While Chicago is home to world-renowned museums, beloved parks and architectural marvels, you must be prepared to battle snarling traffic and big city crowds in the process. Make your way to the surrounding suburbs, however, to find major attractions in a setting that moves at a decidedly slower pace.
Celebrate the lives of two legendary American figures in the suburbs of Chicago. Examine the works of the nation’s preeminent architect at the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, 15 minutes west of downtown Chicago. Tour Wright’s 1889 Prairie-style home with early examples of large open spaces and flat horizontal lines. Visit his attached studio where the famed architect worked on his designs. Also based in Oak Park, Ernest Hemingway Museum and Birthplace Home explores the early life of the renowned early 20th-century writer. Embark on a 90-minute tour, complete with a visit to the Queen Anne home where Hemingway was born in 1899. The nearby museum, which is included in the cost of the tour, chronicles the life of the author via historic photographs, artifacts and manuscripts.
Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe is 30 minutes north of Chicago. The massive grounds cover nearly 400 acres, including numerous lakes with over 6 miles of shoreline and nine islands. The site also has 26 separate gardens including bonsai, English-walled, rose and Japanese. Explore the gardens on foot or via a tram. The Morton Arboretum is in Lisle, 30 minutes west of the Windy City. The enormous 1,700-acre arboretum is home to 222,000-plus plants from more than 40 countries around the world. Explore the arboretum via the 16 miles of trails or set your kids lose in the children’s garden or six treehouses scattered throughout the grounds.
Theme Parks and Zoos
Enjoy high-speed thrills at Six Flags Great America, the famed theme park in Gurnee, 45 minutes north of Chicago. The massive amusement park has 14 roller coasters including Giant, one of the world’s fastest, tallest and steepest wooden coasters, and two areas for children, complete with kiddie carnival rides. The park also has a 20-acre water park, Hurricane Harbor, open from mid-May through early September. Come face-to-face with the 2,000-plus animals that call Brookfield Zoo their home. Twenty minutes southwest of Chicago, the zoo has an array of exhibits including a massive open savannah with giraffes, a 7.5-acre bear preserve with grizzlies and polar bears, and a rain forest filled with leopards and pythons. While all of the exhibits are accessible on foot, the zoo also has an open-air and narrated safari tram ride.
DuPage Children’s Museum is a two-story facility in Naperville, 45 minutes southwest of Chicago. The museum has eight sections, dubbed neighborhoods, outfitted with interactive and educational exhibits covering such topics as math, water, electricity, gravity and the inner workings of the human body. There’s also a workshop where kids can make arts and crafts. Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art celebrates the craft of cutting, polishing and resetting gems and stones onto such items as vases, bowls, jewelry and sculptures. The facility is home to interesting artworks, such as massive dioramas made of hand-carved gems, an 18-karat gold miniature castle with diamond windows, and more than 200 pieces of jade, including those hailing from the Ming Dynasty. The museum is in Elmhurst, 25 minutes northwest of Chicago.