Ah, summer vacation: the time of year when Chicago’s youth are free from the confines of school—but aren’t allowed to be in Millennium Park after six at night on weekends (or anywhere in public after 10 PM) without an adult present. What’s a teen to do during the lazy hazy days of summer?
Do You Know Where Your Children Are? (aka the new curfew policy)
As of May, anyone under 18 must be with a “responsible adult” over age 21 to visit Millennium Park after 6 PM Thursdays through Sundays. An adult who is at least 21 years old can accompany no more than four people under 18, according to the policy—although there are exceptions for ticketed events (such as concerts or sporting events). Park visitors should be ready to present government-issued identification cards upon request. The complete rules are readable at the City’s website.
The city also recently changed its general curfew policy, making the curfew for children aged 12–17 one hour earlier: 10 PM daily. The curfew for minors under 12 stays the same: 8:30 PM Sunday through Thursday and 9 PM Friday through Saturday.
Here are some ways to cure those summertime blues.
The Chicago Park District has opened some public pools (but not all) this summer, so check the Park District’s website for open hours before you head out. Clean swimwear is required and street clothes and street shoes are not allowed on the pool deck.
Chicago’s lakefront beaches are officially open through Labor Day (Mon 9/5). Lifeguards are on duty from 11 AM to 7 PM daily. Check to make sure the beach is open before you go; the Park District’s updates their website daily with swimming conditions. Some favorites:
1000 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Known for: the view of the skyline
2873 E. 75th
Known for: its dunes and community gardens
5800 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Known for: being LGBTQ+ friendly
Chicago Park District skate parks offer options for both new and advanced skateboarders. Here are a few.
Just south of 31st at DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Daily 6 AM–11 PM
Southwest corner of Grant Park, near Ninth and Columbus
Daily 6 AM–9 PM
Wilson and DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Daily 6 AM–11 PM
Here are some scenic options, whether you just want to take a quick ride or are in the mood for an all-day trek.
1600 to 3700 W. Bloomingdale
Daily, 6 AM-11 PM
This 2.7-mile elevated trail runs along Bloomingdale from Ashland to Ridgeway. The 606 is open to both cyclists and walkers, so take a ride early in the morning if you want to avoid foot traffic.
Runs from 71st on the south to Ardmore on the north
The South Shore portion is usually less crowded. Check out the Park District’s website for a full access map and safety guidelines.
Starts at Dan Ryan Woods near 81st and goes south through West Pullman, Beverly, and Morgan Park, ending near 134th and Halsted in the Whistler Woods Forest Preserve, just across the Little Calumet River
Note: the portion between 95th and 105th are on the street (and not a separate off-street path).
3400 N. Rockwell, in (Richard) Clark Park
Open daily, 6 AM–11 PM
If you’ve got a BMX or mountain bike, this set of dirt jumps offers terrain for all ages and skill levels. Pro tip: You can get to the dirt jumps from the south or north by using the bike trail along the western edge of Clark Park, on the east side of the Chicago River.
Along the Chicago River and Wacker, between Lake and DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Daily, 6 AM–11 PM
The riverwalk offers great people watching as well as art installations and live music. You can see Art on theMART from Wacker Drive between Wells and Franklin streets each night at 7:30 and 8 PM. It’s the largest permanent digital art projection in the world, and the screening content changes every three months or so.
The Park District maintains free chess boards in the form of outdoor tables in five district locations from the north side to Pilsen; check their website for details.
2400 N. Cannon
Mon-Fri 8 AM–5 PM; weekends 8 AM–7 PM
Check out the new lion cub, born March 15. His name is Pilipili, which means “pepper” in Swahili.
201 E. Randolph
Most park spaces open daily, 6 AM-11 PM
Even though the city has imposed a curfew at Millennium Park, there’s plenty to do before nightfall. You can splash in the Crown Fountain or visit the Lurie Garden, the Boeing Galleries, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and of course Cloud Gate (aka The Bean). The park also offers summer workouts and concerts. Pro tip: Millennium Park added security checkpoints and metal detectors in May.
Street Fairs & Music Festivals
Sure, there’s Lolla. But did you know there are also multiple street festivals every weekend, all across the city—and they’re free? (They might ask you for an entrance fee, but it’s a suggested donation. If you can’t spare a buck or two, you can still walk in.) Editor’s note: check out Reader senior writer Leor Galil’s article “The ‘new normal’ hangs over another summer of live music” for more insight and music festival listings.
State from Lake south to Monroe
Sun 7/24, Sun 8/7, Sun 8/21, and Sun 9/4, 11 AM-6 PM
Last summer the city banned vehicle traffic on State Street on select Sundays to encourage people to come downtown on the weekend. This year Sundays on State returns, promising more art, music, and entertainment.
Wentworth from Cermak to 24th Pl.
Sat 7/30, noon-10 PM; Sun 7/31, 10 AM-7 PM
The fair opens with a lion dance procession and kung fu demonstrations. It also features a K-pop dance competition, a breakdance battle, and a headlining performance by hip-hop artist Kween Widda K.
Northalsted Market Days
Halsted from Belmont to Addison
Sat 8/6-Sun 8/7, 11 AM-10 PM
This year marks the 40th annual Market Days festival, where you can find DJs, dancing, live music, arts, and crafts in what organizers call “America’s first gay village.”
Navy Pier’s Lake Stage, Beer Garden, and Wave Wall; 600 E. Grand
Sat 8/6, 2-11:30 PM; Sun 8/7, 2-8 PM
Navy Pier’s fourth annual music festival showcases music from the Latin American diaspora as well as the emerging Chicago Latine music scene.
Oakwood Beach (41st St. and S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive)
Sat 8/13, 2-10 PM
An interactive festival including live music, art exhibitions, yoga, meditation, movement, and dance
East of the Howard Red Line station, between Paulina and Ashland
Sat 8/27, 11 AM-8 PM
This festival is dedicated to all things chalk: 2D and 3D chalk artists, interactive art, and colorful street art.
Division and California
This annual Puerto Rican festival offers performances, artisan and food vendors, and a carnival, and showcases a different municipality of Puerto Rico each year.
In the parking lots around the United Center (1901 W. Madison), and along Madison between Wood and Damen
This two-day event will include free music and activities, as well as a basketball tournament for ages eight and up that requires participants to pay and preregister.
The parade route generally kicks off in Bronzeville, travels along King Drive and ends in Washington Park (51st and King Drive). This year’s route and festival location will be announced on the festival website.
The post-parade festival includes Zumba, free school supplies, and health and hiring fairs.
North Avenue Beach and along the lakefront (visible from Fullerton to Oak Street beaches)
Sat 8/20-Sun 8/21, 10 AM–2 PM
Millennium Park (201 E. Randolph) and venues citywide
Thu 9/1-Sun 9/4
This Chicago music festival has taken place for more than 40 years, with the first unofficial gathering in 1974, just a few weeks after composer and bandleader Duke Ellington died.
If you’re looking to get out of the heat, lots of museums offer free or discounted admission to Chicagoans—especially those under 18.
1300 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Wednesday nights (4-10 PM) are free for Illinois residents with proof of residency.
111 S. Michigan
Free for Chicago residents under age 18 every day
1601 N. Clark
Free for any Illinois resident under age 18
740 E. 56th Pl.
Free admission on Wednesdays
1400 S. DuSable Lake Shore Drive
Free for Illinois residents August 23, 24, 30, 31 and September 6, 7; discounts available daily for students with valid ID
220 E. Chicago
Free every Tuesday for all Illinois residents; free every day for those under age 18
1852 W. 19th St.
Free admission daily
3015 W. Division
Free admission year round
78 E. Washington
Daily, 10 AM-5 PM
Admission is always free
3407 W. Armitage
Logan Square’s Busy Beaver Button Company turns artwork into custom buttons. The adjacent museum is always free—plus it accepts button donations. Editor’s note: the museum is currently closed to the public during the pandemic; check their website for updates.
The Chicago Park District hosts music events across the city; some end before sunset.
Tue 7/12, 7–8 PM
Africa in the Caribbean
Kedvale Park, 4134 W. Hirsch
Music, dance, and stories about the influence of African culture on the island of Puerto Rico
Wed 7/13, Thu 8/11, and Thu 9/8, sunset–10 PM
Foster Beach, 5100 N. Simonds
Fire performers and drummers under a full moon
Thu 7/14, 7–8:30 PM
Kombilesa Mi with Azania Drum Core
Hamilton Park, 513 W. 72nd
The Old Town School of Folk Music’s Chicago Future Folk Project includes performances from Afro-Colombian hip-hop artist Kombilesa Mi and Chicago-based djembe orchestra Azania Drum Core.
Fri 7/15, and Fri 8/19
6–9 PM (sign-up at 5:45 PM)
Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen
Musicians, comedians, poets, and actors can sign up to perform at this open mic.
Thu 8/4, 6–7:30 PM
School of Rock Chicago
Merrimac Park, 6343 W. Irving Park
School of Rock’s performers range in age from eight to 18.
Sat Aug. 6, 2–6 PM
Dvorak Park, 1119 W. Cullerton
This festival showcases hip-hop culture while highlighting Chicago MCs, street artists, and breakers.
You can find free movies all across the city on pretty much any day of the week. Some are geared toward little kids, but you can also find some rated PG-13. Movies start at sunset, so an adult will need to accompany anyone under 18 after 10 PM.
Daniel Burnham Park, north of Oakwood Beach at 39th and the lake
Austin Town Hall Park, 5610 W. Lake
La La Land
Wicker Park, 1425 N. Damen
3635 N. Clark (just outside Wrigley Field)
Every other Wednesday, gates open at 6 PM
Gallagher Way hosts free movies every other Wednesday night, in conjunction with the Music Box Theatre. Gates open at 6 PM and guests are allowed to bring carry-out food (there are several restaurants within the Gallagher Way complex). There are beverages, candy, popcorn, and ice cream available for purchase. Movies begin at 7:30 PM.
School of Rock
Here are a few activities that are easy on the wallet.
On the Chicago Riverwalk, along Wacker between Clark and LaSalle
Sat-Sun, 10:45 AM–6:45 PM
Cost: $10 for an all day pass, $6 for one ride between any two Chicago Water Taxi locations
This service takes passengers on the Chicago River between several locations, including Chinatown and Michigan Avenue.
Guaranteed Rate Field, 333 W. 35th
Sun 7/24, 7/31, 8/14, 8/28, 9/4
Cost: starting at $10/ticket
Pro tip: on steamy days you can cool off using the outdoor shower on the Main Level, near Section 161.
337 W. Randolph (golf course is located at the south end of the BP Bridge)
Mon–Thu and Sun 10 AM–8 PM (last ticket sold at 7 PM); Fri–Sat 10 AM–9 PM (last ticket sold at 8 PM)
General admission: $12
Note: If you’re under 18, you have to be accompanied by an adult 21 years old or over after 6 PM, Thu–Sun. While you’re there, check out the 60-foot hopscotch drawing.
9233 S. Western (see website for other locations including Navy Pier and the mobile truck)
Known for: slicing and stacking five flavors into a cup or cone
1960 N. Western and 1813 W. Montrose
Known for: ice cream creations and other confections
859 N. Damen (see website for other north side locations)
Known for: “Chicago-style” gelato
2815 W. Armitage
Known for: soft-serve ice cream
1855 S. Blue Island
Known for: its paletas
Jobs and Other Paid Gigs
The city is promoting an app and website they’ve created to help Chicagoans ages 13 to 19 find jobs, activities, and classes. You can filter by interest, type of activity, and location. Here are just a few of the paying gigs you can find via MCMF:
The After School Matters program allows teens to apply for internships, apprenticeships, and classes.
- After School Matters summer programs run July 5–August 13 and will take place at locations across the city. Some programs include remote options.
- Chicago teens who are 14 or 15 can apply for programs that offer a stipend.
- Chicago teens who are 16 or older can choose between an advanced apprenticeship or an internship, both of which pay $15/hour.
The CHA is offering paid summer work opportunities for ages 13 and up.
Chicago Park District
- Lifeguards. At last glance, the Chicago Park District was still looking for lifeguards — and they’re offering a signing bonus of $600.
- Seasonal jobs. The park district is also hiring for other seasonal jobs, such as recreation leaders.
Everyone Can Code Chicago is offering teens age 16 and up a six-week program in which participants can earn $15/hour.
This youth initiative from the National Museum of Mexican Art allows teens to take a class or participate in an internship while earning a stipend.
Free Camps and Activities
The Chicago Public Schools are offering career and technical education (CTE) camps across the city at various high schools. You can sign up for one or multiple camps. Here are just a few:
Simeon Career Academy, 8147 S. Vincennes
Clemente Community Academy, 1147 N. Western
Benito Juarez Community Academy, 1450 W. Cermak
Chicago Public Library Activities
You can find something to do at a library almost any day of the week. Here are just a few options.
The organization New Life Centers offers a free program for students from seventh grade through high school for residents of Austin, Humboldt Park, and Garfield Park.
- Sports and recreation (rock climbing, kayaking, paintball, BMX biking)
- Job training
- Financial literacy classes
Through 8/12, Mon-Fri, 10 AM–noon
Chicago Public Schools provides free breakfast and lunch to any Chicago children between one and 18 years old at any school where summer programs take place. ID is not required to pick up meals. Go to the CPS website to see a full list of all LunchStop pickup sites.
Here are a few organizations that are seeking young volunteers.
CFHK distributes cards to hospitalized children across the country, including in Illinois. Volunteers can help in a couple of ways: either helping with card sorting and distribution at its Chicago facility or making cards for hospitalized children at home.
CARA welcomes anyone age 14 or older to volunteer for its ‘Go Run events. Volunteers help with setup, check-in, registration, and on the course.
Warren Park, 6601 N. Western
Humboldt Park, 1440 N. Humboldt
Jackson Park, 6401 S. Stony Island
Chicago Cares offers a range of volunteer opportunities throughout the city, both in person and virtually. Many are onetime commitments for a few hours. Here are just a few options:
- Cook a meal with elementary-school students in East Garfield Park.
- Learn how to repair bikes in North Lawndale.
- Help maintain the Kilbourn Organic Greenhouse in Avondale.
The GCFD welcomes youth volunteers to help repack food donations for individual and family recipients. This can include assembling boxes, checking expiration dates, and labeling products. Volunteers who are 16 and older can volunteer without an adult.