You could spend years exploring Chicago’s many museums, and still never see everything. So if you think you’ve done it all, you might want to take another look. These popular museums hide a rich array of rare objects, prized artwork and one-of-a-kind experiences tucked away in under-the-radar exhibits.
Here’s some of the hidden gems inside Chicago’s major museums:
Halls of the Pacific at the Field Museum
Photo courtesy Field Museum
Once you’re done marveling at Máximo the Titanosaur, make a beeline to the upper level for the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific. There, you can immerse yourself in the culture and history of the Pacific Islands. The massive halls display hundreds of objects, including wood carvings, masks and instruments, that showcase the cultural diversity of the region. There’s even an on-site lab where visitors can see conservation in action. Upper level, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.
Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass at the Adler Planetarium
Photo courtesy Adler Planetarium
Get a crash course in telescope technology and explore rare instruments from centuries past at this under-appreciated exhibit. It’s home to the South Pole Telescope, built to explore the oldest light in the universe, and Chicago’s legendary Dearborn refractor, a 17th-century telescope that was once the largest in the world. Gaze into their lenses and learn how these awe-inspiring instruments helped transform our understanding of the universe. Second floor, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive.
Ando Gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago
With over a million square feet to explore, it’s impossible to see it all your first time at the Art Institute. But some exhibits are worth another trip. While the impressionism exhibits and striking Modern Wing are major draws, avoid the crowds by heading to the serene Ando Gallery. The dark, contemplative space was designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando to showcase the museum's collection of stunning Japanese screens, along with traditional Japanese architectural elements. 111 S. Michigan Ave.
Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry
An enchanted, miniature world is hidden inside the Museum of Science and Industry. Head past the model ships and the world’s largest pinball machine to find the exquisite Fairy Castle exhibit. Built for silent film star Colleen Moore, the opulent doll house toured the country during the Great Depression before finding a home at the museum in 1949. The painstaking intricacy and magical details in each and every room will enthrall visitors of all ages. Lower level, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive.
At Home on the Great Lakes at the Shedd Aquarium
Photo courtesy Shedd Aquarium
While exotic sea animals from afar draw a lot of attention, there are equally fascinating creatures closer to home. Take a deep dive into the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, where you’ll come face-to-face with 60 species that call these waters home. You might be surprised by the critters you’ll see, like the bottom-dwelling lake sturgeon. This rarely seen species is leftover from the dinosaur era and can grow up to nine feet long. 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive.