Chicago is a bundle of accessible fun in the summer!
I am a native Chicagoan, and we Chicagoans live for the summer! Although this year’s winter was relatively mild, the city revels in warm weather with festivals, food, gardens, and music! If you have always wanted to visit, Chicago is at its best from Memorial Day until Columbus Day. And best of all, Chicago is an easy city to maneuver with level, wide sidewalks, plenty of curb cuts, and lots of accessible attractions and transportation options.
Festivals abound every weekend in the summer, and many of them are free or require a small donation. They can get crowded in the afternoons, so if crowds aren’t your thing, go early. Otherwise, enjoy the day wandering through juried art fairs, food festivals, and music celebrations.
We’ve given you our top 10, but there are over 400 events every summer, so you are sure to find a few that are right up your alley.
All Summer Long
Buckingham Fountain – One of my personal childhood favorites, and a can’t miss for anyone visiting Chicago. The fountain is simply magical in the evening when it dances to music and light every 20 minutes until 10:00 p.m. End your stroll in Grant Park with a nightcap at Kitty O’Shea’s in the Chicago Hilton and Towers for a guaranteed romantic evening. There is plenty of accessible parking in the Grant Park Garage.
Millennium Park – No visit to Chicago is complete without a visit to its crown jewel, Millennium Park. The winter ice rink converts to the fun Park Grille outdoor café. Don’t forget to take your picture in front of the Bean and romp through the funky and famous Crown Fountains. Wander in the Lurie Gardens, or take in the sounds of Chicago in the band shell. There is plenty of accessible parking in the Millennium Park Garage, and several busses stop right in front of the park.
Navy Pier’s Beer Garden – Listen to live music while enjoying the beautiful Chicago skyline. Bands vary from polka to pop, disco to country. Bring a picnic lunch, or grab a quick bite and a beer. Wave to passersby on boats, or steal away to the East end of the pier with your sweetie for a romantic smooch in the moonlight. If you go on a Wednesday or Saturday, you will be treated to a fabulous fireworks display. Public transit stops in front of Navy Pier, and there is accessible, yet expensive indoor parking.
Lincoln Park Zoo – Lincoln Park Zoo is a real gem in this lakeside city. Just steps from the beach, Lincoln Park Zoo offers one of the most beautiful free zoos in the country. Enjoy animals from every continent, stroll by the lagoon, or visit the goats in the Farm in the Zoo. Looking for an evening of entertainment? Check out Jamming at the Zoo, where popular bands from around the country set up shop and entertain you and the animals. There is plenty of accessible parking, and public transportation stops right at the front gate.
Chicago Blues Fest – June 8 – 10 – Chicago is known for many things, and Blues music is definitely one of them! Bring your blanket and picnic gear or get your wristband for priority seating if you have a disability, and settle in for a weekend of sounds from the most talented Blues musicians in the world. Accessible parking is available in the Grant Park Parking Garage or take public transportation.
Wells Street Art Festival – June 9 – 10 – Check out incredible sculpture, funky photography, landscapes, jewelry and many other creative arts at this juried art show in the heart of Old Town on Chicago’s north side. The festival opens at 10:00 a.m. and runs until 10:00 p.m. The music stages start up at 12:15. Go early to beat the crowds, and then park yourself at one of the many restaurants on Wells Street for some great people watching. Accessible parking can be found at Piper’s Alley on North Avenue, take the Brown line to Sedgwick, which has an elevator, or ride the bus to North Avenue and Wells.
Taste of Randolph Street -- June 15 – 17 -- Some of the most eclectic and dynamic restaurants in the city provide yummy menu samplings, while local artisans and musicians provide entertainment on Chicago’s west side. Formerly a place of food vendor warehouses, Randolph Street has become one the hottest places for dining and entertainment. There is little shade at this festival, so if it’s warm, go early and bring lots of water. Use the CTA’s trip planner to chart your course on public transportation. http://www.transitchicago.com/travel_information/trip_planner.aspx
Taste of Chicago – July 11 – July 15 – The legendary festival has been reduced to five days this year, but it is sure to be packed with lots of great Chicago treats and music. Save your appetite for Chicago’s best ribs, deep dish pizza, and Chicago-style hotdogs or try some new and exotic foods from around the world. The crowds do pack in to Grant Park, so we have found it best to go for lunch, and head over to visit the Art Institute or one of Chicago’s famous museums that are nearby. Note: if you are an Illinois resident, the Chicago museums have many free days. Accessible parking is available in the Grant Park Garage or take public transportation.
Chicago Air and Water Show – August 18 – 19 – You have a couple of options here. Join the massive crowds at the accessible North Avenue Beach, the heart of one of the largest free air shows in the world, or chill out at one of the many lakeside parks in the city, set up a picnic, and watch some amazing airplanes take flight right above your head. If you choose the North Avenue Beach Option, people with disabilities can get wristbands for priority seating. Parking is scarce, so plan to take public transportation.
Chicago Jazz Festival -- -- Labor Day Weekend – Spend the holiday listening to some of the best jazz musicians in the world in some of the city’s best venues, the Cultural Center, Millennium Park, and Grant Park. Wristbands are available for reserved seating for people with disabilities, as well as sign-language interpretation. There is plenty of accessible parking at Grant Park and Millennium Park and lots of bus options.
If you are planning to stay for a while, there are plenty of hotels of varying prices to choose from. Many of them have weekend specials to draw leisure guests to the city. You can check out our list of highlighted accessible options, or find your own. We have found that the best accessibility can be found in most Marriott and Sheraton/Westin hotels. However, there are many, many choices, so you will be sure to find an option that works best for you.
Plan you Chicago excursion now! Pack your sunscreen, your picnic gear, and your sunglasses and enjoy an exciting time in the Windy City!
And... as always...