Tour Chicago Like a Local: What to do in Chicago for FREE this summer!

So you’re visiting Chicago this summer?! Awesome! Chicago is a city that comes alive in the summer. It takes on a whole new persona. In fact, the first day over 50 degrees after a long cold winter you’ll likely see people outside running, at the parks, out in beer gardens and simply enjoying the first breath of summer after a long cold winter. #SummertimeChi is my absolute favorite!

I’ve been in the city for 5 (FIVE!!) whole years now and during the summer I get a lot of messages from friends and family asking for suggestions of things to do, where to stay, how to park, etc. The city can be a tough place to navigate! And it’s easy to fall into doing the same activities, eating at the same restaurants and staying at the same places when you visit. After a lot of time thinking about writing a “Locals Guide to Visiting Chicago” I’m finally doing it! In the next couple weeks I’ll release a guide to all things Chicago summer. From brunch, to parking, to Wrigley to pizza- you can find what you need to know about planning a fun & unique weekend in the city to blend in just like a local 😉 (Yes, I’m going to suggest places to eat outside of Giordano’s and Portillo’s GASP!)

First up to celebrate the official start of summer – things to do in Chicago for FREE (that don’t include taking photos at the bean OR Navy Pier) Tourists typically find most activities  on the east side of Chicago but there’s so much more you’ll find in the city as you move north & west.

1. Lincoln Park Zoo

Yes, the whole zoo is FREE! Every day – kids & adults! I always look forward to seeing the giraffes! Also, my personal favorite view of the skyline is on the bridge that connects Lincoln Park to Lincoln Park Zoo. While admission is free, Zoo Parking can be very expensive. The streets surrounding the Zoo are all free (in Lincoln Park & west of Clark St.) if you’re willing to walk. A visitor’s guide can be viewed & downloaded here to plan your visit.

2. The 606

The 606 is a fairly new addition to Chicago. The 606 is an elevated walking trail constructed from an old train line connected four iconic Chicago neighborhoods – Humboldt Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown & Logan Square. The 606 trail officially opened for walkers, runners & cyclists in June 2015. Throughout the trail you’ll see historical facts about the neighborhoods the trail goes through as well as art from local artists. It’s a beautiful place to catch a sunset.

3. Chicago Street Fests

One thing I didn’t realize until moving to Chicago was how big street festivals are! There is (at least) one every weekend of the summer! Some of my favorites are the Old Town Art Fair, Roscoe Village Burger Fest, Taste of Randolph, & the Pilsen Food Truck Social. A complete list of all Chicago festivals can be found here!

4. The BEACH!

The heartbeat of #summertimechi lives in and around Lake Michigan. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll be invited onto a friend’s boat & can hang out for the day in The Playpen. But if not, don’t fear! Chicago has some beautiful beaches to layout or enjoy the water. My personal favorite is the Lake Front trail between North Avenue and Diversey. When I lived in Lakeview and Lincoln Park it was my go-to spot to walk or run. During the summer, especially on the weekends, the trail gets packed. But the views are so worth it! Also, make sure you get a spot early for the Air & Water show in August!

5. Movies in the Park

Though the summer in Chicago is short we really do our best to truly live it up! The Chicago Park District hosts “Movies in the Park” all over Chicago! All you need to do is show up with a blanket or lawn chair, some snacks & bevs and enjoy the show!

6. Millennium Park Events - Concerts, Movies & Yoga!

Ok ok. I know I gave the Bean a rough time earlier in this post but there’s a lot more going on Millennium Park this summer besides the endless selfies at the bean. Summer programming at Millennium Park is great. Between Saturday morning yoga, Concerts & Movies there’s always going on and most of it is free! Check it out at their events calendar here. 

7. Garfield Park Conservatory

The gardens at Garfield Park are amazing all year round! If you happen to visit on a rainy day this is a great option to still feel like you’re enjoying the outdoors. There are multiple rooms & garden scenes in the greenhouse. My personal favorite is the desert room full of succulents & cacti!


Did I forget something? Leave your favorite free Chicago events below! Up next - Places to Eat Pizza in Chicago (Besides Giordano’s) & Other cuisines to try!


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