Summer's weather is perfect for taking advantage of all the activities outside. Discover fabulous lakeside beaches, stroll the fragrant gardens, play in the parks and even take an outdoor tour to see the sights and sounds. Here's a guide to playing outside in Chicago.
PLAYING IN THE PARKS
If you're looking to reconnect with Mother Nature, plan a stop by a Chicago park — there are more than 580 to choose from. One of the most popular (and largest) is Millennium Park. Bask in warm summer rays as you take in the sights, like the contemporary art on the north and south sides of scenic space. Spread out a blanket on the Great Lawn and lounge with a good book. Or grab a sandwich and have a seat at the 100-foot-long Running Table by artist Dan Peterman.
If action-packed play is more your thing, splash in Millennium Park's Crown Fountain, a shallow reflecting pool bookended by 50-foot towers with faces of Chicago citizens projected on LED screens. Birds and butterflies flit among the prairie clover and foxglove in Lurie Garden, a living work of art in the park's southeast corner. Wander at your leisure or take a guided tour, but have your camera handy to capture the river of purple salvia blooms. Before your visit ends, take a mind-bending photo at the 110-ton Cloud Gate (the "Bean").
At the expansive Grant Park, known as Chicago's "front yard," Buckingham Fountain stars as the main attraction. The elaborately carved Georgia-marble fountain shoots a geyser spectacle 150 feet in the air every hour and illuminates each evening with a light and music show. You can also follow your nose to the fragrant Rose Garden, a nearby spot ideal for a romantic stroll among award-winning roses, trellises and sculpted hedges.
While both parks also boast a busy slate of summer concerts and festivals, Grant Park takes center stage with the world-renowned food festival (or should that be feastival?) Taste of Chicago (every July). Here, where quintessential city treats are served alongside international flavors cooked up in Chicago's melting pot of cultures.
Speaking of cultural influences, don't miss a hidden gem with a touch of Zen in Jackson Park. Osaka Garden is a Japanese garden tucked away on the park's Wooded Island. Pass through the Shinto gate to discover a picturesque moon bridge and traditional Japanese plantings.
While other cities cram buildings smack-dab up to their waterfronts, Chicago preserves the beauty of its beach playgrounds, leaving miles of sandy, sun-soaked fun. Steps off Michigan Avenue, Oak Street Beach beckons bathing beauties, families and athletic types with its deep-water swimming and many volleyball nets.
North Avenue Beach often wins "most popular." The vibe is busy and high-energy at this Lincoln Park hot spot. Grab a sandwich and beer from boat-shaped Castaways Bar & Grill, and don't miss scoping out the Beach House, which boasts great city views (and restrooms and outdoor showers).Toss a Frisbee with the kiddos at the family-friendly Montrose Beach near the Uptown neighborhood.
If you're the type who prefers a laid-back beach where you can catch some rays and perhaps a quick catnap, make your way to Ohio Street Beach. Near Navy Pier, the quiet beach offers food vendors, chair rentals and open-water lap swimming.
TAKE A TOUR
No doubt, a boat tour is a Chicago must-do. Grab a seat on deck and you'll quickly see why. Sail past soaring skyscrapers, glide beneath iron bridges and soak in the stories of your knowledgeable guide. Find boat tours.
Landlubbers, explore at your own pace with Chicago Trolley and Double Decker Co. Hop on and off their cherry-red vehicles, looping by downtown sights. Local comedians give the lowdown on Millennium Park, the Museum Campus, Skydeck and other iconic stops. There's even a break for Chicago's famed, sweet-and-salty Garrett Popcorn. Gray Line runs a similar trolley and double-decker service, plus a combo bus and boat tour for those who want the best of both.
When you want to roll like a local, a bike tour is the way to go. Thanks to the city's level terrain and more than 10,000 bike racks, pedaling the car-free, 18-mile Lakefront Trail or meandering through President Obama's Chicago stomping grounds is a breeze. Find a night ride, neighborhood tours, kid-friendly excursions or food lover tours. Find a bike tour.
How can you cover more ground than a walking tour without sacrificing the up-close-and-personal experience of a leisurely stroll? It's as simple as a Segway. On these self-balancing vehicles, you can whirl around Buckingham Fountain and buzz right up to the "Bean." Segway Experience goes the tall-building route, guided by Chicago Architecture Foundation docents. Steve's Segway Tours features the latest technologies. Absolutely Segway zips into shadowy alleys for haunted spins once darkness falls.
Discover more activities to experience while in Chicago.