Chicago’s amazing Museum Campus houses three of the city’s leading institutions all in one place. Spend a day exploring natural history and world cultures at Field Museum, underwater worlds at the Shedd Aquarium, and far-out galaxies at the Adler Planetarium — and all from a breathtaking lakefront vantage point.
The Shedd Aquarium is home to more than 32,000 aquatic animals, some of which you can actually touch and interact with. But the stars of the show are the beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins housed in the Shedd’s stunning Abbott Oceanarium. Designed to mimic the coastal ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest, this exhibit is surrounded by rocky outcroppings and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the blue waters of Lake Michigan. This is where you’ll see dolphins leaping and beluga whales showing off during aquatic shows.
For a different perspective, head to the underwater viewing gallery, where you can watch the torpedo-like dolphins zip through the water at speeds of up to 25 mph or come face-to-face with a smiling beluga whale. It’s here that you’ll also find the Polar Play Zone, where kids can dress up as a penguin or play scientist and explore ice caves. Visit the Wild Reef, a recreation of a coral reef in the Philippines, and get a diver’s-eye view of sharks, stingrays, and live coral.
A long-time favorite is the Caribbean Reef, a tank you can actually walk around to get a 360-degree view of the sharks, sea turtles, and moray eels that swim by. Visit during one of the daily feedings and you’ll have a chance to speak with divers as they tend to the hungry residents. And don’t miss the 4-D Experience, where your movie theater seat vibrates and you’ll feel water mist as you’re plunged into an underwater feeding frenzy on the South African coast. 1200 S. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive
Unlock the secrets of natural history at Field Museum. As you enter Stanley Field Hall you’ll be greeted by Máximo the Titanosaur, the largest dinosaur to ever walk the earth. Then head underground and explore the timeless mysteries of an Egyptian tomb at the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit. Walk through the rooms of a 5,000-year-old tomb, discover fascinating hieroglyphs, see one of the largest collections of mummies in the United States, wander through an Egyptian marketplace, and visit a shrine to Bastet, the cat goddess.
If you’re a dinosaur lover, head to the Evolving Planet exhibit. The museum’s impressive dinosaur hall houses a vast collection of prehistoric fossils depicted in their natural environments — the most famous of which is SUE, the most complete T .rex skeleton ever discovered. Then shrink down to the size of a bug in Underground Adventure, where you’ll go under the soil and meet denizens that include a giant mole cricket and wolf spider.
Don’t forget to get a glittering look at some of the most beautiful jewelry in the world at the Grainger Hall of Gems, where you’ll learn how rough gems are transformed into spectacular works of art. Exquisite rare jewels and gold objects, along with amazing creations by top designers, are on display. And see rare textiles, bronze statues, and delicate ceramics from one of the world’s most influential civilizations in the Cyrus Tang Hall of China. 1400 S. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive
Explore infinity and beyond at the dazzling Adler Planetarium. Catch a show in the state-of-the-art theater, where you’ll zoom into space to explore mysterious planets, swirling galaxies, and brilliant stars. Check out the Mission Moon exhibit, where you can launch a stomp rocket, get a peek inside the Gemini 12 spacecraft and experience America’s first steps on the moon through the eyes of NASA astronaut Jim Lovell. Touch an actual moon rock and examine a meteorite that crashed to earth in the Our Solar System exhibit, while The Universe: A Walk Through Space and Time takes you on a journey from the universe’s humble beginnings over 13.7 billion years ago to today.
You’ll see some of the most beautiful objects in deep space magnified in ultra-high resolution from some of the world’s most advanced telescopes. If it’s open (check at the box office), you can see telescope views of the sun at the Doane Observatory. Find out what the Adler’s scientists are up to in the working Space Visualization Lab, where astronomers give live presentations. Kids love to play in the Community Design Lab, where they can use unusual supplies like marshmallows, popsicle sticks, and bubble wrap to find imaginative ways to interact with the universe. And little ones love Planet Explorers, where they can operate the controls in a two-story rocket and man the Space Station. 1200 S. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable Lake Shore Drive
Insider tip: Bring your camera! You’ll find sweeping views of the skyline and Lake Michigan just outside the Adler, making for a perfect photo opp.
Getting to Museum Campus
A fun way to get to the Museum Campus is to take a Shoreline Sightseeing Water Taxi from Navy Pier, which lets you off right at the Shedd Aquarium. You can also take public transportation, like Red Line ‘L’ train or several CTA bus routes.