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Chicago Museums Exhibits: 5 Hidden Gems

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You could spend years exploring Chicago’s many museums, and still never see everything. So if you think you’ve done it all, you might want to take another look. These popular museums hide a rich array of rare objects, prized artwork and one-of-a-kind experiences tucked away in under-the-radar exhibits.

Here’s some of the hidden gems inside Chicago’s major museums:

Halls of the Pacific at the Field Museum

Photo courtesy Field Museum

Once you’re done marveling at Máximo the Titanosaur, make a beeline to the upper level for the Regenstein Halls of the Pacific. There, you can immerse yourself in the culture and history of the Pacific Islands. The massive halls display hundreds of objects, including wood carvings, masks and instruments, that showcase the cultural diversity of the region. There’s even an on-site lab where visitors can see conservation in action. Upper level, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive.

Telescopes: Through the Looking Glass at the Adler Planetarium

Adler Planetarium telescopes
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Photo courtesy Adler Planetarium

Get a crash course in telescope technology and explore rare instruments from centuries past at this under-appreciated exhibit. It’s home to the South Pole Telescope, built to explore the oldest light in the universe, and Chicago’s legendary Dearborn refractor, a 17th-century telescope that was once the largest in the world. Gaze into their lenses and learn how these awe-inspiring instruments helped transform our understanding of the universe. Second floor, 1300 S. Lake Shore Drive.

Islamic Art at the Art Institute of Chicago

With over a million square feet to explore, it’s impossible to see it all your first time at the Art Institute. But some exhibits are worth another trip. While the impressionism galleries and striking Modern Wing are major draws, avoid the crowds by heading to the ground floor. That’s where you’ll find the New Galleries for Islamic Art, tucked away by the food court. The exhibit displays a dazzling selection of the vast world of Islamic art, from large-scale architectural fragments to intricate textiles, paintings and pottery. Gallery 50, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry - Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle
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An enchanted, miniature world is hidden inside the Museum of Science and Industry. Head past the model ships and the world’s largest pinball machine to find the exquisite Fairy Castle exhibit. Built for silent film star Colleen Moore, the opulent doll house toured the country during the Great Depression before finding a home at the museum in 1949. The painstaking intricacy and magical details in each and every room will enthrall visitors of all ages. Lower level, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive.

At Home on the Great Lakes at the Shedd Aquarium

Great Lakes exhibit at Shedd Aquarium
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Photo courtesy Shedd Aquarium

While exotic sea animals from afar draw a lot of attention, there are equally fascinating creatures closer to home. Take a deep dive into the ecosystem of the Great Lakes, where you’ll come face-to-face with 60 species that call these waters home. You might be surprised by the critters you’ll see, like the bottom-dwelling lake sturgeon. This rarely seen species is leftover from the dinosaur era and can grow up to nine feet long. 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive.

 

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