It’s a festival-heavy month in Chicago, celebrating everything from hot-air balloons to ribs to books. The best deal in town is Taste of Chicago, which allows you to sample fare from many of Chicago’s restaurants for a fraction of the usual cost.
AFAR Local is our monthly insider guide to the best of what’s happening in cities around the U.S.
July 1 - 2 | Outdoor event
Lisle Eyes to the Skies Festival
It’s worth the quick trip to the ’burbs to see this festival dedicated to hot-air balloons. Lisle Eyes to the Skies has everything a traditional summer festival has—corn dogs, fun carnival rides, live music, and daily fireworks shows—plus one major addition: a slew of hot-air balloons decorating the horizon. The balloons aren’t just for show, either; they’re all available for rides, and proceeds from your ticket go to local charities. (The fair has raised $800,000 throughout its history.)
1825 Short St., Lisle | From $10 | website
July 1 - September 14 | Dance
Get your dancing shoes on, and join other Chicagoans for the largest open-air dance party in the city. The summer festival brings professional teachers out to school you in the moves, while live bands provide the right music to groove to. Show off what you’ve learned—and find some friendly competition—at the Footwork SummerDance-Off on July 22, or at the Steppin’ SummerDance-Off on July 29.
Times & locations vary | Free | website
July 4 | Independence Day
Fireworks at Navy Pier
Budget cuts may have slashed Chicago’s official firework celebration years ago, but Navy Pier still puts on a fantastic unofficial one. Viewers begin arriving in the early afternoon to get a good spot, and if you bring a picnic, it can be a fun way to spend the day with friends and family. If picnics aren’t your thing, snag a reservation at a restaurant with a lakefront view, such as Vertigo Sky Lounge, the Signature Room, or ROOF on the Wit Chicago.
9:30 PM | 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago | Free | website
July 5 - 9 | Food festival
Taste of Chicago
This annual Chicago tradition has visitors and locals flocking to Grant Park to taste an impressive number of Chicago’s restaurants. It’s the one time all year when you can nibble your way through a slew of the city’s favorites for less than $20. Choose between smaller samples of many restaurants or regular-sized portions from fewer restaurants to satiate yourself. This event gets packed around the peak eating hours, so go first thing in the morning if you want a less hectic meal.
6:00 AM - 11:00 PM | 337 E. Randolph St., Chicago | Free to enter | website
July 7 - 9 | Music
Square Roots Festival
At this annual Lincoln Square festival, alternative country music and indie rockers reign. More than 70 bands will take the stage during the three-day fest, which will also serve local food and craft beer. There will be classes, jam sessions, and more to keep you occupied at this family-friendly event.
12:00 PM - 9:00 PM | Lincoln Ave. btwn. Montrose and Wilson, Chicago | $10 (suggested donation) | website
July 14 - 16 | Food
Windy City Smokeout
Combine country music stars with barbecue pit masters from around the world and you’ve got the Windy City Smokeout. Returning barbecue kings—including 17th Street BBQ, Skylight Inn, and the Salt Lick BBQ—plus some new additions will be on hand cooking up pork in as many ways as you can imagine. There will also be a seafood boil along with an extensive craft beer lineup. As for the musical headliners, expect Kip Moore and Lee Brice, American Country Award and Country Music Association Award nominees, among others.
560 W. Grand Ave., Chicago | From $40 | website
July 22 - 23 | Drink
Chicago Craft Beer Fest
Illinois has a huge bragging right: It’s home to more than 300 of America’s 4,000 microbreweries. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Chicago Craft Beer Fest is one of the best in the country. Here, you can sample more than 70 beers courtesy of 35 local and national breweries in the relaxed setting of Lincoln Park. Your entry fee gives you a generous allowance of 15 three-ounce samples.
12:00 PM - 10:00 PM | 1010 W. Webster Ave., Chicago | $40 | website
July 27 - 30 | Literature
Newberry Library Book Fair
Binge on more than 120,000 books in 70 categories at one of the largest book fairs in Chicago. The Newberry Library Book Fair boasts book selections in every category, from fiction to kids’ lit to cookbooks. Record collectors are welcome, too, to browse the fair’s small but mighty offerings in the vinyl department. Everything’s for sale, and most books will run you a mere $3 or less.
12:00 PM - 8:00 PM | 60 W. Walton St., Chicago | Free | website
July 29 - 30 | Music & art festival
Wicker Park Fest
This neighborhood festival is a true Chicago gem. It manages to bring in great bands without the usual $200-plus ticket price, all while showcasing the spirit of Wicker Park with local food, art, and craft vendors selling everything from records to mustache-decaled T-shirts. This year’s music lineup includes sets by alt rock band Piebald, rockers Guided by Voices, and two-piece brother band Jeff the Brotherhood.
1600 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago | $10 (suggested donation) | website
August 3 - 6 | Book ahead: Music
Lollapalooza has been sold out for months, but you can still score resale tickets via an official Lolla ticket exchange (try ticketsnow.com). This year’s program includes Chance the Rapper, Blink-182, and Lorde, plus dozens of other hip-hop, punk, and pop legends from across the globe. If you’re not headed to the four-day event, this weekend is a good time to get out of the city for some peace and quiet at a nearby campground. Or look out for the numerous after-parties in town, which will be much easier to snag tickets for.
11:00 AM - 10:00 PM | 337 E. Randolph St., Chicago | From $140 | website
Danielle Braff lives in Chicago with her husband, two daughters, two cats, and her dog. When she’s not writing, she’s out photographing her city and running around frantically trying to fit as many events as she can into her day. You can check out her other articles at Daniellebraff.com.
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