Make Memories at Navy Pier: 2024’s Must-See Summer Events for Families

Nine million people visit Navy Pier each year. See what all the fuss is about and get our tips for exploring the attraction with your kids.

In 1909, the prolific Chicago architect Daniel Burnham created his Plan of Chicago. The plan proposed using the city’s gorgeous lakefront land as public green spaces and recreation areas. Burnham was adamant that the most beautiful parts of our city not be lost to shipping and commerce.

Municipal Pier No. 2 — which would eventually become Navy Pier — opened in 1916. Nearly 115 years later, even Burnham would be shocked at Navy Pier’s insane transformation. Every year, around nine million people visit Navy Pier, making it the most visited tourist destination in both Illinois and the entire Midwest.

Photo courtesy of Navy Pier

The free lakefront attraction boasts a massive Ferris wheel, theme park rides and immersive gaming experiences. It is home to cultural institutions like museums, theaters and ballrooms. Its green outdoor spaces serve as gathering places for visitors to enjoy the scenic views and free programming, and an assortment of shops, attractions, restaurants and eateries line the pier.

Venturing to this massive attraction with kids in tow may seem daunting. Where do you park downtown? Which attractions are worth the extra admission fee, and which are tourist traps? How can you experience Lake Michigan and Navy Pier without breaking the bank?

We’ll answer all those questions (and more!) in our handy family guide to Navy Pier. Read our tips on what to do, see and eat at the pier, and get some suggestions for other things to do with the kids nearby. Happy sightseeing!

This article was updated on May 17, 2024 by Chicago Parent’s Audience Development Coordinator, Kari Zaffarano. Her work included her finding and adding Navy Pier’s events to this post and to ChicagoParent.com‘s calendar, aligning with Chicago Parent’s mission to provide the top parenting resources for local families. Questions? Please reach out to kari@chicagoparent.com.

Quick details about Navy Pier

  • Cost:  Attractions within Navy Pier may have admission fees.
  • Navy Pier Passport: Offers discounts on parking, free fast pass tickets for the Centennial Wheel and other discounts.
  • Getting there: CTA buses 29 and 124 connect Navy Pier to Metra train stations. The 2, 65 and 66 buses also serve Navy Pier.
  • Parking: There are two on-site parking garages that range from $18-$55, depending on the length of your stay. Valet parking and other downtown parking lots are also available.
  • Taking a rideshare? Be sure to use the designated rideshare pick-up and drop-off areas located at the main entrance.

What to do at Navy Pier 

Photo credit: Navy Pier

  • Stop by Pier Park and take a spin on the iconic Centennial Wheel, a nearly 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel that is air-conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. Other rides include Tea Cups, Wave Swinger and a carousel. 
  • Play at the Chicago Children’s Museum, including their Circusville exhibit. With three floors of exhibits and hands-on attractions, including a water playground, an art and DIY studio, a toy car raceway and so much more, your kiddos will never want to leave!
  • Check out Flyover Chicago, an immersive, 4D flying experience that showcases Chicago from perspectives never seen before.
  • Dine at classic Chicago eateries like Billy Goat Tavern, Giordano’s, Garrett Popcorn Shops, Rainbow Cone, Harry Caray’s Tavern and more.
  • Hang out at Polk Bros Park, a 13-acre green space with a massive water fixture that hosts free live music and family programming. 
  • Catch a show at Chicago Shakespeare Theater or the Aon Grand Ballroom, an elegant 1916 ballroom with an 80-foot domed ceiling and panoramic lakefront views. 
  • Shop Windy City souvenir stores and sample sweet treats at IT’SUGAR, the largest specialty candy retailer in the world. 
  • Make a new fuzzy friend at Build-A-Bear Workshop, located just steps away from the museum.
  • Watch fireworks light up the sky on Wednesday and Saturday nights through Labor Day. 

Upcoming Navy Pier Events for Families

Photo credit: Nick Ulivieri

Swing Into Summer (May 18)

Enjoy a day-long celebration with a bunch of swinging-sports including baseball, pickleball, wiffle ball, softball and golf. Coaches and trainers will be there to offer instruction. There will also be mini-golf competitions at the new Pier Park Mini Golf Course. 

Summer Fireworks (May 25-Aug. 31)

The whole family can come out to Navy Pier to get immersed in the stunning visuals accompanied by a mix of dramatic and popular music.

Wave Wall Wax (May 25-Aug. 31)

Wave Wall Wax brings Chicago’s incredible DJ culture to the lakefront every Saturday. Be prepared to dance to the sounds of house and dance music.

Skyline Sessions (May 30-Aug. 30)

Guests can enjoy live music every Thursday and Friday evenings at the Wave Wall Stage.

Pier Fitness: Rush Hour Workouts and Sunset Yoga (June 4-Aug. 27)

Take part in the Rush Hour Workouts and Sunset Yoga at Navy Pier. Rush Hour Workouts will take place from 6-7 p.m. and Sunset Yoga is from 7:30-8:30 p.m.

Pier Dance (June 5-26)

Take part in free dance lessons at Navy Pier. Every week, a different style of dance is taught by top-notch instructors.

Chi-Soul Fest (June 15-16)

This two-day music festival celebrates Chicago Soul Music at Lake Stage in Polk Bros Park, Navy Pier Beer Garden and Wave Wall Stage.

Summer Block Party (June 26; July 31)

Throw it back to the 90s with a block party, which features DJs, live bands and 90s music in the Beer Garden. Other family-friendly activities include interactive spray paint murals, arts and crafts video games, corn hole, hopscotch and more. There will also be a free firework show at the end of the night.

Navy Pier Pride (June 29)

Families with kids of all ages can enjoy this family-friendly event that spreads pier-wide. There will be a variety of performances all day long. Experience music, dance, storytelling and other activities.

Tips for families when visiting Navy Pier 

Photo Credit: Josh Ohms Photography

  • Navy Pier boasts an enormous amount of attractions packed into a fairly compact space. Use this map to help you navigate the multi-level, indoor and outdoor areas.
  • Rental lockers are available in the Family Pavilion and range from $7-$15, depending on the size of the locker. 
  • A Youth Escort Policy is in effect after 5 p.m. on Friday-Sunday. Guests under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all times.
  • All levels of Navy Pier are accessible by elevators, and wheelchair rentals are available at the Guest Services Desk. 
  • Lose something during your visit? Visit Navy Pier’s digitized lost and found where you can search through their found items and submit a claim for your found belongings. 

Other things to do nearby

Photo credit: Choose Chicago/Alice Achterhof

  • Enjoy a scenic walk along the Chicago Lakefront Trail, offering gorgeous views of Lake Michigan, its beaches and the city skyline, without the fuss and the crowds of Navy Pier.
  • Explore Lake Michigan with Shoreline Water Taxis, a sightseeing company that offers tours of Chicago’s famous landmarks while making it easy and exciting to get around town. Navy Pier partners with many boat tour companies, making it easy to arrange a cruise during your visit. 
  • Play tourist and introduce your kiddos to some of the city’s iconic landmarks, like the Willis Tower (we still call it the Sears) or the Bean in Millennium Park.
  • Explore the Museum of Contemporary Art, a nearby cultural institution that also calls the Streeterville neighborhood its home.

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Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts
Nikki Roberts is the assistant editor on the Chicago Parent team. She is always on the lookout for the coolest and trendiest new attractions, restaurants and events for Chicagoland families. Her newsletters, online family guides and exciting digital content keep families informed on all the latest happenings around town.

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