Chicago's Navy Pier
Chicago's Navy Pier was once a Lake Michigan dock and warehouse, but since 1995 it has become one of the city's most popular fun destinations for adults and children.
If you’re a parent with kids and you have one chance to visit the Pier, you need to make choices to enjoy the experience. As a parent, you’ll have your preferences. And the kids will whine unless they get theirs. What do you do? There's help at Navy Pier's website -- but here's a hint at what you should expect.
1. Boat Rides
Parents: A Lake and River Architectural Tour, 75 minutes of gentle sailing on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River.
Kids: Extreme Thrill Ride, 30 minutes of high speeds, 360-degree turns and inevitable splashes.
Parents: Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. A permanent exhibition of stained glass designed by masters of the art including Louis Tiffany, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, much of it salvaged from demolished homes and churches. Near the Pier's east end. Free.
Kids: The Chicago Sports Museum. Relics of famous athletes and artifacts, including 2 from the Cubs' 2003 season: a shattered corked bat used illegally by Sammy Sosa, and a mangled baseball that arguably had been snatched from the grasp of a Cub defender in a playoff game -- at great cost to the home team -- and was later ceremonially mangled, by explosives. Inside Harry Caray's Tavern. Free.
3. Local Delicacies
Parents: Chicago-style Vienna hot dog with everything (yellow mustard, bright green pickle relish, chopped onions, sliced tomatoes, tiny sport peppers and a dill pickle spear on a steamed poppy seed bun, topped with celery salt) at LandShark Beer Garden.
Kids: Corn dog (a delicacy invented in downstate Springfield, IL), with or without mustard, at LandShark Beer Garden.
4. Live Shows
Parents: Chicago Shakespeare Theater productions. Some are kid-friendly; many are literally Shakespearian.
Kids: Productions on the Skyline Stage, under a big white tent. Rock shows, sometimes. In summer, Cirque Shanghai's acrobats, contortionists and roaring motorcycle stunt-drivers are in residence.
5. Snow Cones
Parents: Smirnoff vodka snow cone, choice of flavors, including blue raspberry. Häagen-Dazs Cafe.
Kids: Alcohol-free snow cone, choice of flavors, including blue raspberry. Häagen-Dazs Cafe.
Parents: Double-cheeseburger, Billy Goat Tavern & Grill.
Kids: Cheeseburger Happy Meal, McDonald's.
7. Thrill Ride
Parents: Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, 150 feet high, a slow, sweet rotation providing one of the best of all possible views of the Chicago lakefront and skyline.
Kids: Transporter FX, a dynamic high-speed simulator not recommended for pregnant women, people prone to motion sickness or claustrophobia -- or moms.
8. Backup Ride if Those Lines Are Crazy Long
Parents: Chicago Musical Water Globe featuring the Ferris wheel. Plays "My Kind of Town (Chicago Is)," Oh Yes! Chicago store.
Kids (expensive version): Rotating Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, roughly 6 feet in diameter, Navy Pier Signature Store. Kids (less expensive version): Al Capone bobblehead, Oh Yes! Chicago store.
10. Dinner Entree
Parents: Ahi tuna filet, baby bok choy, king oyster mushrooms, Thai demi-glace. Riva Restaurant.
Kids: Shrimp po' boy, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Parents: Fried dough, topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar, Massa.
Kids: Dough a la mode: Fried dough topped with gelato, hot caramel, apple topping, whipped cream and nuts, Massa.
12. Indoor Diversion
Parents: Chicago Children's Museum, a wholesome collection of interactive exhibits geared toward increasing young people's understanding of the world and the way things work.
Kids: Amazing Chicago's Funhouse Maze, a collection of tunnels, drops, lights, noises and tight squeezes of incidental educational value.
13. Farewell Beverage
Parents: "Goose Me" (Grey Goose vodka, cranberry juice and fresh lime), Riva Cafe.
Kids: Goose Island Root Beer, Riva Cafe.
From annual events including the Cherry Blossom Festival to some events that only the locals know about, such as the Bethesda Literary Festival, here are my 5 picks for family-friendly things to do this spring in Washington, DC.