A playdate at the Art Institute of Chicago sounds swanky, doesn’t it? That’s why I love this city. Even the renowned museum in Chicago’s Grant Park has something for kids.
Yesterday we met our friend and her boys. She took public transportation, I drove. The museum has a good “directions and parking” section on its site here but I’d like to elaborate on my favorite place to park. The East Monroe Street and Millennium Park garage is “wheel” accessible — your stroller will fit in the elevator and you’ll exit right across the street from the Modern Wing Entrance on Monroe. The entrance to the garage is on Columbus Drive between Randolph and Monroe streets. When you enter the garage, turn LEFT or SOUTH and try to find a parking spot as south as possible. The rows are labeled with letters; anything at the end of the alphabet (R, S, T, etc) will get you close to the elevator. Take it up to the street level and there you are — just steps away from the entrance. It’s not cheap, by the way. Two hours cost me $23 and with my membership I got $5 off. You’ll see below, though, why this was worth it to me.
THE BEST KEPT SECRET
The museum’s Ryan Education Center is a place where families (and other groups, like school groups) can visit for FREE. Do not stand in the long line waiting to buy tickets. Just bypass it and you’ll see the entrance on your left in the Modern Wing. It has a Family Room where kids can play with blocks, magnets, animal toys, or read books, and across the hall is the Picture Book Gallery where you can view original works of art then look at picture books at the table in the middle of the room. You can learn more about family activities on this section of the museum’s website. Scroll down and click the tabs.
Of course you won’t be seeing the Art Institute’s famous Impressionist art or Asian art collection. I recommend saving that for the big kids or adults — you can easily spend a half a day viewing the various collections. If your kids don’t mind spending a few hours in the stroller, by all means pay admission! I think this is why we are members — we visit the museum a dozen times a year and only stay for an hour or so but it’s worth the short visit because we visit frequently. Learn more about membership here.
EATING LUNCH (or breakfast)
Another reason I don’t mind paying the 20 bucks or so for parking is because we bring our own food. On a nice day, cross back over Monroe toward the elevator/garage and sit on a blanket with your lunch in Millennium Park. You may even catch some music. We’ve been going to Millennium Park for years and have so many great memories of relaxing on a blanket with the kids. Here’s my sweet girl when she was only 6 months old.
Or, go across the street from the main entrance (on Michigan Avenue) and buy inexpensive food at Cosi or Au Bon Pain. Because the museum doesn’t open until 10:30 am we often eat breakfast first close to the museum, then arrive right when it opens.
If you’ve paid admission, check out the museum’s cafe. The food is fantastic and the seating area is comfortable with plenty of high chairs and booster seats.
There you have it! If you have any other tips for visiting museums with kids, please leave them in the comments. As always, I am not being compensated in any way to write this post.