Navy Pier is an excellent midway point to explore Chicago’s shoreline. To the north is an expanse of public beach leading to Lincoln Park, and to the south spectacular architecture, parks and museums. Both routes are paved and less than 6 miles round trip, so walk, run, or bike your way through Lake Michigan’s lakefront attractions.
Navy Pier has a long history with the city of Chicago. Established in 1916 as a center for shipping and recreation, it’s provided housing and training facilities to World War I and World War II soldiers, was the sight of the 1933 World’s Fair and was a University of Illinois undergraduate campus for twenty years.
Today it’s a 1.5 mile long family fun entertainment center. Museums, carnival rides, restaurants and boat tours offer a variety of activities for families, dates, and groups. The Chicago Children’s Museum, IMAX Theater and Crystal Gardens, a large indoor botanical garden, are located on the pier along with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows.
For outdoor fun, there’s Pier Park’s carousel, Ferris wheel, games and mini golf. Live bands perform during the summer months at the Bud Light Stage at the Navy Pier Beer Garden. Restaurants, food vendors, shops and boat tour kiosks line the pier as well. Navy Pier offers spectacular views of the city from ground or Ferris wheel level.
North of Navy Pier
Heading north from Navy Pier, Olive Park is a peaceful sculpture garden and promenade to watch beachgoers and boats on Lake Michigan. The park was named after Chicago native, Milton Lee Olive III, the first African-American Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War.
Connected to Olive Park is Ohio Street Beach, a small bay area that faces north instead of east. I met a local artist there playing with her little Cairn terrier, Wreakage, in the surf. While the dog chased the birds away, I asked what restaurants she recommended in Chicago. Since I was visiting, she mentioned a few trendy restaurants such as Tru, Avec, Purple Pig and Schwa, “but there are so many great places to eat, you really can’t go wrong.”
Oak Street Beach and North Street Beach stretch along the eastern shore next to Lincoln Park. Oak Street Beach is known for its deep water swimming, and the scallop shaped North Street Beach is host to the Chicago Air and Water Show. Chicago natives have the best of both worlds on the shores of Lake Michigan; the modern conveniences of the city on one side, and the beach on the other.
Lincoln Park is the largest public park in Chicago and incorporates recreational facilities, gardens, a zoo, conservatory, the Chicago History Museum, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, and an outdoor theatre. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States and is free every day.
South of Navy Pier
Crossing the Chicago River south of the Navy Pier, a paved bike/running trail takes you along the waterfront down to Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, the nation’s first in 1930, and Field Museum. Shedd Aquarium was the world’s largest indoor aquarium until 2005, and features an impressive collection of ocean and river creatures from around the world including white-sided dolphins and beluga whales in the 3-million gallon oceanarium. Field Museum of Natural History is home to “Sue”, the most complete T-Rex fossil, and other research discoveries. It’s well worth spending the day exploring these fantastic scientific establishments.
Turn back north towards the river through Grant Park and enjoy this green wonderland with its gardens, sculptures and peaceful lake and city views. During the summer months, Grant Park is home to several festivals and concerts. Buckingham Fountain in the heart of Grant Park was once the world’s largest fountain when it was built in 1927. Water displays and evening light shows take place May through October with the central water jet shooting up to 137 feet into the air.
The two bronze lions sculpted in 1894 by Edward Kerneys welcome you to the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute possesses a remarkable collection of postimpressionists such as Monet and Renoir, plus the American Collection, Asian Collection, the Photography Collection and a re-creation of the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room.
Millenium Park is adjacent to Grant Park and encompasses many Chicago highlights. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by Frank Gehry, and the Great Lawn hosts countless outdoor concerts. The Lurie Garden, the Crown Fountain with its glass towers and Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate Sculpture, affectionately known locally as the Bean, all offer fantastic photo opportunities.
During the summer, enjoy food and music at Park Grill, Chicago’s largest outdoor dining facility at the McCormick Tribune Plaza, and ice skate during the winter months when it converts to an outdoor ice rink. McDonald’s Cycle Center is located behind the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and offers bike rentals and lockers. The Wrigley Square and Millennium Monument is the gateway between serene gardens and the sleek city.
Now go out and explore the scenic beauty of Chicago!
For more great pictures of Chicago, go to Chicago Gallery.