Hometown Tourist: Chicago’s Navy Pier

I’ve lived in Chicago for going on 12 years now. And although I’ve lived here for so long there are quite a few touristy (and even local) things that I haven’t done. I’ve never been to a Cubs game (I know GASP!) nor a Bears game. I’ve never gone to the Southside St. Patricks Day Parade. Last year was my first time going to the Festival of Lights Parade and I’ve never gone to a music festival here in the city. I typically stay away from touristy things in the city because it truly is part of my love/hate relationship with Chicago. There are so many great things about the city but it can be quite frustrating when you’re going someplace (especially in the summer) in a hurry and a crowd of tourists are literally blocking the entire sidewalk to watch a street performer.  As a general rule, I stay away from Michigan Avenue in the Summertime (and State Street for that matter) and right around Christmas. The sidewalks are packed with out of towners and can make even what should be a quick errand turn into hours. Tourism though is great for Chicago, and I can understand why people want to come check out the city and all the things it has to offer!

Even though I generally avoid big touristy spots like Navy Pier (I used to actually work as an intern at The Chicago Shakespeare Theater so I was there on a regular basis) this past weekend I had to head up there…on a Saturday…when the weather was beautiful. I was popping into a College Fair to speak to two reps for some colleges overseas about switching my current grad program to something new and the options, perks and help the schools provide for international students. Good thing I did! They both told me for a Fall Semester, you need to apply ASAP, the grad programs are small and the space is VERY limited. So now I’m full speed ahead for grad school applications. Yippee Skippee!

After my little meet and greet I decided to walk outside along the pier because there were hundreds of high school students and their parents milling around plus a ton of tourists walking around inside. Outside was slightly less crowded and the sun was out!

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A Little History about Navy Pier

If you’ve never been to Chicago, Navy Pier is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city. Jutting out into the lake and surrounded by boats, docks and levys its a great place to really see the city from the lake without being on the water. Plus there’s quite a bit to do on the Pier, especially for families as the Children’s Museum is located on the Pier.  The Pier was open to the Public in 1916 and during WWI housed soldiers, the Red Cross and new recruits for the military. After the war it was still used for freight and passenger traffic but recreation had far surpassed the typical uses of the pier.  During WWII the pier was used for the Air Force to train pilots (including the first George Bush) and according to Navy Pier’s Website, nearly 200 places are at the bottom of Lake Michigan as a result of training accidents! Navy Pier was officially named a historical landmark in 1977. In the 90s the pier was renovated including adding the now famous Ferris Wheel which was modeled after the one from the very first Ferris Wheel which debuted at the Worlds Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.  The Chicago Shakespeare theater was added in 1999. The pier is yet again undergoing renovations which were revealed last year by the City with a $1.1 Billion dollar plan to rejuvenate tourism in the city. (History of Navy Pier)

The Pier is under a lot of construction, there’s a lot of things blocked off or portions of the pier that are no longer open to the public (like the Stained Glass Museum) but there is still plenty to do! Between the IMAX theater, the Children’s museum, the Shakespeare Theater, the boat tours which dock at the Pier and the park out front, plus shopping and food, on a beautiful day you won’t have any trouble.

I for the most part hit up the College Fair and stopped to snap some photos!

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Navy Pier is a little over 3000 feet, so bring your walking shoes if you’re going up and back down the pier. You can take a bus to the pier as there is a large bus stop right outside the park. I was in a walking mood so I walked from State street (from the Red Line) all the way up to the Pier (at least a mile). You can access the Pier either by bus, car or on foot, there is no L stop near by the closest is the Grand Red Line Stop)

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The Crystal Gardens was closed to the public last Saturday for an event (I’m assuming a wedding) but its still pretty cool from the outside. If you’re looking for nature…inside. The conservatories or places like Crystal Gardens are the places to go!

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Saturday, although it was beautiful out it was kinda hazy. The pier extends out into the lake but also north and south.

There is only one building on the lake side of Lakeshore drive (besides places like the Pier and the Museums down in the South Loop) I had an ex who worked on the tour boats so I got to hop on whenever he was working. You learn a lot about Chicago from those little boat rides! The high rise thats built on the east side of LSD is actually built on a landfill. And shortly after the building was built the city changed the rules. They didn’t want it messing up the skyline. At one point Oprah and some other big athletes owned condos in the building.

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The most recognizable part of the pier! The Ferris Wheel. A good place for proposals! (My cousin got engaged at the top of the Ferris Wheel!)

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There’s the John Hancock!

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There’s also a carousel which is pretty cool too!

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A View to the North

A View to the South

A View to the South

Once you leave the pier, there’s a nice little park with a fountain and a splash pad. There were tons of kids splashing around in the water because it was so warm out! I always wonder if the fountains are jumping to music or if its a pattern that they just made up that looks cool.

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If you’ve never been to Chicago or even if you’re a local, the Pier is a cool place to check out (if you don’t mind the crowds) even under construction there’s tons to do! (just be prepared to pay a little more for food and souvenirs) but bring a camera! There’s cool stuff to snap pics of!

What’s a cool place in Chicago or your hometown that you can be a hometown tourist in??

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