Art Museums, Family Travel, Major US Cities, Most Recent Travel, Museums

Chicago with Kids: Art & Architecture

Art Institute of Chicago

This was my second visit to the American Art Institute in Chicago; my first was on a 40th birthday trip with my high school friends. We were disappointed that the cafes had yet to reopen after covid (I’m always more introspective about art post-wine), and the museum was very crowded. We took obligatory photos of the “must-sees” throughout the museum.

Art Institute of Chicago, IL 2022

The modern art wing was much less congested, and the breathing room allowed us to let Alice take photos with our Canon. We’ve learned that when she is at her mental museum capacity we can squeeze a little more time out with this distraction.

Must sees for families:

  • The galleries at the north end of the modern art wing have fun-to-photograph sculptures that overlook views of Millennium Park.
  • The Thorne Miniature Rooms in the basement depict interior design from around the US. Photographs of the rooms are almost indistinguishable from real spaces.
  • Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms, and Armor.
  • This was more an Erving-centric favorite, but we were seeing the Moulin Rouge Broadway musical that evening, so we were excited to discover works by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, including one titled “At the Moulin Rouge”
  • For families with kids, the museum is a one-stop introduction to some of the most famous artists and works of art, including Vincent van Gogh’s The Bedroom, Edward Hopper’s Night Hawks, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky above Clouds IV, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, and Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte 1884.

Architecture Tour

Every single person I told that I was going to Chicago said to take an Architecture River Cruise. We chose a 45-minute tour with Wendell Boats. Almost all of the seating is on the top deck, so it’s definitely a good-weather excursion. The tour started with a quick trip out to Lake Michigan with time to photograph the sunset over the city behind. The next 30 minutes were a whirlwind of facts about the history of the famous buildings and the architects who designed them.

Wedella Architectural River Tour in Chicago, IL 2022

Most of the tours are 90 minutes; I’m not sure if they cover more ground or if the guides just speak more slowly. 

Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor is more than just an obligatory stop and photo op. The combination of the view of the city reflected to the west and the somewhat “trippy” experience under the sculpture make it an interactive experience for all ages. It’s an easy 15-minute walk from downtown or can be combined with a visit to the Art Institute, located just next to Millennium Park.

Cloud Gate in Chicago, IL 2022

Nederlander Theater

Our second major architecture stop was inadvertent; the David T. Nederlander Theatre was built as a 1920s movie house, with incredibly ornate Indian inspired architecture. This provided the perfect backdrop for Moulin Rouge (although the Bollywood-style ending from the movie has been removed from the stage production). 

James M. Nederlander Theatre in Chicago, IL 2022

Navy Pier & Lake Michigan

The Navy Pier (despite the fact that we reside in a “Navy Town” and one of us has extensive history with the US Navy, we all learned that in WWII the Navy had training Aircraft Carriers in Lake Michigan) is a great way to see the city skyline and the crystal blue-green water. Had we visited later in the day, we would have probably ridden the Skywheel.

Navy Pier, Chicago, IL 2022

A stroll to the nearby Ohio Beach allowed us to all touch Lake Michigan for the first time.

Our one disappointment was when we arrived at 8:30pm at the Signature Room and Lounge elevator entrance in the Hancock Building and learned that after 7pm the space is restricted to age 21+. I learned in my 2018 trip that getting dinner and/or drinks in this space allowed the same views as the Observation Deck above but without the entrance fee. We could have returned the

View from the Signature Lounge in the Hancock Building, 2019

next morning, but getting Alice a view of the city from the 94th floor at night was a priority, so on our next trip we will likely purchase tickets for 360 Chicago or visit during a time of year with an early sunset.

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