Written by: Lela Olds
For more than half the year, Chicagoans are overwhelmed with bad, sometimes brutal weather. Four seasons are usually the norm, but it can be argued that Chicago only experiences two. No one can forget a Chicago winter. Then, right around Memorial Day weekend, natives and transplants finally realize why they can’t seem to part ways with the city…Summertime Chi.
For starters, the skyline is unmatched (no matter what anyone says). And contrary to what is spewed across local and national news, Chicago is just a dope city that easily rises to the ranks as one of the best cities in the country when the summer rolls around. Buckingham Fountain flips on, and the city becomes one of the most vibrant, fun places to enjoy with family, friends and loved ones.
If you have never visited Chicago or simply need something to look forward to, look no further than these 10 reasons why every Black person should visit or get reacquainted with Chicago at least once during the summer.
Recently, the Chicago Riverwalk officially opened for the season. The Riverwalk is home to a 1.25-mile path featuring spectacular views from water level, ample seating for people watching, and several tasty restaurants like the Chicago Brewhouse, Tiny Tap & Café as well as the City Winery. Starting in June, the new and improved Riverwalk will also be home to nine new vendors like Black-owned Chicago favorites Batter & Berries and Justice of the Pies, just to name a few.
You can’t come to Chicago during the summer and not hit a baseball game with friends. Yes, we all know baseball is a little slow and some may say boring, however, if you’ve never experienced a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field or a Chicago White Sox game at Guaranteed Rate Field, then you’re not truly enjoying a Chicago summer with friends.
Whatever you do, do not choose a team. Just enjoy the game! And if you’re here when the two teams face one another for the Crosstown Classic on June 18-19 or July 6-7, be sure to get tickets. It’s a true rivalry and a good time!
The word ‘beach’ and Chicago may not sound like a match, but during Summertime Chi, they go together like white on rice. On any given weekend, and most weekdays, you can find some of Chicago’s most popular beaches filled with bikers, runners, recreational sports players, those looking to relax, and some just trying to get a golden-brown tan for the summer. Hitting any part of the Lakefront solo or with friends during the summer will never disappoint. Some of the most popular beaches include Oak Street Beach in the Gold Coast and Rainbow Beach in the South Shore. If you’re a fan of the 1997 Chicago-based move “Love Jones,” then be sure to hit up the 63rd Street Beach where Darius Lovehall (Chicago native Larenz Tate) reminisced with his friend about a missed opportunity with his true love, Nina Mosley (Nia Long). “You only get one…two tops.” Darius was talking about love, but that phrase could also apply to Chicago because there’s only one Summertime Chi.
Summertime Chi means that you’re never in the house. And why would you be when there is music to enjoy outdoors? Therefore, it’s only right that you come to Chicago in the summer and hit up some of the many concerts taking place.
One of the most popular concerts in Chicago is Lollapalooza which takes over the city August 1-4. This year, acts such as Childish Gambino, Lil Wayne, Janelle Monáe, Meek Mill, 21 Savage and more will be taking the stage. And although located outside of downtown Chicago, concerts held at Ravinia in Highland Park are also highly-attended and always anticipated. Some of the best hip-hop and R&B acts will play the popular venue this summer including T.I. Maxwell, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah, Common, and Mary J. Blige. So, grab your ticket now!
Chicago is home to house music. To celebrate the popular genre made popular in the 1980s, house music fans come together each summer and dance like no one’s watching at the Chosen Few Picnic & Festival. Now in its 29th year, the well-attended festival is taking place on July 6 in Jackson Park on the South Side of Chicago. But before that happens, some other well-known festivals are headed to the city to kick off the summer, including the 34th annual Chicago Gospel Fest on May 31-June 1 and the 36th annual Chicago Blues Fest on June 7-9, both being held in Millennium Park downtown. You can catch some of your favorite acts while also enjoying a nice Chicago breeze. And who can forget about the Taste of Chicago? Although the Taste has changed over the years, it is still one of Chicago’s best festivals. From July 10-14, a variety of food vendors will take over Grant Park with eats from around the city while music acts like De La Soul help you dance off the added calories.
Willis Tower Skydeck
If you think you have really seen Chicago, you are sadly mistaken until you look out over the historic land from the Willis Tower Skydeck. Although one of the world’s tallest buildings changed its name 10 years ago (forever the Sears Tower to native Chicagoans), the undeniable views remain the same. From East to West, North to South and even to four surrounding states, there is not a bad view from the Skydeck located on the 103rd floor of Willis Tower. If you’re not too afraid of heights and have a little daredevil in you, venture out to the Ledge, a glass box that goes out a little over 4 feet from the Skydeck’s ledge. Your Instagram pictures and videos will hit a little different from more than 1,300 feet up.
Never let anyone tell you that there are no large, peaceful gatherings with a majorly Black audience in Chicago. If so, let them know there are quite a few block parties that would like a word with them, including the Brew Fest and the Silver Room Sound System Block Party. Both are held in the Obama’s neighborhood, Hyde Park and attended by thousands of people looking to catch up with old friends, vibe to good music and dope DJs and enjoy libations freely in the streets. The Brew Fest takes place on June 1-2 while the Block Party is taking over the city on July 20.
Millennium Park Summer Film Series
Have you truly lived if you’ve never seen your favorite movies under the stars? The Millennium Park Summer Film Series is an experience that no one should miss. Retreat from your hotel or unwind after a long day at work with a good movie at dusk in the frequently visited Millennium Park located in the Loop. This summer, the series includes some favorites in the Black community. Get ready for Wakanda Forever with Black Panther and “ease on down the road” with The Wiz on June 4 and July 2, respectively. Mark your calendar, tell a friend/significant other, wash your blankets, and get your basket ready to enjoy groundbreaking classics in the park.
Eats & Drinks
Whether you’re visiting or living in Chicago, loose clothing is needed because the city is known to eat and eat well. In addition to having popular restaurant chains, Chicago also has some popular eateries that originated here. You can’t visit the city without partaking in the best chicken spots (depending on who you ask), Harold’s Chicken and Uncle Remus. Both fried chicken restaurants have several locations with an amazing taste that cannot be denied. Whatever you do, don’t forget the sauce!
If not chicken, are you in the mood for pizza? Then, you’ve come to the right place. Sorry, New York! There’s just no competing with the famous deep dish pizza that Chicago is known for. So many restaurants can provide that great taste and perfect cheesy bite but some of the most popular pizza joints include Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s.
Since you’ll need something to wash down that food, a rooftop or regular bar is always your friend for the night. Vibrant conversation and strong drinks and potentially sweeping views of the city never hurt anyone. On Fridays, many young Black professionals take over Ceres Café and Reverie to unwind after a long week, especially in the summer. You’re bound to leave with a buzz and a boo. Rooftops are always the move as well. Vu Rooftop Bar, the Devereaux, and ROOF on the Wit are just a few locations to visit around the city. You can even stay out to the wee hours of the morning at Celeste in the River North area.
Chicago is rich in culture and history. Visiting a museum, particularly in the summer, is a way of life. Most Chicagoans grew up attending field trips at the museum or visiting with family for free days. The city does not disappoint with dozens of museums including but not limited to the Museum of Science and Industry, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. However, it is the DuSable Museum of African American History that houses some of the best historical facts of our history…Black History. At DuSable, you can learn about the first ever Black Mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington among other intriguing displays. You can also check out a new exhibit all summer, the Sounds of History Jazz Series. In addition to those options, the Adler Planetarium provides education and one of the best spots to get those selfies off in the city.
This is just a minor list for a city that’s so major. Chicago gets a bad rep sometimes, but it is arguably one of the best cities in the country, and you will love it even more when you’re not wearing an oversized coat.
On Kanye West and T-Pain’s song “Good Life,” you hear the lyrics “It feels like NY, Summertime Chi…” on the first verse. After one summer visit to Chicago, you’ll definitely understand why Summertime Chi is truly the good life.