm. There is also an old fashioned ice cream parlor, Finnegan’s, that is currently open Fridays through Sundays from 11:30 am to 3:00 pm. Why not have dessert first and then lunch later? You can also bring a picnic lunch if you’re on a tight budget.
- Do a bit of research ahead of time to find out what the special exhibits are during your visit, as well as details on the permanent exhibits if you’ve never visited before. Some exhibits are great for little ones, but would bore teenagers, and vice versa. If you are uncertain, ask one of the employees, especially before you add on an expensive tour or exhibit. A little planning will ensure a fun time for all AND protect your wallet. You can use this tool on the MSI’s web site to help plan your visit.
Museum of Science and Industry
5700 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60637
When we visited, we arrived by taxi and were dropped off at the taxi stand near the main entrance. The Chicago Transit bus stop is located here as well. There is also an underground parking garage for those driving to the museum, although they charge quite a bit for the convenience. There are other, less-expensive parking garages nearby and limited free street parking is also available. Either way, you’ll have to take stairs or an elevator to the Entry Hall, which is located on the lowest level.
HOURS AND ADMISSION:
The Museum of Science and Industry is open every day, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It typically opens at 9:30 am and closes at 4:00 pm, but there are extended hours during certain times of the year, including most of the summer. There are a few days with shorter hours as well, so check the Museum’s Hours page for more information.
There are various ticket options. There’s a basic museum entrance fee, and then you can add on some experiences for an additional fee. There are several discounts available, such as purchasing tickets ahead of time via the museum’s web site. If you are a member of another science museum, check to see if it offers reciprocal benefits to MSI, which gives you a big discount as well. Visit the Museum’s Tickets page for more ticketing information.
When we visited, we used basic entrance tickets from the Chicago CityPASS and added on some experiences. If you plan to visit other popular area attractions, the Chicago CityPASS can save you up to 51% on Chicago’s 5 best attractions..
My earlier post, Chicago in Fall, has more about the various attractions we visited during our short, but amazing visit to Chicago!
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