The Chicago Navy Pier: An Insider's Guide
Filled with 50 acres of parks and attractions, the Chicago Navy Pier is one of the city's top spots for visitors and locals to come and have some fun while enjoying endless views of Lake Michigan. The 3,300-foot pier, which was built in 1916 as a cargo facility, is lined with restaurants, recreational facilities, picnic areas, playgrounds, museums, and other year-round and seasonal attractions.
Rides and Amusements
Located on the Pier's upper deck, Pier Park offers several rides in a small amusement park setting. The 15-story Ferris wheel is a great place to snap a photo of the city skyline. Have your camera ready, though, as your admission fee only gets you one revolution of the wheel. The park also offers a carousel, an old-fashioned swing ride, an 18-hole miniature golf course, a light tower ride, and remote control boats. The Ferris wheel and miniature golf are open year-round, weather permitting, while the other rides are not open during the winter months. Purchasing individual tickets for the rides can get pricey, but the park does offer 10-, 15-, and 20-ride family-pack tickets that are good for two full days.
The Smith Museum of Stained Glass will give you newfound appreciation for stained glass windows. Many of the pieces on display have been taken from older Chicago buildings, but there are also several from Louis Comfort Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Chicago Children's Museum is one of the more popular attractions at the pier, offering all kinds of interactive exhibits for kids and adults who are young at heart, including the Inventing Lab and the BIG Backyard Dinosaur Expedition.
The Navy Pier is an entertainment hub, offering everything from jugglers to the performing arts. Watch a 3D movie at the IMAX Theater, which is Chicago's largest movie screen, take in a concert or circus performance at the Skyline Stage Pavilion, or simply immerse yourself in culture at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. During the summer months, you can enjoy free outdoor music performances at the Landshark Beer Garden or meander over to the family stage area to catch magic acts, clown, puppet shows, and other acts designed to entertain the wee ones.
There is almost always something going on at the Chicago Navy Pier, but the events will change depending on the season. On Wednesday and Saturday evenings during the summer, as well as some holidays, you can watch explosive fireworks displays at the pier that are set to music. From mid-February through early April, the pier's Crystal Gardens celebrates a different culture each Sunday afternoon. When the weather turns cold, the pier comes alive with lights and ice sculptures in the annual WinterFest celebration.
Eating and Drinking
When you're ready to take a break and nosh on some good eats, swing by Harry Caray's Tavern, also home to an extensive collection of sports memorabilia. The pier is also home to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville Bar & Grill, Riva Crab House, Capi's Italian Kitchen, and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Keep it casual at the Billy Goat Tavern & Grill and order one of their famous cheezborgers, or indulge in lamb-and-feta sliders with pommes frites at the popular pop-up restaurant, City Porch. A great way to wind down your day at the Chicago Navy Pier is to grab a snack at the food court or from the seasonal food vendors you'll find along the promenade and head all the way down to the end of the pier where you can relax and eat while watching the boats from the open terrace at the Grand Ballroom.
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