Chicago's Museum Campus is an obvious choice for arts and culture: a trifecta of institutions clustered together on the lakefront. The Art Institute is a must-see as well and often tops the bucketlist of Chicago attractions: it was one of TripAdvisor's top three museums in the world in 2013, 2014 & 2015.
But with over 60 museums dotting the landscape, Chicago attractions come in all shapes and sizes. They're also in the most unexpected places. Think a neglected bank turned community arts hub. Or a gallery housed in a mini Mag Mile castle. Or a museum set within a working bridge. Read on for details on these Chicago attractions just off the beaten path.
Experience creations by local artists and photographers in one of Chicago's most famous Michigan Avenue landmarks when you stop by the always-free City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower. The castle-like tower, built in 1869, is one of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire.
Immerse yourself in the local community when you peruse works at Hyde Park Arts Center (pictured below), Chicago's oldest alternative exhibition space or Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, where a collection of carefully curated found objects brings the outside inside.
Meanwhile, newcomer Stony Island Arts Bank recently unveiled its $4.5 million renovation of a once-dilapidated 1920s savings and loan bank, seamlessly fusing elements of a library, cultural center and contemporary art gallery within one neoclassical-style landmark.
If you've ever been awestruck by Chicago's massive moveable bridges, you won't want to miss the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum, where you can learn about the fascinating history of the Chicago River and take in panoramic city views from the fifth floor tower. Go on Sundays for free admission and check the bridge lift schedule to see the inner workings of these engineering marvels in action.
Or, get a glimpse of Chicago in a whole new way when you survey the landscape of the 3D Chicago Model: the world's largest, most complete replica of the downtown Loop area. Located in the Railway Exchange Building — the hub of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's 85 tours — this 320-square-foot model represents more than 1,000 buildings across 400 blocks.
Riveting photographs, historical exhibits, exceptional artifacts and an extensive collection of rare books are the draw at Pritzker Military Museum & Library, where you can glimpse items spanning the centuries — from the American Revolutionary War to modern day conflicts.
Meanwhile, visit the home and workspace of the first American woman to earn a Nobel Peace Prize at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (pictured above, courtesy Adam Alexander). Founded as a social settlement in 1889, this space welcomed vital thinkers and activists that impacted cultural, political and social issues right here in Chicago.
MALL PIT STOPS
It's "Game On!" at the interactive Chicago Sports Museum, which commemorates the world of sports using simulated experiences, relics and stats. Combining hi-energy entertainment with state-of-the-art audio/visual equipment, the Chicago Sports Museum offers exciting interactive experiences, a vast collection of unique sports memorabilia and an impressive display of game-used treasures and artifacts. Find it in Water Tower Place, the 8-level shopping mall crowns the north end of The Magnificent Mile.
The Chicago Design Museum features exhibitions, tours, public and private programs, digital media, and workshops that are free and open to the public on Tuesdays through Saturdays from 12 to 7 p.m. Find it on State Street in Block 37, the city's newest urban mall that has become a downtown Loop destination for its shopping, food hall Latinicity and AMC Dine-In Movie Theatre.