Chicago has some of the nation's finest museums, with brilliant collections and top shops stocked with unusual, often exclusive merchandise selected to reflect the museum's theme.
Several museums are in a parklike area along the Lake Michigan shore. Others are easily reached by public transportation (your concierge has directions). Chicago is great for museum-hopping and museum-shopping.
The Field Museum of Natural History (1200 S. Lake Shore Drive) displays dinosaurs, Egyptian mummies, gemstones and jewels and explanations about how and why they came to be.
An authentic Pawnee earth lodge shows how Native Americans lived a century ago. It's easy to lose track of time amid the Field Museum's wonders, but save some minutes for browsing through the shop stocked with remarkable handicrafts and geological specimens from around the world, plus great toys, books, clothing, jewelry, gadgets and fun souvenir items.
Piggy Banks to Postcards
There are dinosaur mugs ($2.50), dinosaur piggy banks ($13.50), models of dinosaurs ($15 and up), Native American fetishes and dolls ($6 and up), African drums ($30), Turkhana Tribe voodoo dolls ($20), British Columbian Haida Indian totem statues ($25), Kenyan stone sculptures ($20 and up), leather belt pouches ($13), cross sections of tree trunks turned into Lazy Susans ($45), reproductions of Greek vases ($20), glass boxes with tops containing fossils ($70), life-like models of Chicago area birds ($45) and natural history fold-out post cards ($6).
Nearby, the Adler Planetarium (1300 S. Lake Shore Drive) has exhibitions about the universe and astronomy, space exploration, laws of gravity and principals of navigation. The shop has telescopes of various sizes and capabilities, star charts ($10 and up), globes showing the heavens ($70), machines that project the constellations ($30) and mobiles ($10 and up).
You can buy star stencil kits with which to decorate your ceilings, or foil pouches containing the foods served to astronauts on space missions (a full dinner for $6 and ice cream for $3), solar cells to set small machines in motion ($9) and T-shirts ($8 to $16) with star charts, constellations and portraits of Albert Einstein and other scientists.
From Space to Sea
Museum explorers can make the transition from space to the sea at the nearby John G. Shedd Aquarium (1200 S. Lake Shore Drive), the world's largest indoor aquarium. More than 8,000 aquatic animals representing 800 species from all parts of the world live in the aquarium's exhibits, including coral reefs, sea anemones and miniature seascapes with spectacular sea life.
The shop doesn't sell rare fish but it is stocked imaginatively. There are mother-of-pearl bracelets ($2 and up), shell earrings ($4 and up) and necklaces ($10 and up), shell boxes ($5 and up), and shell specimens mounted for display ($15 and up). More contrived are the colorful and amusing fish ties ($8) and T-shirts picturing a variety of species of fishes ($10 for adult sizes, $8 for kids' sizes). Dolphin and whale pins ($2 and up) are favorite purchases for conservation-minded people.
Books about the sea are impressive, and Shedd has post cards with ocean themes. Other gift possibilities include stuffed fish toys, hand-carved wooden fish, fish mobiles, wooden fish puzzles and puzzles with seascapes, all between $16 and $40.
Museum of Science and Industry (South Lake Shore Drive at East 57th) is dedicated to explaining scientific law and the applications of technology in industry and daily life. Exhibits include scale models of famous trains, a model coal mine with shaft and tunnel, histories of aviation and the circus, a captured German World War II submarine and a doll collection.
The shop is just as eclectic, with "space pens" ($3.50) that write upside down and underwater, origami airplane pins ($4), fossil stones ($2 and up), coal miners' hats ($4), sailors' hats ($5) from various navies, laser jewelry ($6 and up), "sea opal" earrings handcrafted from haliotis iris seashells ($20 to $30), maternity T-shirts ($14) showing the baby inside the womb and plasticized posters about the brain, skeletal system and diseases including cancer, obesity and AIDS.
Plastic anatomical models ($13) of the human ear, nose, lungs and tooth can be taken apart and reassembled. The book section has titles on science and technology.
The Art Institute of Chicago (South Michigan and East Adams) has an extraordinary collection of French Impressionist and Post- Impressionist paintings, plus important works from all schools of European art and exhibitions from around the world. Most unusual are the Thorne miniature rooms, detailed reproductions of living interiors, from 16th-Century palaces to famous modern mansions.