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10 Things To Do in Chicago During the Summer

By Marcia Frost
Chicago Skyline

Chicago is known for its architecture and lakefront, making it an ideal place to explore in the summer months. And summer also lets you avoid our snow-heavy winters and enjoy some of the warmer weather — in July, for example, temperatures are around 80 degrees most days. Bring your sunscreen!

Here are 10 of the best things to do in Chicago during the summer.

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is not only one of the best Midwest zoos, but it’s one of the most scenic. As you stroll around to check out the animals, you also get sweeping views of the Chicago skyline.

Another reason to spend time at this zoo is that there is no admission fee. Surrounding the 200 species of animals, you’ll also find 850 plant species decorating the grounds.

Local tip: I recommend stopping for a meal at the Patio at Café Brauer. They have a kids’ menu as well as cocktails for the grownups.

2. Millenium Park

Crown Fountain Millenium Park Chicago
Credit: Marcia Frost

One of the most popular sites in Chicago is known as “The Bean,” though its official name is “Cloud Gate.” It’s located in Millenium Park.

The Bean is actually just one of seven of the public art installations in Millennium Park. There is a self-guided tour, complete with audio that can help you discover all of them. 

In the summertime, the Crown Fountain is a popular spot to stay cool during the day. On Tuesday nights, you can head to the Jacob Pritzker Pavilion in the park for free movies.

3. Chicago Riverwalk

Chicago Riverwalk
Credit: Marcia Frost

If you want to see the city’s architecture and scenery, the best place to start is along the Chicago Riverwalk. The 1.25-mile stretch of accessible walkways is filled with cafes, bars, and even a winery, and there’s plenty of activities, from kayaking and boat rides to museums and art installations. 

Our Chicago Riverwalk Architecture Walking Tour covers the best of the sights along the river. We’ll take you through each of the riverwalk’s six unique districts while sharing the stories and secrets about this special part of the city. 

Extra: Every night in the summer on the Chicago Riverwalk, you’ll also be able to see ART on THE MART, a 25-story light projection that goes across the water.

4. Navy Pier

You won’t find a better season to stroll Navy Pier than summertime, especially with a 12,500-square-foot Polk Brothers Fountain to cool off in.

While at the pier, take a ride on the Centennial Wheel, or hop on a boat for a sunset cruise. You’ll find plenty of places to eat in between all the activities. There are also picturesque fireworks that go off at Navy Pier on Wednesday and Saturday nights in the summer.

5. Beaches

Chicago Beach

If you’ve never been to Chicago, you might be surprised at the number of beaches this Illinois city has. They’re lake beaches rather than ocean, of course, but hey — Lake Michigan has no sharks or hurricanes to worry about.

The 26 miles of lakefront in Chicago includes spots to bike, kayak, paddleboard, jet ski, or swim. You’ll also find spots for food and cocktails along the water. All told, there are more than two dozen beaches in the city. Oak Street and North Avenue beaches are two of the most popular.

Plan ahead: Check the Chicago Parks website for up-to-date information on beach conditions and closures.

6. Festivals

Chicago Festival
Credit: Marcia Frost

Chicago is filled with festivals in the summer with something for (literally) all tastes. This city is a foodie town, and it shows in one of its biggest events: Taste of Chicago. It’s one of many local food events. A few of my favorites include:

  • Chicago Gourmet
  • Tacos & Tamales Festival
  • Little Italy Festa
  • Windy City Smokeout

One of the biggest music festivals in the country is Chicago’s famous Lollapalooza, but the city is also home to the Pitchfork Music Festival, Riot Fest, and the Chicago Blues Festival. In between the food and music in the summer, you’ve also got the Chicago Air & Water Show and Pride Fest.

What can I say? We make the most of summer here.

7. Baseball

Wrigley Field Chicago

The iconic Wrigley Field on Chicago’s North Side is home to the Chicago Cubs. This ballpark is like no other in the country with its ivy-covered outfield.  It’s worth a tour to see this national landmark even if you don’t go to a game.

The other Chicago baseball team, the White Sox, have a much more modern and traditional stadium. Their tickets are a lot easier to get. You can just take the CTA Red Line to Comiskey Park and catch a game.

Local tip: If you can’t get tickets to Wrigley Field, you can still watch a Cubs game live from one of the rooftops that surround Wrigley Field.

8. Grant Park

Grant Park Chicago

This park was named after the 38th President, but you may remember seeing it as the location 44th President Barack Obama chose for his 2008 victory speech.

Centrally located in The Loop, Grant Park represents over 300 acres of fun in the summer. It’s home to Buckingham Fountain and recreational areas for baseball, skating, scooter, and rollerblading. The park is also home to the Grant Park Music Festival and is the start and finish of the Chicago Marathon.

The newest addition to Grant Park is Maggie Daley Park. It includes a playground, climbing wall, picnic areas, and miniature golf.

9. Museum Campus

Field Museum Chicago

Although the Museum Campus is located in Grant Park, it deserves a discussion of its own. You could easily spend days exploring all it has to offer along Burnham Harbor and Lake Michigan.

Along with the McCormick Place Bird Sanctuary, Northerly Island Park (a great place for concerts), 12th Street Bridge, and Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears, the Museum Campus boasts three museums you shouldn’t miss:

  • The Field Museum, filled with dinosaurs and ancient artifacts
  • Adler Planetarium, where you can explore the stars
  • Shedd Aquarium, featuring all kinds of marine life
Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd is a favorite of mine. If you are lucky, you can see the penguins walking through the grounds, or get in the water to play with the beluga whales. That’s me greeting a whale in the photo above!

Savings tip: There are free museum days in Chicago throughout the year, including at the Museum Campus.

10. Rooftops

Chicago Navy Pier Rooftop

If you aren’t along the river on a summer night in Chicago, you should be on a rooftop enjoying food and drinks and the stunning views of the river, lake, and skyline.

Chicago rooftops can get pretty elaborate, but it’s really about the views. You’ll want to sample a couple until you find “the one.” Here are some of the ones I recommend:

  • Cerise at the Virgin Hotel, with comfortable couches inside and out
  • London House Hotel, for delicious tapas — especially the mezze plate
  • Offshore at Navy Pier, with the best views of the lake
  • IO Godfrey, which has a retractable roof so you don’t have to worry about rain

Local tip: You can see the Navy Pier fireworks from many of the rooftops in Chicago.

Summertime in Chicago

Shedd Aquarium Patio Chicago Skyline

With so much to do, I fell in love with Chicago the first summer I was there. If you want to get a better feel for the city, you should start with our Chicago Riverwalk Architecture Walking Tour. It’s a great way to learn about the city and prepare you for the rest of your summertime exploration.

Want something a bit moodier? Summer nights are even cooler with our mobster-themed Chicago walking tour.