The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is a probably the best Chicago attraction you’ve never visited.
I know that, because as a native suburbanite and frequent city goer, I never had. Until this past winter break. And what did we find? A place that is engaging, entertaining and educational for a broad age range of children — and has one of the most relaxing places in all of the city of Chicago.
That’s what I liked best about the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum – we had kids with us from threenager to almost teenager, and all had a great time. And so did their grownups, both parents and grandparents. And it’s a good value (I’ll get back to that).
So what is this museum all about? It calls itself an urban gateway to nature and science. Its focus is certainly on nature – the nature around Chicago and its surrounding areas, the prairie and woodlands that distinguishes this part of the Midwest. It also focuses on urban environments, how we can be good stewards of the earth, and other scientific concepts. There are also rotating exhibits – when we were there, the installation about the connection between Peanuts comics and nature was fantastic (but unfortunately ended already). Its interactive exhibits combine high tech and low tech.
If your kids like animals, there are plenty to be seen at this museum. We spent a good amount of time looking at frogs, turtles, and snakes. The baby turtles that were hatched a few months ago as part of a conservation project provided a
lot of entertainment. But many of the animals there are, ahem, not with us anymore. The museum is run by the Chicago Academy of Sciences, founded in 1857 so nature aficionados and amateur scientists could study and share the specimens they collected. Translation: there are a lot of “stuffed” animals.
But this museum isn’t stuffy. There are plenty of places for kids to move around, so don’t worry about them being stationary. My little ones enjoyed the play area geared for kids 7 and under, and all the kids enjoyed the large water play area.
By far the most impressive animal exhibit — and the crown jewel of this museum — is its butterfly exhibit. The greenhouse space holds more than 1,000 live butterflies. It also has some birds and turtles as well, but the butterflies – which like to land on people – are the main attraction. They are bold, beautiful, and magnificent. In the middle of winter especially, the butterfly exhibit is an oasis in the middle of the bustling city (though be warned – it is also very warm, so be sure to dress in layers). We were lucky enough to be there during the butterfly release, which takes place daily at 2 p.m. We posted a video of it on Instagram:
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: We felt that at $9 per adult and $6 per child, this was a good value for a Chicago attraction, especially since the special events and special exhibits generally do not have an extra charge. Thursdays are “suggested donation days for Illinois residents.” We found free street parking steps from the door, a bonus. Kids 3 and under are free. If you have a “Super” membership to the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum, you can get in for free.
TIPS IF YOU GO:
- The Nature Museum just north of the north entrance of the Lincoln Park Zoo. You can do both in one day if you’re ambitious; we spent about three hours at the museum.
- When planning your visit, be sure to look at the museum calendar. There are plenty of special events — for example, the first weekend of the month is devoted to reptiles and amphibians.
- There is very limited food available for purchase on site, so plan lunch accordingly. There are plenty of spaces where you can eat your own snacks and such, which makes it more affordable as well. There are many restaurants within a fairly easy walking distance to eat – but in the cold, we were content to stay in the museum.
- There are outdoor attractions to see if you go during the warmer seasons.
LOCATION: The museum is located in Lincoln Park, just north of Fullerton Avenue at Lake Shore Drive. The address is 2430 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago. Here is a Google maps link for directions.