Chicago’s very own theme park in the city, Navy Pier is a favorite among young children — and the young at heart. Navy Pier is a beautifully designed Chicago attraction that houses dining, shopping, entertainment and more on a large wharf, built out in Lake Michigan from the Streeterville neighborhood. Both out-of-towners and Chicago natives flock to this veritable playland on the water where every diversion is at your fingertips, from carnival rides to music shows to museum exhibits. Children are huge fans of the musical carousel, Wave Swinger, miniature golf course, and giant Ferris Wheel, which can be seen for miles along the Chicago shoreline. Other fun pastimes at this Chicago hotspot are the live music performances and plays, hosted at several different stages on the Pier. There’s even an IMAX movie theater that brings new meaning to the term “Big Screen.”
Some come to Navy Pier just to get a bite to eat. There are a number of family-oriented restaurants, themed cafés and an assortment of food court stands for the best in delectable carnival fare. Daily sightseeing boats and nightly pleasure cruises use Navy Pier as their home base. These adventure excursions, romantic dinner tours and water taxis are a popular activity in the summer and usually require guests to purchase tickets in advance. Navy Pier is also known for their excellent fireworks displays, which happen every Wednesday and Saturday night from Memorial Day through Labor Day. And you can bet on any given holiday there’ll be an extra special show that puts the regularly scheduled fireworks to shame.
Sears Tower Skydeck
The Sears Tower is the most recognized building in Chicago. It stands over 1,700 feet tall (with antennae) and houses the highest observation room in the city. Over 1.3 million people visit the Skydeck every year to see the incredible view from this 1,300-foot lookout. On a clear day, sightlines will reach across the lake to Michigan and to surrounding states, such as Wisconsin and Indiana. The Skydeck is open 365 days a year and offers excellent daytime or nighttime panoramas of the city below.
Looking down from the lofty perch is both remarkable and strange. Suddenly the huge urban metropolis of Chicago doesn’t seem so big and even the skyscrapers are dwarfed by your bird’s eye spot in the city’s tallest building. The full-floor Skydeck is completely enclosed in glass so visitors get a 360-degree view of the world below. The elevator ride up to the observation level of the Sears Tower is several minutes long, giving guests a veiled yet palpable sense of just how high the Skydeck is. And here’s an interesting and somewhat unsettling fact: On average, the Sears Tower sways an entire six inches in any one direction from its true center! So when you’re up there, don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re moving.
The Brookfield Zoo is located 12 miles outside the city of Chicago in Brookfield, Illinois. The 126-acre zoo is the largest around and expertly combines authentic animal habitats, stunning garden landscapes and a village of hut-like gift shops and cafés. The exhibits at Brookfield offer guests a wide-ranging introduction to species from around the world. The Australia House supplies a good cross-section of animal life from Down Under with native lizards, large flightless birds and, of course, kangaroos. Animals from the African Savannah and the Amazonian Rain Forest have also been transported over seas to this Illinois attraction, and guests can also visit the tropics, the swamp or the deep woods while at Brookfield for glimpses of other wildlife beauties.
A lineup of cool zoo tours and presentations allows visitors to learn about the animals and get a special, behind-the-scenes look of zookeepers and how they care for their residents. Dolphin shows at the Seven Seas showcase the aquatic mammals’ intelligence and exquisiteness while the butterfly house is a step into a magical garden paradise where the winged variety reign supreme.
Garfield Park Conservatory
This 100-year-old Chicago conservatory has long been a favorite of the leisure seekers. It first opened in 1908, supplying Victorian families with a lovely weekend outing spot that continued to grow in size and recognition. Today Garfield Park Conservatory is a lush, exotic escape from city life and a window to the diverse landscapes of the world. Visitors are taken from arid deserts dotted with cacti to humid jungle settings where tropical vegetation crawls up the walls. The Conservatory is divided into several separate sections, providing a small glimpse of the vast variety of plants that cover the globe.
The main entrance leads to the Palm House, which is anchored by a very rare double coconut palm tree. The Aroid House takes it down a level to the typical houseplant variety, but keeps it impressive with a gorgeous lagoon-like Persian Pool and plenty of oversized leaves and blossoms. Dry, hot conditions are just right for nature’s green water-conservers, such as the spiky cactus and oddly-shaped succulents, which thrive in the Desert House. Flower shows are held each year in Horticulture Hall and the Children’s Garden has a fun “Alice in Wonderland” feel with giant faux vines, enormous roots and friendly artificial insects smiling down on the magical garden paradise. For those with a fondness for sweets, the Conservatory’s Sweet House is a must-see. It has a sampling of fruit-producing trees (pineapple, guava, banana, figs, etc.), plus some foodie favorites: chocolate, vanilla, sugar cane, cinnamon and even chewing gum!
Chicago’s Lakefront Trail stretches along the water for 20 miles, almost the entire length of the city. The well maintained sidewalk and paved bike path is used by hundreds every day and provides a scenic, vehicle-free route for getting around town. The trail runs between Hollywood Avenue in the Edgewater neighborhood to the South Shore Cultural Center at 71st Street, and is open to walkers, joggers, bikers, in-line skaters, dog-walkers and stroller-pushers – pretty much anyone NOT in a motorized vehicle. There are maps and mile-markers posted regularly and conveniences like water fountains, bike racks and benches are an added bonus much appreciated by the trail’s users. It passes several beaches, harbors and parks on both the north and south sides of Chicago and is utilized by everyone from the business woman heading to the office to the weekend exerciser getting in a workout.
During the summer the shoreline path can get kind of congested, especially on those beautiful sunny days when it seems criminal to stay inside. Around areas like North Avenue Beach, Navy Pier and the downtown Loop, the trail is often crowded with both transient traffic and people visiting destination spots. To keep things moving smoothly, the trail has lane markers that segregate coming and going travelers and some areas have widened pavement to accommodate the hordes of weekenders. No other urban lakefront trail in the country offers such a clean and pleasant, non-stop way to get around.
600 E. Grand Ave
Chicago's premier attraction
Sears Tower Skydeck
233 S. Wacker Dr. (enter at Jackson Blvd.)
Open daily: May-September 10 am-10 pm
Lincoln Park Zoo
2391 North Stockton Drive
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Located next to Lincoln Park Zoo
2391 North Stockton Drive
First Avenue and 31st Street
Admission: $7 plus parking
Grant Park, Congress Pkwy. and Columbus Drive
Operates spring through early fall.
Lake Shore Drive
Miles of paved trail for biking, walking, inline skating, etc.
300 N. McClurg Ct., at Chicago River
operates May 1-October 1; 10 am-12 midnight
875 N. Michigan Ave.
Open daily 9am-11pm
300 North Central Park Avenue
Admission and parking are free
Chicago's new open-air market
Parks and Recreational Sports
Chicago Park District
Programming is provided in five areas: Cultural Enrichment, Health & Physical Activities, Social Enhancement, Personal Development & Life Skills and Outdoor & Environmental Education. Includes all sports facilty locations.
Facilties are provided for:
Dog Friendly Areas
Other Sports Resources
Jackson Park is the official green of the Lakeside Lawn Bowling Club (630-969-0890), which has been sponsoring lessons and competitions for Lawn Bowling.
City of Chicago Biking
Chicago Park District Tennis Association