Chicago is a fantastic place to live for the culturally inclined. This is due in no small part to the abundance of museums that call the city home. In such museums, entry fees aren’t cheap. So if you find yourself longing to wander through galleries multiple times a month, a museum membership might be the best option for you. Think of it as your Chicago City Pass, but with unlimited year-long usage! Many of the memberships below offer free guest passes which are sure to impress visiting friends and family. Here are four Chicago museum memberships that are actually worth it.
The Art Institute of Chicago Membership
Annual membership price: $105
About the Museum:
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 and opened its current doors in Grant Park in 1893. The museum’s grand entrance is guarded by a pair of bronze lion statues created by sculptor Edward Kemeys, which have become icons of Chicago in their own right.
Through the front doors, you’ll find the Art Institute’s permanent collection, which consists of 300,000 pieces divided into 11 areas. Highlights include Grant Wood’s American Gothic and several works by Van Gogh, Picasso, and others.
Membership holders won’t ever get bored thanks to a frequent rotation of special collections. The museum has showcased every type of art from medieval armor to Japanese ukiyo-e paintings in its temporary galleries.
Furthermore, the Art Institute of Chicago is connected to a prestigious art school of the same name, which provides extra opportunities for members to further their education in the arts.
A membership at the Art Institute of Chicago includes the following:
Free admission for the membership holder and one adult guest; children under 18 are free
Access to exclusive lectures, classes, workshops, and events
$5 off museum parking
10% off in the gift shop, at museum cafés, and on noncredit courses at the School of the Art Institute
$5 off membership at the Gene Siskel Film Center
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Membership
Annual Membership Price: $70
About the Museum:
The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is among the youngest museums in the city; it first opened in 1967 and has only been at its current location in Streeterville since 1996. However, it’s still one of the most impressive Chicago museum memberships you can have.
True to its name, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago focuses its collections on some of the most noteworthy art, ranging from the 1920s until today.
Notably, its permanent collection is made up of 2,500 pieces which are displayed in rotation according to ongoing exhibitions. Some of the most noteworthy past exhibitions include David Bowie Is… and Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.
Exhibitions vary in length but typically last anywhere from three to nine months.
The museum also hosts a few regular events during warmer months, including outdoor jazz performances called Tuesdays on the Terrace and a weekly farmers’ market.
In addition to unlimited free admission, a membership at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago will get you:
Two one-time guest passes
Invitations to exclusive preview events
A year subscription to the Museum of Contemporary Art Magazine
Discounts at the museum gift shop, cafés, MCA Stage performing arts program, and parking
Shedd Aquarium Membership
Annual Membership Price: $75
About the Museum:
The Shedd Aquarium opened in 1930 at Museum Campus, a beautiful stretch of Grant Park situated along Lake Michigan, where over 32,000 animals call the aquarium home, from freshwater and saltwater fish to various sea mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Additionally, the aquarium has more than enough exhibits to keep you entertained throughout each visit. After you’ve toured the main floor, check out the Abbott Oceanarium, watch the aquatic presentation, or take the kids to the Polar Play Zone. For a more in-depth experience and a few extra bucks, the Shedd Encounters program will let you meet a penguin or beluga in person!
An annual membership at the Shedd Aquarium will earn you unlimited free admission as well as the following perks:
Discounted museum movie tickets
$8 off one guest pass per visit
Free entry to Stingray Touch and the daily aquatic presentation
Invitations to exclusive events, such as Jazzin’ at the Shedd
Discounts at the aquarium gift shop and cafés
Adler Planetarium Membership
Annual Membership Price: $89
About the Museum:
Founded in 1930, Adler Planetarium was the first planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. It opened its doors just in time for the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, during which 1.2 million visitors attended over two years. A neighbor of the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium is also located at Museum Campus in Chicago’s South Loop.
Adler Planetarium hosts a series of exhibits you won’t want to miss, including scientific information about our planet and solar system as well as a history of space discovery and travel.
The museum is great for kids, with hands-on activities such as Planet Explorers and Curiosity Station designed to entertain younger guests. Three different theaters play a full schedule of daily shows with titles like Cosmic Wonder and Destination Solar System.
Moreover, there are also copious events you can partake in at the planetarium. The Pop-Up Programs series is designed to keep you on your toes with spontaneous daytime events scattered throughout the exhibits.
Take note, Adler After Dark is a monthly 21+ event with different themes that incorporate games and music. For this active crowd, there’s also a regular Sun Salutations Yoga class scheduled for the first Saturday of every month.
No matter what you’re into, this is one Chicago museum membership you won’t want to miss.
With an annual membership at Adler Planetarium, you’ll get:
Unlimited free admission and theater tickets for yourself and one guest
Invitations to exclusive member events
15% discount at the planetarium gift shop
10% discount at the café
Separate admission line
Free coat check
Subscription to AdlerStar Magazine
Other Chicago Cultural Institution & Museum Memberships
Show your support for Chicago’s very own natural history museum with an annual membership to the Field Museum (individual membership from $95)
Let your little ones get hands-on at the Chicago Children’s Museum (family membership from $190)
Could you ever really get enough of the residents at the Brookfield Zoo? (individual membership from $88)
Uncover the rich history of America’s Polish diaspora and their history at the Polish Museum of America (individual membership from $25)
After a long day of maximizing your Chicago museum membership value, no one would blame you for wanting to go straight home and crash. If you want to maximize your city experience, try looking for a centrally-located furnished apartment through a company like Blueground.
These apartments are already equipped with everything you need to relax, which means you have more time to browse book titles in the museum gift shop.