So you’re staying in the Windy City for a night and you don’t know what to do to fill your time? Have no fear, Group Tours is here to fill you in on all the best evening activities you, your group, and your loved ones can do together with a night at the Navy Pier.
The Navy Pier, located right on the edge of the skyscraper-capped city and the seemingly-endless glint of blue that is Lake Michigan, is truly my vote for the best place to do it all while in Chicago. The surrounding scenery of the Navy Pier alone will sell you, not to mention all the fun things to do in and around it. So what can you expect while here? How about fantastic dining, shopping, sightseeing, history, culture, live events, cruises, and entertainment? Wow, that’s a lot, so let’s break it down.
Parking: Though this isn’t the most glamorous thing to talk about/plan before your trip, you are going to want to be aware of onsite parking in both the East, West, and Shakespeare/Riviera lots. Plan on spending about 30-40 bucks on parking if you choose to park up close unless you are fancy and want the valet to park your car for about $50. If you can park the first level mid-East lot, you’ll be right next to the door you’re probably going to want for most attractions!
Dining: While I have a very clear favorite when it comes to eating at the pier there are honestly no bad options here, especially in the summer when all the outdoor eating options are available. I personally go for the home of Chicago's deep-dish pizza, Giordano's. Right next to this amazingly delicious pizza joint you will find Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and also Harry Caray’s. The Beer Garden has many tapas joints, and the main floor of the indoor Navy Pier has a short food court featuring everything from Ben and Jerry’s to Pulled Pork BBQ. Grab a Chicago style hot dog, handmade churro, nachos from Margaritaville, or even just some famous McDonald’s fries from one of the fanciest Ronald McDonald eateries in the city!
Entertainment: Entertainment is definitely not lacking while spending an evening at the Navy Pier! Check out the live expo room, head to the IMAX for a featured film, or explore the tropical indoor Crystal Gardens. Outside you will find Navy Pier Park, the Ferris Wheel, mini-golf, many cruise options, outdoor vendors and entertainers, and even the Amazing Chicago exhibit for children!
Cruises: Spend your evening setting sail on Lake Michigan as you choose from such Chicago cruise line companies as Mystic Blue, Seadog Chicago, and Spirit of Chicago. Each cruise is unique in their own way but will typically offer a dinner cruise, holiday cruise, sightseeing cruise, and sunset cruise, so it’s all up to you at this point how you want to see the city!
Live Events: As mentioned briefly before, there are typically live events happening in the live expo hall on the west side of the pier. During my last weekend visit, we encountered a local dance competition, which was an interesting thing to see without planning. Be sure to pop your head in the expo hall when you pass!
Shopping: Of course, Navy Pier has plenty of shopping opportunities for you, though most of the shopping presented as souvenirs. There are 4-5 Chicago and/or Navy Pier based gift shops, a Build-a-Bear shop, street vendors, and one apparel store within the building.
Sightseeing: This may seem like a no-brainer, but some people tend to forget that you don’t have to leave the pier to see the sights. Besides the pier itself, you are going to be able to see the city skyline closer than you think, cruise ships, Lake Michigan, and even that iconic Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. You’re going to want to bring your camera, to say the least.
History: The Navy Pier was named thus for obvious reasons in 1927, paying tribute to various Navy personnel who were housed at the Pier during World War I. Visiting the pier is a history lesson in itself and one you’re going to want to pay attention to.
Culture: The Pier is a truly important part of Chicago’s landscape, history, and culture, and by spending the evening here you are truly going to feel like a local who is in love with the city (not to mention all the fun people-watching opportunities!).
Here’s how I and my partner spent our night at the Navy Pier:
- Parked in East Lot (luckily).
- Found the east side of the pier's attractions.
- Explored Crystal Gardens.
- Sight-saw and took touristy photos outside by the lake.
- Shopped for souvenirs at Oh Yes Chicago.
- Drank margaritas at Margaritaville.
- Ate Ben and Jerry's. [YUM]
- Watched Deadpool in IMAX.
- Ate the best pizza in the world at Giordano’s and sampled local ales.
And that, my friends, is the perfect night at the Navy Pier. Be sure to check this blog out to hear all my secret budget tips while staying in Chicago!