To some, summer means the sights, smells and sounds of childhood summers at the lake house or in the city. For others, it’s time to kick back and relax and take in all of the things that you’ve wanted to do all winter. The best part about Chicago, is that if offers land and water activities in all areas of town, not just downtown. Here are our top summertime hot spots to hit while visiting Chicago. Some are hidden gems where only locals go, others are tourist destinations but good ones we’d hate for you to miss.
North Avenue Beach // Lincoln Park
If you’re looking for a great people-watching experience or want the true Chicago beach experience, North Avenue Beach is the place. Nestled along Chicago’s lakefront, just north of downtown, this summer hot spot is a home to the largest Beach Volleyball co-ed games in the city. With over 100 beach volleyball nets lining the sandy shore, locals, businessmen and women and families alike sign up and play all season long for the top prize. I find the scene here to be reminiscent of the famous scene in Top Gun, where the pilots play for bragging rights among their fellow Air Force friends.
Not a volleyball fan? Then head up to the famous Castaways bar (you can’t miss this large ship-looking building along the beach), where summertime fun and fruity cocktails are served with the city skyline in the background. It’s a great beach-house type atmosphere.
After enjoying the sights and sound at the beach, go for a walk through the grassy, lush Lincoln Park nearby. It’s not only a beautiful retreat from the bustling city, but home to Lincoln Park Zoo, which is free to roam during the season. Make sure not to miss the local Kids Petting Zoo, just steps from the entrance.
Chicago Summer Festivals
Chicago is known for its vast number of uniquely different neighborhoods, and all of these areas host annual summer festivals for all walks of life. A majority of them are free to attend but some have a suggested donation of $5–10 to enter (totally worth it.) Focusing on the downtown area, Chicago is poised to have one of the best summer festival seasons yet. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Millennium Park Summer Music and Film Series (though August @ the Pritzker Pavilion at the North end of the park)
- Windy City Rib Fest (Uptown Neighborhood, July 1–4)
- Taste of Chicago (Grand Park, July 5–9)
- Windy City Smokeout (560 W. Grand Ave, July 14–16)
If you want to get in as many sights and see all that you want as quickly as possible, here are my top picks for enjoying the great food of Chicago, along with stellar views of the city and Lakefront. And you can do these all while touring the city on your own time.
- Take a stroll, bike ride or run on Chicago’s easily accessible Lakefront path, offering over 25 miles of beautiful shores and impressive skyline views.
- Visit one of the many food trucks that are parked all over Chicago. It’s a great way to try some of the best food in the city, on the run. Insider Tip: Follow Chicago Food Truck Finder for an up-to-date list of locations.
- Catch season-long fireworks at Navy Pier (they aren’t just for the Fourth of July in Chicago). They go off every Wednesday night at 9:15 PM and Saturday at 10:15 PM. You don’t even need to be at Navy Pier to see them; simply find a cozy spot along the lakefront, throw a blanket down and enjoy!
Here’s to a wonderful summer,
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