An annual summertime tradition, the Chicago Air and Water Show has been bringing daredevil thrills to the lakefront for over fifty years. The free, two-day event draws an audience of over two million each year, spread out on colorful beach blankets and lawn chairs along dazzling Lake Michigan.
Many camp out early, hoping to secure the best spots to catch the spectacular demonstrations by military and civilian aircrafts, boats, and diving and parachute teams. It's a thrilling, multisensory experience for all ages — soak up the sun, breathe in the crisp lake breezes and feel the rumble of the jet engines while watching the soaring action overhead.
Originating as part of a "Family Day Celebration" back in the summer of 1959, the Chicago Air and Water Show has grown to be the largest and oldest free admission air and water exhibition in the United States.
The 58th annual show, presented by Shell Oil Products U.S and the City of Chicago, will take to the skies and waterfront August 20-21, 2016 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. each day, with North Avenue Beach as the center point.
New and returning headlining acts for 2016 include:
Get the full list of performers at ChicagoAirandWaterShow.us. While the program is the same both days, a schedule of performers is not set as pilots decide the order and times the day of the event. You can however count on the headliners performing last. Herb Hunter — "The Voice" of the show and a former pilot in the show himself — takes to the announcer's stand with his informative and entertaining play-by-play so you're always in the loop.
WHERE TO WATCH
The prime viewing location for the Chicago Air and Water Show is at ground zero, North Avenue Beach from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street. In the middle of all the masses, Castaways Bar and Grill throws a lively viewing party on the roof deck of its iconic beachside boathouse (now sold out). Visit the pop up Sand Bar Beer Garden, the only area of the beachfront where alcohol is permitted during the event, to keep hydrated while enjoying the show. Reserve a cabana space at Caffe Oliva for breezy, unobstructed views from Ohio Street Beach or grab a spot on Oak at Oak Street Beach Food + Drink. Further north from the event but still close to all the action, other bustling waterfront spots at Belmont Harbor and Diversey Harbor provide more options down by the shore. As does the ever-popular Navy Pier and its Miller Lite Beer Garden that will be hosting live entertainment all weekend long.
Or consider getting on the water yourself with a special dining cruise aboard the Mystic Blue, Odyssey or Spirit of Chicago lines. Tour boats offer incredible views aboard their observation decks as well — try Wendella Boats, Shoreline Sightseeing Company, Seadog Ventures, Chicago's First Lady and Chicago Line Cruises.
For a bird's eye view, head up to 360 Chicago, formerly known as the John Hancock Observatory, where you'll be blown away by the 360 degree panoramas and the vastness of Lake Michigan below. Enjoy drinks from 1000 feet up in the Architect's Corner Café and Bar, or head below to The Signature Room at the 95th for their annual Chicago Air and Water Show viewing party. The Signature Room will feature a buffet of breakfast, lunch and dessert selections, an open bar and views of the show from the 95th floor of the John Hancock building.
Or enjoy a picnic in the sky with Skydeck Chicago. Lunch from The Goddess and Grocer will be served at Willis Tower VIP Style, 99 floors up from the second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. With the package, you'll receive Fast Pass entry, reserved seating and admission to The Ledge: the thrilling glass-floored balconies on the tower's 103rd floor! Advance reservations are required!
If you prefer an open air scene, carve out a spot along a rooftop terrace — from Chicago's newest additions J. Parker at Hotel Lincoln and WET Deck at W Chicago Lakeshore Hotel to any of the city's other alfresco hotspots.
No matter where you are in the city though, it's guaranteed you'll get goose bumps as the jets blast by.
For helpful tips to plan your visit to the Chicago Air and Water Show and a list of frequently asked questions, visit ChicagoAirAndWaterShow.us.
While you're here, check out our blog Chicago Like a Local for more insider recommendations on things to do and places to see in Chicago. Or browse our Events Calendar for all the latest happenings.