There’s nothing quite like summer in Chicago. All season long, you can play beach volleyball on the sandy shores of Lake Michigan, kayak through a skyscraper canyon, sip cocktails from rooftop bars with city views, hit up free outdoor music festivals featuring everything from blues to jazz to gospel — the list goes on and on. Here’s your guide to making the most out of summer in Chicago.
Hit the beach
Chicago is blessed with miles and miles of sandy lakefront beaches. Build a sandcastle empire at Foster Beach, cool off at trendy Shore Club Chicago (where you can reserve a sunbed, daybed, or a signature cabana) at North Avenue Beach, or simply enjoy the view (and catch a beach volleyball game) at Oak Street Beach. If you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker, you can rent a jet ski, kayak, paddleboard, or fly board at Chicago Water Sport Rentals at 31st Street Harbor.
Jam out, outside
The sound of music festivals fill Chicago in the summer. Find a welcoming patch of grass and enjoy the free concert season at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Or slather on the sunscreen and take part in one of the city’s massive summer music festivals, such as the all-star lineups at Lollapalooza and Pitchfork; annual multi-day freebies like the Chicago Blues Festival; and the latest country hits at Windy City Smokeout.
Catch a movie under the stars
On Tuesdays from June till August, the Millennium Park free summer film series is screened under the stars at the iconic Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Guests take a seat at the Pavilion or lounge on the Great Lawn with a picnic as both favorite and avant-garde movies are presented on a state-of-the-art, 40-foot LED screen.
Keep your cool
Splash around at the interactive Crown Fountain in Millennium Park. Or take the family on a water-skimming Seadog Speedboat Sightseeing tour. See the sights along Navy Pier, where you can duck inside the Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and numerous air-conditioned bars and restaurants.
Head to a rooftop
Chicago’s skyline is filled with rooftop patios, perfect for cocktails and bites on a sunny afternoon or warm summer’s evening. One local favorite is LondonHouse Chicago, which wows with the city’s only tri-level rooftop lounge overlooking the Chicago River. Set in a 1920s-era Art Deco skyscraper, Aire at the Hyatt Centric The Loop Chicago mixes urban rooftop lounging with handcrafted cocktails and open-air panoramic views, while the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel’s Raised Bar offers fire pits, seating for 160, and 14 local beers on tap.
Take a tour
Hop aboard a Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise aboard Chicago’s First Lady to soak up the sun while learning about the city’s historic buildings — just one of many tour boat options. Immerse yourself in neighborhood culinary treats by taking a walking Tastebud Food Tour of Old Town. Or see the city on two wheels via a bike or Segway tour with Bike and Roll Chicago or Bobby’s Bike Hike.
It’s virtually impossible to provide a shortlist of great outdoor dining spots in the city, but we’ll try. Just a few of our many favorites include City Winery and Island Party Hut along the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk; Piccolo Sogno’s hidden garden vibes, Caffé Oliva, a breezy Mediterranean-inspired gem on Ohio Street Beach; other riverfront gems like River Roast and swanky steakhouses Smith & Wollensky. Or just stroll through any neighborhood in Chicago, and you’ll have plenty of stellar alfresco spots to choose from.
Hear music at a museum
Throughout the summer, the Museum of Contemporary Art hosts Tuesdays on the Terrace, an evening of free music on the MCA’s scenic terrace. This annual summer performance series highlights artists from Chicago’s internationally renowned jazz community. Or head to the Museum Campus for Jazzin’ at the Shedd every Wednesday night. The evening features live tunes from a top Chicago jazz ensemble, sweeping views of the city skyline, and a fireworks display.
Fall in love with public art
Public art in Chicago is splashed on surfaces all around the city: it covers train stations, rises tall on downtown skyscrapers, and pops up on sidewalks, in office lobbies, and along the lakefront. Discover works of public art by masters such as Picasso and Chagall, or see international street artists make their mark on districts like the Wabash Arts Corridor. Take a public art tour, or create your own. Either way, get your camera ready and start instagramming!
Get your fest on
Summer weekends in Chicago are brimming with street fairs and festivals. Just about every neighborhood hosts one, and you’ll be guaranteed to find stand-out food and drink while you’re there. Some highlights: Ribfest in North Center, where you can sample dozens of different barbecued ribs; Taste of Chicago, which spotlights the city’s world-class restaurant scene; the Renegade Craft Fair, which takes over Division Street with wares from hundreds of artisans; and Pride Month events like Pride in the Park celebrating Chicago’s vibrant LGBTQ+ culture. Also, Chicago hosts a variety of craft beer festivals throughout the year, showcasing our dynamic brewing scene.
Explore a city park
The Chicago Park District oversees more than 600 parks, with open space in just about every corner of the city. Millennium Park’s free Lurie Garden is an urban oasis in the heart of the Loop. Also nearby, you can let the kids climb, skate, and play at the sprawling Maggie Daley Park. Head to our neighborhoods for even more green space — work up a sweat with a bike ride or jog along The 606, take in lakefront views at the 31st Street Beach, and meander down the boardwalk at Lincoln Park’s South Pond.
Save 50% on premium admission to Chicago’s top attractions with CityPASS tickets. Includes prepaid admission to 5 must-see attractions:
- Shedd Aquarium
- Skydeck Chicago
- Field Museum
- Adler Planetarium or Art Institute of Chicago
- Museum of Science and Industry or 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck
Valid for 9 consecutive days, Chicago CityPASS tickets cost $108 for adults (value $214) and $89 for children ages 3-11. Buy online at CityPASS.com or at any CityPASS attraction. Spend less, experience more.
Save up to 45% on admission to 28 of Chicago’s best attractions with Go Chicago Card. Choose the number of days you wish to use the pass from 1, 2, 3, or 5 calendar days in a row. Enjoy visiting top attractions like the Shedd Aquarium, Shoreline Architecture River Cruise, 360 Chicago and more. Passes must be used within a year of purchase and are activated once you visit your first attraction.