Chicago's Navy Pier

Chicago's Navy Pier has something to offer both parents and kids.
By: Alan Solomon
Related To:

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.

2. Museums

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.

6. Cheeseburger

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: Musical Carousel -- just what it sounds like.

Kids: Wave Swinger -- kind of like Disney's Flying Dumbo ride with the nausea but without the elephants.

9. Souvenir

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

11. Dessert

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.

Keep Reading

Next Up

5 Family Adventures in Hawaii

Put the phones down and make memories to last a lifetime with these thrilling activities on the island of Hawaii.

10 Wild West Family Adventures

Discover how Buffalo Bill, U.S. soldiers, railroaders and Pony Express riders opened the west.

12 Family-Friendly NYC Restaurants

Hit up these fun, food-forward spots for good eats for the entire family.

An Insider's Guide to Los Angeles' Top Flea Markets

Everything you need to know about LA's killer flea market scene.

11 Twin Peaks Locations You Can Visit in Real Life

Where to find a damn fine cup of coffee and more.

The Ultimate Way to See All of NYC

Get a bird's eye view of the Big Apple with this thrilling helicopter ride.

3 Must-Do Outdoor Activities in the Great Smoky Mountains

There's nothing like a challenging hike with a rewarding view.

11 Things Not to Miss in San Francisco

Christine Williams and Jules Hatfield from Don't Forget to Move, tell us how to do San Francisco right, on  a shoestring budget.

4 Must-Try Portland Brunch Spots

Dishing up a lot more than just bacon and eggs.

On TV

What's New in Destinations

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss Travel Channel in your favorite social media feeds.

Food Network Restaurant Guides

Food Network shares their top places to eat across the country.