An orange collage illustration
Andjela Padejski / WBEZ

The WBEZ guide to the best free things to do this summer

Music, movies, theatre, festivals, food and more: These top-notch activities won’t cost a dime.

Andjela Padejski / WBEZ
An orange collage illustration
Andjela Padejski / WBEZ

The WBEZ guide to the best free things to do this summer

Music, movies, theatre, festivals, food and more: These top-notch activities won’t cost a dime.

WBEZ brings you fact-based news and information. Sign up for our newsletters to stay up to date on the stories that matter.

Summer traditionally brings a long list of great stuff to do in the Chicago region. But this year, with inflation in the backdrop and COVID making planning a last-minute affair, we’re focused on what’s free. All summer long, WBEZ will be curating this list of recommended concerts, performances, art shows, neighborhood fests and other cultural highlights. Everything on the list is top notch and won’t cost you a dime (though some events have suggested donations).

Don’t see a great event on the list that you think should be here? Tell us about it at or on social media #WBEZfreesummer. To be considered for inclusion, events must be open to the public.

august divider

SummerDance in the Parks (dance)
Wednesday, August 17

Ogden Park, 6500 S. Racine Ave., Chicago

Highlight: This summer the popular dance series travels to parks on the South and West sides of Chicago. For the Ogden Park event, there will be a printmaking station led by the Hyde Park Art Center’s Youth Board plus dance instruction by Majestic Gents and music from DJ Myron.

Tip: The Aug. 17 event will run from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. For more SummerDance events, check out the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ website.

Movies in the Parks: La La Land Screening at Wicker Park (film)
Thursday, August 18

Wicker (Charles, Joel) Park, 1425 N. Damen Ave, Chicago

Highlight: The Chicago Park District’s Movies in the Parks series has a very long list of very cool options all summer long. On Aug. 18 in Wicker Park, La La Land, a musical love letter to old Hollywood magic, will be screening. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, Damien Chazelle’s 2016 film centers on a musician and actress trying to keep their dreams alive.

Tip: The Movies in the Parks web page has a searchable function that allows for quick sorting for movie dates in parks near you.

Ensamble Rotary Connection 222 poses for a group picture
Led by the anthem artist Junius Paul, the Stepney family comes together to pay tribute to one of Chicago’s most underrated musicians. Brian Ashby / Courtesy of Chicago DCASE

Charles Stepney: Out of the Shadows at Millennium Park Summer Series (music)
Thursday, August 18

201 E. Randolph St., Chicago

Highlights: This concert is a labor of love for the family of soul man Charles Stepney, who has been called one of the most underrated figures of modern music. Stepney’s daughters have helped revive interest in their father’s music. A new ensemble called Rotary Connection 222, under the direction of bandleader Junius Paul, will pay tribute to a songwriter and musician who contributed to works by Earth, Wind & Fire, Muddy Waters, The Dells and Ramsey Lewis and whose sounds have been widely sampled. Read more here.

Tip: Don’t miss the opening act. Black Monument Ensemble is a collective of local musicians, artists and dancers paying tribute to Black excellence in Chicago’s creative fields.

SummerDance in the Parks
Thursday, August 18 to Saturday, August 20

Spirit of Chicago Music Garden, 601 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

Highlight: This summer the popular dance series has been traveling around — but it returns to its Grant Park location for the weekend. Thursday will bring country and western dancing, Friday will be for salsa and Saturday is a dance party for everyone, with adaptive dance companies leading the crowd in getting a groove on.

Tip: Dancing starts this weekend at 6 p.m. For more SummerDance events, check out the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events’ website.

Bridgeport Art Center Open Studios (art)
Friday, August 19

The Bridgeport Art Center, 1200 W. 35th St., Chicago

Highlights: The Bridgeport Art Center puts on free studio tours every third Friday of the month. Artists work in mediums like sculpture, fashion, painting, woodworking and more.

Tip: The event coincides with a neighborhood trolley tour of galleries, making for a fun destination out. Plus, the Bridgeport Art Center is less than a quarter-mile away from the Zhou B Art Center, which also holds open studio tours every third Friday.

Bronzeville Art District Trolley Tour (art)
Friday, August 19

47th Street near South King Drive

Highlights: See art in style in a double-decker bus that takes participants on a tour of various art institutions, from the South Side Community Art Center to Blanc Gallery, Faie Afrikan Art and more. Also: Aug. 19 and Sept. 16.

Tip: Advance registration required.

Midsommer Flight performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (theater)
Friday, August 19 through Sunday, August 21

Touhy Park, 7348 N. Paulina St.

Highlights: This is the 10th anniversary season of Chicago theater artist Beth Wolf’s performance troupe, which takes a more thoughtful and modern approach to William Shakespeare’s male-centered oeuvre. The goal of performances — which will span multiple parks and dates after this opening weekend — is to elevate BIPOC, LGBTQ and body-diverse actors. Performances usually include a strong musical component, too. Read more here.

Tip: Reservations are encouraged, but not required; ditto donations.

Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest (art)
Friday, August 19 through Sunday, August 21

Glenwood and Morse avenues near the Red Line station

Highlights: Two decades in, this popular Rogers Park arts fest is still going strong, with nearly 150 artists showing their wares up and down Glenwood, plus bands and more. A spate of energetic cocktail spots along Glenwood, including Le Piano jazz bar and Rogers Park Social, can make this event a fun, all-day affair.

Tip: The party happens around the Red Line, so it’s easily accessible by CTA.

Glenwood Arts Fest a large crowd of people surrounded by pop-up tents
The Glenwood Arts Fest has been going strong for decades and attracts a crowd on both sides of the Red Line tracks. Courtesy of Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest

Forest Preserves of Cook County: Hummingbird Fest
Saturday, August 20

Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, 12545 W. 111th St., Lemont, Ill.

Highlight: For this special event for the whole family, watch hummingbirds and learn from educators how the Forest Preserve tracks the colorful birds for their research.

Tip: This event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Movies in the Parks: Reel Chi Home Movies at Taylor
Saturday, August 20

Taylor (Robert Rochon) Park, 39 W. 47th St., Chicago

Highlight: Home movies are coming to the big screen. A partnership with Melanin Voices and South Side Home Movie Project, this movie screening and live storytelling event features archival footage from BIPOC filmmakers from the South Side.

Tip: The screening runs from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Chicago Air and Water Show (beachfront event)
Saturday, August 20 & Sunday, August 21

North Avenue Beach and across the lakefront, Chicago

Highlight: Planes! Boats! And for some Chicagoans, a lot of noise. The stars of the annual Air and Water Show are, as per tradition, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights. But this year marks a special occasion: The U.S. Air Force Heritage Flight and the U.S. Navy Legacy Flight will be presented in the same show and include a dedication to Rudy Malnati Jr., who directed the show for three decades before his death in December.

Tip: North Avenue Beach is the center of the action, but you can see the show from lakefront spots as far north as Fullerton Avenue. CTA Bus #72 will drop you off right at North Avenue Beach. 

Air and water show
Courtesy of Chicago DCASE

Movies in the Parks: Sleepless in Seattle at Jonquil Park (film)
Saturday, August 20

Jonquil Park, 1001 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago

Highlight: For this special event for the whole family, watch hummingbirds and learn from educators how the Forest Preserve tracks the colorful birds for their research.

Tip: The Movies in the Parks web page has a searchable function that allows for quick sorting for movie dates in parks near you.

Forest Preserves of Cook County: Hummingbird Fest (nature)
Saturday, August 20

Sagawau Environmental Learning Center, 12545 W. 111th St., Lemont, IL

Highlight: For this special event for the whole family, watch hummingbirds and learn from educators how the Forest Preserve tracks the colorful birds for their research.

Tip: This event runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sounds of the Riverwalk (music)
Sunday, August 21

The confluence between Franklin and Lake streets on the Riverwalk

Highlights: The 12-week-long concert series offers the perfect Sunday afternoon soundtrack for exploring the restaurant-lined stretch of the Riverwalk. The final date in the series features the Chicago soul band Luna Blues Machine, fronted by the talented sisters Belinda and Maritza Cervantes. Read more here.

Tip: The concerts will begin at 1 p.m.

The Andersonville Vintage Market (market)
Sunday, August 21

Catalpa Avenue between Clark Street and Ashland Avenue

Highlight: Meander through material history and search for treasure at the Andersonville Vintage Market, which is returning for its second edition. Participating vintage stores include Revival a Go-Go, Lottie Dottie Vintage, and Woolly Mammoth Chicago Antiques & Oddities, and around two dozen others.

Tip: The market also runs September 18. Pets are welcome and there is a $5 suggested donation.

Views of the Chicago Riverwalk on July 31, 2022. Manuel Martínez/WBEZ
Views of the Chicago Riverwalk on July 31, 2022. Manuel Martínez / WBEZ

Open Nature Play Day (nature)
Wednesday, August 24

Dan Ryan Woods Visitor Center, S. Western Ave. and W. 87th St., Chicago

Highlight: Enjoy some play time in nature with your kids. There will be storytelling and art for the kids to explore — and perhaps some time to soak up the sun before school starts up again.

Tip: Play day runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Evanston Symphony Orchestra: Lakeside Pops Concert (music)
Wednesday, August 24

Wallace Bowl at Gillson Park, 225 Sheridan Road, Wilmette

Highlight: This one-hour program features an eclectic mix of music selections. A part of the Wilmette Sesquicentennial event series, listen to the Flying Theme from E.T., the Imperial March from Stars Wars, plus some tunes from My Fair Lady.

Tip: The concert begins at 6:30 p.m.

Lawndale Pop-Up Spot: Afro-Futurist Book Club (books)
Thursday, August 25

Douglas Park Library, 3353 West 13th St., Chicago

Highlight: Summer reading in a community setting. Join librarian Lazerrick Kennard for a discussion of the book An Unkindness of Ghosts from author River Solomon.

Tip: The book club meets every fourth Thursday.

NEWCITY Sounds of Summer featuring Rod Tuffcurls & The Bench Press (music)
Thursday, August 25

NEWCITY, 1457 North Halsted Street in the Plaza, Chicago

Highlight: The art publication NEWCITY this year organized a 2022 Sounds of Summer concert series. The high-energy cover band Rod Tuffcurls & The Bench Press mark the end of this music series, and it’s sure to be a great swansong.

Tip: The band has some quirky songs in its set list, including a rendition of the Golden Girls theme song and an adaptation of a Wrigley’s gum commercial.

SummerDance in the Parks: Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park (dance)
Thursday, August 25 & Friday, August 26

601 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

Highlight: Learn how to dance with SummerDance. On August 25, the Surabhi Ensemble will lead dance lessons spanning genres like flamenco, Mexican folk and Dabke. Be sure to come back the following day for a House music set from DJ Wayne Williams.

Tip: Both events run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Vocalo Presents: Summer Skate @ McKinley Park (neighborhood)
Friday, August 26

2210 W. Pershing Rd., Chicago

After a two-year break, WBEZ’s sister station Vocalo is ready to lace up and skate the summer away. This all-ages event will transform the seasonal ice rink at McKinley Park into the retro roller rink of your dreams, complete with good tunes and good vibes. The party will feature special DJ sets by DJ Dreea, All the Way Kay, and Ayana Contreras.

Tip: The event runs from 6-9:30 p.m. Skates will be provided on a first-come, first-serve basis, or participants may bring their own.

Skokie’s Backlot Bash (music)
Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28

5200 Oakton St., Skokie

Highlight: There’s a little something for everyone at the Skokie Backlot Bash. Find bingo games, a dunk tank, live music, movie screenings and even a 5k race.

Tip: Check out headliners including Kid ‘n Play, Vertical Horizon and Too Hype Crew.

Taste of Greektown Festival (food and neighborhood)
Friday, August 26 through Sunday, August 28

315 S Halsted St, Chicago

Highlight: Returning for its 32nd year, the Taste of Greektown Festival is your summer go-to for Greek food and culture. Located in Greektown in the West Loop, the festival will set up shop on Halsted Street from Adams to Van Buren and features Greek restaurants, live music, shopping and Greek dancing.

Tip: There is a suggested $5 donation. The festival runs from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on August 26; 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on August 27 and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on August 28.

Forest Park: Garage Galleries (art)
Saturday, August 27

Highlight: Garage Galleries is a neighborhood art walk where 60 local artists show their work in around 30 residents’ garages - and all artists are selected without having to participate in a juried art selection.

Tip: The work of the 60 artists span from painting to ceramics and jewelry. Find specific garage locations here.

Mural Dances (dance)
Saturday, August 27

Jessie “Ma” Houston Park, 5001 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Highlights: Local dancemakers perform pieces inspired by Chicago’s murals in an event organized by the nonprofit arts organization Synapse Arts. The event, which runs from 1 to 3 p.m., will also be livestreamed. The August performance features artists Jamila Kekulah Kinney and JulieAnn Graham.

A toddler stands on chalk art by the artist Zach Herndon
Chalk Howard Street will return after a three year hiatus, allowing Chicagoans of all ages to see unique works by artists from all over the world. Courtesy Zack Herndon/Chalk Howard Street 2022

Chalk Howard Street (art)
Saturday, August 27

East of the Howard Red Line station between Paulina Street and Ashland Avenue

Highlight: This one-of-a kind chalk art extravaganza has been on hold for three years. It makes a triumphant return with a promised international list of 2D and 3D chalk artists, interactive art for kids and an explosion of colorful street art. This stretch of Rogers Park is full of cool international eateries that will be selling food at the event, rounding out the day.

Tip: Artists start drawing at 11 a.m. and the event goes until about 8 p.m.

Chicago Black Legacy Dance Project: Reclamation (dance)
Saturday, August 27

Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago

Highlight: Chicago designated 2022 the year of Chicago dance, and, wisely, the city has put a particular spotlight on its Black-led troupes, choreographers and dance educators. Eight top-notch groups will take the stage: Ayodele Drum & Dance, The Chicago Multicultural Dance Company, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, Forward Momentum Chicago, Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago, NAJWA Dance Corps, Red Clay Dance Company and the ever hip Joel Hall Dancers & Center led by jazz dance elder statesman Joel Hall.

Tip: This is a don’t miss event even for non-dance aficionados, as it is rare to see this many top-notch performers on one stage for free.

The 39th Port Clinton Art Festival (art)
Sunday, August 28 through Monday, August 29

600 Central Avenue, Highland Park

Highlight: Attendees can check out art works from 260 artists, including watching artists create pieces right in front of your eyes. There will also be live music, such as jazz performances from Brad Cole & Friends, and the Saturday June Band, made up of Highland Park locals.

Tip: Plan on there being sculptures from Scott Hartley, paintings from Rosa Chavez, jewelry from Paul Farmer, and more. The festival will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days.

MCA Tuesdays on the Terrace: Junius Paul (music)
Tuesday, August 30

Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.

Highlight: It’s the last hoorah of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s weekly Tuesdays on the Terrace jazz series. Junius Paul is a composer, bandleader and bassist from Chicago who has worked with the Art Ensemble of Chicago and is the bandleader of Rotary Connection 222.

Tip: The concert runs from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so you might want to arrive a little early.

all summer long divider

Chicago Park District Fishing Program (nature)
Through mid-August

The Jetty, 260 W Wacker Dr, Chicago

Highlights: This family-friendly program delivers it all: Chicago Park District educators tell you about the 40 fish species that live in the river, then attendees get to go fishing. Little ones will relish the opportunity to hold a beaver skull.

Tip: On Saturdays and Sundays, the program will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursdays and Fridays, it will run from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. The Jetty is located between Wacker and Wells streets.

Argyle mural
Argyle Street in Uptown has some of Chicago’s most colorful murals. Don’t forget to check them out when you head to the Argyle Night Market. Tyler LaRiviere / Chicago Sun-Times

2022 Argyle Night Market (food and neighborhood)
Every Thursday night through August 25

1000 W. Argyle St., Chicago

Highlight: The Argyle Night Market began in 2013 and has over time become a North Side midweek go-to. Now returning for the 2022 summer season, the weekly evening fest spotlights food from businesses on Argyle Street in addition to Vietnamese lion dancers, Balinese Gamelan performers, Japanese taiko drummers, and other performers from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Tip: The market and festival stretch Argyle Street from Kenmore to Sheridan avenues. The event runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each Thursday.

Labor Day Celebration at the Pullman National Monument (festival)
Monday, September 5

11001 S Cottage Grove Ave, Chicago

Highlight: This Labor Day, consider spending the holiday at the Pullman National Monument and State Historic Site. For the celebrations this year, the theme is “building solidarity through diversity,” and attendees can learn about the importance of diversity and inclusivity in the Labor Movement. Plus, there will be live music, food and tours of the historical site.

Tip: The event runs from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Porchlight Music Theatre’s Broadway in Your Backyard (theater)
Through September 6

Highlight: From July 19 through Sept. 6, the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks series has brought back this exciting musical theater concert series. Directed by Michael Weber, this series features songs from Hair, Mamma Mia!, The Music Man, RENT and more.

Tip: There will be multiple performances spanning many of Chicago’s parks. Check out performances on July 26 at Unity Park; Aug. 2 at Portage Park; Aug. 9 at Munroe Park; Aug. 16 at Washington Square Park; Aug. 23 at Park No. 534; Aug. 30 at Gill Park and Sept. 6 at Ellis Park. Each performance begins at 6 p.m.

We, Women: The Power of We (art)
Through September 30

The Bloomingdale Trail, The 606, 1805 N Ridgeway Ave, Chicago

Highlight: Trek on over to the Bloomingdale Trail and view art from 18 women and gender-nonconforming artists. This national traveling exhibit, which features artwork from the Chicago-based artist Tonika Lewis Johnson, previously set up shop at the Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York and features mostly artists of color.

Content warning: The artwork confronts sometimes difficult themes, including sexual assault.

The Language Between Worlds at Hyde Park Art Center (art)
Through October 29

5020 S. Cornell Ave., Chicago

Highlights: Five artists – Nyame Brown, Bethany Collins, Nicole Marroquin, Chris Pappan and Jessica Vaughn – riff on how we communicate via sounds, cues and coded imagery when it comes to race and racial inequality. 

Tip: The art center has a small parking lot, but it can fill up; there are some paid lots nearby.

Don’t see an event listed that you think belongs on this list? Tell us about it at

Isabella DeLeo is a freelancer based in Chicago. Cassie Walker Burke is WBEZ’s external editor.