A whopping 50+ things on my list for this year. Am I going to get through all of them? Maybe. Will my list help me make the most of every single summer day? DEFINITELY!
Writing a MASSIVE Chicago and Illinois Summer Bucket List is one of the enjoyable ways I ward off homesickness during a typical grey Chicago-style Springter. My mission is always to carpe-the-freaking-diem out of my American summers and in order to do that I like to think ahead and get organised but still remain super flexible because of the (often extreme) weather and the lastminute opportunities that inevitably come along. I’m driven by the knowledge that those 20 or so weekends FLY BY and before I know it, I’ll be snuggling indoors in a wooly jumper eating pumpkin-spiced-everythings and wondering where the actual hell my June, July and August went.
So here is my (ever growing) 2016 list. If you’ve lived in Illinois for a while, I hope this list offers you some inspiration. If you are a newcomer, I hope it helps you to hit the ground running in your first summer. If you are one of my family members in the UK, I hope it encourages you to get out here and come see me!
FESTIVALS (most of which are FREE!):
May 1 – 15 – Lilacia Festival Lombard
Lilac season is short and gorgeous in the Midwest and noone does it better than Lombard. Although I imagine the Chicago Botanical Gardens is equally amazing!
June 2-5 – Mai Fest
Remember the twist and shout scene in Ferris Bueller? I want that. That and a pretzel. A pretzel with mustard.
June 15- August 19 – Grant Park Music Festival
I remain STUNNED that this incredible festival is free. Take a picnic and a few bottles of bubbly and enjoy an evening or two or three in the company of world class classical performers at the gorgeous Pritzker Pavilion. This year I specifically have my eye on Pink Martini on June 22nd. Top tip, pop down there at lunchtime as they are often rehearsing. Such a Chicago experience to be able to listen to a symphony orchestra as you munch your sandwiches in the sunshine.
June 10-12 – Chicago Blues Festival
Went by accident during my first summer here, now have to go back every year since. Often a soggy weekend but the music more than makes up for it.
June 2 – September 18 – Ravinia
I’ve still not been to this seminal Chicagoland fest of outdoor music in beautiful botanical gardens. It’s pricey but apparently amazing and this year’s lineup looks typically fabulous. I would love to see either Duran Duran (8 July), Titanic live (29 July), Dolly Parton (7 August) or Bugs Bunny (11 Sept)
June 21-26 – Geneva “Swedish Days” Vast
Never been but it looks and sounds like a hoot. We went to Sweden on honeymoon so this should bring back some good memories!
July 2-4 Long Weekend! – Local Independence Day Celebrations
The last few years I’ve got myself to a city rooftop to enjoy breathtaking views of ALL the fireworks (god bless Illinois and it’s flatness) so this year I’m keeping it local. There are 317 professional displays across the state between 1st and 4th July fireworksinillinois.com (just fyi remember it is illegal for you to buy your own fireworks in Illinois)
July 9 – September 5 – Bristol Renaissance Faire
After hearing so much about this from American friends, my curiosity is finally piqued. Based on a cheesy af version of Ye Olde English history (a la Medieval Times) but it also looks like so much fun. I will let you know!
July 27 – 31 – Navy Pier Tall Ships Festival
Navy Pier has been totally revamped and I CAN’T WAIT to experience it. The Tall Ships festival is a great opportunity, there is also the Great American Lobster Fest during Labor Day weekend.
August 13 – 14 or 20 – 21 – Day Out with Thomas at the Illinois Railway Museum
I am both a steam buff and the mother of a Thomas obsessed toddler so this is firmly on the list. I’ll probably head up to the museum earlier in the season too. Just be warned, this is one hot, toasty day out and the museum is mostly outdoors with no shade.
August 20 – 21 – Chicago Air and Water Show
A busy but awesome day to head to a beach or get on the water (remember to take ear defenders for the kids)
September 7 – 11 – The Sandwich Fair
Smaller, older and closer-by than the huge Illinois state fair. I went last year and it was the epitome of Midwestern awesomeness. Livestock, tractors, fairground, farming, stockcar racing, BBQ ribs, peaches, corn, lots of corn, more corn, mad fairground snacks, no one understood my accent, I LOVED it.
September 10 – Revolutionary War Reenactment Cantigny Park
Not just a great history lesson but a fascinating day out to boot. Note to self- the role players take things v.e.r.y. seriously so watch your accents!
EXPERIENCES (many of which are simple summer pleasures!)
– Eat a TONNE of icecream: Chicago has so many famous places I’ve yet to try and some of them only open during the summer season, Scooters Frozen Custard and the famous Rainbow Cone are top of my icecream list >>
– Drink rose wine on my deck at dusk whilst watching fireflies
– Fly over the city on a Chicago Helicopter Experience – tried this new tour last year and loved it. Already booked again for this year.
– See the Chicago Botanical Gardens in summer (I’ve only ever been in autumn or winter)
– Try a proper Chicago style hotdog ie lashings of mustard and all the trimmings (“drag it through the garden” as they say) I’m thinking maybe the Superdawg Drive-thru
– Eat a “farm to table” communal meal – maybe this one at Heritage Farms, about half an hour west of me
– Spend a Saturday morning at Wheaton Farmers Market then spend rest of the day in my garden eating what I bought
– Stuff my face at a Ribfest – maybe this one in Naperville from July 1-4
– Take the train into the city and eat lunch at the Chicago French Market (following avidly on Facebook and especially tempted by the Da Lobsta lobster rolls)
– Go once round the Loop on the CTA
– Tour Wrigley Field (normally I get to go and see a game from the bleachers but I don’t think I’ll make it to a game this year!)
– Eat something I’ve never eaten before at Latinicity like Eataly but South and Central American food, totally new to me since I moved here
– Drive south down Lake Shore Drive on a nice sunny day whilst listening to awesome music
– Grow some tomatoes
– Spectate some high school or college level sport. Don’t care what sport! I just love how seriously they take school sport here
– Dance in the “spitty fountain” the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park
– Go to local museum Stacy’s Tavern Museum – I drive past it every single day and have never been in!
– Walk round Oak Park and visit the Hemingway Museum
– Visit the Naper Settlement – they have “Naper Nights” live music in summer which includes a Queen night on 23 July which looks great!
– Take my father-in-law to the Du Page Children’s Museum
– Go for brunch in Danada Square then take a nice wander round the historical stables of St James Farm
– Shedd Aquarium – no explanation required! Can’t believe we’ve never been yet
– Walk round Cantigny Park rose garden and (literally) stop and smell the roses (free on Wednesdays)
– Visit a Bass Pro Fishing shop and buy something bombastically American and survival related. Not a gun though. Maybe a speedboat?
– Watch a movie at a drive-in movie – my local one is Cascade Drive-In
– Ride a bike round Morton Arboretum
– have a drink on a rooftop bar – maybe J Parker
– Spend as much time as possible at our local “splash pad” and all the outdoor pools (bonus points if I manage a rooftop pool!)
– Ogle at vintage American cars at a local “cruise night” Wheaton is especially good for vintage cruise nights
– Go to DeKalb Lowden State Park to see the Black Hawk statue
Other things that I love to do here in summer but didn’t make this year’s list:
– Lollapalooza and Spring Awakening
– Sunset kayaking down the Chicago river (bliss)
– Vollo Car Museum (bonkers)
– Brookfield Zoo (going to save it for Halloween!)
– Lisle Eyes to the Sky Balloon Festival (take a camera)
– Lincoln Park Zoo Nights (beer and bears)
– Driving Route 66 (don’t pick up any hitchhikers in Joliet)
– Horse racing at Arlington Park (gee gees!)
– Springfield and the Lincoln Museum (incredible)
– Brunch at the top of the Hancock tower (scrummy views and food)
– driving down and round to Michigan (Saugatuck is a favourite)
– buying myself a few winter-proof hostas at Hornbaker Gardens
What did I miss? I’ve seen so little of the city and this state, get in touch and let me know what I should do whilst we are living here!