It’s no secret to anyone that I hate going to Navy Pier. To me, it’s the biggest tourist trap in Chicago, but because it’s an important landmark in the city, I feel obligated to write about it. There are some worthy attractions to find at the kid-friendly Navy Pier, along with food, shopping, and great views of the city.
When Navy Pier was built in 1916, it was the largest pier in the world. It was 3,000 ft. long and 400 ft. wide. It was originally used for commercial purposes and entertainment, but that all changed with the start of WWII. It closed to the public and was used for naval training on Lake Michigan during the war. It was later used by the University of Illinois and for other public events but was heavily underutilized. After a long renovation, it re-opened to the public in 1995 as a world-class public entertainment center.
Navy Pier features the Chicago Children’s Museum, the Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass, the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, shops, restaurants, an IMAX theatre, an outdoor stage, a beer garden, and a nice pedestrian walk on the south side along the lake. Along the pedestrian walk, ships and boats are available for cruises, dinners, and tours.
The prime attraction is the small amusement park, with another Chicago landmark, the Ferris Wheel. A ride up the 150 ft. wheel will give stunning views of the Chicago skyline and the rest of Navy Pier. At the time of writing, it was US$8 for adults to ride it. In 2016, a new, larger Ferris Wheel will replace the current one.
A one acre indoor botanical garden, Crystal Gardens, is located at Navy Pier. It has over 80 live palm trees and many other plants along with dancing fountains.
At the end of Navy Pier is a massive exhibition center, Festival Hall, and the AON Grand Ballroom, which hosts concerts and several other events. The ballroom is part of the original 1916 construction.
Just outside Navy Pier are Ohio Street Beach and Milton Lee Olive Park. Olive Park has a gorgeous path along the lake with great views of the city, and a memorial to Milton Lee Olive III. At the age of 18, Olive jumped on a live grenade while serving in the Vietnam War, saving several others in the process.