We are all so appreciative of all the amazing museums in the Chicago area, but sometimes visiting -- especially with a few kids in tow -- can get pricey.
Checking out a Museum Adventure Pass from your local library is one option. Sometimes it makes the most sense to become a member, especially if it's a place you'll visit more than once in a year. And if you plan to visit a couple of museums in a short time span, you'll want to look into purchasing the CityPass or the Go Chicago Card.
But many Chicago museums also offer community free days or regular days during a month when visitors get in free. Note that these days are often quite popular, so you might be fighting some crowds. And also make sure to check the museum’s website, or give the museum a call, before your visit to make sure nothing has changed since this guide was compiled.
Here's a list of the published discount dates for Chicago sites in winter and spring of 2013:
* Museum of Science & Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive. 773-684-1414. Free general admission for Illinois residents on: Jan. 16-18, Jan. 21-25, Jan. 28-31; Feb. 6, Feb. 13, Feb. 20, Feb. 27; March 4; April 22; May 6: June 3-7, June 10.
* Shedd Aquarium, 1200 South Lake Shore Drive on Chicago’s Museum Campus. 312-399-2438. Free general admission for Illinois residents on the following dates: Jan. 20-22, Jan. 28-29; Feb. 4-5, Feb. 11-12, Feb. 17-19, Feb. 25-26; March 4-5, March 11-12, March 18-19, March 25-26.
* The Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. 312-443-3600. The Art Institute is free to Illinois residents every weekday from Jan. 7 through Feb. 13. (This is part of the museum's "Free Winter Weekdays" special.) More free days will be posted soon. Children under 14 are always free except during group visits or student tours.
* The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. 312-922-9410. Free basic admission for Illinois residents on Jan. 16-18, Jan. 22, Jan. 28, Jan. 30; Feb. 4-8, Feb. 11-15, Feb. 19-22, Feb. 25-28.
* Chicago Children’s Museum, 700 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier in Chicago. 312-527-1000. Free for all visitors every Thursday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. and free for all children 15 and under on the first Sunday of every month. Here's a coupon for $1 off each admission, up to four per family.
SUBURBAN MUSEUMS & ZOOS:
We can't forget the suburbs! While nearly every major Chicago museum offers “community free days,” that is more rare among suburban institutions, so the list below is a bit less definitive than the Chicago one.
Please make sure to check the museum’s website, or give the museum a call, before your visit to make sure nothing has changed since this list was compiled. And if you know of a spot that should be on here, please let us know!
* Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st Street, Brookfield. 708-688-8000. General admission is free Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays through Feb. 28. Free admission is only good during normal zoo hours.
* Midwest Museum of Natural History, 425 W. State Street, Sycamore. 815-895-9777. Free admission on Wednesdays. Fees still apply for special events or programs.
* Kline Creek Farm, 1N600 County Farm Road, West Chicago. 630-876-5900. Admission is always free at thisDuPage County Forest Preserve property that seeks to show visitors what life was like on a northern Illinois farm in in the 1890s.
* Lederman Science Center at Fermilab, Kirk Road and Pine Street, Batavia. 630-840-8258. The museum was designed for middle school field trips, but the hands-on exhibits are available to the general public on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free. On holidays, call to check if the center is open.
* Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton. 630-668-5161. There is no admission charge to walk the grounds or tour the museums at Cantigny. But there is a parking fee that depends on what time you visit. During the bulk of the day, the fee is $5, but is is only $2 early in the morning and late afternoon/early evening. Check the website for the exact times when the parking fee is just $2. It varies on the time of year. Note that Cantigny is closed in January and has limited hours much of the rest of winter.
* Phillips Park Zoo, 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora. 630-256-3750. Admission is always free at this zoo and visitor center, which is open year-round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.) Zoo exhibits include approximately 100 animals representing 41 different species. You can also see massive mastodon bones in the visitor center. Click here to read about a Go West outing to Phillips Park.
* Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, Union. 815-923-4000. The museum is closed for the winter, but it will offer free admission on Saturdays in April, plus Mondays through Fridays from May 1 through May 24, and Mondays through Fridays Sept. 3 through Sept. 27. Note that buildings may not be open on these days, and trains do not operate on these days except for special charters. Call or check the website for exact info.
* Lake County Discovery Museum, Lakewood Forest Preserve in southwest Lake County. Entrance located on Route 176 west of Fairfield Road. On “Discount Tuesdays,” adults pay $3, but children through age 17 are free. (Up to five children per adult; extra children are $1.25 per child.)
* Air Classics Museum of Aviation, 44W546 US Route 30, Sugar Grove. 630-466-0888. This museum has not been open year-round in previous years, but its website is currently very unclear on the matter. Please make sure to call ahead. During the months it is open, it is only open for general admission on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. It does not have any free days, but it does have a generous policy on young children: Kids under 6 are free when accompanied by their parent. Adults are $8 and children 6 and older are $5.
* Cosley Zoo, 1356 North Gary Avenue, Wheaton. 630-665-5534. It caused a bit of a stir in 2010 when this formerly free zoo (part of the Wheaton Park District) started charging admission. Residents of the Wheaton Park District are still free. Otherwise, adults pay $3, but children up to age 17 are free.
* Red Oak Nature Center, on Route 25, one mile north of Route 56, North Aurora. 630-897-1808. Owned by the Fox Valley Park District, this nature center is open year-round and offers free admission every day of the week.
* Spring Valley Nature Center and Heritage Farm, 1111 E. Schaumburg Road, Schaumburg. 847-985-2100. Admission is free at this spot, which features 135 acres of fields, forests, marshes and streams, as well as more than three miles of handicapped-accessible hiking trails, a nature center and an 1880s living history farm. The site is open daily, but hours vary depending on the season, and Heritage Farm is closed from Dec. 1 to March 1. Check the website for exact details.
* Primrose Farm in St. Charles, 5N726 Crane Road, St. Charles. 630-513-4370. Admission is free at this revived 1930s working farm. It's a living history museum set on more than 100 acres of open agricultural space. You can visit horses, pigs, chickens and cows; take a walk on a farm discovery trail; and enjoy a picnic under the pavilion. The farm also offers a number of classes, which do require a fee and advance registration. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk, weather permitting. Check the expansive website for details.
* Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, in James O. Breen Community Park, 3795 Campton Hills Road, St. Charles. 630-513-4399. Admission is free at this nature center, which is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and from noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. (Always doublecheck the hours before you head out, because they have changed at this center since it opened.) The center is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Here's a story about a Go West visit to Hickory Knolls.