After you and your guests have toured the Chicago River by boat, spent hours in the hallowed halls of the Field Museum, and braved the crowds at Navy Pier, what’s next?
Here are 12 ideas guaranteed to make you and your guests fall in love with summer in Chicago all over again.
Dance under the stars at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park (601 S. Michigan Ave.). Learn to salsa, mambo, swing dance and more, at free, one-hour dance lessons with professional instructors, followed by two hours of live music and dancing on a 4,600-square-foot dance floor.
Thurs., Fri., and Sat. evenings, 6-9:30 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, 4-7 p.m., weather permitting, explorechicago.org
A summer tradition, Chicago’s premier garden walks have become huge street festivals. The Sheffield Garden Walk is one of the largest and best organized, while the Dearborn Garden Walk allows glimpses into the good life on the Gold Coast. Both take place in mid-July. Make sure to pick up a map and take a self-guided, free tour of the gardens.
Faced with a rainy day and cancelled outdoor plans? Head to Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory, the only city-run indoor playground for kids. Located 10 minutes west of downtown Chicago, you can marvel at one of the largest gardens under glass in the world, designed by landscape architect Jens Jensen in 1907. Safety is a concern in this neighborhood, so park in the free lot just to the south of the conservatory, which is manned by security.
DIY Frank Lloyd Wright Tour
If you’ve already done the official tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio in Oak Park, you might want to circle back for another visit and a do-it-yourself tour of the neighborhood’s historic district that surrounds the Home and Studio (including those Victorian homes with the traditional architecture that Mr. Wright so despised). Buy a $3 Architectural Guide map of Oak Park and River Forest at the Home and Studio’s gift shop, and go exploring.
Grant Park Music Festival
Still the only free series of open-air professional orchestral concerts in the country, this is your chance to show your guests the gorgeous Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Lawn and general seating is free —no tickets necessary. Get there an hour or two early to claim a good spot on the lawn and enjoy your picnic.
Water Taxi to Chinatown
The Chicago Water Taxi (run by venerable Wendella Tours) runs to Chinatown from its regular stops on the Chicago River at Michigan Ave., LaSalle/Clark and Riverside Plaza. Ride the Metra downtown, grab the water taxi at the Riverside Plaza stop, and enjoy a scenic ride to Chinatown for $2. Have a fabulous and inexpensive meal at one of Chinatown’s restaurants, then hop back on the water taxi for a relaxing ride back to the train.
Outdoor Dining in Greektown
No better place for you to show off Chicago’s skyline to a group of visitors than the rooftop dining area of a fun, boisterous restaurant in Greektown. Pegasus, with its rooftop patio serving drinks, appetizers and desserts, is a great place to begin or end your night.
Pegasus, 130 S. Halsted St. between Monroe and Adams streets, 312/226-3377
Pilsen Art Walk
On the second Friday of the month, galleries and lofts on Halsted Street between 17th and 18th streets in the Chicago Arts District area of Pilsen open their doors from 6-10 p.m. Behind the storefronts, the galleries open onto a communal courtyard that’s filled with art projects. Most galleries serve finger food and sometimes, wine and beer. Great for guests who like to get off the beaten track!
You’ve done the Architecture Boat tour. Now, head to the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s land-based home to view their permanent exhibition: Chicago Model City, which features a huge scale model of downtown Chicago – the perfect way to orient your visitors to Chicago’s landscape.
Open to the public daily 9 a.m. – 6 p.m., 224 S. Michigan Ave, architecture.org
Printers Row Lit Fest
Bibliophiles among your guests? One of the largest free outdoor book fairs in the country offers a weekend jam-packed with author talks, book signings, panel discussions and of course, the more than 150 booksellers with new, used and antiquarian books for sale. June 12-13, on Dearborn Street from Congress to Polk.
57th Street Art Fair
Experienced art buyers know that the fairs that take place earliest in the summer give you and your guests the chance to snap up the artists’ best work, before it gets bought up by others. On June 5-6, you can check out the colorful neighborhood of Hyde Park while perusing the art at the 63rd annual 57th Street Art Fair, located at 57th Street and Kimbark Avenue.
Chicago Green City Market
On Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m.-1 p.m., treat your guests to a feast of fresh, delicious and local food at this outdoor market, located at the south end of Lincoln Park, at Clark St. and Stockton Drive. (With a $5 purchase, you can get discounted $9 parking for two hours at the Chicago History Center’s parking lot, off Stockton Drive). You might even find yourself alongside one of Chicago’s premier chefs, many of whom come here to pick the freshest produce, cheese, poultry, eggs, honey and more.