Ask any Chicagoan (okay, maybe not this one – I can’t handle extreme heat) and they’ll tell you summer is by far the best season to be in Chicago. Something special happens over Memorial Weekend, as all those cold, dreary winter days suddenly become worth it when the sun shines down over the city, bars and restaurants open their patios and roof decks, the strains of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” echo through Wrigleyville, and neighborhood festivals take over the city streets every weekend. If you’re headed to Chicago in summer, you’ll find no shortage of things to see and do. Here are some of the best things to do in Chicago in summer.
Green City Market is held year round, but the winter indoor market just doesn’t compare with the one held outdoors in Lincoln Park from late May to October. Even if you aren’t in the market for some incredibly fresh produce or organic meats and eggs, you can wander and taste samples of farm-fresh cheese, artisanal breads, and handmade sweets, picnic with some fresh crepes, smoothies or burgers, or improve your cooking skills with presentations from local chefs. Additional farmer’s markets are held all over the city, many during the week downtown, so you can grab a fresh bite on the go for lunch.
The Lincoln Park Zoo
Truth be told, the Lincoln Park Zoo is actually at its best in the spring and fall, when the are fewer crowds and the animals have a bit more energy. But, the zoo, one of the largest free zoos in the country, is still pretty fun even when you can’t take take a step without running into a dozen kids or a double-wide stroller. Avoid weekends, visit early in the day or right before closing, or come on days when it’s a bit overcast to avoid some of the crowds.
There’s no better time to see the city in all its glory than during summer. Because of high demand, many sightseeing tours – like the Chicago Architecture Foundation River cruise – sell out regularly and are packed with people, but if you plan ahead and arrive early to get a good seat, you can still enjoy one of these tours during the busy summer season. You can also book a lesser known tour, like the Chicago Film Tour, or tour one of Chicago’s historic buildings like the Board of Trade.
Most Chicagoans refuse to visit Navy Pier during summer, but that’s because it’s crowded with tourists. If you’re a tourist and you want to see Navy Pier, do it, street cred be damned. There’s actually quite a bit to do at Navy Pier, and if you go prepared for crowds and ready to embrace the touristy , kitschy factor, you may have a great time. If you aren’t toting little ones, the best time to go is shortly before sundown, when you can take a ride on the Ferris Wheel and then enjoy a frosty beer at the Navy Pier Beer Garden.
In a way, Ravinia is to Chicago what the Hollywood Bowl is to LA. Every spring, locals wait impatiently for the day when tickets to Ravinia’s shows go on sale. Some shows – big names like Counting Crows and Carrie Underwood – sell out quickly, but for others like symphony orchestras and folk bands, you can get tickets often at the last minutes. What makes Ravinia so special is that it’s more than just a performance space. Concert-goers can purchase tickets to sit in regular seats, or they can picnic on the lawn. Many picnickers set up elaborate spreads including wine (you are allowed to bring your own).
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The Cubs started their season at Wrigley Field back in April, but with hit and miss weather, many people prefer to wait until June to go to a Cubs game. It’s a bit harder to get tickets, and it only becomes harder if the Cubs actually make it past the regular season, but if you can’t get a ticket to Wrigley, you can watch the game from bleachers located on the tops of houses surrounding the field. The tickets are much more expensive, but they do include unlimited food and drink.
Get on the Water
On extremely hot summer days, it seems the only respite from the heat is to get on the water and feel the cool breezes coming from the Chicago River or Lake Michigan. And there are multiple options for seeing the city this way. You can take an educational and entertaining River Cruise with the Chicago Architecture Foundation, dine and dance on a Lake Michigan dinner or lunch cruise, or simply zip from the Michigan Avenue bridge or Navy Pier to Chinatown on the cheap water taxi.
It seems like every weekend in summer there is another neighborhood festival going on. Characterized by live music, local and national art, fashion, and crafts vendors, multiple food and drink choices, and a diverse group of attendees, each fest is generally united by a theme. Some fests celebrate different cultures, others showcase a certain neighborhood, but no matter which one you attend, you’ll find everyone from boomers to college kids to families with little kids in tow.
Chicagoans know how to take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy the summer while it lasts, and that includes soaking up the sun while dining and drinking outside. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, nearly every restaurant opens up an outdoor patio or rooftop deck for dining and drinking. Some are casual, some are swanky, some front crowded streets, and others rise above the city, but they all give us a little more reason to love summer in Chicago.
Picnicking on the beach and the city’s many parks is also quite popular.
Beaches and Parks
Beaches generally don’t top the list of things people think about when they think of Chicago, but the city does sit on the shores of Lake Michigan and along with that waterfront property come some fabulous beaches. Each one has it’s own personality and some offer more amenities that others, but out of the 15 swimming beaches located on the city’s 26 miles of shoreline, chances are you can find one to your liking. The city is also home to hundreds of community parks, including the largest, Grant Park. Take a stroll through, splash in the fountains, attend one of the summer festivals held here, or partake in one of the many free events the park hosts nearly nightly in the summer – including dance parties, movie showings and music performances.