Not sure how to fill your long sun-shiny days in the Windy City? This Chicago summer bucket list has plenty of summer activities to choose from
Smile. Play. Giggle a ton. Hit up a street fest. Repeat. Good—you’ve got the basics of a perfect summer in Chicago. But, it doesn’t end there. There’s no such thing as “the lazy days of summer” when there’s this much going on in the Windy City. It’s prime time to explore all Chicago and the surrounding area has to offer, from visiting large-scale outdoor art exhibits to cheering on dragon boats. Not sure what to prioritize as the top summer activities to tackle with your kids? We’ve created the ultimate Chicago summer bucket list of activities for you to read through. Whether you challenge yourself to tackle every last activity or you plan to pick just a few favorites to add to your calendar, you’re sure to enjoy everything this warm-weather Chicago summer activities lineup has on tap.
CHICAGO SUMMER CAN’T-MISS EVENTS
Navy Pier's Pride Fest
Honor Pride Month at Navy Pier's Pride Fest, Jun. 24. Celebrate equality, love and the LGBTQ+ community with a daylong celebration that includes live musical performances.
Dragon Boat Race for Literacy
Experience a traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Race, Jun. 24, as 30 boats head down the Chicago River from Ping Tom Memorial Park. Take in the colorful sites, sounds, and smells as you learn more about the Chinese and Asian cultures.
Day Out with Thomas
Thomas is pulling up to the Illinois Railway Museum—and he's big enough for kids to hop on for a ride. Along with a 20-minute train ride at Day Out with Thomas, Jul. 16, 16 22 & 23, there are themed games and activities, storytelling and the opportunity to meet Sir Topham Hatt.
Watch as more than 50,000 yellow rubber duckies splash their way into the Chicago River during the Ducky Derby, Aug. 10. Put a duck in the game by adopting your own for only $5 and raise money for Special Olympics Illinois.
Chicago Air & Water Show
Daredevil pilots perform aerial stunts over the lake and downtown Chicago at the Chicago Air & Water Show, Aug. 19 & 20.
CHICAGO SUMMER EXHIBITS
Of the Earth at Morton Arboretum
The new exhibition features five large-scale sculptures—created from reclaimed tree branches and other natural materials gathered from various locations throughout the Arboretum's 1,700 acres—by Polish American artist Olga Ziemska. Of the Earth explores the philosophy that "we are nature."
North Shore Sculpture Park
Walk. Bike. Run. Skip. Gallop. However you make your way down North Shore Sculpture Park's two-mile trail, you're sure to enjoy the sights. The paved path is lined with sculptures from artists across the world.
Ice Age Giants at Brookfield Zoo
Beginning June 23, visitors to Brookfield Zoo will get to discover some of nature's most colorful creatures—butterflies! Observe as they fly around the pond and land on some flowers—or possibly even on you! The Butterflies! exhibit also features a "pupa room" where you can watch the transformation from pupa to caterpillar to butterfly!
Art of Brick at MSI
Museum of Science & Industry's Mold-A-Rama exhibit helps tell the story of the beloved retro machines that make plastic figurines right before your eyes.
Boats at Chicago Children's Museum
Water is the perfect plaything, and in the new Water City experience, children of all ages and abilities can determine their own experiments, narratives, and sensory explorations of the physical properties of water. The exhibit connects water play and STEM experiences for the next generation of young explorers and their families.
CHICAGO SUMMER IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCES & SHOWS
Bristol Rennaisance Faire
Grab a sword and shout, “huzzah!” The Bristol Renaissance Faire is a full-on homage to Elizabethan England complete with costumed characters, period music, jousting tournaments, acrobatic and comedy acts, rides, games and food.
Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius
State-of-the-art video mapping and ground-breaking animation help to craft the 18th-century destinations of Mozart's world like never before. Unlike visually focused experiences, the Mozart Immersive: The Soul of a Genius is audio-centric and features recompositions of 17 selected works from the musician's repoertoire.
Pixar Putt, the fan-favorite pop-up, returns to Navy Pier this summer. The mini-golf experience, made up of 18 fun and interactive holes inspired by the stories, characters, and icons from some of Pixar's most beloved films—like Toy Story, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, Wall-E, and Coco—will take your kiddos to infinity and beyond!
CHICAGO SUMMER OLD-FASHIONED FUN
Weekly Fireworks at Navy Pier
Keep the kids up a tad later on Wednesdays (9 p.m.) and Saturdays (10 p.m.) to experience the fireworks display synchronized to music at Navy Pier.
Sharpen Your Tiny Pencils for Miniature Golf
Mini-golf. Putt-putt. Goofy golf. Adventure golf. Shorties. No matter what you call it, you have a blast playing it. Most of Chicago’s miniature golf courses are pure, kitschy fun and are only open for a limited time each year.
Make Friends with Fireflies at an Outdoor Movie
The best way to watch a flick in Chicago in the summer is at an outdoor movie theater. There are parks, nature centers, drive-ins and even rooftops reeling family favorites all summer long. (BYO chairs, blankets and maybe even your own popcorn.)
Family Time at Morton Arboretum's Arbor Evenings
Unwind with family and friends on Wednesday evenings at Morton Arboretum's Arbor Evenings. Listen to live music, play lawn games and enjoy food and drinks surrounded by the Arboretum's beautiful trees.
Twilight Tunes at Brookfield Zoo
Every Friday and Saturday in July, the zoo welcomes guests of all ages to Twilight Tunes, an evening filled with music, food and drinks, animal encounters and a laser light show.
CHICAGO SUMMER WATER PLAY
Beat the Heat at a Local Splash Pad
Lazy days at the pool are a summer must. Even better? Raging days at splash pads. From neighborhood gems to all-out amusement park-style destinations, you and your tot will be happy to cool off without taking a dunk or forking over much moola.
Have Gallons of Fun at Raging Waves
Treat the family to a fun day at Illinois' largest waterpark, Raging Waves. You'll find 32 water slides, a huge wave pool, three kiddie pool areas, a relaxing lazy river, 43 private cabanas and more.
Take a Family Boat Tour
Break from watering holes and splash pads and add adventure to your water play this summer with help from Chicago boat tour companies. You’ll learn a bit of city and architectural history and take in a whole lotta gorgeous views cruising Lake Michigan and Chicago River.
CHICAGO SUMMER FOODS TO TRY
Try a Fun New Restaurant
Infuse fun into your dining this summer with themed restaurants in Chicago that let kids' imaginations run wild.
Hit Up a Hot Dog Stand
Love ’em or leave ’em, hot dogs are big in Chicago. And, if your kids haven’t begged for one yet, they will soon—and they get a pass on the sacrilege of using ketchup. Grab one at a legendary Chicago hot dog spot and turn eating into an adventure.
CHICAGO SUMMER STAYCATIONS
Staycation in One of the Best Cities in the World
Summer is not the time to be heading out of town, as it's the best time to be a Chicagoan. But sometimes a break from your own four walls is needed and we found hotels in Chicago that are great for families.
Have a Sleepover with Mother Nature
Take your family on a glamping trip where making memories is the only agenda. Lock arms with Mother Nature while you camp in style with special touches like cozy beds, stocked kitchens, and even air conditioning. Gather ideas that'll impress the kids with these backyard camping ideas to try.
CHICAGO SUMMER SPORTY ACTIVITIES
Go Adventuring at The Forge
The Forge: Lemont Quarries' 300-acre adventure park includes the largest aerial adventure course in North America and gives you access to four over-water ziplines, 5 miles of hiking trails, mountain biking, paddlesports, and a dedicated kids’ zone. All summer long they have family programming like movie nights, camps and biking classes.
Watch a Chicago Dogs Home Game
As of last season, there's a new baseball team in town and they're paying homage to Chicago's favorite street food, HOT DOGS! Catch a Chicago Dogs game with the family at the beautiful Impact Field in Rosemont.
Find a Bike Trail
Live every nice-weather day to the fullest, shall we? On the top of the list, dust off those bikes, grease the chains, strap on a brain bucket and get those legs pumping on a bike path. From the shores of Lake Michigan to the furthest reaches of the suburbs, here are our favorite spots to cycle as a family in Chicago.
Sign Up for a Walk/Run
On your mark. Get set. Go! Race season is in full swing and sprinting to the finish line isn't just for grown-ups. You’ll find a host of fun runs and charity walks in Chicago for families looking to exercise together.
Play in the Cubs Front Yard
Gallagher Way at Wrigley Field has a full line-up of summer programming. From exercise classes and markets to family movies and music.
CHICAGO SUMMER NATURE IDEAS
Butterflies & Blooms at Chicago Botanic Garden
Immerse yourself in a habitat filled with hundreds of winged beauties and pretty petals at Butterflies and Blooms.
Set Out on a Hike
Step out of the urban jungle for fresh air, unforgettable scenery and a chance to spy on animals in their natural habitat on one of our favorite hiking trails.
Go Berry & Veggie Picking
Make summer a little sweeter by picking your way through Chicago’s best spots for homegrown berries and other fruits and veggies.
CHICAGO SUMMER TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Be Mesmerized by Blue Man Group
Easily one of the most recognizable performance groups, the Blue Man Group performs high-energy percussive shows mixed with a little of their own brand of comedy. They’ll have you tapping your toes and laughing along as they go on a journey into sound.
Send Your Heart Racing at 360 CHICAGO
Shoot 94-floors high and then lean (and squeal ... and maybe cry a little) 30-degrees over the city with 360 CHICAGO and TILT.
"Just Don't Look Down" at Skydeck Chicago
If you're brave enough, walk the 4.3 feet into a glass box—The Ledge—at Skydeck Chicago, Willis Tower's heart-pumping attraction. Before you head up, check out their new museum that's packed with Instagramable photo opps and fun facts about this city we love.
Find a New Favorite Museum
When you're craving something new and culture's on the menu, check out a super-secret museum that's just a mini road trip away.