The Best of Navy Pier much to do on Lake Michigan

For over four decades all Chicagoland citizens and tourists have come together to enjoy the fun and beauty of a day on Lake Michigan at Navy Pier.

Front of Navy Pier.

It's my favorite place to be in Chicago when it's summer and the weather is great. There is a lot entertainment to enjoy and experience, all while being able to look out at the lake.

It would take a couple days to do everything that the pier has to offer, so my goal is to help you get the most you can out of your visit. But I really encourage you to do much more and be very spontaneous about it.

Some things you could look forward to would be rides and attractions, boat entertainment and cruises, food, and other special events. The pier is definitely one of the most popular and most visited attractions in all of Chicago.

Favorite Attractions

There is a lot to do at the pier, so your first stop should be inside the Family Pavilion. When you go inside, you will find brochures of the different exhibits, restaurants, and probably more important, a map of Navy Pier.

Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze

Some of my favorite attractions when I’m there would be the Amazing Chicago Funhouse Maze which is just plain fun becuase you get to navigate through 4000 square feet of sensory experiences.

There’s a giant mirror maze and a spinning tunnel, which I have personally gotten lost in along with literally over a million other people who also found it challenging over the years, and have gotten lost as well.

There’s also a part where you get to stomp out the Chicago fire, and that was an interesting but a very satisfying experience.

Other things to look forward to when there are:
  • Rainbow Tunnel - Your journey begins in this tunnel filled with many lights.

  • Elevator Drop - Caution entering the elevator inside, it has been known to drop into the underground tunnels of Chicago!

  • Big Squeeze - Squeeze through, it’s a tight fit!

  • Psychedelic Mine Shaft - This speaks for itself!

  • Lights over Chicago - Fireworks finale and make sure to hold on tight to something!

How long can you stay? There is no time limit and they encourage you to stay and play as long as you want.

Transporter FX

Another thrilling attraction would be Transporter FX which is quite new at Navy Pier. What you do is get into a pod-like structure and then choose what kind of thrill you would want to experience.

You can choose from many different situations such as going on a high speed motion ride to the Antarctica or to the moon.

My favorites would be flying into an air battle and racing in the Grand Prix, I would recommend both.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows

One of the stained glass windows.

If you are into art like me, then you will have to check out the Smith Museum of stained glass windows.

While there, you will be able to enjoy 150+ stained glass masterpieces and it's the first museum ever in the United States dedicated to showing stained glass.

These are just some attractions you can enjoy. There are fireworks displays, seasonal special events, world class theatrical productions, the great IMAX theater, and much more.

Navy Pier Park

The Navy Pier Park is a must go for everyone, this park will transport you back in time to the carnival’s of old.

Probably the most popular ride there is the 150 foot Ferris wheel that can be seen from anywhere around the pier. But there are many other rides like the Musical Carousel, and the Wave Swinger.

The famous ferris wheel.

Other things that you can expect at the park is a 18-hole miniature golf course with a Chicago theme to it and a cliff climbing structure.

As a little advice, the last time I went to Navy Pier, which was summer of 2012, I invested in a Family Combo Pack instead of buying tickets for each ride.

This saved a lot of time and money especially because I went in a group with family and friends.

The park within Navy Pier.

The Beer Garden

You will find the Beer Garden towards the end of the pier where you will be able to relax and get your energy back. Live music and premium beers are what goes on there and it can get pretty crowded.

If it’s to crowded, go to the North side of the pier where you will find many empty tables.

Front of the Beer Garden.

There is also a pretty good view of the lakefront on the North side so enjoy that while you have your drinks or you could check out the two performance stages Navy Pier has to offer.

From May through October, local bands perform FREE shows for the public on the Bud Light Stage. The other stage is called the Skyline Stage, which has 1,500 seats and feature a variety of musical and theatrical performances.

To find out more information about upcoming shows and tickets go to the Navy Pier site

Things for the Kids!

There are also many things for the children to enjoy like Buccaneer Pirates, Navy Pier's mascot Patch, and great playing areas which I wish I had experienced as a child.

When I’m there I enjoy the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and of course the IMAX Theater. Both are great for adults and children and both can really take you way from your life for a while.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is the recipient of the 2008 Regional Theatre Tony Award and offers a very broad spectrum of theatrical experiences all year-round.

For families that want to check out the theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater has something called "CST Family" which presents abridged Shakespeare productions and classic musicals.

For more information about the Chicago Shakespeare Theater check out there site

The Great IMAX Theater

The IMAX Theater is not your ordinary movie theater, because instead of watching the movie on a regular movie screen, the IMAX has a 6-story screen that's 60 feet high and 80 feet wide.

You can seat about 440 people in the theater and the theater presents blockbuster films with a huge sound system to go along with the huge screen. The films that play at the theater change all the time so you are guaranteed something new every time you visit.

See What is Playing at the IMAX Theater Right Now.

In my opinion, the IMAX Theater is the best place to see films in 3D, so if you are going to see a movie there, try to see it in 3D if the film is being played in 3D of course.

Chicago Children's Museum

After your visit to the IMAX, you can go upstairs to the Chicago Children's Museum. This place has three floors of interactive exhibits and "everyday programs" for kids through age 10. It's not only a fun place to be if you’re a kid, but it is also very educational because many of the daily programs deal with math, science, the arts, and reading.

Some of the activities to look forward to would include hands-on workshops, Kovler Family Climbing Schooner, and the Kraft Artbounds Studio.

The Kovler Family Climbing Schooner is a lot of fun. The reason is because there are three floors of ship-shape rigging that you can climb from the front deck to the top crow’s nest. It's a lot of fun for the children and even the entire family.

Another thing that is great for adults and children are boat tours and rides. Navy Pier wouldn't be a pier without boats, and on a nice day I can think of nothing better than going on Lake Michigan either for a dinner & cruise, or to go on a thrilling speedboat ride.

There is a boat for every occasion at the pier.

Eating at the Pier

Food is a very important part of Chicago and (in my opinion) Chicago has the best food in the United States.

You will be able to experience the great food at the many restaurants or food courts found all around the pier. The majority of the restaurants are located right in the front in the Family Pavilion.

The restaurants that you will find at the pier are:

Some of the themes that you will find are inspired by Legends of Jazz and Southern Creole, but probably the most popular restaurant here would be Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. which was talked about in the great movie Forrest Gump.

In the movie Forrest's best friend, Bubba, talks all about the shrimp business he is going to make and invites Forrest to join him.

The food there is great.

Some of the food stands on Navy Pier.

Also while you're there, the servers test your Forrest Gump trivia which is fun.

So, if you plan on eating there, watch Forrest Gump before hand so you are ready if they do ask you a few questions about the movie.

You will also find smaller food vendors all over the pier that sells everything from ice cream to beef sandwiches.

If you are going to with a big group of people, I would encourage to stick to the Food Court where you can find something for everyone at a good price.

Consider stopping at the Food Court Market Hall. This small area provides a variety of dining options such as:

  • Twisted lizard
  • America's Dog
  • Auntie Anne’s
  • Carnelli's Deli
  • Connie's Pizza
  • Garrett Popcorn Shops
  • Greek Delight
  • Jamba Juice
  • King Wah Express
  • McDonald's The Future
  • Starbucks
...And plenty of seating for your entire group.

Shopping at the Pier

For those with an interest in shopping, Navy Pier won't disappoint.

I’m not much of a shopper but I do enjoy going to the shops just to look at all the cool things that are for sell. There are about 46 shops to check out ranging from apparel, Chicago souvenirs, collectibles, international, snacks & candy, toys & games, and other great things.

When you go inside, you will find a large variety of shops and vendors that will keep even people that don't like shopping busy.

Shopping on Navy Pier.

The Sports Store, Ahoy Chicago, Varsity Stop Outfitters, Magic Masters, Chicago Children's Museum Store, Oh Yes Chicago, Navy Pier Store, and Life in the Windy City are just some of the bigger shops. You will also find a number of smaller vendors in the area.

Close to the food court you will find even more such as:

  • Dancing Sun Crystals
  • Sun Coolers
  • Build a Bear Workshop

…And many others.

You can also head over to the South Arcade for a more open shopping experience. Here you will find even more small vendors and shops such as:

  • Y-Knot
  • Fashion Bazaar
  • Margaritaville Store
  • Funky Chameleon
  • Making History Chicago

…And much more.

With such a variety of shopping options it’s pretty safe to say that no Navy Pier visitor will leave with empty hands.

Navy Pier is the place to be if you’re in Chicago on a beautiful day. Great people, great entertainment, and delicious food all on the beautiful lake.

I really hope you stop by and see everything I mentioned and more because there is something for everyone there, child or adult, and it's really a great place to really enjoy life.