Summer in the City
Read on for some of the best things to do and see around Chicago
This is our time. When you have to endure the winters we do, and often the disappointing spring seasons (like this one), we feel Mother Nature owes a little something during June, July and August.
Maybe that’s why we enjoy ourselves so much in the summer, why there’s so much going on to the point we don’t dare spend an 80-degree evening on the couch. Why? Because we might miss something. Or we know we’ll regret it next January.
Read on for a list of some of Chicago’s best offerings for this, the greatest time of year to be in the Windy City. Enjoy.
Beer gardens and alfresco patios have always been plentiful in the city, but rooftop lounges are the latest craze to take hold, as people long to have their favorite cocktail complemented by a stellar view. Again, we rely on our active locals for the best advice:
“Zed 451 (739 N. Clark) is my favorite. Nice skyline view, trendy, and a place to be seen. Outdoor fireplaces and comfortable seating areas. Great jojoitos, not to mention their appetizers. Castaways at North Avenue Beach is a casual favorite for locals. Great view of the beachfront, skyline and the volleyball players.” — Alfredo Caliva, concierge at the Doubletree Magnificent Mile
“ROOF at the Wit Hotel (201 N. State) is hands-down the best in the city. Beautiful people, beautiful views. … There’s nothing fancy about the rooftop at Epic (112 W. Hubbard), but it’s a great spot for locals right after work, and at night they make it really nice. But get there early because it fills up quick.”— Robbine Kim
“Rooftop cocktails are great at C-View (166 E. Superior, atop the Affinia Hotel). It is small and intimate, not overcrowded, and I had one of the best Grey Goose martinis ever! — Melissa Williams, concierge at the Omni
“My favorite rooftop lounge is ROOF at the Wit Hotel (201 N. State). It’s a great place to meet friends for happy hour or a nightcap and enjoy breathtaking views of the sunset and city lights. It does get crowded, but try to grab a seat at their communal table (with a fire pit in the middle, enclosed by glass) or a cozy booth for your group. — Johanna Fridrich
Movies in the Park
One of my favorite summer activities in Chicago is going to Movies in the Park. All movies are free, begin at dusk and are scattered throughout the city in dozens of neighborhood parks all summer long.
After coming home from work and getting in a little exercise, I pack up some dinner, blankets and the family and head off to a local park to wind down the day. Kids can play for a bit, have a little picnic and crash out in their stroller while watching cute, family-friendly movies or timeless classics.
But it’s not just for familes, as you’ll see plenty of couples sharing a bottle of wine and larger groups of friends catching up over a buffet of snacks. A sampling of the movies on tap for this summer: The Karate Kid, Shrek, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, North by Northwest, E.T. and Toy Story.
Many of the participating parks — some right on the lake — are located a short train or cab ride from downtown hotels. The dates, locations and film listings are posted online at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com under “Events.”
— HEATHER ALEJOS
Free Concerts in Millennium Park
Now in its seventh season, Millennium Park will host more than 500 free concerts, events, exhibitions and open rehearsals that showcase the very best of Chicago. What follows is just a taste.
Check out an eclectic mix of music discoveries, including cutting-edge indie rock, pop bands and rock veterans at Downtown Sound: New Music
Mondays, at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (running at 6:30 p.m. through July 23).
Explore the world and discover music from cultures spanning five continents — Europe, Asia, Africa and North and South America — as the international sounds of the Music Without Borders series come to the park every Thursday at 6:30 p.m. from June 9-July 21.
From June 15-Aug. 20 on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, celebrate the Grant Park Music Festival’s 77th season with more than 30 glorious concerts featuring the acclaimed Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus. For the complete schedule, visit www.grantparkmusicfestival.com.
The Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series takes over the Pritzker Pavilion at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays from July 28-Sept. 1. Come hear Chicago’s leading artists in concerts that explore jazz connections to Africa, Latin America and the rhythm and roots of Chicago’s south side.
Discover a new wave of music mixing pop and alternative genres with classical music with the Dusk Variations series (6:30 p.m. Mondays from Aug. 1-22).
Visitors can now also enjoy Lunchbreak, with concerts and open rehearsals every day at noon on the stage of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Audiences can expect to hear a different genre of music each day, including jazz, blues, brass, house and rock.
Family Fun Festival
This summer you won’t need your wallet for your family to enjoy the arts and sciences of Chicago. The Family Fun Festival, which takes place in the heart of downtown at Millennium Park, will have a variety of events for all ages to enjoy.
The summer-long event will host activities led by instructors from Chicago’s most prominent museums and institutions, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Chicago Children’s Museum, Chicago History Museum, Chicago Park District and the Museum of Science and Industry, making it easy for families to enjoy the many highlights of Chicago at one central location.
“Wiggleworms,” an activity sponsored every day at 10 a.m. by the Old Town School of Folk Music, will lead young children in a fun-filled sing-along that has kids singing and dancing to popular children’s favorites. A reading circle follows at 11 a.m., and concerts by some of the more notable names in local and regional entertainment will take place at 1 p.m. daily.
For more information about the Family Fun Festival, visit www.millenniumpark.org.
— JERONE TYLER
More Free Activities
Chicago can be expensive, and in this economy, every dollar counts. But don’t fret: You can easily enjoy the city without spending a ton of money, if any at all. Here are a few events offered free of charge for the entire family to enjoy.
CHICAGO BLUES FESTIVAL, JUNE 10-12
For three days, the biggest names in blues perform at the annual Blues Festival in Grant Park. An estimated 500,000 fans pack the park to enjoy the largest free blues festival in the world. Past performers include Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King and Buddy Guy. For information, visit www.chicagobluesfestival.us.
FIREWORKS AT NAVY PIER
There is plenty to do at Navy Pier, including shopping, live music, dining, boat cruises and rides. But the one thing that doesn’t cost money (besides a casual stroll) is enjoying the free fireworks shows on Wednesday and Saturday nights. For information, visit www.navypier.com.
TASTE OF CHICAGO, June 24-July 3
“The Taste” is known for its diverse selection of great food provided by 59 local restaurants, but the festival’s free admission can get you access to concerts performed by some of the biggest acts in music. The California Wives, Natalie Cole and the Dixie Chicks are just a few of the acts scheduled this year. The Taste is open from 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m. daily in Grant Park. For more information, visit www.explorechicago.org.
SUMMERDANCE, July 7-Sept. 18
Celebrating 15 years, Chicago SummerDance will continue to offer up a unique urban dance space to visitors of Chicago’s Grant Park. For 11 weeks, professional instructors will teach dance lessons for one hour, followed by two hours of live music and dancing on a 5,000-square-foot dance floor. And not to worry if you have two left feet, as all skill levels are welcome. Events occur Thurs.-Sat. from 6-9:30 p.m. and Sun. from 4-7 p.m., weather permitting. There will be no events Aug. 5-7. For information, visit www.explorechicago.org.
LINCOLN PARK ZOO
Lions, gorillas and polar bears are just a few of the animals you can enjoy up close when visiting Lincoln Park Zoo. Located just minutes north of downtown in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, the zoo has offered free family fun for 30 years. For information, visit www.lpzoo.org.
AIR AND WATER SHOW, Aug. 20-21
About 2.2 million people visit the city’s shoreline each August to witness jaw-dropping maneuvers in the air and on the water in the largest free show of its kind in the U.S. Over its 53 years of existence, the show has featured some of the top civilian and military pilots and aircraft. Running from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each day, it is best viewed at the North Ave., Oak St. or Fullerton Ave. beaches. For more information, visit www.chicagoairandwatershow.us
TUESDAYS ON THE TERRACE AT THE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
— JERONE TYLER
Where to Get Out of the Sun
Let’s face it, for a city that is known for having some bone-chilling winters, we’re not exactly immune to hot weather. Our summers can get pretty steamy, and it’s important when you’re busy taking in the sights that you also take a break now and again to get in out of the sun’s rays, rest up a bit and replenish. Here are a few perfect stops to do just that.
Giordano’s at Prudential Plaza (135 E. Lake) — If restocking your supply of carbs is what will get you through the rest of your day, we can’t think of a better option than one of Giordano’s famous stuffed pizzas. This location is just steps from Millennium Park and Michigan Avenue and is perfect for families and groups. A plentiful menu offers a lot more than just deep dish, but it’s nearly impossible to resist.
Timothy O’Toole’s (622 N. Fairbanks) — For some mouth-watering grub and a cold pint, check out this lively Irish sports pub. Nestled down a flight of stairs in the popular Streeterville neighborhood — a short walk from Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue and dozens of hotels — this is a perfect place to meet up with a group, cool off, catch the game and dive into scrumptious food options that read more like a restaurant’s than a bar’s.
Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington) — Not only does this stunning landmark building house one of the Chicago visitor centers, it also showcases two magnificent stained-glass domes, as well as free music, dance and theater performances. Films, lectures, art exhibitions and family events are also the norm. Not a bad way to keep everyone in the family entertained, and did we mention it’s nice and cool inside?
— TRENT MODGLIN
Lollapalooza and Pitchfork Music Festivals
It doesn’t get much bigger in music than Eminem and Coldplay, two acts headlining Lollapalooza this year, Aug. 5-7 in Grant Park, along with Foo Fighters, Muse, My Morning Jacket, DeadMau5 and A Perfect Circle.
The headliner has been the calling card of this behemoth music event, which stages 130 bands over three days on 115 acres of land. But beyond the arena acts, here are recommended artists to fill out your schedule (frankly, the smaller shows are more enjoyable): The biggest coup is a reunion show by the two-piece, ear-bleeding, dance-punk rock band Death From Above 1979. Beirut (Morrissey with a horn) is another must-see and will be promoting their anticipated new album. Crystal Castles are a fun electronic dance duo, and Lykke Li is a fun Swedish pop singer (she has a fantastic new album out, better than Ellie Goulding, who is also at the fest).
Chicago’s own Smith Westerns play short and fast power pop, as do The Drums. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart have a cool ’90s rock vibe, very Smashing Pumpkins-esque. Best Coast does surfer pop better than most. And, finally, check out Wye Oak for solid Americana, indie folk.
One thing most of the bands above have in common is they played Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival years before. This is the hipper music fest in town, held July 15-17 at Union Park. Pitchfork mines the talent; Lollapalooza books them years later. The 2011 fest, curated by the online music spot Pitchforkmedia.com, includes rising talents such as the Billy Elliot face of dubstep, James Blake, a soulful electronic wonder; the ’80s-inspired Twin Shadow; the DIY groove machine Toro y Moi; singer-songwriter Kurt Vile; and the stream-of-consciousness pop culture rappers Das Racist.
More known acts playing the fest include Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Neko Case, TV on the Radio, the experimental outfit Animal Collective and the indie folk choir boys Fleet Foxes.
Here are a few tips to make your Lollapalooza and Pitchfork experiences even better:
- Drink water, save beer. You’ve seen the t-shirt, but the slogan fits. Yep, Chicago is hot in August, so drink a ton of water. The tip here is to buy one bottled water early and then head to the public drinking fountains for refills.
- Unless you’re 16 and have boundless energy, find a nice distance from the stage. Crowds really tighten up around the stage and create dangerous heat boxes. It sounds just as good, if not better, further away.
- Eat Elliot at Lollapalooza. Festival organizers tapped Chicago celeb chef Graham Elliott to prepare food for the second year in a row. (Black pepper parmesan-truffle popcorn anyone? How about lobster corndogs?) This is a rare treat for the tatted-up rocker chef to prepare some food. The tip here, eat lunch early. This not only enables you to catch some lesser-known, quality bands, but it gives you open season on the best food tents, like Graham’s. Then, in the evening, when it’s crowded, head to the quick pizza line.
- Don’ t buy the t-shirts. The merch tent hawks t-shirts and posters of your favorite bands, but the prices are high. Save yourself some dough and buy your favorite band’s stuff online, directly from them.
— DAN OCHWAT
Al Fresco Dining
You wouldn’t think a big city like Chicago would have such unparalleled outdoor seating at so many restaurants. Then again, this is Chicago, and it surprises even us on a pretty regular basis.
Here are just a few of the favorites, straight from a collection of active locals:
“My very favorite outdoor dining is Erie Café (536 W. Erie) — right in the middle of downtown, though away from the noise. Spectacular views of Willis Tower and right by the Chicago River to watch the boats go by. Comfortable neighborhood gem with excellent food. My favorite!” — Roana Baxter, concierge at The Drake Hotel
“Piccolo Sogno (464 N. Halsted) has great food, and the garden is truly an oasis in the city.” — Catherine Davids, concierge at the Hotel Sax
“Japonais (600 W. Chicago), especially on the riverwalk or patio. Tall trees cover the street and make you feel like you’re having a private, exclusive dinner. They’ve got live music out there, and it’s so much quieter than inside the dining room.” — Robbine Kim
“LuxBar (18 E Bellvue) has a small area for dining outdoors, but great food. And Gibsons (1050 N. Rush) is the place to be seen and people watch. Great mixed drinks where the bartenders know their drinks!” — Alfredo Caliva, concierge at the Doubletree Magnificent Mile
“You would never know by driving by this beautifully designed Italian restaurant, but Piccolo Sogno (464 N. Halsted) has to be my favorite alfresco dining spot. Their large back patio is the perfect setting to enjoy a bottle of wine and a light bite. They have an amazing selection of antipasto and insalata.” — Johanna Fridrich
“When summer rolls around, everyone wants to be outside to soak in as much warmth as possible. Quartino (626 N. State) is definitely on my radar for terrific people watching, sharable Italian small plates and affordable wines. For cheap, delicious Mexican, I’ll head over to Big Star (1531 N. Damen) in Wicker Park. They have a dog-friendly patio, relaxed service and a killer al pastor taco.” — Samantha Cybor, concierge at the Hotel Sax
“The Park Grill (11 N. Michigan) is a great place to end up after spending the day strolling through Millennium Park or the Art Institute. Situated underneath ‘The Bean,’ Park Grill has spectacular views of the city, making it easy to relax and daydream.” — Patricia Hall