Feb 18, 2024 - Things to Do

5 reasons to visit Navy Pier right now

Art on wall

Paintings in the Perspectives exhibition at Navy Pier including Akindele John's "My Heroes" (far right) and "Writers on the Roof" by Joyce Owens at the far left. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Navy Pier has some new — and tasty — offerings that are worth the trip.

The big picture: Like a lot of Chicagoans, I'd long seen Navy Pier as mostly an expensive tourist trap.

Yes, but: I recently revisited it with fresh eyes and a fresh palate. Here are some reasons I fell in love with it again.

Incredible free art: Since last October the Pier has featured a breathtaking show of African American visual art called "Perspective: An Exhibition of Fine Art Work Presented By Diasporal Rhythms." It runs through February.

  • The exhibition presents more than 55 important, beautiful and thought-provoking works by some of the world's top Black visual artists, including Paul Branton, George Crump, Susan Clinard and Woodrow Nash.
paintings on wall
Paintings in the Perspectives show at Navy Pier including "Guilty" (far left) by Thomas Williams. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Of note: The show is tucked way back in the lower level of the Pier's Festival Hall, between garage doors 10 and 12. Don't miss it!

The city's best Italian beef: On a tip from former Tribune reporter Nick Kindelsperger, I stopped by Ciccio, a food stand near Chicago Shakespeare (currently presenting "Richard III" and "Illinoise"), and found Italian beef nirvana for $11.95.

  • Compared with regular beefs, this meat is thicker and steakier, with rich gravy, unconventional but delicious roasted potatoes, and crusty bread made in Canada but proofed and finished here daily.
 beef sandwich
An unconventional but delicious Italian beef sandwich from Ciccio. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Really good quesabirria tacos: I was skeptical about tacos here, but was blown away by the cheesy, beefy quesabirria tacos ($22 but enough food for two) from Beat Kitchen Cantina.

  • They come with a nice big portion of rich consommé and fiery tomatillo salsa.
quesabirria
Quesabirria from Beat Kitchen Cantina. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Kale and Brussels sprouts salad: If you're looking for a healthier option after all that beef, Chef Art Smith's Reunion delivers this tasty green salad ($18) with pecans, parmesan and maple tahini vinaigrette as well as, of course, the option to pair it with some of his famous fried chicken ($5)

salad
Kale and Brussels sprouts salad at Reunion. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

Interactive dancing: Few visitors know that the blue screens at the end of the main entrance hall will mirror your actions with artistic drawings if you dance in front of them.

  • I could goof around here all day. But when pesky kids see my cool moves (my kids included), they often nudge me out of the way.
GIF of a woman dancing
Video of Monica dancing courtesy of Melody Mercado
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