8 great things to do in Chicago with your family this summer

It goes without saying that Chicagoans deserve a long, hot summer.

After spending way too much time stuck indoors this winter, we’re anxious to make the most of the warmer temperatures and celebrate the start of our well-deserved summer.

All it takes is one look at Chicago’s lakefront or city streets to see that Chicagoans aren’t wasting any time with spring. Oh no. We’ve pulled out the shorts, sundresses and hats, we’re sitting in outdoor cafes, and we’re settling into a weekend street festival routine. We’re solely focused on summer – and collectively ready to bring it on!

Here are 8 great things to do in Chicago with your family this summer:

The Myojo Ramen booth at Japan Fest.

The Myojo Ramen booth at Japan Fest.

1. Dive into new cultures by attending neighborhood street festivals. Once summer hits, it’s likely that you’ll find me and my family at one of the summer street festivals that pop up in neighborhoods across the city. This year, more than 25 multicultural festivals are taking place across Chicago and the suburbs, running from June through August (and beyond).

To me, that means I can continue to expose my sons to new people, traditions and cultures all summer long – without leaving the city limits.

You can find a list of multicultural street festivals happening in Chicago here. Be sure to check back each week for my list of the top 5 multicultural family events happening in Chicago each weekend, too.

Bocce players at the public courts in Chicago's Little Italy.

Bocce players at the public courts in Chicago’s Little Italy.

2. Try out a new outdoor sport. My pick? French petanque and Italian bocce. My family tried our hand at petanque in Paris a few summers ago and picked up bocce here in Chicago. After a few throws of the “boules” for both sports, we were hooked on the global games.

Petanque and bocce are definitely sports for all ages – and my sons love to start up a game whenever we stumble upon a court (official or makeshift).

In Chicago, you can join in a game of petanque with the Chicago Petanque Club. Yes, the Windy City has its own petanque club – based in the western suburbs!

You can play bocce outdoors at two public courts located along a quiet stretch of Taylor Street in Chicago’s Little Italy neighborhood.

The Wicker Park Bocce Club, now in its second year, maintains a pair of outdoor bocce courts at 1944 W. Crystal Street. You can pick up a set of bocce balls (free with identification) at nearby Small Bar (2047 W. Division Street).

In the suburbs, you can play bocce at Pinstripes in Oakbrook, Northbrook and South Barrington. It costs $5 per person per hour Sunday through Thursday from open to close and Friday and Saturday from open until 5 pm.

The view of the Chicago skyline from North Avenue Beach.

The view of the Chicago skyline from North Avenue Beach.

3. Hit the beach to cool down and see the city from a new viewpoint. I know I’m biased, but Chicago is a gorgeous city. Its beauty comes from its architecture and our lakefront. And, when the temperatures are on the rise, it’s time to head to the lake and hit the beach.

A mix of quiet and bustling beaches dot the city’s lakefront – from north to south. You can swim, bike or walk the lakefront, capturing breathtaking views of the city at the same time.

If you like a crowded with throngs of happy people, you should head to North Avenue or Oak Street Beaches. Both have public bathrooms and restaurants – and amazing views of the Chicago skyline.

For a quieter experience and a unique view of the city’s skyline, I like to head to Ohio Street Beach. The beach juts out a bit from the lakefront and actually faces north instead of east. On a hot day, the buildings along Lake Shore Drive cast a shadow over a portion of the beach, offering a sweet respite from the hot sun.

During the summer, it’s easy to get out and explore the lakefront – and find your favorite beach. At the very least, you’ll uncover new neighborhoods and meet new people.

Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain in Millennium Park; photo Patrick Pyszka.

Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain in Millennium Park; photo Patrick Pyszka.

4. Get “spit on” by a fountain at Millennium Park. It’s hard to imagine how much fun you and your family can have in less than an inch of water that lines the surface of Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. On any given day, you can see kids – and adults – happily splashing in the water.

But, the big draw are the two 50-foot, glass-block towers at each end that “spit” out water on happy families at regularly timed intervals.

The towers are a sight to behold in and of themselves. They project video images of a diverse array of Chicagoan’s faces, culminating in a “waterfall” that shoots out a steady stream of water.

Those in the know anxiously wait for the towers to “spit” again. Newcomers are often caught off guard by an unexpected, but refreshing, shower of water.

When you’re dried off, be sure to head to “the bean” (more formally known as Cloud Gate), which I do believe is one of the most photographed sites in Chicago these days. It’s worth a trip over to check out your family’s reflections from any and every angle.

A ice-cold cup of Mario's Italian Lemonade (located in Chicago's Little Italy).

A ice-cold cup of Mario’s Italian Lemonade (located in Chicago’s Little Italy).

5. Cool off with an ice-cold sweet treat from around the world. Yes, even the indulgence in ice cream can be a way to get a “taste” of another culture without leaving Chicago.

Across the city, there is no shortage of options to cool off and satisfy your sweet tooth with a global sweet treat. On any given day, you can sample Italian ice or lemonade, bubble tea, patbingsu (Korean shaved ice), mocha ice cream, green tea ice cream and more.

Of course, nothing celebrates the beauty of so many different flavors like Chicago’s Original Rainbow Cone. It’s hard to believe that one cone could be a Chicago classic, but it’s true. There’s nothing quite one cone that can hold five different flavors: Chocolate, Strawberry, Palmer House (New York Vanilla with cherries and walnuts), Pistachio and Orange Sherbet. People always line up at the Original Rainbow Cone booth at Taste of Chicago to grab one for themselves – for good reason.

You can find my picks for the best global ice-cold sweet treats here.

A boat cruising down the Chicago River.

A boat cruising down the Chicago River.

6. Beat the heat and the crowds with a water taxi ride on Lake Michigan. A great way to see the city and beat the traffic – is by boat. That’s why tourists, residents and commuters alike flock to the city’s water taxis – especially during the summer months.

My family likes to hop a water taxi – even if it’s for a short, wind-blown trip down the Chicago River. But, this year, I’d like to take a water taxi to Chinatown and back again.

We usually grab one of the Shoreline Sightseeing water taxis, which dock at Navy Pier. But, you can grab a Chicago Water Taxi if you want to head to Chinatown.

A fun spot to relax along the Lincoln Park Zoo's Nature Boardwalk.

A fun spot to relax along the Lincoln Park Zoo’s Nature Boardwalk.

7. Hang with the monkeys at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I feel fortunate to have such an amazing, FREE zoo right in the heart of Chicago. The Lincoln Park Zoo is one of my favorite places in Chicago – and I’m glad whenever we’re able to stop there to admire the animals.

If your children get tired of looking at the monkeys, lions and giraffes, you can let them climb through the treehouse-like maze in the Children’s Zoo. The maze is also free – and it often keeps my sons happy for hours and hours.

While you’re at the Lincoln Park Zoo, you should head out and walk to the Nature Boardwalk. It’s on the way to the Farm in the Zoo and offers some of the best views of the Chicago skyline. My sons love to climb on the rocks, check out the prairie glasses, and take shelter under the honeycomb-like structure on the east side of the pond.

A new polar bear and penguin habit is being built on the northwest side of the zoo, and is due to open in 2016. Your children can always check out the construction process as the new one takes shape.

Green City Market on a busy Saturday morning.

Green City Market on a busy Saturday morning.

8. Sample the season’s fresh selections at a farmers market. For me, there’s nothing like watching the subtle change in fresh produce at local Chicago farmers markets. When they open in May, there’s usually asapargus, rhubard and some strawberries. But, in the heart of the summer, you can find blueberries, peaches, cherries and more.

Whenever I take my sons to a farmers market, they can’t wait to try one of the available samples, and often beg me to buy them a new fruit or vegetable. How do I say no?

I also like farmers markets because they’re a great excuse to check out a new Chicago neighborhood. At each one, you can get a feel for the local people and businesses – while you pick up items for your next meal.

Two of my favorite farmers markets are Green City Market (on Wednesdays and Saturdays) and Logan Square Farmers Market (on Sundays). Both offer a great mix of local fresh and prepared food items from local farmers and businesses. They also both have plenty of grassy areas to sit and enjoy a picnic with your family.

But, in Chicago, you don’t have to limit a trip to the farmers market to the morning or afternoon. Oh no. You also can get your shopping in during the evening hours at the Devon Community Night Market (on Wednesdays) and the Argyle Night Market (on Thursdays) – to name a few.

You can find a list of Chicago farmers markets here.

What are your favorite ways to celebrate summer in Chicago? What other events, places or activities would you add to the list? Please share your suggestions in the comments below.

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