Chicago is well-known for its sports teams, deep dish pizza, epic skyline and comedy, but the city has much more to offer. My intention is to give you a peek of this city, as a local. Chicago always has tons going on, but we really shine in the summer. Your girl is forever trying to ball on a budget (VIP student loan club member right here). Thus, everything I’m about to mention is either free or won’t break the bank. I know the struggle all too well, but it doesn’t keep me from trying new places and it shouldn’t keep you either.
My best friend Marge came to visit for a couple of days and since we’re both on a tight budget, my task was to plan fun, mostly free and non-touristy things to do in the city of Chicago. I’m not hating on the touristy stuff (you should probably go that route if you’ve never been) but we’re both Chicago gals, so my aim was different. August is a perfect month to visit as well because it’s not insufferably humid or muggy.
PRO TIP: Avoid visiting on a weekend, unless you don’t mind dealing with mobs of people. All the following activities can be done between Wednesday-Friday, so as to steer clear of crowds, beat the lines and avoid feeling like a canned sardine.
The following are a few of my favorite things to do:
So you’ve walked/jogged by Lake Michigan, why not try the 606?
The 606 Trail was originally an abandoned El track that was converted into an open space for runners, walkers, bikers etc. The trail goes through Humboldt Park, Logan Square, Wicker Park, and Bucktown, and has pretty neat views of the those neighborhoods. The trail tends to get crowded in the evenings and weekends. The best time to go is in the afternoon, then you can go have breakfast/lunch at any the local spots off of the trail. My personal favorite is Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits.
Check out the Chicago Cultural Center
If you’re on a budget but still want to get down with the Chicago Art scene, check out the Chicago Cultural Center. The rest of the museums have free days as well, but those are usually for Illinois residents. The Chicago Cultural Center wins here because it hosts free events year round, including art exhibits, music, theatre and dance performances. Just make sure to check out their website for special times and new exhibits. Fun Fact: It’s home to the worlds largest Tiffany stained-glass dome. Wondering what the heck that is? You’ll have to come visit to find out! While you’re in the neighborhood, grab a cup a coffee and walk on down to Millenium Park and just take in all the energy reverberating from this gorgeous city.
Street Fests are our Jam!
If there’s one thing Chicago knows how to do it’s throw a good street festival. It’s one of the reasons I freaking adore my city. Every neighborhood has its own, they’re usually free and most have live music and yummy food. What’s not to love? The city of Chicago puts out a calendar every year, and if you’re from Chicago, you know this is pretty much why everyone looks forward to summer. Street festivals in Chicago are unparalleled. This is also the only exception to the “don’t go out on the weekends” rule. Street fests are the bees knees and there are multiple every weekend. If you want to experience Chicago, it’s a must. Even if you never planned your visit, one could spend it entirely at festivals and still have a fantastic time. Marge and I got lucky and found a pop up alley art exhibit while we were in the loop on Thursday and it was pretty dope. There was music, art and free give aways like wine, power bars and coconut water. Did I mention it was all FREE?
Watch a movie in the Park
Perhaps you’ve been walking around all day and you want to relax but not at home relax and not at a restaurant relax, enter movies in the park. Bring your dinner, some wine/beer/kombucha, a blanket, and sit back and relax with your friends or treat yourself. The most popular location is Millenium Park, but if you’re like me and not about the sardine life, exit stage left. You can easily see the listing of other included locations and movies on the Chicago Park District website.
Try something other than pizza
Whattt? Come to Chicago and don’t try pizza? Hear me out. Chicago has a poppin’ food scene. We were even voted best food city of the year. What I’m saying is, go ahead and try the pizza if you want, but if you’ve been there done that, try some other spots as well. They don’t even have to be places on the list. Chicago has such a diverse and impressive food scene, it would be a shame to limit yourself while visiting. My personal favorites are: Kuma’s Korner for burgers, Lula Cafe for brunch, The Chicago Diner for veggie bites and if pizza you must, hit up Pequods or Spacca Napoli.
Check out a free open mic or comedy show
It’s a well-known fact that Chicago is the mecca of comedy. A lot of famous comedians such as Chris Farley, Joan Rivers, Dan Ackeroyd, John Candy and numerous more got their start here, most likely at The Second City. It speaks to the city’s funny bone. If laughter is the best medicine, Chicago’s got the best doctors in the business. That being said, make a point to visit Second City for a show; it’s honestly fairly priced. By the same token, it’s not the only place to get your comedy fix. You’re in Chicago for God’s sake. I found a free comedy show in my neighborhood on Wednesday night, and they killed it! Cole’s, a local dive bar in Logan Square hosts a weekly open mic every Wednesday. Check out Comedy of Chicago for more listings of comedy shows and open mics all over the city.
Oh man, we just killed the pop up game
A Stranger things themed pop-up has come to Logan Square. The upside Down, hosted by Emporium Arcade Bar is attracting fans from everywhere. Since it’s opening, the line of people trying to get in is unrelenting. On Friday Marge and I went as soon as it opened and walked right in. An hour later the line was already down the block! Anyway, I get the hype now. It feels like you’re walking onto the set of the show. As soon as you walk in and look up, You’ll see Eleven’s favorite meal of eggo’s on a table and that’s just a start. There’s an eerily similar recreation of Joyce Byers wall, complete with christmas lights as well as the family couch. The drink menu clearly had some thought put into it. I had a drink cleverly named the “snack pack”, a concoction of mezcal and chocolate among other flavors. While I wouldn’t say it’s been the best drink I ever had, kudos for inventiveness. The Stranger Things Pop-up is only set to run through the end of september 2017. If you are a fan of the show and near Logan Square, stop by!
There you have it. These are some of my favorite things to do during the summer in Chicago. Happy Traveling!