Navy Pier, Chicago
I want to start with the notion that I absolutely understand why tourists would visit Navy Pier, Chicago's #1 tourist draw, but I am sticking under tourist traps for three reasons:
1) 90% of the people you encounter here are tourists
2) Restaurants and shops are overpriced and not the best in the city
3) Parking is obnoxiously priced, currently a flat rate of $20 on weekdays, $24 on weekends
A little history:
Opened in 1916 as an entertainment venue, it was originally known as Municipal Pier, converted the following year to house WWI soldiers, turned back into an entertainment venue after the war.
In 1927 it was renamed Navy Pier in honor of the Navy personnel that served there in WWI. In 1942, it was used as a training facility for WWII pilots. After several more uses of the Pier, it was opened as the current entertainment complex in 1995.
Unique Suggestions: But there are reasons that you might want to visit:
1) the Smith stained glass museum is awesome and it's out in the open so it's FREE (alas, the Stained Glass Museum closed in October 2014 although the 11 Tiffany stained glass windows in the Richard H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass will remain.)
2) the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is terrific
3) many of the boat cruises leave from here and that is a nice way to see the Chicago skyline
4) Saturday night fireworks in the summer
5) Although the Ferris wheel didn't overly excite me in the daytime I hear that it's quite nice on a clear evening
6) Summer performances of Cirque Shanghai at the Skyline stage
If you do find yourself heading toward Navy Pier, you might consider eating before you get there to avoid the long waits and oftern mediocre food
And don't park here if you don't have to, there are free trolleys that run to and from Navy Pier.
The Navy Pier is a long concrete pier that extends into Lake Michigan. Along the pier are a number of restaurants and embarkation points for some of the lake cruises. There are also some carnival style attractions: a ferris wheel, miniature golf course, etc. All of this sounds okay, but the pier is usually crowded, the restaurants are overpriced and underwhelming, and the other attractions are fairly lame. Feel free to skip.
Unique Suggestions: If you do go to the pier, be sure to check out the Smith Stained Glass Museum. And be sure to check out the sculpture (statue?) of Chicago native Bob Newhart near the entrance to the pier.
Coming from a native Chicagoan much of what is said about Navy Pier is true that it's a huge tourist attraction where it's overpriced and endless crowds during the tourist season that starts from March until Labor Day. What you want to keep in mind is that everything at Navy Pier is priced higher than most places outside of the facility.
For example if something costs $1.25-1.50 outside of Navy Pier it will cost $2.50-3.00 there and that's just for a regular 20 oz. bottled soda. Basically most tourists who are not experienced travelers would do their research on places worth spending money on. Experienced travelers to Chicago know where and where not to eat and spend a lot of money because if you know someone who lives in Chicago or you've been a frequent visitor you know where to go and where not to go and what's worth spending money at and what's a waste of time and money to see and do.
Unique Suggestions: If you're planning to visit Navy Pier DO NOT drive because parking ridiculously high and they charge by the hour so driving is not worth the change you'll be shelling out for parking. If at all possible either walk, get the bus, or catch a cab from your hotel. It's worth a one time visit, but many Chicagoans usually see it once and then they don't really go anymore. You could see Navy Pier in about an hour without doing much since you can see it all by walking inside or outside and walk right back the way you came in. Don't really waste your money eating at Navy Pier save your money and go someplace outside the area since there's more of a choice than you would have at Navy Pier and you would get sick of McDonalds since that's the anchor restaurant there(side note-McDonalds isnt exactly the healthiest of food to eat anyway). Plus there's more places in the city that has good food besides greasy food from a fast food joint. I would suggest one day at the Pier, but after that go see something else.
Fun Alternatives: The alternative is to check out museums and other attractions since Chicago's neighborhoods have a lot of interesting street fairs that are worth seeing.
The food was bland and bad. The prices were surprisingly cheap but then you get what you pay for. I am a seafood freak and this seafood was REAL bad. Then they have a question and answer segment from Forrest Gump movie that is very annoying after a while because the server kept going on and on while we were trying to eat after having to wait 30mins to get a table and another 30 mins to get the food because it is always packed.
Its one of those places that you just HAVE to go to located on the Navy Pier.
Its just one of those things you have to do since you're there to say you've been.
Fun Alternatives: Right outside of Bubba Gump shrimp spot, there are cruise boats that offer a dinner cruise right off the Navy Pier. I would have rather done that since I love dinners on boats. Very elegant affair so take your dress up clothes. There's a grand buffet, music, dancing etc for 3-4 hours and then it returns. I didnt find out about it until we had already gotten to Bubba Gumps, but I will be doing this the next time I go back to Chi-town. They also do lunch cruises.
Its not that its a horrible spot, but really... the restaurants are mediocre and overpriced, the shopping is shlocky and this place could be dropped into any major American city without modification and no one would know the difference. It reminds me of Fishermans Wharf in SF, or maybe the Atlanta Underground (does that still exist?) or anyplace that caters to tourists. See it, but dont blow too much time, effort and money here. Catch a water taxi to the Shedd Aquarium, take a boat ride from here, but dont stay and eat and do the IMAX, unless you reallly like touristy attractions. Walk to the end of the pier for a nice view and cool breeze in the summer heat.
Unique Suggestions: Water taxis - cheap commuter taxis that go to the train stations on the river. Not really known among tourists too much, but a nice cheap way to get around downtown. Take the free trolleys here - the free tourist trolley system is really, really excellent. I use it as a local when I can - and its great to use if with kids.
Great place to go if you want to be ripped off. Its a typical tourist spot. The only interesting thing l found in this part of Chicago was the Ferris Wheel and only because you have a great view of Lake Michigan. The restaurants are over priced as are the shops. However saying that it is a lovely place to stroll, people watch and have a beer and look at the luxury/boats ships which you can take a cruise on. At the moment January 2006 they have a fantastic stained glass exhibition which is free.
Unique Suggestions: Take a ride on the Ferris Wheel!
Navy Pier is like an amusement park without the amusement.
Fun Alternatives: Save your cash for a relaxing evening at a tapas bar, or save your cash all together and go visit Millenium Park.
Everything is soooo expensive here and it is creepy. The ferris wheel was kind of neat because you get to see a good view. If you go to the top of any other building, skip it. We got gelato at one of the stands and it was grainy and gross. I believe it was $5.00 per scoop too. Skip this and admire the ferris wheel from a distance. If you go, the free trolley will drop you off and pick you up, however, beware of the wait. The line was so long we took a cab back to our hotel. The good news is that you can get almost anywhere in Chicago for about $10 in a cab. Otherwise we may have waited hours to get the trolley.
Unique Suggestions: Ferris wheel, people watch, listen to the free music, watch the sailboats go by.
Fun Alternatives: Go to Second City. It is about $18 per ticket for a great show. There is also free improv on certain nights after the main show.
We only went to Navy Pier to catch a good glimpse of the airshow that was going on. We had lunch at one of the restaurants there and sure enough, the planes went right over us - until the whole thing was cancelled due to a part falling off one of them!
The place reminded me of Faneuil Hall in Boston. Tourists flock to it, and it's full of chain restaurants, junk food and tacky sourvenirs. I have no use for this kind of place, but you've got to check it out at least once, huh?
Unique Suggestions: Check out the skyline view it offers.
Fun Alternatives: In Chicago, I'm sure there are a hundred alternatives!
Chicagoans only go to Navy Pier for conventions and black tie events. This is not representative of Chicago at all. 90% of the people you will encounter will be tourists. The parking is expensive, as are the restaurants.
Unique Suggestions: Some of the redeaming features to check out at Navy Pier include:
- The beer garden which has live music (May through Sept.)
- The Shakespeare Theater which puts on plays year round
- The Children's Museum ($7 admission, open M-Sat 10am-8pm)
- A a new ice rink
- An IMAX theater with a 6-story flat movie screen featuring 2D and 3D films
Fun Alternatives: If you truly want to experience Chicago, take a walk along the lakefront from Oak Street Beach to North Avenue.
What a waste of time! Unless you have to go there for an expo or meeting, or are traveling with small children, don't bother going at all. On many days it is crowded, loaded with screaming kids, and has nothing really interesting to most adults. It gets boring quick. You can walk through it once and say "that's enough, lets go."
There are shops, a food court, IMAX theatre, children's museum, entertainers walking around the pier, and the famous ferris wheel. In the summer, there is usually live music outside. Its like a circus.
The event space is great, especially if an event is taking place at the ballroom at the end of the pier, but spending time at the rest of it, no thanks. I honestly think the city opened up Navy Pier to lower congestion at other tourist areas of the city.
Unique Suggestions: If you have small children, they will probably love it here, and it is overall a good family place. The ferris wheel is good.
If you must eat here, Charlie's Ale House isn't bad, but try Chicago legend Billy Goat Tavern for a "cheezborger".
Some sightseeing and dinner cruises leave from here. The sightseeing cruises are decent (haven't been on a dinner cruise, don't plan on it).
Also, go to the end of the pier and enjoy Lake Michigan. You do get some great views of the city from here.
Fun Alternatives: Walk through just to say you went, but go to one of the museums - you will enjoy it more and will have a better experience.
I don't know, either. I've been to Navy Pier twice, and had no idea what to do when I got there. I wasn't about to go eat in an mediocre/over-priced restaurant, and it was to late to take one of those boat tours. So I went to see an IMAX movie, which was nothing special. On the other hand-- the OMNIMAX at the Museum of Science and Industry is great (kids like it too). Families seem to frequent the Pier, anyway.
Unique Suggestions: Sometimes there are good musical acts that perform there-- I wanted to see Weird Al and Patti Smith play there.
And don't drive there. Do you really want to pay that exorbitant parking fee?
Fun Alternatives: If you want to amuse your tykes, take them 1.5 hours north of Chicago to the Six Flags Great America amusement park (closes at the end of October), reopens in May. There's many ethnic festivals in Chicago, depending on the time of year. WWW.CITYOFCHICAGO.ORG (check the Special Events)
The tourists always seem to be having fun, I just get bored.
Navy Pier is a fun destination for families. It has the Chicago Children's Museum, a hands-on facility for kids to play in, a lot of restaurants, an imax theater, a ferris wheel an carousel in the summer and fall, ice skating in the winter.
Many harbor tour boats launch from here. Other than that it is easy to get consumed in the over-ratedness of this locale.
Unique Suggestions: Ride the Ferris wheel.
If you have kids go to the Children's museum
See the crystal gardens
Go for fireworks in the summer. Wed and Sat nights at 9, (arrive around 8:30)
Fun Alternatives: I mean it is something to be seen in the city so you should at least check it out if you want to.
Museum of Science and Industry (57th and Lake Shore Drive)
Millenium Park (Monroe and Michigan Avenue)
Lincoln Park Zoo - Fullerton Parkway and Cannon Drive
Peggy Notebart Museum - Lincoln Park, Chicago
Navy Pier is the number one tourist destination in the state of Illinois. My place of employment happens to be located on the pier, so I find myself fighting through the crowds to get to work every day. "McPier," (it is mostly owned by the McDonald corp.) has only become the tourist Mecca of Chicago in the last several years. Before, it was a quiet old pier with nothing on it but the old mile long building dating back to the early part of the 20th century. Now it is horribly overdone, and the price for parking is killer. As a matter of fact, all of the prices for any thing you buy at the pier are ridiculously marked up. There are some decent places to eat, but bring your plastic. Riva's is probably the best restaurant on the pier.
Unique Suggestions: However, if you go very early in the morning, like before 8am, before the music is blaring over the speakers, before everything is chaos........ it is quiet, and is a nice place to go for a jog, bike ride, or go fishing (?!?!?.....I see folks out there, but I would be afraid to eat anything pulled out of Lake Michigan!). So, you can actually enjoy Navy Pier without spending a dime (even when the crowds are there), but I would avoid going during peak times.
Fun Alternatives: If you want to be out in the middle of the lake, for a quiet moment with your sweetheart or some time alone, there is a spiral pier just out always near North Avenue beach. Coming from the north go past all of the volleyball players and the restaurant that looks like a tugboat on land, and take the path that veers east. From the south, when you see the chess players, follow the lake path that goes sharp right....the path that hugs the lake....keep going and follow the spiral to the end. Then, be Zen to your heart's content.
Navy Pier is....well...it's a big mall on a piece of land on the waterfront. If you have kids, they can play on the rides and stuff, and if you want to shop in a mall (why the F would you come to Navy Pier to do that?!?!) then go nuts. If you are in any way looking for something exciting, then this is not it.
There is a theatre which houses some Shakespeare company, so if you like that you can check that out...
Other then that, the place offers a great view of the Chicago Skyline.
There's a free Trolley service from State street to Navy Pier. There are usually lines to get on it, so just walk to State street you lazy bum! :)
Unique Suggestions: Go to the Beer Garden and get a hot dog and a beer for 7 dollars. Then leave.
Fun Alternatives: Check out the Magnificient Mile.