This 13-acre “green” gateway to the tourist and family attraction that renowned architect Daniel Burnham originally conceived as “The People’s Pier” features three outdoor spaces: a vast, programmable fountain at the main entrance, irresistible to children in the summer months as a watery playground, which seamlessly converts to an ice rink in cold weather; and two new performance venues suitable for live theatre, music, dance, and other arts and culture events reflecting the city’s diverse community.
Founded in 1982 and a fixture on the western end of the Pier for more than twenty years, the Chicago Children’s Museum provides educational content and hands-on activities for families and children of all ages. Its three floors of continually changing interactive exhibits provide sensory experiences and learning opportunities across the genres of visual and performing arts, science and technology, math, literacy, and health. Children can channel their inner artist at the painting studio, “drive” toy cars in the Zoom Room, and develop interaction skills in a play area for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
The Pier’s venue for weddings and special events is located between the Chicago Children’s Museum and Pier Park. Its one-acre indoor garden contains more than 80 live palm trees and other foliage, and incorporates programmed “sparkling” lighting and whimsical leapfrogging fountains. The Crystal Gardens’ six-story glass atrium and 50-foot arched ceiling provide airy year-round views of the lake, the Chicago skyline, and the Pier’s Centennial Wheel.
Pier Park, located on the upper level overlooking the Pier’s main promenade, Dock Street, is an amusement area anchored by the new Centennial Wheel, a giant Ferris wheel dedicated to mark the Pier’s 100th birthday. Each car is temperature-controlled and offers views of the city skyline and the rest of the Pier, offering a unique perspective on the twice-weekly fireworks display over the lake. Within the environs of Pier Park, visitors will also find a classic carousel, a giant swing carousel, and remote-controlled boats.
Now embarking on its 30th anniversary season, the award-winning Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which got its start in the back of an English pub in Lincoln Park, stages more than 650 performances of Shakespeare and other theatrical works each year. Its two performance spaces – a 500-seat courtyard-style main theater and a smaller 200-seat adaptable venue, will soon be joined by a third stage, The Yard, which will feature mobile towers and seat from 150-850 patrons. CST partners with the Chicago Public Schools to promote literacy through the study of Shakespeare’s plays, and presents free Shakespeare in the Park performances each summer in neighborhood parks throughout the city.
WBEZ (91.5 FM) is the home of Chicago’s Public Radio station, the local affiliate of National Public Radio. The station, which has its ground-floor broadcast studios and administrative offices on Navy Pier, produces both local content and series for national distribution: This American Life, Sound Opinions, and Wait, Wait... Don’t Tell Me! (a co-production with NPR). Note that the station is not open for public visits or tours.
Dock Street is Navy Pier’s main boardwalk, running from east to west along the south side of the Pier. It’s the place for a stroll, day cruises, and other activities. From this promenade, visitors can access the indoor food court and interior of the Pier, outdoor restaurants – including a beer garden with live music – souvenir shops, the Wave Wall and integrated Wave Stair leading up to Pier Park with its Centennial Wheel and other rides, and the Crystal Gardens.
Festival Hall is Navy Pier’s main exhibition and expo hall, with more than 170,000 square feet of multi-use space that can be divided into two separate halls or combined into one for bigger events. Its 60-foot ceilings, eight-truck loading dock, and 36 adjacent meeting rooms make it suitable for large trade shows and conferences. Festival Hall has housed such events as the Chicago Flower and Garden Show; Expo Chicago, the international exposition of modern and contemporary art; and SOFA Chicago, the annual exposition of sculpture objects and functional art; among many others. Note that Festival Hall is open for entry only when large events are taking place.
The AON Grand Ballroom is an 18,000-square-foot performance and event space on the Pier’s extreme east end, part of Navy Pier’s original 1916 construction. Its 80-foot domed ceiling, panoramic views of Lake Michigan, and large capacity (1,100 dinner seating and balcony seating for 300) make it a regular choice for events from weddings to Chicago Police Academy graduations, and charity galas to the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration. Note that the ballroom interior is not open to the public on a daily basis.
This eight-ton anchor, located on the eastern end of the pier, was salvaged from the third of three U.S. Navy ships named for the City of Chicago. The first Chicago, in service from 1889 to 1928, was part of the Great White Fleet. The second Chicago, in service from 1931 to 1945, was sunk in Guadalcanal. The third Chicago, a heavy cruiser that saw WWII action, later served as a guided missile cruiser during the Vietnam War. A fourth Chicago, a nuclear-powered submarine, remains in service today. The anchor memorializes those ships and honors Chicagoans who served in the U.S. forces.