Nothing says summer in Chicago quite like a neighborhood festival. So, now that festival season is really underway, it's finally starting to feel like summer in city. My family always seem to build our weekend schedules around which neighborhood festivals we need to be sure to hit. We just can't help it. All of us love using a festival as the perfect excuse to explore a new neighborhood, celebrate a holiday, partake in new cultural traditions, sample different foods, or just enjoy what makes summer in Chicago the absolute best time of the year
With two weekends of summer neighborhood festivals already wrapped for the season, we're narrowing our focus on the must-visit, must-do neighborhood festivals for now through September. And, of course, our top picks are some of the best global-inspired festivals that take us back and forth across the city - exposing us to new neighborhoods and cultures, and allowing us to travel the world without leaving the city limits.
Here are my top picks for family friendly ethnic festivals in Chicago this summer:
June 14 - 16: Oakley Festa Pasta Vino, Heart of Chicago
This Italian festival is located in the "Little Tuscany" area of Chicago at 24th and Oakley. It features Italian food, wine, music, arts and more. My dad loved to take my family to thisneighborhood when we were kids since it felt like a cultural "find," removed from the more well-known Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago. That's why it's even more special to take my own sons here now too.
June 14 - 16: Lincoln Park Greek Fest, Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park Greek Festival allows you to be Greek for a day - right in the heart of the Chicago. You can enjoy all that the Greek culture has to offer - food, music, traditions and more.
June 19 - 21: Thai Festival, Loop
The Thai Festival is organized by the Royal Thai Consulate General in Chicago to promote traditional Thai dancing, boxing, music, food, and massage - to just name a few. It brings a real piece and flavor of Thailand to the heart of the city at the Federal Plaza (at Adams and Dearborn Streets).
July 12 - 14: Irish American Heritage Festival, Irish American Heritage Center
The annual event, held at the Irish American Heritage Center, showcases local and international Irish music and dance, food and culture. Families can enjoy plenty of children's activities, a folk tent with demonstrations of Irish instruments, dance lessons and sing-alongs, language lessons, and more.
July 13: Bastille Day Chicago, Daley Plaza
Chicagoans can celebrate the French national holiday in the heart of Chicago at Daley Plaza from 4 - 10 p.m. The free event offers a variety of French food and music for all to enjoy. My family went last year - and we had a great time. We savored crepes and macarons, enjoyed French music and dancing, and met lots of Francophiles and Francophones. Our sons also loved sliding down the Picasso statue in the center of the plaza - an appropriate work of art to interact with on Bastille Day given the artist's love of France and long history with Chicago.
July 21: Chinatown Summer Fair, Chinatown
The Chinatown Summer Fair is the perfect excuse to visit this vibrant, bustling neighborhood and enjoy the best of Chinese culture - right in Chicago. The one-day event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., features a Dragon and Lion Dance procession, as well as food, music, shopping and a children's area. It was incredibly hot when my family went to the event last year, but the heat provided us with the perfect excuse to duck in and out of restaurants and bakeries to browse, shop and explore - and cool off for a bit.
July 25 - 28: Fiesta Del Sol, Pilsen
Fiesta del Sol is billed as the largest Latino festival in the Midwest, typically drawing more than 1 million visitors over the course of the four-day event. Its many offerings live entertainment, local art, food, carnival rides, a children's area, and soccer games.
August 10 - 11: Chicago Korean Festival, Korea Town
The Chicago Korean Festival is the only Korean festival in the Midwest. It offers traditional and contemporary music, a singing contest, 5K race, Ssireum Tournament (traditional Korean wrestling) - and more. My family went to this festival several year ago and we keep saying that we need to go back again soon. So, this year will be the year we make good on our word!
August 22 - 25: Festa Italiana, Little Italy
Festa Italiana celebrates the history and heritage of Chicago’s Historic Little Italy. The four-day street fest featuring live music, Italian food and local artisans - all along the streets of the vibrant neighborhood. If the heat gets to be too much, make sure to stop for an Italian ice at Mario's Italian Lemonade (my dad's favorite place).
August 23 - 25: Brasil Fest, Logan Square
This year marks the second year of Brasil Fest Chicago. The festival boasts that it will be bigger and better this year with even more music, dancing, food and children's activities. Here's to getting better with age!
September 6 - 8: Festival de la Vilita, Little Village
You can celebrate Mexico's independence from Spain at Festival de La Vilita in the Little Village neighborhood. The three-day, free event is billed as the Midwest's premier outdoor gala of Mexican culture. It features food, artisans, entertainment for kids and carnival rides - all of the makings of a great neighborhood festival!
While I do love Chicago in the summer, sometimes it's nice to escape the city for the weekend and head to one of our neighboring states that offer a different taste of life - even if it's just for a few days. My family always enjoys making the trip to Milwaukee, Wis. Our fellow city along Lake Michigan offers an urban zest at a slower pace, and has some amazing cultural festivals that are work the trip for a fun, ethnic-inspired day in the sun. So, I've also included a few top global festival picks for Milwaukee this summer.
All of the festivals take place at the Summerfest grounds along the lakefront - Maier Festival Park, 200 N. Harbor Drive. It's a great place to enjoy a festival in a large area complete with all of the necessary amenities - and convenient, nearby parking which is always a plus.
Here are my top picks for ethnic summer festivals in Milwaukee:
July 18 - 21: Festa Italiana
Come hungry to this celebration that's all about food. Choose from popular Festa Italiana items like rice balls, Italian sausage sandwiches, calamari, pasta, cannoli - and more! My family can't wait to play bocce ball on one of the many outdoor courts. Families also can check out the Pinocchio Parade and a full list of kiddo-pleasing entertainment at the Children's Stage.
July 25 - 28: German Fest
Milwaukee's German Fest celebrates practically every aspect of German culture and tradition - including food, music, history, travel and more. You can shop for glockenspiel, catch an oompah band, savor some schnitzel, and even catch a soccer tournament.
August 3 - 4: African World Festival
At African World Festival, you can explore the cultural village, sample a variety of ethnic foods, browse goods within the Marketplace, sit back and enjoy the sounds of R&B, blues, hip-hop and jazz - and more!!
August 15 - 18: Irish Fest
Miwauee's Irish Fest is billed as the world's largest celebration of Irish music and culture. It offers a huge selection of family activities, including Family Passport, which lets families collect stamps in their Pirate Paddy Passports at stops throughout the festival grounds. At each stop, kids can make crafts and win prizes. It's a great way to keep the whole family entertained and engaged - all day long. We'll also be sure to stop by the Leprechaun Village where our kids can search for gold!
August 23 - 25: Mexican Fiesta
Mexican Fiesta brings all of the wonders of Mexico right to Milwaukee. The festival honors culture, tradition and family, and welcomes visitors to immerse themselves in Mexican food, music, art and history.
What are your favorite ethnic neighborhood festivals in Chicago - and Milwaukee? Which ones do you want to try out this summer? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.