10 Free Things to Do in Chicago 

August Edition

You don't need to reach for your wallet to get your fill of culture and fun in Chicago. Here are just 10 FREE festivals, exhibitions, concerts and events to enjoy around the city this month.

1. Hear Engines Roar at the Lakefront Air & Water Show

Odyssey Chicago Air & Water Show Cruises

On August 18-19, from 10am-3pm, thousands will flock to North Avenue Beach and the Lake Michigan lakefront to stake their claim on the perfect viewing spot for the annual Air & Water Show2018 headliners include the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights and the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs. From blankets and picnics on the beach, to prime tables at the Shore Club and Castaways Bar and Grill, you can get the inside scoop on where to watch the show right here.

2. Watch A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Park

Humboldt ParkHumboldt Park Boathouse

Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District and Boeing present the annual citywide summer tradition, Chicago Shakespeare in the Parks. Made possible by production sponsor BMO Harris Bank, 25 performances of Shakespeare’s timeless classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted and directed by the Theater’s founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines, will tour to 18 neighborhood parks across the city through August 26. August dates and locations include: Gage Park (2411 W 55th St) on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:30pm; Humboldt Park (1301 N Sacramento, close to the Boathouse) on Thursday, August 9 at 6:30pm and Friday August 10 at 6:30pm; Garfield Park (100 N. Central Park Ave) on Wednesday, August 15 at 6:30pm; and Ping Tom Memorial Park (1700 S Wentworth Ave, Chinatown) on Sunday, August 26 at 4:00 pm. Find the complete schedule here.

3. Spend an Entire Day at the MCA

SOAR Farmers Market

Tuesdays at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago are free for Illinois residents, which is already a reason to celebrate. But on Tuesday August 7, there’s even more to be happy about.

SOAR Farmers Market

SOAR Farmer’s Market runs 7 a.m.-2 p.m. at the foot of the MCA front steps (as it does every Tuesday through October 29), while from 5-5:30 pm you can join artist Federico Herrero as he chats with curator José Esparza Chong Cuy about his new mural (in progress) on the MCA’s 2ndfloor atrium. Round out the evening with live jazz at Tuesdays on the Terrace from 5:30–8pm (scheduled throughout the summer).

Tuesdays on the Terrace

On August 7, Memphis born multi-instrumentalist Mwata Bowden takes center stage. Bowden is acclaimed for establishing a jazz scene at the University of Chicago, where he is currently the Director of Jazz Ensembles. His 20-plus-year partnership with the Tatsu Aoki's Miyumi Project helped to create a combination of American jazz and Japanese Taiko, while his affiliation with Edward Wilkerson’s Eight Bold Souls has brought him the opportunity to perform at jazz and blues festivals around the world.

4. Explore 150 Years of the Lincoln Park Zoo

Baby rhino at Lincoln Park Zoo Chicago

From Swans to Science: 150 Years of Lincoln Park Zoo is the zoo’s signature anniversary exhibition illustrating the institution's past, present and future. Through September 3, the Zoo is celebrating its history with an Exhibition Pass presented by Wendella Tours & Cruises. Stop at the Information Center in Kovler Lion House to pick up your pass, then visit each of 10 exhibition stops not he Zoo grounds to encounter stories, images, videos and artifacts, and to glimpse animal care, conservation and science projects in the works (download the map to find the stops). Once the pass is completed, turn it in at the Information Center to receive a free souvenir and to be entered to win zoo prizes or free boat rides from Wendella Tours & Cruises.

Don’t forget that admission to Lincoln Park Zoo is free, so make time to meet the animals and wildlife while you’re there.

5. Head to Pilsen for House Music

Tim Spinnin’ Schommer, Kenny “Jammin” Jason, Julian Jumpin Perez and Gene Hunt are among the musicians and DJs headlining at My House Music Festival in Pilsen from August 10-11, 12-10pm. Great music is only part of the motivation behind the festival’s creation. My House Music’s mission “is to raise awareness and resources for local charitable organizations through House Music.” So you can feel good while feelin’ good!

6. See Jazz Legends at the 40th Annual Chicago Jazz Festival

Chicago Jazz Festival

Beginning August 30 (through September 2), Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center will host the oldest of Chicago's free lakefront music festivals, the Chicago Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 40th year, the festival boasts incredibly diverse live sets across its carefully curated four days, including a set from legendary Ramsey Lewis. 

Take a look at the line up here, and read more about the Chicago Jazz Festival on Chicago Like a Local. 

7. Spend an Evening Gazing at Saturn & Mars


You're in for a treat on August 24, when the Adler's Doane Observatory hosts Doane at Dusk, a chance for nighttime telescope viewing from 8:30-10:30pm. Adler Astronomers will be on hand, as you take a gander at Saturn and Mars. It's first come, first served, so arrive early. 

One more thing: Thanks to Free Museum Days, Illinois residents can visit the Adler Planetarium August 27-31 for absolutely free.

8. Relax With an Outdoor Classical Concert in Grant Park

Grant Park Music Festival

The Grant Park Music Festival is the only free, summer-long outdoor classical music series of its kind in the nation. Wrapping up on August 18, concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park this month include:

  • Tchaikovsky’s Romero and Juliet on Wednesday, August 1 at 6:30pm
  • Haydn and Debussy (at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 201 E. Randolph St) on Friday, August 3 at 6:30pm and Saturday, August 4 at 7:30pm
  • Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on Wednesday, August 8 at 6:30pm
  • Prokofiev and Vaughan Williams on Friday, August 10 at 6:30pm and Saturday, August 11 at 7:30pm
  • Ryan Opera Center: The Old Maid and the Thief on Wednesday, August 15 at 6:30pm
  • And Carmina Burana on Friday, August 17 at 6:30pm and Saturday August, 18 at 7:30pm

Also check out the Millennium Park Summer Music Series for free August concerts.

9. Take in a Little “Art Design Chicago” ​

Art Design ChicagoDorothea Tanning, Avatar, 1947. Private collection. (c) 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS). New York/ADAGP, Paris (A Home for Surrealism: Fantastic Painting in Mid-Century Chicago)

Art Design Chicago is a 2018/2019 initiative organized by the Terra Foundation for American Art, featuring more than 25 exhibitions and hundreds of public programs that highlight Chicago’s position at the convergence of dynamic art and design forces. 

Art Design ChicagoErrol Ortiz, Astronaut Targets, 1965 (detail). Corbett vs. Dempsey (Arte Diseño Xicágo)

Two exhibitions in August are entirely free to the public, and take place in two of Chicago’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Through August 17A Home for Surrealism: Fantastic Painting in Mid-Century Chicago, at The Arts Club of Chicago in River North (201 E Ontario Street, downtown), explores a select group of Chicago painters whose work in the 1940s and 1950s was instrumental in setting down Midwestern roots for the surrealism idiom. Arte Diseño Xicágo at Pilsen’s National Museum of Mexican Art (1852 W 19th St, West Side) through August 19 reveals the Mexican immigrant and visitor experience, as craftspeople and artists flocked to Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. The exhibition features photographs, artifacts and works of art dating from 1893 to the 1970s. 

10. Watch a Cult Movie Under the Stars

Millennium Park Summer Film Series

The Millennium Park Summer Film Series wraps up this month with three fan favorites: On Tuesday, August 7, the Series brings you School of Rock, in collaboration with the Chicago International Movies and Music Festivalon Tuesday, August 14, it’s the Chicago Latino Film Festival’s  pick, Coco; and closing out the 2018 season is the award-winning Slumdog Millionaire, programmed in collaboration with the venerable Chicago International Film Festival.

All screenings are at 6:30pm – and are absolutely free! All you have to do is bring a blanket and a picnic.


Featured Partners