Explore Chicago

The Best Things to Do Outdoors in Chicago

Soak up the sun on the shore, at the stadium or on the sidewalk.

Chicago might only get 100 days of summer, but that doesn't mean the city doesn't know how to take full advantage of each and every one. If you're lucky enough to have Mother Nature's blessing, go out and soak up some rays. Here, our picks for where to visit, shop, eat, drink and cheer. 

Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier
Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier (Courtesy Navy Pier)

Navy Pier

When it was constructed in 1916, Navy Pier—then named Municipal Pier—was supposed to be the first of five piers along the city’s lakefront. More than 100 years later, it’s impossible to consider the landmark as anything other than one of a kind. For a century it’s attracted and entertained locals, constantly updating itself to stay relevant.

In 2017 more than ever, it’s a must-visit destination: Last year the Ferris wheel was replaced with the 196-foot-tall Centennial Wheel, which twirls 42 climate-controlled, 10-seat gondolas. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater was redesigned as a stunning six-story glass complex with two indoor stages as well as the outdoor Yard. Elsewhere along the pier, boats from Seadog Cruises, Odyssey Cruises and Tall Ship Windy embark on lake tours. Don’t miss the fireworks show every Wednesday and Saturday until Labor Day. 

Candida Alvarez work along the Riverwalk
Candida Alvarez work along the Riverwalk (Courtesy Department of Cultural Affairs)

The Riverwalk

We wouldn’t have thought that the Riverwalk could get more beautiful. We would have been wrong: As part of the Year of Public Art, the city has commissioned local artists Tony Tasset, Scott Reeder, Candida Alvarez, Sam Kirk and Tyrue “Slang” Jones to create and install large works along the 1.25-mile promenade. The art ranges from the graffiti work of Kirk to the mixed-media, abstract paintings of Alvarez to a giant fiberglass deer created by Tasset.

The Riverwalk is also home to City Winery, a restaurant with a stunning riverside patio and Urban Kayaks, where guests can rent a kayak and go for a paddle around the river with  guided tours available.

Wade Davis of the Chicago Cubs pitches
Wade Davis of the Chicago Cubs (©Getty Images)

The Cubs and White Sox

Iconic. That’s the only way to describe the Cubs’ World Series win last year. You can still feel the electricity in Wrigley Field, the city’s reinvigorated love for our longtime underdogs. The field itself is part of baseball history: the famous bricks and ivy have stood since 1914. But it’s the camaraderie and party-like atmosphere of Wrigley Field that makes games the quintessential Chicago summer activity. In August, the team has home-field advantage against the Diamondbacks (Aug. 1-3), the Nationals (Aug. 4-6), the Reds (Aug. 14-17), the Blue Jays (Aug. 18-20), the Pirates (Aug. 28-Aug. 30) and the Braves (Aug. 31-Sept. 3).

Meanwhile across town, the White Sox are the beloved darlings of the South Siders and the arch foes of the blue-clad Cubbies—it’s some real “Game of Thrones” type stuff around here. Their stadium is now named Guaranteed Rate Field—a mouthful, we know—but the long-standing pride in the team is the same. Go watch as José Abreu and Jake Burger leave it all on the field. In August the home schedule includes the Blue Jays (Aug. 1-2), the Astros (Aug. 8-10), the Royals (Aug. 11-13), the Twins (Aug. 21-24) and the Tigers (Aug. 25-27). For tickets and schedules, visit mlb.com 

Bastian Schweinsteiger of the Chicago Fire
Bastian Schweinsteiger of the Chicago Fire (Courtesy Chicago Fire Soccer Club)

The Chicago Fire

Sure, our other sports might get more buzz, but John Kass of the Chicago Tribune just named the Chicago Fire soccer team “the best team in Chicago sports. Period.” It’s no wonder why. Though previously ignored, the Fire is hotter than ever and stacked with stars. At the time of writing they are on a nine-game winning streak and forward Nemanja Nikolic leads Major League Soccer in goals. German import Bastian Schweinsteiger already has a World Cup under his belt and Florida-born Dax McCarty has become the team’s midfield dominator. Head to Toyota Park to watch them face off against the New England Revolution (Aug. 5), the Toronto FC (Aug. 19) and the Minnesota United FC (Aug. 26). For tickets and schedules, visit the team site.

Parson's Chicken & Fish patio
Parson's Chicken & Fish patio (Courtesy Land & Sea Dept)

Parson’s Chicken & Fish

Logan Square is like Chicago’s Williamsburg: A haven for trendy hipsters and unpretentious eateries with quality food for less cash than their Mag Mile counterparts. See Parson’s Chicken & Fish, a local hotspot renowned for exactly what their name implies: delicious—and locally sourced—fried Amish chicken and fish fries. During the summer, the patio is packed with picnic tables and games. Order a negroni slushy for a perfect, relaxing afternoon. 2952 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773.384.3333

Eight Bar Patio (courtesy Maple & Ash)
Eight Bar Patio (courtesy Maple & Ash)

Eight Bar’s Patio

Luxe steakhouse Maple & Ash and its swanky, but more casual downstairs sister Eight Bar have created a lush patio environment in the heart of Gold Coast. Though neighbors like Gibsons, Tavern on Rush or Nico Osteria all boast see-and-be-seen patios, Eight Bar’s sidewalk seating is the only spot you can sip a 40-ounce bottle of rosé ($40)—served in a paper bag!—while watching the glam passers-by. If you’re feeling hungry, definitely order the Slagel Farm crispy fried chicken: Chef Danny Grant spent months perfecting the mix of spices and the interaction with the housemade hot sauce and pepper honey. 8 W. Maple St., Chicago, 312.944.8888

Randolph Street Market
Randolph Street Market (Courtesy of Randolph Street Market)

Randolph Street Market

This fab market boasts more than 300 vendors displaying everything from furniture, home goods, vintage clothing, jewelry, artifacts and artisan sweets—all sprawled over eight acres of indoor and outdoor space.

This month’s theme is “Back to Cool,” and features trendy back-to-school fashion and gear. Shopping sprees can be exhausting, luckily guests can refuel at spots like Taco in a Bag, Dia de los Tamales and Magic Circle Crepes. Oh, and did we mention there’s a bar? The market has partnered with Constellation brands to bring beers like Modelo Especial, Victoria, Corona Extra and Tocayo, in addition to Charles Smith wines and Ruffino prosecco, to quench shoppers’ thirsts. $8 general admission, $10 at the gate. 1340 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago, 312.666.1200