Play with Iconic Chicago Landmarks at Chicago Children’s Museum’s Water City

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The Moen Presents Water City Exhibit at the Chicago Children’s Museum is probably one of the best children’s museum exhibits my son and I have visited. As a long-time nerd, now mom who literally looks for the lesson in everything, this exhibit did not disappoint! This uniquely crafted exhibit encompasses everything from Chicago history to STEM to geography, and if you’re willing to take the dive, even math concepts and lessons intertwined throughout.

This exhibit serves as a montage of Chicago’s storied waterfront and it has been miniaturized for littles of most ages to engage, enjoy, and understand. Read along and imagine the museum with me as I take you on a review of our trip to Navy Pier’s Children’s Museum.

Features of Water City at Chicago Children’s Museum

Child playing with water toys at the Chicago Children's Museum.

New Water City is on the third floor, to the left of the elevator and stairs. Before you go in, an attendant will help your little one find the right size raincoat. The colors correspond with sizes, so while your child’s favorite color may be blue (as my son found out) that was not the size he needed.

When you enter the exhibit, you are greeted by the front of the 50-foot tower, which houses a lock and dam system and a sliver of the Mag Mile. Needless to say, that is also the most popular play area of the exhibit for older and younger children alike. There are three water squirters the children get to aim at the skyscrapers.

Children aim water squirters at a whimsical recreation of the Chicago skyline.

To the right of the tower is a small lighthouse, a replica of Buckingham Fountain, and a bridge. There are various toys to choose from such as small tugboats, rubber ducks, cups, blocks, and funnels. While this area is better suited for the smallest of visitors, my 5-year-old had no problem jumping right in and raising the bridge to allow his tugboat to pass. If you go to the right of the fountain, there is a rather cool replica of the skyline. The replica is rather engaging, with several tubes and funnels that fuel your little one’s curiosity. I noticed lots of children collaborating in their efforts to get water from the table to the top of the skyscraper. 

Following the water table around, you come to the back of the tower, with gears reminiscent of The River North Towers. This particular section is sort of a slow zone, allowing time for children to catch their breath before sojourning to the replica of Navy Pier the Ferris Wheel and the lighthouse. The steam emanating from the lighthouse was the perfect segue to review the properties of water with my son and talk through the purpose of lighthouses. 

Child spinning a model of the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier at the Chicago Children's Museum's Water City exhibit.


Although the website states there are areas for eating and drinking, an attendant told us when we entered that no food or drink is allowed in the museum. You are, however, given a green wristband that allows re-entry. 

Families can bring a lunch and enjoy it on the pier or in the food court area. If this is not your style, there are several restaurants to choose from, including but McDonald’s, Big Bowl Express, Giordano’s, Billy Goat’s Tavern, Beat China Cantina, Potbelly’s, and Frankie’s By The Slice. 

Coat Closet and Locker Options

On the museum’s first floor, to the left of the check-in counter, there is an unattended coat closet and paid lockers ($3/medium locker and $5/large locker). You also have the option of parking at Navy Pier and leaving your layers in the car and walking indoors from your vehicle to the museum. Both options significantly free your hands, which is certainly necessary. The exhibit is on the third floor, so it does take a bit of planning if you want to visit New Water City first. The elevators may be your best bet as you will bypass the other exhibits. 


There are bathrooms, family bathrooms, and nursery rooms located on every floor. All bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. Both regular bathrooms and family bathrooms have changing tables, and there is a separate nursing room.


  • Monday and Thursday, 10:00am – 2:00pm
  • Friday – Saturday, 10:00am – 5:00 pm

Check their website for holiday hours and seasonal schedule changes.


  • General Admission: $19 for anyone over 1 year old. Adults are given a wristband that allows reentry for the entire day. Advanced tickets are strongly recommended but not required. Buy tickets online. 
  • Kids Museum Passport, Go City pass: No advance reservation required; show pass upon arrival.
  • Veterans and Active Military: Free admission for up to 4 people daily with the presentation of valid military status identification. No advance reservation is required.
  • Museums For All: Families in possession of an EBT card or WIC are admitted for $3. Chicago Public School-based EBT cards are not eligible. 
  • ACM Reciprocal Network: Receive 50% discount for up to 6 admissions at the admission desk with proof of membership.

Updated March 2023 and subject to change.

Recommended Ages

The Children’s Museum is good for all ages, 0-12 as there is something to do for every age range. The New Water City Exhibit is good for anyone 2 and over, but I personally believe the sweet spot is 3-10 years of age. Children in this age range are able to move about as necessary, they collaborate well, and, most importantly, they understand the concept of waiting “their turn” in terms of shooting at the tower. 

Best Days/Times To Go

The museum is less crowded on Mondays, Thursdays, and Friday mornings. If you’re planning to visit the museum over the weekend, be sure to check Navy Pier’s calendar for other events hosted. This will help you decide if you want to navigate large crowds.


While there are therapeutic play guides for each of the exhibits, there are no quiet areas in the Children’s Museum. The museum is wheelchair accessible, and they also have a few wheelchairs on the premise for public access.


The Children’s Museum hosts Family Days on the last Thursday of each month from January through May, with two additional days added on the last Thursday in both September and October.

Should I Pack Extra Clothes?

Pack extra clothes or allow your littles to wear clothes you don’t mind getting wet under their clothes for an easy switch out. Short sleeve shirts for the win! I dressed my son for the weather, not for the exhibit and his long-sleeved shirt was soaked, our saving grace was I packed extra clothes. Also, flip-flops, rain boots, and sandals work best. Remember this exhibit is on the third floor so plan your trip accordingly.

Kids Climb High — Like, REALLY High — at Cloud Buster at the Chicago Children’s Museum

I inched forward, trying not to look down at floor far, far below. Finally, I reached my destination: a tiny apartment, complete with a green lawn and Chicago city posters, perched at the top of the world. I leaned against the wall and surveyed the view through the metal mesh. The glass-enclosed botanical garden below made me feel like I was really in the treetops.

I called to my 4-year-old, who’d scampered right up the twists and turns much faster than me. He waved and grinned. He was already halfway back down, and having a marvelous time.

photo compliments of Chicago Children’s Museum

Cloud Buster at the Chicago Children’s Museum

The Chicago Children’s Museum invited us to attend the grand opening of Cloud Buster, a permanent exhibit that opened to the public in November 2019. I checked it out and am happy to report that it’s really cool.

photo compliments of Chicago Children’s Museum

While my 4-year-old and I waited for our turn, I chatted with Katie Slivovsky, the museum’s exhibit development director. She told us that Cloud Buster is meant to tap into the same joy kids feel when they climb trees. They’re able to choose their own paths, take risks, and challenge themselves at their own pace.

When we got in and my son donned his required orange helmet, I definitely saw what she meant. There’s no one path through Cloud Buster. Kids can explore where they want, going up to the very tip-top or winding through the middle. They can scramble from platform to platform or take a winding ramp up.

While the structure itself it 37 feet high, the Chicago Children’s Museum itself is not on the ground level. The tunnels let kids peer out over the expanse of the Navy Pier hall below.

Best of all, all the exits lead to the same place! That means you can wait on the ground and be sure to catch your kid coming out.

Best Ages for Cloud Buster

photo compliments of Chicago Children’s Museum

While even adventurous toddlers can climb up with a parent behind them on a calm day, preschoolers through grade schoolers will enjoy tackling it independently. While I did climb up after my 4-year-old, I took my time and came down long before he did. He was just fine without me!

You’ll definitely want to take busyness into account. If it’s a calm school day, preschoolers should be more than fine tackling the Cloud Buster solo . . . but if it’s a busy weekend afternoon, it may feel more crowded with the big kids. While the metal netting makes it easier to spot climbing kiddos, you probably won’t be able to see them at every moment.

Speaking of big kids: Cloud Buster is great for tweens! Most 12-year-olds would be more than happy to check out the cool, climbable structure. (It’s pretty fun for grown-ups, too, come to think of it).

Parking and How to Get to Navy Pier

We paid $35 to park in one of the Navy Pier garages, which is by far the most convenient option. It’s a very short walk from the garages to all of the fun on the pier. Find more parking info here. Finding alternative parking is tricky in this part of town; you’ll probably end up walking quite a bit.

Another option: Take the train downtown! The 124 Navy Pier bus route picks up at both Union and Ogilve stations. (As of publishing, bus fare is $2.50 per person and requires exact change if you don’t have a Ventra pass.)

If the weather is nice, there’s also the water taxi from Union Station to Navy Pier, which runs May through September and adds to the fun with a boat trip. The free Navy Pier trolley also runs seasonally.

Is Cloud Buster Accessible?

While there are some spots to play on the ground floor, the structure itself is not navigable by wheelchair.

There are several nooks and spots where kids can take a breather inside of the exhibit. However, it can get pretty noisy.

What to Do and Where to Eat at Navy Pier

Navy Pier is full of activities, restaurants, and adventures beyond the Chicago Children’s Museum . . . although honestly, the museum itself is so big that you can spend all day there playing! My kids loved it.

There’s a ton to do at Navy Pier, including the Ferris wheel, Crystal Gardens, IMAX movies, and more. In fact, I’d recommend making a plan ahead of time so that your kids are clear on what you are (and aren’t) doing.

Navy Pier’s restaurants are definitely the most convenient dining option. There’s a lot to choose from, including sit-down Chicago classics like Giordano’s and the Billy Goat Tavern. The food court has a ton of fun options at a wide range of prices.

If you’d like to learn about past exhibits at the Chicago Children’s Museum, keep reading.

For more fun and the latest on new exhibits, check out all of the local Chicagoland children’s museums.

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