31 of the Best Things to Do in Chicago and the Suburbs in July 2021

Summer is here! Turn on that OOO, fire up your grill and get outside. Us Chicagoans really know this season is fleeting — so go ahead and savor it. Here are 31 reasons to get out and explore this month.

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All Month

Water Flicks at Navy Pier

Navy Pier’s eight-week free outdoor movie series has become a Chicago fan-favorite. Now in its fifth year, locals and visitors can head down to the pier to enjoy different movie screenings right on the waterfront. Keep checking their website for details to come.

The Obama Portraits

First Lady Michelle Obama

Head to the Art Institute of Chicago to view the famous official portraits of former President and First Lady Barack and Michelle Obama commissioned by the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery. Painted by Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, these groundbreaking paintings made history as the first African-American artists assigned to create official president portraits. Fun Fact: The Obamas had their first date at the Art Institute.

Chicago Electric Boat Company 

Photo by Caroline Hetzel.

Be the captain of your own ship and cruise the Chicago River on an easy-to-operate electric boat! You can choose from a variety of eco-friendly options including retro boats, donut boats and cycleboats. The best part? All of these cruises are BYOB. Starting July 12, Chicago Electric Boat Company will partner with My Block, My Hood, My City to provide youth from divested neighborhoods the opportunity to get out on the water and shadow professional tour guides. Cruise for a cause and support their Youth-Led Tour Program this summer.

McHenry Outdoor Movie Theater

Boss Baby 2, F9, and more! All throughout July, you can pick from a vast selection of movies to watch from the comfort of your own car. Tickets are available for purchase at their box office on a first come, first serve basis, so be sure to get there around 6:30 to secure your spot!

Rockin’ in the Park Concert Series

Rosemont’s Parkway Bank Park entertainment district will welcome summer with the return of the “Rockin’ in the Park” free summer concert series, taking place every Thursday evening through September 2 as well as select weekend dates through September 12. Each concert will feature music by classic cover bands and food and beverage tents on the park’s great lawn.

Ravinia Festival

Courtesy of Ravinia Festival.

The Ravinia Festival is back this summer, and with concerts starting July 1. For highlights and everything you need to know about their Covid-19 protocols, check out our guide to Ravinia.

Wilmette French Market

Just east of the Wilmette Metra Station, you’ll find Wilmette’s own French Market, brimming with fresh foods and produce, flowers and music. Open Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the first hour of the market will be reserved for seniors and those with underlying health issues.

Want more farmers markets? Check out our full list of Chicago and North Shore markets.

Live on the Lake!

Enjoy free live music in Navy Pier’s Miller Lite Beer Garden. Concerts will take place all summer long, and will feature local favorites, national touring acts and new artists. Go to their website for more information.

WNDR Museum

The famed WNDR Museum offers a reimagined immersive experience with one-of-a-kind installations from artists, collectives, and studios locally and globally. Explore brand new touchless installations and experience the famous Yayoi Kusama “Let’s Survive Forever” Infinity Mirror Room for one minute as the artist intended.

Chicago Architecture Tour

See what you’ve missed with a trip on Chicago’s Classic Lady this month. The Chicago Architecture Center offers the quintessential tour, perfect for those finally visiting the city again.

Water Colors at Navy Pier

Get your live music fix for the summer through Navy Pier’s Water Colors. This program is a live jazz music series presented right on the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline. Check their website for more information on performers and scheduling.

Kayak for Conservation with Shedd Aquarium

Kayak with Shedd Aquarium Chicago River
Courtesy of Shedd Aquarium.

Get on the water for a good cause with Shedd Aquarium this month. The Kayak for Conservation program offers a suite of kayaking experiences on the Chicago River this summer. Open to all experience levels, the program allows participants to see Chicago from a unique and peaceful vantage point, learn about the Chicago River’s environmental history and discover wildlife living in the river’s ecosystem. Led by Shedd’s wildlife conservation experts, participants can also make an impact for animals as they help clean up litter floating on the river’s surface and contribute to ongoing research efforts to understand how best to improve the waterway for humans and animals alike.  

July 2: Grant Park Music Festival

Don’t miss this Chicago tradition! Head over to Millenium Park to enjoy music by The Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus. This year’s lineup will feature some favorites, including William Tell Overture, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, and family-friendly tunes with Carnival of the Animals and Classic Broadway.

July 2-4: Windy City Ribfest

This weekend, head Uptown to eat all the ribs you can manage. While you’re there, be sure to enjoy the music, family friendly activity area, arts and crafts, and more! The event will take place all weekend from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m.

July 3: Millenium Park Summer Workouts

Courtesy of Millennium Park
Courtesy of Millennium Park.

Each Saturday, enjoy an active start to your day with a thorough workout right in Millenium Park. Participants can choose between lessons in Tai Chi, Yoga, Pilates, and Zumba. View the summer workout schedule on their website.

July 7: Taste of Chicago To Go

Immerse yourself in Chicago’s diverse dining scene through this trademark event. Taste of Chicago To-Go will feature a variety of events around the city, including pop-up cooking demonstrations, the return of the “Community Eats” community meals program, and more. Admission is free, so make sure to head downtown this weekend and take advantage of all Chicago restaurants have to offer!

July 7: Shedd-Hosted Lunchtime Webinars on Wednesdays

Shedd Aquarium is hosting a new series of webinars throughout July where experts from the Chicago area will talk about why reuse always wins, opportunities and challenges with compostable food ware, and federal policies on the horizon to help Americans address plastic pollution at its source.

July 7 at 12 p.m. CST:  Why Reuse Always Wins 
When looking at human health, environmental footprint and even a business’s bottom line, switching to reusables in food service is a win-win-win situation. Experts will discuss various benefits of reusables as our society combats the negative impacts of plastic production and pollution. 

Other July webinars:

July 15 at 12 p.m. CSTClean Composting for a Better Future
July 21 at 12 p.m. CST: Let’s Shedd Plastic with Chicago Restaurants 
July 28 at 12 p.m. CST: Policy Change for a Plastic-Free Future

July 8: Ravinia District Food Truck Thursdays

Food Truck Thursdays are back! Starting July 8, make your way to the food trucks to sample delicious food and enjoy live music. Past vendors have included The Fat ShallotYum Dum, and Happy Lobster.

July 8: Teatro Zinzanni

Courtesy of Teatro Zinzanni.

Broadway in Chicago is proud to introduce their newest experience in the Loop Chicago Theatre District: Teatro Zinzanni. Join comedians Frank Ferrante and Joe DePaul and an incredibly talented cast of aerialists, acrobats, singers and dancers for a show filled with excitement and entertainment. This will surely be a summer highlight!

July 8: American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Across America

As part of the American Ballet Theatre’s “ABT Across America” performances, you can bear witness to one of the greatest dance companies in the world in a live performance at the Pritzker Pavilion. Their free 50-minute performance will take place on July 8 at 7:30, and seating will be granted on a first come, first serve basis.

July 8-9: Fresh Fest!

Only July 8 and 9, parents can bring their kids to Navy Pier to enjoy Fresh Fest!, a “free, family-friendly youth performance festival that is open to the public.” Performances will showcase young musicians, dancers and spoken word artists.

July 9-11: Windy City Smokeout

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Taking place right outside the United Center, Windy City Smokeout will be a can’t-miss summer event. Live music headliners including Brett Eldridge and Darius Rucker, so grab your cowboy boots and head over to enjoy the nation’s premier outdoor country music and BBQ festival. Get your passes here.

July 10: Art in the Chicago Architecture Center’s Design Studio

Bring your children to Chicago Architecture Center’s Design Studio on July 10 to let them channel their inner artist! This event is perfect for ages 3-7; children will be read “ Maybe Something Beautiful” by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howel, then will have the opportunity to create a masterpiece of their own. Tickets can be purchased here.

July 11: Flow With ROW Yoga Series

Head to Maggie Daley Park’s Cancer Survivors Garden every 2nd Saturday of the month starting July 11 for Flow With ROW Yoga Series. With a $10 suggested donation, you’ll partake in a a morning of movement and breath that supports breast cancer survivors.

Starts July 11: Sundays on State

Courtesy of Sundays on State.

Sundays through September, enjoy a free interactive block party on State Street in the Loop. From 11 am – 8 pm, there will be art, culture, active recreation, retail, bars, restaurants, and local attractions. Dates include July 11, 18, 25; August 8, 22, 29; September 5, 12.

July 12 & 15: Field Museum Free Day

It’s time to be reunited with SUE, and Illinois residents can enjoy free admission days at the Field Museum on July 12 and 15th.

July 13: Writing the American West Online Panel

Held via Zoom, the American Writers Museum will chat with 2021 Spur Award winners David Heska Wanbli Weiden (Best Contemporary Novel & Best First Novel), Johnny D. Boggs (Best Original Mass-Market Paperback), and W. Michael & Kathleen O’Neal Gear(Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature). Register here.

July 14: Museum of Science and Industry Free Day

Beat those sweltering July temps by spending the day at the Museum of Science and Industry, and checking out their Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes exhibit . Even better, admission is free to Illinois residents on July 14.

July 15: Shoreline Sightseeing Wine Tasting Cruise

Enjoy a short cruise along the Chicago River while sampling five wines from Lynfred Winery. The cruise takes off from Polk Bros Park at 7:30 pm and costs $60 per person.

July 15-18: Highwood Toagie Fest

Formerly known as North Shore Taco Fest, Toagie Fest (taco + hoagie) will be combined with the 54th Annual Highwood Days, which includes carnival rides, live music and more. “Toagie Fest is all about celebrating the eclectic taste of tacos and hoagies and the culinary diversity of Highwood. There is something for everyone with the combination of great food and drinks, live music and a carnival,” says M. Brad Slavin, President of Celebrate Highwood.

July 29: Lollapalooza

Lolla is back! Grab your best summer-ready outfit, and head to Grant Park for the festival you’ve been waiting for. Headliners this year include Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, Foo Fighters, Megan Thee Stallion, Marshmello and more.

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