Between the cost of summer camps and higher prices at the grocery store, it’s an expensive season for families. Don’t want to cash out on going out with the kids? Chicago offers a chill list of free, family-friendly events in late July and August.
In the meantime, check out the WBEZ Summer 250, our curated guide of 250+ events for planning your best Chicago summer ever, with easy sorting to help you pick what’s right for you. You can also text “SUMMER” to 312312 for weekly picks in one of three categories: family-friendly, outdoor concerts or the best of all events.
July 18, July 19, July 23
The nation’s oldest and most comprehensive festival of tap draws some of America’s best tap dancers. The series tours the city, visiting DuSable Museum, Navy Pier and Millennium Park Jay Pritzker Pavilion, and features new work from Stone Soups Rhythms, a three-piece tap dance interpretation of Mary Lou Williams’s swing and much more.
Even better: Join the free classes at the Millennium Park Jay Pritzker Pavilion on the last day, July 23, with Natya Dance Theatre, Chicago Dance Crash, Collaborative Institute of Cultural Arts and Ayodele Drum & Dance. Next up is Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave.
Through Aug. 19
An internationally acclaimed violin champion. A private collection of string instruments previously owned by Jewish musicians before the Holocaust. A canata tribute to seven men killed by police officers or by vigilantes.
Each night of this comprehensive music festival relishes the stories and talent of an international array of musicians, conductors and composers. No matter your music taste or knowledge, there’s a night for you, with performances ranging from timeless concertos to modern showtunes.
Many shows are downtown at Millennium Park, where it’s free to sit on the lawn or some of the seated areas within the Pritzker Pavilion. There, picnics prevail.
The festival also travels some nights to neighborhood parks, such as a July 27 concerto in Marquette Park (6743 S. Kedzie Ave.) that features double bassist and composer Xavier Foley.
Or, if you’d rather watch than listen, aerialists from L.A.’s Troupe Vertigo perform high-flying acrobatics to Georges Bizet’s Carmen on Aug. 9 at Millennium Park. 201 E. Randolph St.
Tuesdays through Aug. 29
Catch a flick every Tuesday until the end of August at the Millennium Park Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Snag a seat at the Pavilion or bring your own to the Great Lawn to enjoy your favorite films on a 40-foot LED screen.
Movies include Turning Red (July 18), Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (July 25), Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Aug. 1), Clueless (Aug 8.), Top Gun: Maverick (Aug 15.), Barbershop (Aug. 22), and Everything Everywhere All at Once (Aug. 29), which took home Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St.
Mondays and Thursdays through Aug. 21
Savor the next performances of this summer music series. Stephen Marley (July 20), second-eldest son of Bob Marley, has racked up eight Grammy Awards and produced Celebrating Nina: A Reggae Tribute to Nina Simone.
And, blessed by the likes of Neil Young and Thurston Moore, Philly psychedelic rocker Kurt Vile (July 24) released an album last year that’s full of spacey self-reflections and a signature twang reminiscent of Young. Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph St.
Through Aug. 5
Head down to one of your neighborhood parks for a performance packed with fun for all ages. The venerable Chicago Shakespeare Theater returns with its 12th year of free, pop-up performances in Chicago parks including Navy Pier, Little Village, Austin, Hermosa & Belmont Cragin, West Pullman, Englewood and Chinatown. Director-choreographer Tor Campbell stages this family-friendly, musical revue featuring famous scenes, characters and speeches from Shakespeare’s plays. The next productions are July 25 and 26 at Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.) and in Little Village’s Piotrowski Park (4247 W. 31st St) on July 27.
Wednesdays through Sept. 10
Bust a move all around town this summer, including Taste of Chicago, Maxwell Street Market and surrounding neighborhoods. There’s perhaps nothing so summer as Chicago’s SummerDance, which are evenings of lessons organized by theme followed by a free-for-all to live music. What used to be a downtown-centric event is now traveling around to the neighborhoods on Wednesday evenings, with dance instruction at 5:30 p.m. and live music until about 7:30 p.m. Next up is in Davis Square Park, 4430 S. Marshfield Ave.
Three performances through Aug. 8
Experience Funk in Futurism as artists join in the power of collectively envisioning what the future could be. The contemporary Chicago dance company Deeply Rooted embraces African movement traditions and partners with renowned trumpeter Sam Thousand and his ensemble for these Afrofuturistic evenings. This summer brings an exciting performance series across three Chicago parks with dances set to the soundtrack of Parliament-Funkadelic and Prince.Next up is in Palmer Park, 201 E. 111th St.
Wednesdays through Sept. 27
Explore Garfield Park Conservatory’s Play and Grow Garden, where kids climb the tinker tree, build a fort or dig in the pebble pond. Conservatory educators will lead lessons on plants, conduct experiments and create art projects with children. A general reservation to the conservatory is required but no program pre-registration is required. Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 N. Central Park Ave.
Weekends through Aug. 13
More Shakespeare, but shorter! Midsommer Flight’s Cymbeline represents a more accessible Bard. One of Shakespeare’s later and lesser-known works, the play can feel like a pastiche of his writing with its mix of palace intrigue, romance and fairies, yet the epic story of power and deceit remains timeless. Reservations are not required to attend, but they can be made on the website to get updates on weather cancellations. Next up is in Kelvyn Park, 4438 W. Wrightwood Ave.
Ysa Quiballo is a digital news intern at WBEZ. Leigh Giangreco contributed.