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Four Blue Angel F-18 jets fly in a diamond formation front of the twin antennas of John Hancock Center. Getty Images

The best places to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show

From sandy beaches to rooftop lounges, here’s where you can catch the most action

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The annual Chicago Air and Water Show roars back into town the weekend of August 17 and 18, and there are plenty of spots to soak up the aerial action. Though the high-speed jets buzz neighborhoods as far afield as Hyde Park and Rogers Park, the best places to see the show are near the lakefront. From free sandy beaches to pricey VIP boat charters and viewing parties atop skyscrapers, spectators have no shortage of options.

The 2019 event features headliners including the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the first-ever appearance by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows from the United Kingdom. Aviation fans can also glimpse civilian aerobatic flight teams as well as the latest military hardware including an F–22 Raptor, A–10 Warthog, and F-16 Viper from the U.S. Air Force, a Marine Corps tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey, and a helicopter-based search and rescue demonstration by the U.S. Coast Guard.

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1. North Avenue Beach

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1600 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60613
(312) 742-3224
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North Avenue is the most popular place to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show and for a good reason. The waterfront spot is located right in the middle of the action and is considered “show centerpoint” for aerobatic maneuvers, parachute landings, and other demonstrations. The beach is also home to the most concession stands as well as two VIP viewing areas at Castaways and Shore Club. North Avenue Beach gets very crowded during the show.

2. Theater on the Lake

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2401 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 414-1313
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For a bit more breathing room, consider watching the show from Theater on the Lake. Here, you can drop $20 on admission into the Lakefront Restaurant’s three-acre beer garden or $125 on a catered VIP experience. If that’s not really your thing, grab a spot on the surrounding lakefront parkland near Diversey Harbor and watch for free.

3. Belmont Harbor

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Belmont Harbor
Chicago, IL 60657

Even further from North Avenue Beach and its crowds is Belmont Harbor. Here, groups of onlookers gather on the stone steps of the lakefront revetment. If your pup’s not afraid of loud afterburners and sonic booms, you can also swing by the nearby Belmont Harbor dog beach.

4. Oak Street Beach

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Just south of show center is the equally popular Oak Street Beach where spectators have great views of planes completing low-level passes, rolls, and loops. The recently opened Whispers on the Beach restaurant offers $125 single-day food and drink packages plus full weekend passes and pricy VIP packages.

5. Ohio Street Beach

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Though not quite are close to the action as the North Avenue or Oak Street beaches, this sandy—albeit somewhat smaller—waterfront spot north of Navy Pier isn’t a bad choice for watching the show. Caffé Oliva offers all-you-can-eat and open bar packages starting a $134. Nearby Milton Lee Olive Park is another decent viewing option.

6. The J. Parker

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1816 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 254-4747
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Located a bit further inland and directly west of North Avenue Beach, this outdoor venue atop the Hotel Lincoln offers an elevated vantage point with sweeping views of Lincoln Park. Reservations are required for tables and standing areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

7. John Hancock Center

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875 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 751-3680
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The iconic skyscraper offers two spots to watch the show from more than 1,000 feet up. The 360 Chicago observatory is a fantastic place to watch the show and is popular among professional photographers. Tickets range from $7 to $25, but spots along the windows can fill up fast. Meanwhile, the tower’s 95th-floor Signature Room restaurant offers $175 tickets which include reserved seating and a gourmet buffet and drink package.

8. Cité

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505 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 644-4050
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The Hancock’s Signature Room isn’t the only restaurant in town when it comes to getting a pilot’s eye view of the Air and Water Show. Cité, perched on the 70th floor of Lake Point Tower, is another spot that provides sweeping views and a sit-down brunch. Reserved tickets run $85 for adults and $35 for children.

9. Navy Pier

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600 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 595-7437
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Navy Pier tends to be a crowded tourist trap every summer weekend, and this is especially true during the Air and Water Show. With that being said, the pier offers a unique mix of family-friendly activities and primo location when it comes to flyovers. New for this year’s show is Offshore, Navy Pier’s massive rooftop and bar terrace. The venue is offering a ticketed viewing party with brunch and BBQ stations.

10. Lake Michigan

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076174 84995

The annual Air and Water Show is one weekend during which having a boat—or better yet, a friend with a boat—really pays off since the view from Lake Michigan is hard to beat. But for the rest of us, there are still plenty of options when it comes to booking a cruise with companies like Odyssey and Spirit. Fancy being your own captain? Check out these spots to rent a boat.

1. North Avenue Beach

1600 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60613

North Avenue is the most popular place to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show and for a good reason. The waterfront spot is located right in the middle of the action and is considered “show centerpoint” for aerobatic maneuvers, parachute landings, and other demonstrations. The beach is also home to the most concession stands as well as two VIP viewing areas at Castaways and Shore Club. North Avenue Beach gets very crowded during the show.

1600 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60613

2. Theater on the Lake

2401 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60614

For a bit more breathing room, consider watching the show from Theater on the Lake. Here, you can drop $20 on admission into the Lakefront Restaurant’s three-acre beer garden or $125 on a catered VIP experience. If that’s not really your thing, grab a spot on the surrounding lakefront parkland near Diversey Harbor and watch for free.

2401 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60614

3. Belmont Harbor

Belmont Harbor, Chicago, IL 60657

Even further from North Avenue Beach and its crowds is Belmont Harbor. Here, groups of onlookers gather on the stone steps of the lakefront revetment. If your pup’s not afraid of loud afterburners and sonic booms, you can also swing by the nearby Belmont Harbor dog beach.

Belmont Harbor
Chicago, IL 60657

4. Oak Street Beach

Oak Street Beach, Illinois

Just south of show center is the equally popular Oak Street Beach where spectators have great views of planes completing low-level passes, rolls, and loops. The recently opened Whispers on the Beach restaurant offers $125 single-day food and drink packages plus full weekend passes and pricy VIP packages.

5. Ohio Street Beach

Ohio Street Beach, Illinois 60611

Though not quite are close to the action as the North Avenue or Oak Street beaches, this sandy—albeit somewhat smaller—waterfront spot north of Navy Pier isn’t a bad choice for watching the show. Caffé Oliva offers all-you-can-eat and open bar packages starting a $134. Nearby Milton Lee Olive Park is another decent viewing option.

6. The J. Parker

1816 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

Located a bit further inland and directly west of North Avenue Beach, this outdoor venue atop the Hotel Lincoln offers an elevated vantage point with sweeping views of Lincoln Park. Reservations are required for tables and standing areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

1816 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614

7. John Hancock Center

875 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

The iconic skyscraper offers two spots to watch the show from more than 1,000 feet up. The 360 Chicago observatory is a fantastic place to watch the show and is popular among professional photographers. Tickets range from $7 to $25, but spots along the windows can fill up fast. Meanwhile, the tower’s 95th-floor Signature Room restaurant offers $175 tickets which include reserved seating and a gourmet buffet and drink package.

875 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

8. Cité

505 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60611

The Hancock’s Signature Room isn’t the only restaurant in town when it comes to getting a pilot’s eye view of the Air and Water Show. Cité, perched on the 70th floor of Lake Point Tower, is another spot that provides sweeping views and a sit-down brunch. Reserved tickets run $85 for adults and $35 for children.

505 N Lake Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60611

9. Navy Pier

600 E Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

Navy Pier tends to be a crowded tourist trap every summer weekend, and this is especially true during the Air and Water Show. With that being said, the pier offers a unique mix of family-friendly activities and primo location when it comes to flyovers. New for this year’s show is Offshore, Navy Pier’s massive rooftop and bar terrace. The venue is offering a ticketed viewing party with brunch and BBQ stations.

600 E Grand Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

10. Lake Michigan

Chicago, IL 60614

The annual Air and Water Show is one weekend during which having a boat—or better yet, a friend with a boat—really pays off since the view from Lake Michigan is hard to beat. But for the rest of us, there are still plenty of options when it comes to booking a cruise with companies like Odyssey and Spirit. Fancy being your own captain? Check out these spots to rent a boat.