Explore Chicago

Chicago's Top July Summer Fests

8 Chicago summer festivals that happen in July that should make your to-do list.

Chicago summers are meant to be savored and are appropriately packed with outdoor events every week in practically every area of the city. The festival vibe is up to you. 

THE BIG DADDY 

There’s nothing quite like mingling with the masses of Taste of Chicago. Since 1980, it’s lured millions of hungry visitors who devour burritos, sausages, pizza, ribs, hot dogs, gelato and the beloved Original Rainbow Cone, all in the heart of Grant Park. As if that’s not enough to send us rolling home, this year also brings back nearly a dozen pop-up restaurants and a lineup of 17 food truck vendors, doling out everything from cupcakes to jerk chicken. Time it right and you can stroll over with your laden plates to the Petrillo Music Shell to hear top musical acts. Concert ticket prices vary, but swift thinkers snag free lawn space in adjacent Butler Field. For fancy-pants feasting, get advance tickets for the Celebrity Chef du Jour, hosted by award-winning Chi-town chefs who serve up multi-course meals in an air-conditioned pavilion. Free entry; fees for booth food tickets. Grant Park at Jackson and Columbus, www.tasteofchicago.us

ANYTHING BUT SQUARE

The heart of the Square Roots festival beats strongest in its dozens of musical performances on four stages—sounds of American roots and world music rule. Rounding it out is a craft beer tasting, nightly dance parties, open jam sessions, local food vendors and kids activities. Suggested donation. Lincoln Avenue between Montrose and Wilson, 773.728.3890, www.squareroots.org

Square Roots
Square Roots (©Dan Kasberger)

‘CUE UP FOR COUNTRY

If your boots were made for walking, spend a weekend with 40,000 country music fans during the Windy City Smokeout hosted by Bub City. Chew on smoked meats from local ‘cue joints like Chicago Q, Lillie’s Q and Smoque while headliners rile the crowds with their country charm. Grand and the Chicago River. Single and three-day passes available. www.windycitysmokeout.com

THE WILD, WILD WEST

If it’s cliché to use the word hip, then let’s just call Wicker Park and West Town the neighborhoods of the moment. Chicago Avenue shuts down for 10-year-old West Fest, whose musical lineup is as eclectic as its denizens (think Lee Fields and the Expressions, DJ Jesse de la Pena and house music legend Derrick Carter). Organizers estimated 60,000-plus attendees last year—among them families and animal lovers (Kids Fest and Pet Fest are wrapped into the festivities). July 12-13. Noon to 10 pm. $5 suggested donation. Chicago Avenue between Damen and Wood avenues. www.westfestchicago.com It’s just a warm-up for Wicker Park Fest, a colossal street party with three stages of live music featuring acts such as Owls and Hop Along, a section for installation and performance artists, local vendors and restaurants and crafts, face painting, chess and Lego Robotics for the tykes. Suggested donation. Milwaukee Avenue between North and Paulina avenues. www.wickerparkfest.com

Wicker Park Fest
Wicker Park Fest

NO TOP 40 HERE

Three-day passes for Pitchfork Music Festival go on sales months ahead of time and sell out pretty quickly, although single-day tickets may still be out there for a budget-friendly day’s worth of indie rockers, both emerging and established. Set in sprawling Union Park with downtown skyscrapers in the distance, this manic music party brings in about 50,000 shoulder-to-shoulder fans from around the world. Acts in the past have included Beck, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kendrick Lamar, St. Vincent and Cloud Nothings. Like what you hear? Find it in vinyl from the sellers organized by the Chicago Independent Radio Project. Cycle out there and park securely at Biker Village. Day and three-day passes. Ashland Avenue and Lake Street. www.pitchforkmusicfestival.com

DOWN BY THE RIVER

Ward Park goes from serene to smokin’ when 40-000-plus Chicagoans slide into its picturesque setting for Taste of River North, a weekend of live music, food, art from neighborhood galleries and kids activities. Cover bands make us nostalgic for the '80s and '90s. Kingsbury and Erie streets. Suggested donation. www.tasteofrivernorth.com

STREET CLOSURES AHEAD

Taste of Lincoln Avenue covers more than six city blocks of Lincoln Park with more than 250 vendors and dozens of musical acts that bust out rock, country, blues and more. Past headliners have included Gin Blossoms, Lovehammers, Trippin Billies and Rusted Root. Kids get pony rides, face-painting, a petting zoo, and arts and crafts, so everyone’s happy. Small entrance fee. Lincoln Avenue between Fullerton and Wrightwood. www.tasteoflincolnchicago.com