Here’s the deal on free day at Shedd Aquarium Chicago.
Free days for IL Residents allow access to almost everything now
On Illinois resident free days (with valid ID) you now have access to whole aquarium – all permanent exhibits. This includes:
- The Aquatic show in the Oceanarium which is the big show with the dolphins and whales (subject to availability).
- the Oceanarium where you may view whales and dolphins swimming between shows if they come to the surface, the sea otters and sea lions.
- the Polar Play Zone which is the level below the Oceanarium where you can view the dolphins and whales swimming below surface and the penguin exhibit.
- the Wild Reef where you view sharks, stingrays and living coral all below surface
- Sting Ray Touch where stingrays swim around in a shallow tank and you can feel them as the swim up or swim by (Spoiler alert: they’re firm but squishy).
- 4-D Experience admission is a $4.95 upgrade for all guests.
Long, slow moving lines
A couple of summers ago when I was walking by the lines were more than an hour on a non-free day, per a Shedd line wrangler. If you want to go on free day I would recommend arriving very early or be prepared to stand in line for at least an hour.
Mechanism to bypass the lines
When the Shedd had it’s onerous tiered pricing you could buy your way out of the lines by purchasing expensive passes. I also personally paid, I believe an extra $15 or more per person, to bypass a non-moving line on a broiling June day.
I’ve emailed the Shedd about this and am waiting to hear back. It would be nice if on free day they offered a separate line for residents where we could just show our ID’s and get in. Until there’s more info. be prepared to stand for interminable waits.
Cheap dining options
The Shedd allows you to bring in your own food and beverages. You can dine in the Marine Lunch Room off the main lobby in the basement or on the North and South outdoor terraces. You cannot dine anywhere they sell food such as Bubbles Mess or Soundings Cafe.
If the weather’s nice you can head over to 12th Street Beach (south of the Planetarium) for a picnic or dine along the grassy slopes outside the Shedd and re-enter same day with your tickets. You can bypass the line to reenter.
Take the water taxi (in summer)
I usually take the 146 bus to the Museum campus but if I’m at Navy Pier I take the water taxi which stops at the Shedd. It’s fast and fun and offers Instagrammable photos of the city skyline. Guide to Water Taxi’s.
About the Shedd
The Shedd Aquarium is located at 1200 S Lake Shore Dr, 312-939-2438. The first floor of the Shedd (the original building) is 225,000 square feet. When you add on the Oceanarium and other newer areas the whole Shedd is 480,550 square feet which is a lot of territory to cover.
Read more about the Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed the aquarium here.
If you are thinking about visiting more than one attraction the City Pass or Go Chicago Card both offer the best discount you can find. Using these passes takes some planning but you will save a lot of money which you can reallocate to dining or hotel costs or something else.
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Adler Planetarium
- Guide to the Art Institute of Chicago
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Field Museum
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Museum of Science and Industry