Museum Campus is a park in Chicago that contains some of the city’s best museums, Soldier Field, and the largest convention center in North America, McCormick Place. It’s a pedestrian-friendly area with great views of the city, a portion of the Lakefront Trail, and plenty of places to get snacks, drinks, and food. It opened in 1998 after Lake Shore Drive was rerouted to the west of Soldier Field.
If walking to Museum Campus from Grant Park, the first building you’ll see is the Field Museum. It was established in 1893 and is one of the largest natural history museums in the world. The museum was originally located in Jackson Park until it moved to the current building which was built in 1921. It was named in 1894 after department store magnate Marshall Field. When asked to fund the museum, he famously said “I don’t know anything about a museum and I don’t care to know anything about a museum. I’m not going to give you a million dollars.” He was later convinced that his legacy could be protected with an endowment of US$1,000,000. A further US$8,000,000 was donated after Field’s death.
The Field Museum offers world-class permanent and traveling exhibits. Among the permanent exhibits are Sue (the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world), an ancient Egypt exhibit, a history of Native American settlement, and several mammals from Africa and Asia. A visit to the museum can take up a full day. The pictures of the interior are from a cousin’s wedding reception at the museum in June 2015.
To the east of the building is a replica Olmec head. It was a gift to the city of Chicago from the state of Veracruz, Mexico. To the west of the building is a fossil of a brachiosaurus. It’s sometimes dressed up in support of Chicago’s sports teams.
South of the Field Museum is a building that looks like a spaceship landed on a Greek temple. That’s Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears. It was built in 1924 as Municipal Grant Park Stadium and renamed Soldier Field in 1926 in honor of US veterans who have died in combat. The renovation took place in 2003, drastically altering the look of the stadium. In addition to Bears games, it holds soccer games, concerts, and other events.
The most striking feature are the colonnades on each side. On the north end is a monument with the dedication to the soldiers. Tours of the stadium are available on select days.
Gold Star Families Memorial and Park
To the east of Soldier Field is the Gold Star Families Memorial and Park. A memorial honors the names of Chicago police officers who have fallen in the line of duty.
The Shedd Aquarium is to the east of the Field Museum. It opened in 1930 and has exhibits featuring a Caribbean reef, the Amazon River, species found in the lakes and rivers around Chicago, a shark tank, and an oceanarium with beluga whales, penguins, sea lions, and more. The aquarium was named after its benefactor, John G. Shedd, the second president of Marshall Field & Co.
Around the lakeshore to the north of the Shedd is a small section of the Lakefront Trail, which runs 18 miles along the Lake Michigan.
At the end of Solidarity Drive is the Adler Planetarium. It was founded in 1930 as the very first planetarium in the country. It has exhibits about the history of astronomy, American space exploration, the planets, telescopes, and more. There are also theatres with a variety of films. The planetarium was named for Max Adler, a vice president of Sears Roebuck & Co. Read about my visit to the planetarium by clicking here.
Walking south from the planetarium is 12th Street Beach. It’s a small, family-friendly beach with a taco stand nearby, Del Campo’s Tacos.
The rest of Northerly Island has had a controversial history. The island is artificial, created between 1920 and 1925. It was originally supposed to be part of a five island chain envisioned by Daniel Burnham in the 1909 Burnham Plan, but Northerly Island was the only one ever made. The city decided it was a good place to build the downtown airport and in 1946, the long-awaited Meigs Field finally opened after over 20 years of waiting. During this wait, the 1933 World’s Fair took place on the island.
Fast forward to 2003. Mayor Richard M. Daley had pledged to keep the airport open until 2006, but one morning the city woke up to a demolished runway. Daley sent crews in under the cover of night to have the airport destroyed. Many Chicagoans were furious, but the mayor insisted that it was done in the name of national security.
Nowadays, the First Merit Bank Pavilion occupies what used to be the northern part of the Meigs Field runway. It’s an outdoor amphitheater that seats 30,000. It was built in 2005. The rest of the island has been converted to a nature preserve with a concrete trail passing through it. Local wildlife and migratory birds have made homes on the island.