A Shore Thing
South walkway of Navy
Pier, copyright Willy
Jutting into Lake Michigan, Navy Pier has been Chicago's hottest tourist stop since 1995, when a huge development project turned this old commercial relic into a lakefront playground for young and old. There are outdoor concerts and fireworks in summer, and ice-skating and theaters in winter. Museums and shopping are year-round treats. Be prepared to spend a full day or even two checking out these attractions:
- The Chicago Children's Museum
If your kids think museums are boring, a couple of hours here will change their minds. Geared to the 12-and-under set, these exhibits spark imagination and burn off steam. Kids scramble through tree-house trails, don raincoats to build fountains and waterworks, and slide down rope-ladder chutes on a three-story schooner.
- Crystal Gardens
Palm trees sway year-round in this indoor botanical oasis with a restaurant and snack bar. Located behind the Children's Museum, it's a great spot to relax and refuel.
- Navy Pier Ferris Wheel
This 150-foot wonder pays tribute to the very first Ferris wheel, built for Chicago's 1893 Exposition. It's open year-round, weather permitting, and offers dizzying views of the city.
- Carousel and Ice Rink
Winter or summer, you'll get to whirl around outdoors here, and enjoy the lakefront view.
- The Smith Museum of Stained Glass
Chicago's newest museum, and the first of its kind anywhere in the U.S., is located on the lower level of Festival Hall. More than 150 stained-glass windows by masters like Louis Comfort Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright light up the galleries, where a 30-minute stroll will delight adults without taxing the kids.
- The Chicago Shakespeare Theater
If you come in March or early April, don't miss the chance to introduce kids (ages 8 and up) to the Bard with "Short Shakespeare," abridged, 75-minute presentations of classics like Romeo and Juliet. Stage-struck tykes can talk to the cast at chat sessions after these Saturday morning shows. For grown-ups, regular performances of full-length classics are staged September through May.