What to do, see, eat, and enjoy when visiting Navy Pier, in Chicago, IL.
I have a real soft spot for Navy Pier, which is located on the waterfront in Chicago. When I was a teen I visited, and we spent the day there eating, shopping, going on a boat ride, and playing at the Children’s Museum. Ever since then I have thought of it fondly, and couldn’t wait to take my kids for a visit.
I got that chance the summer of 2015, and it lived up to my expectations. We had a fun filled day, and so today I thought I would share my tips for what to do, and how to spend a day at Navy Pier.
Navy Pier is a 3300 foot long pier, that juts out into Lake Michigan. On the Pier there are lots of things to keep you busy, fed, and having fun. It opened in 1916, and now houses parks, shops, recreational facilities, exhibitions, and dining. Basically, there is plenty to do, so plan to spend the day.
When we visited we had a car topper to hold luggage, so we had some difficulty parking. There are several parking garages nearby, some street parking, and Navy Pier has 2 parking garages. The cost is $28 a day to park, but you could valet park for less! Valet parking is $15 for up to 6 hours, and $33 for over that if you validate. Validation requires a $25 minimum purchase for validation at Harry Caray’s Tavern, Riva Crab House and DMK Burger Bar and Fish Bar. We valet parked due to the car topper, but if you plan to eat, valet parking is the way to go!
Navy Pier is open from about 10am-8pm and on weekends until 10 pm. Of course, there are holiday hours and the like, so keep that in mind. At night they often shoot fireworks off in the summer, so check out their website to see if there will be fireworks when you are planning to visit.
Admission is free, however, the various attractions on the pier do have fees, which vary. But you could spent the day having fun at no or little cost. There is plenty to see and do.
There are a lot of food options at Navy Pier, from a food court with expected classics like McDonalds, to sit down restaurants, and lots of places to grab snacks, drinks, and treats. The lobster roll at Rivas Crab House is killer! And on a hot summer day, a frozen lemonade is a must!
When it comes to things to do there are a myriad of options on Navy Pier. Our favorite way to spend a day is at the Chicago Children’s Museum. It is $14 for admission, but on Thursday nights from 5-8pm it is free, as well as the first Sunday of the month, so if you are there on a Thursday or the first Sunday, check it out. It offers several different levels of fun for kids, from dressing up light firefighters, to playing with water, to a large boat and more. Honestly, my kids could, and did spend hours here. They offer art classes, sculpting, etc. all as part of the admission.
Another awesome option is a boat ride. You can go out on the great lake and learn some of the history. And maybe catch a glimpse of the Chicago fire department out on the water.
There are also rides, like the ferris wheel, an IMAX theater, shopping, and so much more. Instead of trying to plan out your day, I suggest you just go, and see what catches your eye. We loved just walking around, checking out the skyline views, and the beautiful water.
The pier recently has been going through a bit of redevelopment to make it an even better destination for families, bringing in new foods, new exhibits and activities, and even a hotel is heading that way.
Suggested Itinerary for Families with Children
- 10 am- Arrive and park in Valet parking, head to ticket office and buy admission to an 11 am sightseeing cruise. Check valet parking close time so you get your car in time. Apply sunscreen to the family.
- 10:15 am- Spend some time exploring the Pier, walk from one end to the other, enjoying the views, and scoping out what there is to do, see, and most importantly eat! There are several sculptures and artwork to enjoy on the pier free of charge. Don’t forget to grab a snack while strolling.
- 11 am- Take a sightseeing cruise ship around Lake Michigan to learn the history
- 12:30 pm- Grab lunch at the food court.
- 1pm- Get out of the heat, and let the adults rest and kids play by hitting up the Children’s Museum. Or try the IMAX or Carnival rides. Or if your children are older, consider the Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass.
- 5pm- Eat dinner, and get your parking validated at Harry Caray’s Tavern, Riva Crab House, or DMK Burger Bar and Fish Bar.
- After Dinner- Head to the Pepsi Skyline Stage to take in the live entertainment for the night. Or stroll the pier.
- Evening- Watch the fireworks, and head on out!
Whatever you do, don’t visit Chicago without spending a day at Navy Pier. And don’t forget the sunscreen, and a stroller for the little ones.