A Local’s Guide to Navy Pier

Most Chicagoans wouldn’t touch Navy Pier with a ten foot pole, but we’re here to convince you otherwise. First opened to the public in 1916, Navy Pier was the first of its kind to combine a shipping dock with entertainment and recreational options. Now an average of 10 million people per year visit this popular destination, which officially deems it as a ‘tourist trap’ in the eyes of locals. We’re convinced that there’s a silver lining when it comes to visiting the pier, so we’ve teamed up with the Public Relations Specialist, Payal Patel, to help create this locals’ guide.

Dining, Entertainment, and More at Navy Pier

Q: Navy Pier has always been a popular tourist destination. Have you seen any changes in the past few years that seem to be attracting more locals?

A: Yes – Navy Pier’s recent redevelopment plans were created with the local community in mind. While we continue to welcome tourists, we wanted to also make a more concerted effort to draw Chicagoans – after all, it is their Pier. We want Chicagoans to resonate with Navy Pier and view it as a place they can come to for entertainment, dining, or simply to appreciate the views the Pier offers.

With that in mind, we renovated our South Dock to offer a more open, spacious pedestrian walkway. This is the perfect place for locals to come out for a run or a stroll and take in unobstructed views of the lake and city. We also renovated our dining area in the South Arcade! The space is more contemporary and aesthetically inviting, and the dining establishments are much more reflective of Chicago cuisine.

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Many of restaurants are locally-based businesses that offer authentic Chicago dining experiences. Some of our newest additions include Giordano’s, DMK Burger & Fish Bar, Porkchop BBQ, Tiny Tavern, Lalo’s, Rainbow Cone and Lettuce Entertain You’s Frankie’s by the Slice, Big Bowl Chinese Express and Big City Chicken. We have also begun work on the new Polk Bros Park, the gateway entrance to Navy Pier. The Park features an interactive water fountain, a beautiful plaza, and lots of green space for locals to enjoy.

To come, we are working with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre to build a unique third performance venue in the space formerly known as the Skyline Stage (under the white tent in Pier Park). The Theatre is planning to put on some very exciting and innovative performances in that space once it is complete next year. The IMAX Theatre is also undergoing renovations – It will be expanded and offer an upgraded movie-going experience. But perhaps most notably, we are set to develop a hotel on the East End that will provide unparalleled views (for those interested in a staycation) and will include a rooftop bar and entertainment district for a unique nightlife experience at the Pier. And finally, we are planning to redevelop the East End Plaza into a beautiful and serene promenade for our guests to relax and enjoy.

Q: What are you favorite places to eat on Navy Pier that may be considered “underrated?”

A: Personally, I love Chango Loco – our seasonal Mexican restaurant that offers the unique setting of the Crystal Gardens for indoor seating. The outdoor terrace area in Pier Park overlooks the South Dock and offers views of the lake and city. It’s a great place to grab a bite or drinks in the summertime. People may also forget or simply be unaware that Billy Goat’s Tavern offers great breakfast options! With that said, Navy Pier dining overall could be considered “underrated” to Chicagoans as locals often tend to overlook – or again, just may not be aware – that we offer all of these wonderful dining options for any time of the day!

Q: When is the best time to go to avoid huge crowds?

A: Usually, weekdays are light in terms of foot traffic – especially outside of the summer as kids are in school.

Q: Any insider tips?

A: I mentioned a lot of the physical transformation that has been in the works, but I think what locals might appreciate is the programmatic transformation of Navy Pier. We are excited to activate and utilize the new spaces by offering free arts and cultural events, live performances, educational programs, interactive demonstrations, unique festivals, fitness classes (Zumba, stroller derby – for those with little ones, yoga, etc.) and so much more! Chicago residents can now come to the Pier and participate in these activities for free!

There you have it! Next time someone casually mentions “Navy Pier,” there’s no need to shudder. Grab a few friends and head on down to enjoy some of Chicago’s best food and views.