2015 Summer Events & Things to Do in Chicago

Chicago is the perfect city in the summer time. Hot sunny days, tempered by a nice lake breeze. Attractions with just the right balance of fun, education, and excitement.

Bike rides, Ferris wheels, ice cream cones, maybe even a cruise. And of course, an unbeatable lineup of delightful summer events for 2015! If you’re looking for things to do in Chicago during summer on your next trip to the Windy City, check out these suggestions for ideas and inspiration.

Spend a few days of your summer in Chicago, and you can take part in all of those iconic summer activities – Chicago style! From Navy Pier to Millennium Park and beyond, the Windy City will turn your summer vacation up to an 11.

If you plan on seeing a lot of Chicago attractions, why not pick up a Go Chicago® Card and save on admission to over 25 of the best area attractions for up to 55% off gate admission prices?

Festivals & Free Events

Taste of Chicago – Grant Park

July 8 – July 15, 2015

This festival is a Chicago attraction that I’ve truly come to love over the years. It’s perfect for foodies, culinary adventurers, or heck, anyone who just enjoys a good snack. Enjoy samples from more than 200 different dishes, spanning every cuisine from American and Italian to African and Indian.

Plus, you’ll also enjoy live music, comedy shows, and special activities just for the kids. Join millions of others this summer and take part in a Chicago tradition. Evening concerts will be held at the Petrillo Music Shell, and free daytime performances will be at the Bud Light Stage.

Concerts and entrance to the festival grounds are free, but food and beverages are available on a (very inexpensive) ticket system.

Grant Park Music Festival – Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

mid June – late August, 2015

Image Credit: Christopher Neseman

Image Credit: Christopher Neseman

Millennium Park and the adjacent Grant Park are the outdoor spaces to be this summer in Chicago. You’ll find everything from free evening concerts to massive festivals for music, arts, crafts, and – my favorite – food.

Although there are dozens of music events throughout the city this summer, the Grant Park Music Festival has the attractive quality of being free.

You’ll enjoy dozens of professional performances and events, including: free evening concerts 3x a week (bring picnic food!); an orchestral performance of Romeo & Juliet; and shows featuring the work of classical composers like Haydn, Mendelssohn, Handel, Beethoven, Mozart, and more.

You’ll also see jazz nights, mariachi nights, youth performances, and ballet, to name a few. For a full list of performances, visit the Grant Park Music Festival website.

Chicago Blues Festival – Grant Park

June 12 – June 14, 2015

chicago-blues-festivalAn ideal event for the music lovers out there, and an absolute must-see Chicago attraction if you’re in town on this particular weekend. Each day from 11:00 am – 9:30 pm, you’ll be treated to a engaging performances by well-known jazz artists, covering original and well-known popular work.

Admission is, once again, free! Feel free to bring a picnic blanket and some chairs. Different food trucks will be available on the grounds each day, including local favorites like Gino’s Steaks Truck and the Chicago Lunchbox.

Summer Film Series – Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

Tuesdays, June 23 – August 25, 2015

chicago-summer-film-seriesFree film screenings each Tuesday! The Pritzker Pavilion has been recently refitted with an awesome new high-tech outdoor screen. Sound and image are crystal clear all the way to the back of the Great Lawn, so wherever you set up your chairs or blanket, you’ll enjoy the full movie experience.

For more information on specific films and show times, visit the Summer Film Series website.

Chicago Food & Wine Festival – Lincoln Park & Grant Park

August 28 – August 30, 2015

chicago-food-wine-festivalThis festival is an awesome new addition to Chicago’s already stellar lineup of summer festivals and events. You’ll find food tastings, wine and cocktail samples, interesting seminars, demonstrations, and more at this multi-faceted culinary delight.

Meet famous chefs, acclaimed winemakers, and experts in spirits from around the world. You’ll see some of Chicago’s best culinary experts alongside international sensations, and you can expect nothing but the best out of all your samples and tastings. Tickets can be a bit pricey, so it’s definitely an investment.

Outdoor Summer Activities

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

Navy Pier is full of family fun!

This family-favorite attraction is actually one of Chicago’s most visited places in the entire city, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t been before.

Stroll the pier and soak up the atmosphere for free, or spend a few bucks to ride the Navy Pier rides, (like the 150 foot tall Ferris Wheel), play a round of mini golf at ‘The Links’, or explore the Chicago Children’s Museum.

For those looking for the ultimate dining and shopping experience, this is definitely the place for you. With over 30 shops and plenty of restaurants including the famous Landshark Beer Garden, there is something for everyone at Navy Pier.

Check out their spectacular fireworks display that is going on all summer long. The fireworks display can be seen every Wednesday night at 9:30 and Saturdays at 10:15 beginning in late May and continuing through early September, with a special display for July 4th.

Architecture River Cruise

A number of cruises and tours depart from Navy Pier if you’re looking to enjoy summer with a bit of time out on the water. It’s a festive environment and one definitely worth checking out during the nicest weather of the year. The tour provides an exciting journey through the history of Chicago, featuring architectural sites that attribute to the tales.

Along the Chicago River, you’ll hear the dramatic story of Chicago’s rise from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871 to become the home of the skyscraper. You’ll learn about the many world-famous architects who built this skyline from the ground up.

Rent a Bike

bike-and-roll-chicagoWhat better way to enjoy the sights and the sun at the same time than with a Chicago bicycle tour? Bike and Roll Chicago offers no-hassle bike rentals to help you create your own eco-friendly tour of Chicago’s streets and green spaces. With two convenient pick-up locations, it will be a breeze for you to explore Chicago on two wheels. A great family activity!

Ride north to Lincoln Park, with the Zoo and Chicago History Museum, or south to Grant Park and the Museum Campus. Stick to the lakefront to discover beaches, gardens, and lagoons, or head into the streets to see some of the city’s most luxurious homes, cobblestone sidewalks, and beautiful parks.

Brookfield Zoo

brookfield-zoo-chicagoAnimal lovers won’t want to miss Chicagoland’s biggest zoo. It has a wide variety of species both domestic and exotic, including some rare exhibits like the “Great Bear Wilderness,” which features grizzlies, polar bears, and more.

This summer, they’re introducing a fantastic lineup of new events, exhibits, and animal performances. A new bird show entitled “Festival of Flight” (running now through September 7) features more than 20 different species of birds engaging in exhilarating natural behaviors. The 3-acre “Wild Encounters” exhibit offers opportunities to feed, pet, and otherwise interact with a diversity of creatures from red pandas to wallabies.

Hit the Beaches

Lake Michigan - isn't it beautiful?

Lake Michigan – isn’t it beautiful?

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago is home to many beautiful beaches with bright blue waters that stretch so far you may catch yourself wondering when you got to the ocean! Oak Street Beach is a stone’s throw from the magnificent mile and is an extremely popular people-watching venue.

If you want to get a little bit of a summer tan while lounging by the water, there’s no need to book a hotel with a pool. Head to Oak Street Beach (or any of the other lakefront beaches in Chicago) for a chance to enjoy the sun, sand, and surf at one of the country’s largest lakes.

Oak Street Beach also features a fun restaurant and bathrooms for your convenience, so make an entire afternoon of it! There’s even a nice lakefront trail for those of you who enjoy a long walk or a beachside run.

North Avenue Beach is the busiest in Chicago and is a great place for people of all ages. There are plenty of volleyball courts as well as shops, concessions, and a full service restaurant. If you’re planning on driving be sure to get there early as parking fills up fast, this beach is also accessible by public transportation.

Millennium Park

The Bean ChicagoMillennium Park is one of Chicago’s newest and most popular destinations. Since it’s opening in 2004, this 24.5 acre park has been host to millions of visitors from around the world, and it’s no wonder why.

The award-winning architecture and landscape design make it a unique destination, not to mention the over 500 free events that the park holds every year! Millennium Park offers both a concessions tent as well as a full-service restaurant, Park Grill. The park is open from 6:00 am until 11:00 pm daily and admission is free.

Check out Lurie Garden, a delightful mini-garden that is a favorite among locals, especially kids. It’s designed to be both aesthetically pleasing and educational, so it’s a great stop for the whole family. If it’s really hot, feel free to dip your feet in the shallow water. Bring a camera to this charming locale!

Lincoln Park

5/13/15 10:58:14 AM -- Chicago Illinois; image copyright Lincoln Park Zoo Lincoln Park Zoo Lions © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

5/13/15 10:58:14 AM — Chicago Illinois
Lincoln Park Zoo Lions
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

If you want to venture out of the immediate downtown area, be sure to check out the beautiful Lincoln Park, located just north of the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago, this park is full of fun, family-friendly activities everyone will love. With its 1,200 acres and abundance of activities, it’s easy to spend an entire day in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the warm summer air. The Lincoln Park Zoo (free!) is another welcome option, a surprisingly comprehensive collection of critters from around the world that offers free admission every day. Meet a few of your favored animals, then ride the endangered animals carousel and Children’s train.

The zoo gets very crowded in the afternoon so be sure to get there early. While you’re visiting, be sure to hit the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. And don’t worry about hunger getting in the way of your trip, there are plenty of great restaurants to choose from in Lincoln Park.

Visit Wrigley Field

Whether you’re a baseball fan or not, no visit to Chicago is complete without a stop at Wrigley Field.

Wrigley is the second oldest ballpark in America (behind Fenway Park), and the highly-recommended park tours are offered daily. For those visitors interested in catching a game, an afternoon spent watching the Cubs at Wrigley Field is sure to be a vacation highlight!

Splash Around Buckingham Fountain

The Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

The Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.

Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world and one of Chicago’s most popular attractions. The fountain runs from 8:00 am until 11:00 pm daily with a fantastic water display every hour on the hour.

Although the display runs all day, it is best seen after dusk at which time lights and music accompany the already amazing show. The fountain is located in Grant Park and is a must-see for first time visitors and residents alike!

Museums & Aquariums

Shedd Aquarium & Museum Campus

Belugas at the Shedd Aquarium.

Belugas at the Shedd Aquarium.

It may seem counterintuitive to seek to spend time indoors just as the weather’s getting nice, but trust me, it’s worth your time to pop into this top-tier aquarium for a few hours to explore the magical and wondrous creatures that inhabit their exhibits.

This summer, they’re opening a brand new exhibit called “Amphibians” (ticketed separately) that features more than 40 species of frogs, salamanders and more. Don’t forget about their classic touch tanks and popular Abbott Oceanarium.

Located right nearby and a part of Chicago’s Museum Campus is the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. All of these stops should find their way onto your vacation itinerary.

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

This world-renowned art museum (voted the best museum in 2014 by Trip Advisor in an international poll) is a must-see for any arts and culture lover this summer.

While it offers exceptional programming year round, summer is a great time to take advantage of the family events calendar, which features special workshops and family gallery tours.

Home to some of the highest-quality works of art on Earth and its collection represents diverse artistic traditions from all over the world, from the famous Chagall windows to iconic paintings like “American Gothic” and “Paris Street, Rainy Day,” you’ll find so many instantly recognizable pieces and artifacts in this marvelous museum.

Don’t forget to check out their impressive and ever-changing array of special exhibits, including my favorite, “Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840.”

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

Faheem Majeed Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden, 2012 Hyde Park Art Center Photo: Tony Smith Courtesy of the artist

Faheem Majeed, “Planting and Maintaining a Perennial Garden,” 2012
Hyde Park Art Center Photo: Tony Smith, courtesy of the artist

Another one for the aspiring artists and lovers of all things beautiful and inspiring. This cutting-edge contemporary art museum features striking and often thought-provoking pieces of art from current and modern artists from around the globe.

They, too, have frequent special exhibits, including this summer’s phenomenal Alexander Calder collection and the intriguing sculptures of Faheem Majeed. Both of these exhibits are on view through August of this year.


You can also enjoy dozens of smaller-scale events like farmers markets, neighborhood-specific festivals, and my favorite, Shakespeare in the Parks! These Chicago summer attractions will make your trip to the Windy City unforgettable.

Summertime is when Chicago really comes to life. If you want to visit multiple Chicago attractions, consider a Go Chicago® Card, which can save you up to 55% on combined admission prices to all the top area activities, tours, museums, and more. Or, combined two or more attractions on a personalized pass and save between 20-25%.

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