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Fun and Free Things to do in Chicago at Navy Pier

Looking for fun and free things to do in Chicago? There’s always something going on at Navy Pier! From cultural programming and seasonal celebrations to special events, festivals, fireworks and more, discover fun and free Chicago events at Navy Pier all year long.

See also: free events & public programs

Navy Pier, Chicago’s mission-driven cultural district, proudly offers free events and public programming year-round. See a full listing of Navy Pier’s ongoing free events and public programs

Upcoming Events

Daily Cruises
Year Round

Enjoy lake and river cruises departing from Navy Pier’s South Dock and Polk Bros. Park

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Please visit the following pages for daily cruises, special events, and fireworks cruises:

Seadog Cruises Shoreline Sightseeing Odyssey Spirit of Chicago Mystic Blue Tall Ship Windy

Chakaia Booker: Four Sculptures

Free Public Program

Friday, April 20, 2018 - Tuesday, April 23, 2019

View four sculptural works by artist Chakaia Booker, on display in locations throughout Navy Pier, now through April 2019.

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Since 1994 Chakaia Booker has made abstract sculptures from discarded rubber tires salvaged from city streets, auto body shops, and dump sites. Cutting, shredding, bending, and transforming them into wild organic shapes, she creates objects that evoke the human body and spirit, without being literal representations.  Today, she works almost exclusively with recycled tires—slicing, twisting, stripping, weaving, and riveting rubber and radials to create and exaggerate the textures, prickled edges, and torqued forms of her radical refashioning. Whether she is creating small-scale wall reliefs resembling ballistic blowouts, suggestively hairy and ovoid pedestal sculptures, or colossal landscape-like tableaux, Booker transforms tires—iconic symbols of urban waste and blight—into extraordinary compositions of renewal.

Booker received a B.A. in sociology from Rutgers University in 1976, and an M.F.A. from the City College of New York in 1993. She gained international acclaim at the 2000 Whitney Biennial with It’s So Hard to Be Green (2000), her 12.5 x 21 foot wall-hung tire sculpture. Booker received the Pollock-Krasner Grant in 2002 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005. She has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions nationally and internationally.

Six sculptures by Booker have been on view in Millennium Park since 2016; four of those works will come to Navy Pier this April (two sited on Illinois Street just outside the entrance of Navy Pier; one on the south dock at the entrance; and one in Pier Park).

Pass the Buck

2008; Rubber tires and stainless steel, 102 x 96 x 84 inches

Booker’s inspiration for this sculpture was Madam C. J. Walker–best known for developing a successful line of hair-care and beauty products for black women–and considered by many to be the first African American businesswoman and philanthropist. For the artist, this sculpture evokes the pursuit of success and giving back to society.

Take Out

2008

Take Out is a whimsical piece embellished with large, looping, swirling tendrils of tire. Evoking photographs and reflections through its frame- or mirror-like rectangular shape, Take Out invites viewers to explore and engage in the Chicago cityscape and alternately, views of the Centennial Wheel in Pier Park.

Shape Shifter

2012; Rubber tires and stainless steel, 192 x 102 x 78 inches

 

Gridlock

2008; Rubber tire and stainless steel, 2 pieces, 100 x 48 x 20 inches

Gridlock represents a symbol of human journey and life—shows an interplay of concave and convex spaces. The title references travel patterns in cities.

“My work challenges the notion that tires are uniformly black. I want to encourage people to examine assumptions about color, patterns, textures, and functions…. Also, our assumptions about most subject matter, including people, their diversity, and the diversity of ideas and perceptions.” – Chakaia Booker

Iván Navarro: This Land is Your Land

Free Public Program

Friday, July 27, 2018 - Monday, September 30, 2019

Artist Iván Navarro transforms three water towers into hauntingly beautiful sculptural objects, featuring infinitely reflective neon interiors.

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An image that has been a part of the upper realms of Chicago’s landscape comes “down to earth” to Polk Bros Park. Three hauntingly beautiful water towers are transformed as sculptural objects with neon interiors. Viewers are invited to stand beneath them and gaze above to experience. 

About This Land is Your Land

Originally debuted at New York’s Madison Square Park in 2014, the three sculptures – BED, Ladder and ME/WE – are composed of neon-lit interiors with infinite reflections of each structure’s respective design. One tower consists of a limitless repetition of the word, “BED;” another features the boundless image of a ladder; and the third displays the words, “ME” and “WE” in redundancy. An internal arrangement of mirrors enables each word or image to repeat perpetually through a seemingly endless vertical space. Measuring at approximately seven feet in diameter and erected on roughly eight-foot-tall supports, each tower allows guests the ability to stand underneath the sculpture and gaze above for a truly unique viewing experience.

Ladder (Water Tower)

2014, Neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

ME/WE (Water Tower)

2014, neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror and one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP, (PK 18175)

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

BED (Water Tower)

2014, Neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy, 189 x 105 1/8 x 105 1/8 inches, 480.1 x 267 x 267 cm, Edition of 3 + 1 AP

Photo by Elizabeth Bernstein Images courtesy of Iván Navarro and Paul Kasmin Gallery

About IVÁN NAVARRO

Born in Santiago, Chile 1972
Lives and works in Brooklyn, New York

Iván Navarro was born in 1972 in Santiago, Chile, where he grew up under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. He is known internationally for his socio-politically charged sculptures of neon, fluorescent and incandescent light. Navarro’s unique and captivating use of light transforms the exhibition space by means of visual interplay. Navarro represented Chile at the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Learn more at paulkasmingallery.com

Zoom Room
Friday, October 26, 2018 - Sunday, April 21, 2019
Chicago Children’s Museum

Exhibit now open in the Chicago Children’s Museum

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Zoom Room is a multilevel race course that lets kids send toy cars hurtling through the curves, loops, dips, and crash sites. Developed and designed by Chicago Children’s Museum, Zoom Room features hundreds of toy cars and more than 40 tracks of every length, height and angle, including two bi-level crash courses. It’s the ultimate toy car experience— for children and adults.

Click here for more information.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Wednesday, January 16, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production from Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural Navy Pier season.

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Celebrate twenty years of Shakespeare on Navy Pier in a wonderland where fairies fly, a donkey bursts into song, and love potions can change hearts. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production that inaugurated Chicago Shakespeare’s first season on Navy Pier. Over the course of a night, the stories of royalty, quarrelsome fairies, young lovers, and a troupe of aspirational players are woven into one enchanting tapestry backed by a vibrant score blending jazz, blues, rock, and 50’s doo wop. Shakespeare’s raucous humor and wondrous imagery makes it easy to see why this play has remained an audience favorite for more than four hundred years. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Friday, January 18, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production from Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural Navy Pier season.

Read More

Celebrate twenty years of Shakespeare on Navy Pier in a wonderland where fairies fly, a donkey bursts into song, and love potions can change hearts. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production that inaugurated Chicago Shakespeare’s first season on Navy Pier. Over the course of a night, the stories of royalty, quarrelsome fairies, young lovers, and a troupe of aspirational players are woven into one enchanting tapestry backed by a vibrant score blending jazz, blues, rock, and 50’s doo wop. Shakespeare’s raucous humor and wondrous imagery makes it easy to see why this play has remained an audience favorite for more than four hundred years. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Saturday, January 19, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production from Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural Navy Pier season.

Read More

Celebrate twenty years of Shakespeare on Navy Pier in a wonderland where fairies fly, a donkey bursts into song, and love potions can change hearts. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production that inaugurated Chicago Shakespeare’s first season on Navy Pier. Over the course of a night, the stories of royalty, quarrelsome fairies, young lovers, and a troupe of aspirational players are woven into one enchanting tapestry backed by a vibrant score blending jazz, blues, rock, and 50’s doo wop. Shakespeare’s raucous humor and wondrous imagery makes it easy to see why this play has remained an audience favorite for more than four hundred years. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

The Beach Chicago

Free Public Program

Saturday, January 19, 2019 - Sunday, February 3, 2019
Aon Grand Ballroom

Free public program! Escape the bitter cold Chicago weather this winter at this immersive art installation, featuring a ‘sea’ of more than a million plastic balls.

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Presented by Navy Pier and Expo Chicago
Supported by The Chicago Free For All Fund at The Chicago Community Trust, the Navy Pier Associate Board and Hilton Worldwide

Free and open to the public! Created by New York- based designers, Snarkitecture, The Beach Chicago is an immersive art installation, which consists of a large, open room filled with more than a million antimicrobial and recyclable plastic balls, along with deck chairs, lifeguard chairs, umbrellas and signage that mimic the sensation of a day at the beach.

Fittingly, The Beach Chicago also includes a pier hovering over the ‘sea’ of balls from which onlookers can watch and revel in the installation below.

Escape the bitter cold Chicago weather this winter with a day at The Beach Chicago, on display in Navy Pier’s historic Aon Grand Ballroom from January 19 through February 3, 2019.

Joining us for this event? Please read: Notice of Waiver & Release – The Beach Chicago. Note that guests are encouraged to bring extra socks, as wearing shoes in the ball pit is strongly discouraged.

Book a Private or Semi-Private Event at The Beach Chicago

The Beach Chicago is now booking private and semi-private event space at The Beach Chicago for birthday parties, corporate outings and more. Download an information sheet here.

To inquire about private and semi-private events at The Beach Chicago, please call Group Sales at 312-595-5300, or inquire online.

Plan Your Visit

Public Hours

Saturday, Jan. 19: 11am – 8pm
Sunday, Jan. 20: 11am – 5pm
Monday, Jan. 21: 11am – 6pm
Wednesday, Jan. 23: 3pm – 8pm
Thursday, Jan. 24: 3pm – 8pm
Friday, Jan. 25: 11am – 8pm
Saturday, Jan. 26: 11am – 8pm 
Sunday, Jan. 27: 11am –  5pm
Wednesday, Jan. 30: 3pm – 8pm
Thursday, Jan. 31: 3pm – 8pm
Friday, Feb. 1: 11am – 8pm
Saturday, Feb. 2: 11am – 8pm
Sunday, Feb. 3: 11am – 5pm

Please note: The Beach Chicago will be closed for private events on Tuesday, Jan. 22; Monday, Jan. 28;  and Tuesday, Jan. 29.

Where to stay

Stay at select Hilton hotels and show your keycard at Navy Pier’s Guest Services Desk at the Pier’s west entrance to receive complimentary fast pass access at the event.

Book Now

 

Pier-Wide Promotional Offers

Enhance your The Beach Chicago experience with special offers at participating Navy Pier restaurants, shops and attractions.

Must present proof of attendance in the form of collateral provided upon exiting The Beach Chicago in order to redeem offers at Navy Pier partner establishments listed below. Offers cannot be combined with other discounts, promotions or sales. Offers are only valid at Navy Pier locations and throughout the duration of The Beach Chicago (1/19/19 – 2/3/19).

*Coupon expires February 3, 2019. Valid at Navy Pier location only. Valid on Build-A-Bear Workshop® furry friends, clothing and accessories. Not valid on Pokémon® furry friends. Not valid on prior purchases, a Build-A-Party® celebration, Count Your Candles offer or Bear Bucks® cards. Coupons may not be combined and may not be bought, sold or exchanged for cash or coupons. May not be combined with any other offer. GST, HST, TVQ or PST, as applicable, are payable by bearer. Must present original coupon at time of purchase. Altering, copying, publishing or disseminating coupon by any means whatsoever, including electronic, is prohibited and invalidates coupon or 7-digit code. Valid for original coupon recipient only. Limit one coupon per person, per visit. Non-transferable. Offer good while supplies last. Void where prohibited or restricted

Chicago Shakespeare presents: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Sunday, January 20, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production from Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural Navy Pier season.

Read More

Celebrate twenty years of Shakespeare on Navy Pier in a wonderland where fairies fly, a donkey bursts into song, and love potions can change hearts. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production that inaugurated Chicago Shakespeare’s first season on Navy Pier. Over the course of a night, the stories of royalty, quarrelsome fairies, young lovers, and a troupe of aspirational players are woven into one enchanting tapestry backed by a vibrant score blending jazz, blues, rock, and 50’s doo wop. Shakespeare’s raucous humor and wondrous imagery makes it easy to see why this play has remained an audience favorite for more than four hundred years. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Us/Them
Tuesday, January 22, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

An exploration of the way children cope with disaster, told by two trapped inside the Beslan school siege.

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Beslan, Russia, September 2004: Chechen separatists storm a school, taking hundreds of children hostage in a deadly three-day siege. What unfolds onstage is not a recounting of the tragedy, but rather a stunning, intricately choreographed exploration of the unique way that young people cope with disaster, told through the clear eyes of a girl and a boy trapped inside. After winning the The Scotsman Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Us/Them went on to an acclaimed run at the National Theatre of Great Britain and on tour around the globe. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Us/Them is presented as part of a series of three pioneering works that represent the next wave of boundary-pushing International theater—fueling a dynamic engagement between artist and audience.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Us/Them
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

An exploration of the way children cope with disaster, told by two trapped inside the Beslan school siege.

Read More

Beslan, Russia, September 2004: Chechen separatists storm a school, taking hundreds of children hostage in a deadly three-day siege. What unfolds onstage is not a recounting of the tragedy, but rather a stunning, intricately choreographed exploration of the unique way that young people cope with disaster, told through the clear eyes of a girl and a boy trapped inside. After winning the The Scotsman Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Us/Them went on to an acclaimed run at the National Theatre of Great Britain and on tour around the globe. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Us/Them is presented as part of a series of three pioneering works that represent the next wave of boundary-pushing International theater—fueling a dynamic engagement between artist and audience.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: L’Après-Midi D’un Foehn
Wednesday, January 23, 2019 - Sunday, January 27, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Plastic figures take flight on invisible waves, creating an intoxicating visual ballet.

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Prepare to be blown away! Chicago Shakespeare partners with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival to co-present France’s Compagnie Non Nova, which takes an ordinary object—a flimsy plastic shopping bag—and transforms it into something magical. Anthropomorphized plastic figures take flight buffeted on invisible waves as a performer manipulates them with precise, complex choreography, creating an intoxicating visual ballet out of the everyday. Purchase tickets at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: Us/Them
Thursday, January 24, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

An exploration of the way children cope with disaster, told by two trapped inside the Beslan school siege.

Read More

Beslan, Russia, September 2004: Chechen separatists storm a school, taking hundreds of children hostage in a deadly three-day siege. What unfolds onstage is not a recounting of the tragedy, but rather a stunning, intricately choreographed exploration of the unique way that young people cope with disaster, told through the clear eyes of a girl and a boy trapped inside. After winning the The Scotsman Fringe First Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Us/Them went on to an acclaimed run at the National Theatre of Great Britain and on tour around the globe. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

Us/Them is presented as part of a series of three pioneering works that represent the next wave of boundary-pushing International theater—fueling a dynamic engagement between artist and audience.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: L’Après-Midi D’un Foehn
Thursday, January 24, 2019 - Monday, January 28, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Plastic figures take flight on invisible waves, creating an intoxicating visual ballet.

Read More

Prepare to be blown away! Chicago Shakespeare partners with the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival to co-present France’s Compagnie Non Nova, which takes an ordinary object—a flimsy plastic shopping bag—and transforms it into something magical. Anthropomorphized plastic figures take flight buffeted on invisible waves as a performer manipulates them with precise, complex choreography, creating an intoxicating visual ballet out of the everyday. Purchase tickets at chicagoshakes.com.

Chicago Shakespeare presents: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Friday, January 25, 2019
Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production from Chicago Shakespeare’s inaugural Navy Pier season.

Read More

Celebrate twenty years of Shakespeare on Navy Pier in a wonderland where fairies fly, a donkey bursts into song, and love potions can change hearts. Internationally acclaimed director Joe Dowling reimagines his lauded production that inaugurated Chicago Shakespeare’s first season on Navy Pier. Over the course of a night, the stories of royalty, quarrelsome fairies, young lovers, and a troupe of aspirational players are woven into one enchanting tapestry backed by a vibrant score blending jazz, blues, rock, and 50’s doo wop. Shakespeare’s raucous humor and wondrous imagery makes it easy to see why this play has remained an audience favorite for more than four hundred years. Tickets available at chicagoshakes.com.

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