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The worst part of a rainy day is trying to find something to do without being overrun by crowds. It’s not a great day to go on a walking tour either. Finding uncrowded rainy day activities in Chicago is no different. Movie theatres are out of the question, and major museums and attractions may have lines for hours. It’s one of the burdens of living in a city: world-renowned exhibitions and museums always find an audience no matter what the season.
Don’t let anxiety-inducing hordes threaten to keep you at home. Instead, take a peek at some alternatives to mainstay rainy day activities in Chicago. You may even luck out with last minute tickets to some theatre. With easier access and fewer people than the most popular attractions, these sights are sure to add up to a great rainy day of exploration.
Instead of the Art Institute of Chicago, visit the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP)
Why elbow your way through the Impressionist Wing on a rainy day in Chicago when you can walk comfortably around this free museum? Located on Columbia College’s campus, this socially conscious museum offers rotating galleries of topical subject matter, and gives societal critiques from behind the lens. Just as the Impressionists incurred derision from Parisian Salons for painting subjects considered ugly and too true to life, the subject matter of the MoCP’s permanent collection include poignant works describing the facets of life of the 20th century. Works by Dorothea Lange highlight the plight of farmers in Middle America during the Dust Bowl, and the manageable size of the space means less museum burnout.
Instead of the Field Museum, visit the DuSable Museum of African American Art
Chicago is lucky to have the nation’s largest collection of African-American art and culture right here in Washington Park. For an entry fee almost half the cost of a trip to the Field Museum, the DuSable museum provides visitors with a well-rounded education in the history of African-Americans. With permanent and rotating exhibits ranging from the fight against slavery to modern day hip hop, the museum has a freshness and relatability not always associated with a day at the museum. Even better: Sundays are free admission.
Instead of the Museum of Contemporary Art, visit the River North Gallery District
Yes, you will have to bring your umbrella to walk from gallery to gallery, but that’s just a small burden to avoid the lines, admission fee, and noise of a rainy day visit to the MCA. Although there are many galleries within the boundaries of River North, one particular stretch of two square blocks houses 10 of the neighborhoods most contemporary and relevant galleries. South of Chicago Avenue, these galleries line the sidewalks between Orleans Street and Wells Street. Quiet, empty, and lacking the stimulus found in many museums, this is a perfect way to experience art without outside triggers. Even better, the gallery employees are pleasant and won’t pester you if you aren’t looking to buy. On Saturdays, guided visits depart from the Chicago and Franklin intersection (outside of Starbucks) at 11 AM.
Instead of the Adler Planetarium, visit the National Hellenic Museum
Ptolemy, Archimedes, Pythagoras. These guys laid the foundation for the study of astronomy. They also happened to be Greek, so transitively, fans of astronomy should also like Greek history. Housing the largest Greek museum outside of Greece, the National Hellenic Museum is sleek, modern, and airy. Completed in 2011, permanent collections describe the history of Greek innovation and the well documented immigration of Greeks to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rotating exhibits are also of interest; currently, a history of the Olympics is on display through September. As an added bonus, any trip to the museum puts visitors right in the heart of Greektown. Saganaki wishes and moussaka dreams are within walking distance as at least 6 restaurants on the block offer traditional Greek fare.
Instead of Bottles and Brushes, check out Ignite Glass Studio
While painting is a great therapy for anxiety, adding limitless alcohol and a class of increasingly inebriated strangers is not. A glass blowing class, where safety and task repetition is required, gives you a couple hours on which to intently focus and enjoy yourself. A class at Ignite Glass Studio should be added to your list of rainy day activities in Chicago. Class sizes are limited to six people so that you receive the individual attention necessary to create a bowl or drinking glass in the color scheme of your choosing. The heat from the ovens provides warmth and the physicality of the task means you may work up an accidental sweat. It is a great way to spend a rainy day in Chicago. Prices vary from $95-150 per class.
Instead of the Chicago Cultural Center, try the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture…
(photo courtesy of Goldstar.com)
The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture has many of the draws of the Chicago Cultural Center without the crowds. Gorgeous building that photographs well? Check. Exhibits on relevant local culture as well as interesting art exhibits? Check. Only one of its kind and free admission? Check. As the nation’s only Puerto Rican art and culture museum outside of Puerto Rico, this converted carriage house beautifully tells the story of Puerto Rican immigrants in American and stays topical. If the rain clears during your visit, the grounds are beautiful and offer rental paddle boats. Of particular note, the museum is holding an event on September 22, 2016 honoring notable Puerto Ricans Antonio Martorell and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Admission is cheaper than a ticket to Hamilton. You can purchase tickets here.
Instead of the Chopping Block, visit the French Pastry School
Truth be told, scheduling a food preparation class usually requires reservations weeks in advance. The French Pastry Experience is no different, so schedule ahead if the forecast calls for a rainy day in Chicago. Call ahead to see if there is availability for the weekend. Like nearby cooking schools, this is a touch pricier at $95, but well worth it. You’ll receive a welcome reception of french pastries and a lesson in making a few traditional desserts. Prefer something a little cheaper? Try and see if you can grab high tea. You get to take home enough samples to enjoy the fruits of your labor for a few days and gain knowledge to wow friends and family at the next dinner party. This rainy day activity in Chicago has legs, even for days with perfect weather.