Visiting Chicago question

I’d like to visit Chicago next summer and take the family to see the downtown art museum and the museum of science and industry.

  1. Is it safe to take mass transit to them?
  2. Do they still have free days?
  3. When are the best days to visit?

Yes, it’s safe. The Art Institute is on one of the glitziest stretches of Michigan Avenue where it is pretty much always full of people coming and going. The MoSI is a little more off the beaten path, and is not too far from some iffy neighborhoods, but taking a bus there should be fine during daylight hours.

Also note, if your family is large, the cost of taking mass transit can add up ($2 or more per person each way), and you might actually save money with a cab or driving and paying for parking. On the other hand, a weekly CTA tourist pass (or whatever they sell these days) might be the best bargain if you are going to scoot around a lot. Check

As for free days and best days at the museums, the best days to go are NOT the free days! They will be swarmed. They do have free days, but they seem to change a lot. I suggest you check the museum websites before your trip to see when the free days are.

Agreed. The best way to get to the MSI is either to take a bus (the #10 will drop you right in front, the #6 #15, or #28 will get you pretty close) or the Metra Electric to either the 55th-56th-57th station or the 59th station. Note that the Metra is a separate system from the CTA, so if you buy a CTA weekend pass or a CTA fare card, it won’t work on the Metra. The neighborhood immediately surrounding the MSI (Hyde Park) is pretty nice as well, in no small part due to the gentrifying influence of the University of Chicago.

What I would not recommend is trying to take the El to the South Side. In principle you could take the Red Line or the Green Line to 55th St. and then take a #55 bus over to the MSI. However, the transfer points are in some iffy neighborhoods; the type where you can walk during the daytime hours if you don’t look like an easy mark, but not recommended for tourists.

The #10 Museum of Science and Industry bus makes many stops downtown and then it runs express from downtown right to the front door of the museum. Only problem is that it runs only on weekends plus a few holidays.

The #6 Jackson Park Express bus also runs express from downtown to the south side, but makes a few more stops before getting to the museum. The stop at 57th Street and Hyde Park Blvd is right at the edge of the meseum’s parking lot. This bus runs 365 days a year.

If you are coming from downtown or the north side, I would take one of the above buses, they are safe and the express portion of the routes is along a scenic stretch of the lake. The #15 and #28 buses stop a few blocks from the museum but they serve the south side (where tourists are unlikely to be staying) and don’t go downtown.

The Metra Electric trains stop a few blocks from the meseum, cost more, and run less frequently. About the only reason to take them is if the kids would get excited riding a choo-choo train (which is an electric train and doesn’t really go choo-choo).

You might see some tourist guides and web sites tell you to take the CTA Green or Red ‘L’ lines to the Museeum of Science and Industry. Don’t. Just don’t.

The CTA has 1-day ($10), 3-day ($20), and 7-day ($28) unlimited ride passes available. To get the 3-day or 7-day pass you must buy a reusable Ventra card for $5. Honestly, you have to ride an awful lot to make the passes worthwhile. An awful lot. Tourists love the 1-day and 3-day passes because of the simplicity, however, despite the fact that they probably end up paying more in many cases.

Wow, I’m from Kansas city where people just drive everywhere and you dot have to do the bus thing.

thanks for the help.

You didn’t mention where you will be staying or what you will be doing during your visit (other than visiting the two museums), but there is no reason you can’t rent a car for your visit.

Parking in the downtown business district is EXTREMELY expensive (you’ll gag) whether you are just parking for the day or staying in a downtown hotel. But if your itinerary involves visiting the suburbs or multiple neighborhoods with a large family in tow, it’s not unreasonable. Suburban hotels generally have free parking.

And it doesn’t have to be one or the other. You can drive to a train station and take the train in when you are going to the Loop (the downtown business district) or drive when you are going elsewhere.

Depending on how long you’re going to be here, I’d look into Citypass It includes the Art Institute of Chicago (audio guide included for free) as well as the Museum of Science and Industry. You’ll also get the Shedd Aquarium, Field Museum, and the Sears Tower. You also get to skip the lines, particularly at the Sears Tower, that can be very advantageous.

The CTA will be fine to all of the tourist attractions. Use common sense, but any of the horror stories you hear on the news are well away from tourist areas.

Free days I believe are mainly limited to Illinois, city of Chicago residents, or educators. During the winter, I remember a few places had free days, but you’re unlikely to find them in summer. You might look for discount coupons at your hotel or in tourist publications if you don’t go the Citypass route.

FYI, the Lincoln Park Zoo is free every day and very family friendly.

I was in Chicago a few weeks ago. I agree with other posters’ views that the CTA and Metra trains are easy to use and are an efficient way of getting around.

Two other attractions that I greatly enjoyed and definitely recommend are:

  • the Chicago History Museum;
  • the Adler Planetarium.

And one that’s vastly overrated and not worth wasting your time on: the Navy Pier.

The #28 does appear to go downtown during rush hours; schedule here. I was wrong about the #15, though; it does not in fact go downtown.

Yes, despite the accident at O’Hare the other day, mass transit in the city is safe. The Red Line might be a little rough and I would avoid most trains too late in the evening.

Yes, they have free days. I would call them (their numbers are online) and check the days.

During the week, when everybody is working is usually the best time to visit. Wednesday is always the best day,in my experience.

Unlike some others,I don’t have an issue with taking a car downtown. While parking is expensive, you can come and go as you please when you have your own vehicle,especially if you have an emergency. If you stay in the suburbs, you could rent a car for a reasonable amount,drive that into Chicago and leave your own vehicle at your motel.

During the summer, on Wednesdays @ 9:30pm and Saturdays @ 10:15pm there is a firework show on Navy Pier over the lake. If you and your family enjoy firework shows this can be fun.

Otherwise, Navy Pier is a huge tourist trap and not worth your time.

OP will be visiting in the summer. Free days are only for Illinois residents and there are none in the summer. The #10 bus runs every day from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Art Institute is free every Thursday night—but only to Illinois residents.

I have to disagree with my esteemed co-city dwellers. I love Navy Pier. As a native Chicagoan and life-long city dweller, I love the extreme variety of entertainments it has to offer, and enjoy it all the time. You can’t beat the people-watching or the city views, the beer garden, the free musical entertainment, the snacks. And the frequent fireworks are awesome.

I’m sure it’s lovely in peak season. But in mid-February it was deserted, with at least half of the shops closed. Large sections of it were closed off. The walk to the end of the pier took you through a long, tunnel-like section of scaffolding, with water dripping through from the ceiling onto soaking wet, stinking carpet. Under the circumstances I was surprised that it was even open to the public.

There’s no reason to go to Navy Pier in winter unless you’re visiting the IMAX Theatre or Shakespeare theatre. During summer it is very touristy, but I don’t mind sitting in the beer garden and drinking a couple while people watching at looking at the water. The speedboat tours are quite fun in warm weather, and I’d be interested in taking one of the tall ships cruises.

Indeed, as I soon discovered.

It would be helpful if the staff in the Tourist Office also realised this. I went back to them after I had visited the pier and said that I had been distinctly underwhelmed.

I’ve guess I’ve lived in Chicago too long. It would never occur to me to tell someone not to go to Navy Pier in the winter, just like it would never occur to me to tell them not to sleep in the middle of Lake Shore Drive during rush hour!