Did you know Chicago is called the “Windy City” not because of its breezy weather but because its politicians are full of “wind” and “hot air”? Yep, it’s true. And, just like its politicians, Chicago is also full of hot air during the summer, which means finding cool things to do in Chicago summer (pun intended) can be a feat.
However, these 20 best things to do in Chicago summer, including weekly fireworks at Navy Pier, an affordable river cruise and a California-status beach, will ensure your summer trip to Chicago is jam-packed with memorable activities.
But, first thing’s first…
Is Chicago A Good Place To Visit In Summer?
Despite the heat and humidity, Chicago is an amazing place to visit in summer. From incredible green parks and beaches to iconic big-city rooftop bars and sightseeing, Chicago is a perfect summer destination for couples, families and solo travelers alike.
What Is Chicago Like In The Summer?
In the summer, Chicago is hot and humid (averaging around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, or 27 degrees Celsius), but this does not keep from the city’s liveliness or tourist draw. Everyone is outside enjoying the city, museums, beaches and parks in Chicago in the summer.
How Can I Spend My Summer In Chicago?
You can spend your summer in Chicago with both indoor and outdoor activities, such as Navy Pier, Millennium Park and Cloud Gate, the Chicago Riverwalk, North Avenue Beach, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and more.
Here are the 20 best things to do in Chicago in summer.
Things To Do In Chicago Summer
1. Navy Pier
Navy Pier is to Chicago as Santa Monica Pier is to Los Angeles. According to the Navy Pier website, “Navy Pier is where you go in Chicago for events, free public programs, attractions, culture, dining, shopping and more.”
From the quintessential Centennial Ferris Wheel and park rides to authentic Chicago eats, Navy Pier exudes summer fun.
2. Fireworks On Navy Pier
Moreover, on most Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day, fireworks are lit off on Navy Pier around 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. local time.
The fireworks are free for the public to watch. So, grab your lawn chairs, blankets and popcorn, and get ready to have a blast (literally). You can find the Navy Pier summer firework schedule with specific dates and times here.
3. Cubs Game At Wrigley Field
Besides fireworks, there’s no better way to spend an American summer than to go to a baseball game — particularly a Cubs home game at Wrigley Field.
You can buy cheap Cubs game tickets on StubHub (tickets are more than double the price on the MLB site). And, be sure to bring extra money (at least $30/person) for iconic game-day foods and beverages.
Also, note that parking at Wrigley Field is extremely expensive and hard to come by. It’s advisable to get to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game at least 1.5 hours before the game begins so that you can find affordable street parking nearby.
4. Cloud Gate (The Bean)
Furthermore, you can’t say you’ve truly toured Chicago without visiting the legendary Cloud Gate sculpture, AKA “The Bean.”
Located on the west side of Millennium Park (center of the park, next to Michigan Ave) Cloud Gate was designed to mirror the entire Chicago skyline.
Even though tourists will be taking photos from every angle of the sculpture, be sure to take one from the west side (closer to Michigan Ave) to witness the skyline reflection. Similarly, if you want to avoid the crowds, visit early in the morning.
5. Millennium Park
Besides The Bean, Millennium Park has a plethora of other Chicago summer activities to offer.
These activities include the Crown Fountain, rocking climbing at Maggie Daley Park, concerts and outdoor movies at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, performing art shows at the Harris Theater, the Boeing Galleries, the Art Institute of Chicago and more.
6. Shop Michigan Avenue
Adjacent to Millennium Park is one of Chicago’s most popular streets, Michigan Ave.
Whether you like splurging on luxury goods, sale searching or just window shopping, Michigan Ave. boasts some of the best shopping in all of Chicago. Plus, there are plenty of delicious, touristy restaurants, such as Giordano’s Pizza, Nutella Cafe and even Nando’s.
7. Architecture River Cruise
Next, we have the Chicago Architecture River Cruise.
When I asked my friends and readers for Chicago recommendations, the most popular response was to take an architecture river cruise. Not only do you get to learn about the city’s epic architecture on the tour, but you also get to spend 60-90 minutes cruising on the Chicago River.
We booked our cruise tour with Wendella Boats, and although the best seats were taken before we arrived, we just stood in the very front of the boat and had great views. I recommend that you get to your dock at least 45 minutes before the beginning of the tour to get good seats.
8. Chicago Riverwalk (Things To Do In Chicago Summer)
Similarly, the Chicago Riverwalk, a pedestrian walkway along the Chicago River, is very popular among both locals and tourists.
Between the beautiful cityscape and river views, there’s no doubt that the riverwalk is one of the best things to do in Chicago in the summertime.
9. Deep Dish Pizza From Giordano’s
During your riverwalk, you’ll inevitably work up a bit of an appetite. When in Chicago, you need to try deep dish pizza at least once.
In my humble opinion, Giordano’s has the best deep dish pizza in Chicago, hands-down. I’ve tried all of the other major deep dish pizza places in the city (Lou Malnati’s, Gino’s East and Uno’s), and Giordano’s truly cannot be beat.
If you’re going to Giordano’s around dinner time, get there two hours before you’d like to actually eat. There will likely be at least a 45-minute wait for a table, and the pizza pies take 45 minutes to bake because they are made fresh on site.
Luckily, the wait for a table goes quickly because the restaurant is right next to Millennium Park. You can hang out in the park while you wait, as the Giordano’s staff will send a text when your table is ready.
10. Ice Cream From Ghirardelli
Following your deep dish pizza, head to Ghirardelli’s for an unmatchably delicious, chocolatey ice cream sundae.
Even though the sundaes aren’t cheap (some will run you $17 USD), most of them can be shared between two or more people, especially after deep dish pizza. And, trust me, the cookie crumble sundae is worth every penny.
11. Iced Coffee From Capital One Cafe
If you’re in the mood for an iced (or hot) coffee but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg, go to Chicago’s Capital One Cafe.
Here, all Capital One cardholders get 50% off all beverages. We were able to buy breakfast for two (two large handcrafted coffee drinks and two pastries) every day for a little over $10 USD. Breakfast at any other cafe would have cost us at least $20 USD — huge vacation money saver.
Plus, the cafes have really nice, clean bathrooms for customers, which is a game-changer in downtown Chicago.
12. North Avenue Beach
As previously mentioned, Chicago gets hot in the summer. To cool off on these hot sunny days, head to North Avenue Beach to escape the humid city and indulge in a beach day.
North Avenue Beach, situated inside Lincoln Park on Lake Michigan, features epic skyline views, innumerable beach volleyball courts, bougie beach clubs, fun restaurants, and, of course, a seemingly unending sandy swimming beach.
You’ll totally forget that you’re on a lake here. It feels like you’re on the oceanic Californian coast at North Avenue Beach.
13. Lincoln Park (Things To Do In Chicago Summer)
Likewise, Lincoln Park is a massive park fully equipped for casual walkers, runners, bikers, picnickers and sunbathers.
The greenery surrounding the walking paths seamlessly transports you out of big city life, so if you need a natural adventure, make your way to Lincoln Park.
14. Lincoln Park Conservatory
Unsurprisingly, Lincoln Park has several other free amenities like the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory is a vast botanical garden that boasts a giant Victorian glass house and lush exotic plants.
The conservatory is free to visit. However, you do need to make reservations, and you’ll have to pay for parking. You can book your Lincoln Park Conservatory entry reservations here.
15. Lincoln Park Zoo
Similarly, Lincoln Park also has an entire zoo on its property. Believe it or not, the Lincoln Park Zoo has a huge array of animal inhabitants, including but not limited to lions, penguins, camels, monkeys, lemurs and more. And, you guessed it, admission is free.
There are occasional private events hosted at the Lincoln Park Zoo, so just be sure the zoo is open to the public on the day you plan to visit. Plan to pay for park parking as well, as free street parking is hard to come by.
16. Shedd Aquarium (Things To Do In Chicago Summer)
On the contrary, if you’re more intrigued by ocean animals than land animals, head over to Chicago’s fmaous Shedd Aquarium.
Although admission to the Shedd Aquarium is far from free (you can find up-to-date ticket prices here), the price is certainly worthwhile. You’ll have the unforgettable opportunity to see endangered beluga whales, dolphins, massive sharks, stingray, as well as plenty of tropical and local fish here.
17. Art Institute Of Chicago
The last museum to mention for this particular Chicago travel guide is the Art Institute of Chicago.
The Art Institute of Chicago is extremely well-known across the entire Midwest — and for good reason. The Chicago Art Institute houses some of the best masterpieces from artists like Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, Degas, Picasso, Matisse, El Greco and so many more. Basically, it’s an Impressionism-lover’s dream.
You can see a complete list of this museum’s collection here and ticket prices here.
18. 360 Chicago Observation Deck
“Spend your day 1,000 ft. above Chicago” at the 360 Chicago Observation Deck.
There are two primary tourist spots to see the best views of Chicago, and 360 Chicago is one of them. For panoramic views of the city, don’t hesitate to visit 360 Chicago’s 94th floor.
Additionally, 360 Chicago also offers a thrill ride titled TILT, in which you literally tilt on a glass pane over the city.
19. Skydeck Chicago Observation Deck
The other, and likely more well-known, observation deck in Chicago is Skydeck Chicago at Willis Tower (locally and historically known as the Sears Tower).
The Chicago Skydeck offers views of Chicago from the building’s 103rd floor and, like 360 Chicago, also offers a thrilling experience: The Ledge. At The Ledge, excited visitors step out into an all-glass box that hangs over the city from 103th floor.
To compare Skydeck Chicago and 360 Chicago, check out this guide.
20. Rooftop Bar (Things To Do In Chicago Summer)
Last, but certainly not least, chilling at a rooftop bar is definitely a bucket-list thing to do during a summer Chicago trip.
The rooftop bar at the LondonHouse hotel, located right on the Chicago River, has some of the best views of Chicago you can get apart from 360 Chicago and Skydeck Chicago.
You definitely need to make reservations well in advance for a table here. But, you can still visit the bar without a table reservation. We were unable to make reservations, and we had no issues getting in.
What Is There To Do In Chicago On A Sunny Day?
From this list, the best things to do in Chicago on a sunny day include: Navy Pier, Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, an architecture river cruise, the Chicago Riverwalk, North Avenue Beach, Lincoln Park and, of course, visiting a rooftop bar.
Although, if the heat index is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), you may want to opt for one of the museums. And, remember to wear sunscreen!
Which of these Chicago summer activities are you most looking forward to? Have any questions? Leave a reply below or send me a message on Instagram. My inbox is always open!
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