Half-mile-long Navy Pier is one of Chicago's most-visited attractions, sporting a 196ft Ferris wheel and other carnival rides ($9 to $18 each), an IMAX theater, a beer garden and lots of chain restaurants. A renovation added public plazas, performance spaces and free cultural programming. Locals still groan over its commercialization, but its lakefront view and cool breezes can't be beat. The fireworks displays on summer Wednesdays (9:30pm) and Saturdays (10:15pm) are a treat too.
The Chicago Children's Museum is also on the pier, as are several boat-cruise operators. In summer, try the Shoreline Water Taxi (www.shorelinesightseeing.com) for a fun ride to the Museum Campus (adult/child Monday through Thursday $8/4, Friday through Sunday $10/5). Polk Bros Park, at the pier's entrance, has a fountain you can splash in and performance lawns for free concerts and movies.