Guide To: Millennium Park & Navy Pier

May 21, 2011 12:13 AM

Millenium Park


Sun.-Sat.: 6 a.m.-11 p.m.
201 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL
Free Admission

No family getaway in downtown Chicago would be complete without a visit to Millennium Park and Navy Pier. Both destinations offer attractions and activities that the entire family can enjoy – and much of the fun can be had for free!

Enjoy the scenery. Millennium Park is a great source of pride for Chicago, and is known for its unique architecture and beauty. Start your visit here with a stroll through the Lurie Garden, a 5-acre urban sanctuary with stunning gardens. Take a break along the boardwalk, which runs along a shallow canal, and dip your toes in the water – but don’t let the toe-dipping patrol find you, because they’ll tell you to kindly get your feet out of the water.

Make a splash. A more appropriate place to wet your feet is at the Crown Fountain, where two 50-foot towers rain down water and display enormous digital images of faces looking out at the crowd. And while you cool off sans shoes, your little ones will have a blast kicking and splashing through the shallow water.

Do the Bean. After you dry off, check out the Cloud Gate sculpture, more fondly known as “The Bean.” This 110-ton sculpture was inspired by mercury, and visitors can see ethereal views of the skyline reflected in its surface. The coolest part for your kids, no doubt, will be seeing their upside down reflections moving around in the Bean!

Do the Fest. From June 13 – August 21, Millennium Park’s Family Fun Festival takes place daily from 10am – 3pm, with hands-on art projects, garden activities, and family entertainment. At 10am, sing and dance along with Wiggleworms instructors from the Old Town School of Folk Music. At 11am, relax with an hour of storytelling in the reading circle. And at 1pm, get your groove on with live music and interactive dance performances.

Eat. When you’re feeling hungry, grab a bite at the Park Grill, an expansive, outdoor, kid-friendly restaurant located right in the front of the Park.

Now you’re ready to head over to Navy Pier. It’s a quick cab ride, or about a 20-30 minute walk – depending on just how fast your kids can go!

Photo: “Navy Pier Ferris Wheel” (credit: Navy Pier)


Chicago Lakefront
Sun.-Thurs.: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
Fri.-Sat.: 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
600 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL
Free Admission

Take a spin. The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Navy Pier is the 150-foot high Ferris wheel, which offers breathtaking views of the city and lakefront. Another spectacular (and potentially vomit-inducing) ride is the “Wave Swing,” which hurls you around in a swing chair more than 14 feet off the ground. And if you’re at least 42” inches tall, you can take a spin on the Musical Carousel, a whimsical work of art designed exclusively for Navy Pier with 36 beautifully hand-painted animals.

Be entertained. Entertainment abounds all over the Pier, with free daily performances taking place at the indoor Family Pavilion Stage. Buccaneer pirates, jugglers, magicians, marching bands and more are on hand to entertain and amuse.

Discover. Walk around the Pier and you’ll discover a stained glass exhibit, silly mirrors, a fun maze, boat tours, souvenir shops, homemade fudge and more. There’s even an 18-hole, Chicago-themed mini golf course on the Pier.

See a show. If planning ahead is your thing, get tickets in advance for Cirque Shanghai’s Shanghai Extreme at Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage from June 23 – September 5. It’s a family-style acrobatic extravaganza, and while it’s not quite Cirque du Soleil, the kids will be sufficiently impressed. And the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre offers The Adventures of Pinocchio from July 13 – August 28 for kids 5 and up.

Watch a fireworks spectacular. If you’re at the Pier on a Wednesday or Saturday, end your day with a bang and take in the free fireworks display. These take place at 9:30pm Wednesdays and 10:15pm Saturdays. Before you claim your viewing spot, grab dinner at one of the many family friendly restaurants at the Pier.

Sue Zeiler is the founder of, which launched in 2001 and is the Chicago area’s leading online resource for local parents. Her mission is to find the best family events, activities and destinations for Chicago area families.

Sue Zeiler is the founder of, which launched in 2001 and is the Chicago area’s leading online resource for local parents. Her mission is to find the best family events, activities and destinations for Chicago area families.

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