Free Chicago Museum Days Tips & Tricks

February can be a ROUGH month for us Chicagoans. The sun goes into hiding, Mother Nature dumps just about anything she can think of on us and summer seems like it is year away. BUT there is something we can look forward to free in February: FREE MUSEUM DAYS! Yes, that’s right, most of our favorite Chicago museums are F R E E in the month of February for Illinois residents. So even though hibernating with your favorite comfort food is one of the best ways to survive Chicago winters, take a break and hit up your favorite museum. I mean, it’s free, and with my Free Museum Day Tips and Tricks, you can have even more fun than a Netflix marathon.

Free Museum Day Tip One

First off, figure out which museums are offering free days and when those free days are. Most free days are weekdays, so plan accordingly (aka Take a “Mental Health Day”). Please note, this list is for 2019.

Adler Planetarium

February 5-7, 12-14, 18-21, 26-28

Art Institute of Chicago

Illinois residents are free every day from 5-8 p.m. Kids 13 and under and Chicago teens are free all day, every day.

Chicago Children’s Museum

Kids 15 and under are free the first Sunday of every month. Kids under 1 are always free.

DuSable Museum of African American History

Free on Tuesdays (2/5, 2/12, 2/19, 2/26). Kids 5 and under are always free.

The Field Museum


Museum of Contemporary Art

Free on Tuesdays. Kids 18 and under are always free. Families are free the second Saturday of the month (need to have kids 12 and under).

Museum of Science and Industry

February 4-7, 11-14, 19-21, 25-28

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

Free on Thursdays. Kids under 3 are always free.

Shedd Aquarium

Feburary 1, 4-8, 11-15, 18-22, 25-28

Brookfield Zoo

February 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 28

Free Museum Day Tip Two

Arrive EARLY. I mean, lots of people want to take advantage of the FREE museum days so remember the phrase “the early bird catches the worm” when you are rushing around to get the kids packed into the car. It will pay off in terms of parking options, line lengths, the availability of special exhibits and shows, etc.

Another strategy that I have used on FREE museum days that has worked out well is to bank on families leaving after lunch for naptime and school pickup. When we entered the museum at 2:30, there wasn’t a long line (this is KEY on weekdays as opposed to weekends) and we were able to enjoy a much less crowded museum than the morning visitors did.

Free Museum Day Tip Three

Arrange your parking EARLY. If you aren’t arriving at the museum at least 30 minutes before it opens, you most likely aren’t going to be able to find street parking. But have no fear. Simply download the Park Whiz app for some great discounts on parking spaces. You can even get a discount code here.

One of the best side streets to park on is Solidarity Drive for Museum Campus, or take advantage of the lot by the Adler Planetarium for a $20 flat parking fee.

Free Museum Day Tip Four

Plan out your trip ahead of time. So many of the museum websites (especially the Art Institute’s) are fun and interactive for the whole family so that you can prioritize what you want to see. Since it will get crowded on a free day, your best bet is to make a game plan of the most important activities you want to do (such as the morning dolphin show at the Shedd) and do one before and one after lunch once the crowds thin out. 

Also, keep in mind that general admission is free but additional exhibits have a fee that you will need to register and pay for (the good news is that you can do some of this online before leaving home). The small service fee is well worth the peace of mind if you are taking kids solo.

Free Museum Day Tip Five

Be flexible with lunch. We pack a TON of snacks to enjoy so that we can stretch out our morning before sitting down to lunch at around 1:30/2:00 p.m. once the lunch crowds clear out. You are allowed to bring your own lunch if you would like, but be sure to utilize the designated picnic areas (there are indoor ones, don’t worry!) and not the actual restaurants.

Free Museum Day Six

As with all visits to museums and other crowded places, dress your kids in colorful clothing so it is easier to see them and decide on a meeting point (something the littles can see from their low view point) in case they get lost. Having a clear game plan will provide a peace of mind for both you and any nervous kiddos.

Have a ton of fun and stay tuned for my review of the Asleep with the Fishes night at the Shedd next week!

Happy February!


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