Cowboys, cars and Christian evangelism highlight suburban museums
You don't have to go all the way to Chicago to visit some of the region's most interesting museums.
Many suburbs have small museums dedicated to local history -- but maybe learning about the importance of the railroad or stories of early settlers doesn't excite you.
And if you have kids, you've probably already hit up popular attractions like the DuPage Children's Museum and the Morton Arboretum.
So where do you turn for new, interactive and educational experiences?
Here are several museums you may have never heard of, but are worth checking out if you're looking for something different and unique to the area:
Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art
Earth science and gem enthusiasts will enjoy browsing Joseph Lizzadro's collection of more than 200 jade and hard stone carvings from around the world. Lapidary, the art of cutting and polishing stone, is also seen in the snuff bottles, antique vases and bowls, and other decorative items on display. The three walls of the museum's main floor feature detailed dioramas carved in Germany. Other items in the collection include Florentine and Roman stone mosaics, an altar set from an imperial palace in China and an 18-karat gold castle sculpture. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children age 7 to 12. Discounts available for seniors and students. 220 S. Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst. (630) 833-1616. lizzadromuseum.org
Donley's Wild West Town
Part museum, part amusement park, Donley's Wild West Town has something for all ages. The kids will keep busy with pony, canoe and carousel rides, archery, cowboy roping lessons, gold panning and a Wild West show, but that doesn't mean parents can't take some time to browse the artifacts in the museum. The displays include cowboy clothing, such as boots, gun belts and spurs; items used to enforce the law, like badges, handcuffs and death masks; mining tools and equipment; Civil War weapons; and an antique phonograph and music box collection. $17 admission, children age 2 and younger free. 8512 S. Union Road, Union. (815) 923-9000. wildwesttown.com
Billy Graham Center Museum
Learn about the history of Christian evangelism, its influence on American society and Billy Graham's ministry in the 20,000-square-foot museum on Wheaton College's campus. Art highlights include the glass Cross of the Millennium in a darkened, circular room; tapestries about Christian leaders, like St. Francis of Assisi, John Wycliffe and Martin Luther, in a rotunda; and a large, three-dimensional painting of Jesus' crucifixion. Historical images, videos and other interactive displays are part of other exhibits, as well as artifacts, like Billy Graham's traveling pulpit, Bible and sermon notes. School-age children are offered activity sheets to have a more meaningful visit. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged. 500 College Ave., Wheaton. (630) 752-5909. wheaton.edu/bgcmuseum
The Button Room
Learn the difference between a lacy glass button and a moonglow button at the Button Room, where lifelong Gurnee resident Elizabeth "Peg" Hewitt's button collection is on display. While especially appealing to button collectors, the museum offers workshops and special events throughout the year that appeal to the public, such as button bracelet making classes. Visitors wanting to view and learn more about the collection, which includes buttons dating back to the 18th century, are invited to stop by on Saturdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children age 12 and younger. 4072 Old Grand Ave., Gurnee. (224) 399-9870. thebuttonroom.org
Volo Auto Museum
More than 30 exhibits span over 12 buildings at the 55-year-old attraction. Check out displays of famous TV and movie cars -- such as the 1966 Batmobile and Vin Diesel's 1969 Dodge Charger from "Fast & Furious" -- hot rods and muscle cars, along with other curiosities, such as antique nautical equipment, vintage tractors, monster trucks and early snowmobiles. Displays regularly change and special events, such as a Camaro show on July 2 and a Mustang show on Sept. 3, are scheduled year-round. Admission is $14.95 for adults, $8.95 for children ages 5 to 12. Discounts available for seniors and veterans. 27582 Volo Village Road, Volo. (815) 385-3644. volocars.com