Just south of the business-centric Loop, this sprawling area mixes ethnic enclaves such as Chinatown (founded in the 1870s by migrant transcontinental railroad workers) with uppercrust addresses, built after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. The region has many Chicago “must-sees,” but the jewel in the crown is undisputedly the impressive Museum Campus: here, the Field Museum, John G. Shedd Aquarium, and Adler Planetarium celebrate the wonders of the earth, sea, and sky respectively, collectively drawing over four million visitors each year. The highway that once separated the Field from its neighbors has been replaced by an inviting green campus, where cyclists and skaters join museum-goers on the plant-bordered paths in fair weather.

Feel like playing the blues? At Blues Heaven Foundation, staff say they can teach visitors the harmonica in 10 minutes.

  1. Field Museum

    One of the three lakefront institutions to occupy the 57-acre (23-ha) Museum Campus, this vast museum boasts a collection of more than 20 million fascinating natural history and anthropological artifacts .

    Figurine, Field Museum
  2. John G. Shedd Aquarium

    The second of the three Museum Campus sights, the Shedd is also one of the oldest public aquariums in the world. Dive in to discover the many treasures of the aquatic world .

    Shedd Aquarium (left) & Field Museum (right), Museum Campus
  3. Adler Planetarium

    This, the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere, completes the Museum Campus trio. Visit its numerous galleries to walk among the stars, explore the worlds that orbit the Sun, and be enlightened by 1,000 years of astronomical discovery. Don’t miss the opportunity to catch the Sky Theater show, which is projected on the 68-ft (21-m) dome of the historic Zeiss planetarium. The virtual reality events in the StarRider Theater are also awe-inspiring, launching you into the outer reaches of space and even give you the chance to interact with the show via a panel in the armrest.

    • 1300 S. Lake Shore Dr

    • Open summer (Jun–Sep) 9:30am–6pm daily; winter 9:30am–4:30pm daily; first Fri each month 9:30am–10pm

    • for showtimes call 312 922 7827

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    Adler Planetarium
  4. Prairie Avenue District

    Of the wealthy enclaves both north and south of the Chicago River that grew up following the Great Fire of 1871, Prairie Avenue was the most fashionable – and Chicago’s ritziest. Only a few of its mansions remain today, of which two are open to the public (by tour only): the imposing, Romanesque-Revival 1887 Glessner House, and Chicago’s oldest remaining building – Clarke House – built in 1836 in the Greek-Revival style by New York emigré Henry B. Clarke.

    • For info on walking tours (Jul–Sep, on alternating weekends) call 312 326 1480

    Clarke House

    • 1827 S. Indiana Ave

    • tours noon, 1 & 2pm Wed–Sun

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    Glessner House

    • 1800 S. Prairie Ave

    • tours 1, 2 & 3pm Wed–Sun

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  5. Blues Heaven Foundation

    Located in the former studios of Chess Records, where blues greats from Muddy Waters to Willie Dixon once recorded, Blues Heaven has an interesting collection of records, photos, and stage costumes dedicated to Chicago’s blues style and its performers. Chess music plays on the PA, and there are occasional live performances. Rock aficionados will note the address is the namesake of a Rolling Stones song.

    • 2120 S. Michigan Ave.

    • For tours call 312 808 1286

    • Closed Sun

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    Blues Heaven Foundation
  6. Maxwell Street Market

    Both 19th-century European immigrants and 20th-century African-American settlers fleeing the Deep South got their entrepreneurial start selling from pushcarts around Maxwell Street. In 1994 the market was relocated to make way for the new University of Illinois at Chicago and, while a shadow of its former self, it still makes for a vibrant Sunday morning. Don’t expect valuable finds; do expect plenty of Mexican housewares and used tools. But the occasional treasure, such as a vintage fur coat, does show up. Perhaps the best reason to visit is to try the homemade tacos from the Mexican food stalls that line the street.

    • 548 W. Roosevelt Rd

    • Open 7am–3pm Sun

    • Free

    Fresh produce, Maxwell Street Market
  7. Museum of Contemporary Photography

    Run by and located in Columbia College Chicago, this museum is one of a kind in the Midwest. It exhibits the portfolios of international modern masters, with shows (including student shows) tending toward the experimental rather than the traditional documentary. Changing exhibitions also present a healthy mixture of local talents and well-established ones, such as Gary Winogrand and William Eggleston. Frequent gallery talks give curators and artists the chance to discuss the shows with museum-goers.

    • 600 S. Michigan Ave

    • Open 10am–5pm, Mon–Fri (to 8pm Thu), noon–5pm Sat

    • Free

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  8. Chinatown

    Crowned by the landmark Chinatown Gate spanning Wentworth Avenue, Chicago’s Chinatown isn’t that large – running roughly eight blocks – but it is colorful. Home to Chicago’s oldest Asian community, Chinatown was founded in the 19th century by transcontinental railroad workers fleeing West Coast prejudice. It continues to be a place where Cantonese and Mandarin are spoken far more widely than English. Stroll Wentworth to see the ornate On Leong Tong Building, buy fresh almond cookies from Chinese bakeries, peruse the many import and herbal shops, or chow down in one of the dozens of local restaurants.

    • Around Wentworth Ave. & Cermak Rd

    Architectural detail, Chinatown
  9. National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum

    A moving tribute to the horrors of war, this museum, started in the late 1970s, now showcases over 1,000 works by more than 130 artists once involved in the conflict. Most of the artworks, which include paintings, sculptures, and drawings, as well as prose and poetry, come from former US soldiers, doctors and POWs, though powerful entries by former Viet Cong and native Cambodians attest to the universal effects of the conflict.

    • 1801 S. Indiana Ave

    • 312 326 0270

    • Open 11am–6pm Tue–Fri, 10am–5pm Sat

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  10. Jane Addams’ Hull House

    When European immigrants were flooding Chicago to work in its rail and stock yards during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Jane Addams bought Hull House for a specific purpose. From here, she offered social services and facilities to this immigrant working class, including day care, employment counselling and art classes. A great social reformer and winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize, Addams also championed the rights of women and helped usher in child labor laws. Her original office, furnishings, and artwork are still in place for visitors to see, supplemented by temporary exhibits that tell the story of the settlement at Hull House and the invaluable work of its residents.

    • 800 S. Halsted St.

    • Open 10am–4pm Tue–Fri, noon–4pm Sun

    • Free

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