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15 best places to enjoy Chicago summer outside with friends

Celebrate the warm weather, fly kites, or see an outdoor concert.

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After a recording-setting frigid winter and an especially soggy spring, Chicagoans are eager to get outside as beautiful weather finally returns. If you’re looking to host a group outing, the city has no shortage of private patios or rooftop bars. But there are plenty of other places outside that don’t cost a whole lot, and can be just as fun.

Sure, it’s hard to go wrong with any of Chicago’s excellent public parks and beaches, but there are a number of activity-driven spots—such as concert venues, zoos, and plazas—that can take your gathering to the next level without breaking the bank.

Check out these affordable options and start planning your own Chicago summer get-together. Take note that most city parks and county forest preserves require permits for big groups, so you’ll want to book well in advance.

This list is arranged geographically north to south.

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1. Ravinia Festival

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418 Sheridan Rd
Highland Park, IL 60035
(847) 266-5100
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Located in suburban Highland Park, Ravinia is the nation’s oldest outdoor music festival and can be an affordable place to host an informal gathering—provided you pick the right day to attend. While lawn tickets for sell-out pop performances can exceed $50, there are plenty of classical music nights offered in the $10 to $25 range. Food at the North Shore venue can get pricey, so you’re better off bringing a picnic. Take a Metra train directly to the park to avoid traffic and parking fees.

Sunsets and symphonies : @tpf_85

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2. Chicago Botanic Garden

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1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022
(847) 835-5440
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Not far from Ravina is the Chicago Botanic Garden which features 26 gardens spread across 385 acres. Admission to the gardens is free, but parking is $25 per car on weekdays and $30 on the weekend and federal holidays. The cheapest option is riding the Metra from the city and walk roughly one mile from the Braeside station. If you must drive, try to carpool with other people in your group. Looking to book the garden for a private event? Get more information here.

3. Arlington Park

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2121 West Northwest Highway
Arlington Heights, IL 60004
(847) 398-4844
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With general admission starting at $8, you don’t have to drop big bucks for a memorable group outing at Arlington International Racecourse (although fancier options are available too). The impressive 50,000-seat race track is open May through September and features action on its dirt and turf ovals as well as special events such as live music performances and movie screenings. Like Ravinia, Arlington Park offers the convenience of a dedicated Metra stop.

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4. LaBagh Woods

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(800) 870-3666
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This 160-acre forest preserve along the Chicago River is surprisingly close to the city considering its natural beauty and peaceful vibes. Located between the Sauganash and Jefferson Park neighborhoods, LaBagh Woods is an ideal spot for picnics and other group events. Although parties of 25 or more must obtain permits, the bucolic North Side venue can accommodate extra large gatherings of 200 to 350 individuals. Permit fees run between $80 and roughly $200, depending on the size of the group and the shelter being reserved.

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5. Cricket Hill

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Lakefront Trail
Chicago, IL 60640
(312) 742-7726
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Just north of Montrose Harbor and far from the hectic crowds of North Avenue Beach, Cricket Hill is considered one of the best places in the city to fly kites. If that’s not really your thing, you’re also steps from Montrose Beach and its food concessions and kayak and volleyball rentals. The area is also home to a natural dunes wildlife habitat and the Magic Hedge bird and butterfly sanctuary.

6. Lincoln Park Zoo

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2001 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 742-2000
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If you’re looking for a cheap activity to celebrate a birthday or entertain out-of-town guests, it’s hard to beat Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. The North Side venue is open 365 days a year and offers free admission. For groups of 20 and more, there are also packages that provide a discounted rate on optional extras like box lunches and carousel tickets. The zoo can also accommodate larger, more formal private events like weddings or corporate galas.

7. Chicago Food Truck Festival

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50 W Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602
(312) 603-3054
Visit Website

People love food trucks but reserving one to cater your private event can be a pricey endeavor. As a thrifty alternative, try bringing your group to where the food trucks already gather: downtown’s Chicago Food Truck Festival. While certainly not the only opportunity to catch a meal from one of these rolling kitchens, the fest will give you and your group a chance to sample from a large selection of cuisines. The Chicago Food Truck Festival runs April through September at Daley Plaza and Pioneer Court. Check out the official schedule here.

8. Jay Pritzker Pavilion

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201 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
(312) 742-1168
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On top of being one of Chicago’s most photogenic spots, Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to bring a small or medium-sized group to enjoy live music, movies, dance lessons, and other performances. Grab a blanket or lawn chair and soak up the skyline views and the iconic sculptural bandshell designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. If you can sneak away from work, the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra holds open rehearsals midday Tuesdays through Fridays.

9. Douglas Park

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1401 S Sacramento Dr
Chicago, IL 60623
(866) 223-5564
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While many Chicagoans know Douglas Park for hosting Riot Fest, the 173-acre West Side green space has a lot more to offer. Amenities include five playgrounds, a pond, an outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, basketball courts, gardens, and plenty of places to cook-out. If that wasn’t enough, Douglas Park is home to a free golf complex featuring a three-hole learning course, a putting green, hitting nets, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

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10. Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park

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2700 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60608
(312) 747-6497
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Created in 2009 out of a former limestone quarry, this 26-acre park in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood offers walking trails, a restored wetland, and a fishing hole stocked with bluegills. An elevated open meadow provides a great place to fly kites, enjoy a picnic, or take in downtown skyline views.

11. Guaranteed Rate Field

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333 W 35th St
Chicago, IL 60616
(312) 674-1000
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Though not as famous as the ivy-clad ballpark to the north, the home of the Chicago White Sox makes a great venue for a group day out. The South Side stadium offers dedicated event spaces with food packages to fit a variety of budgets, but the smart play here is to buy a block of seats for one of the “Family Sundays” when tickets start as low as $5 in the upper level and $15 in the lower level. For everything you need to know about Guaranteed Rate Field, check out Curbed’s handy stadium guide.

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12. The Morton Arboretum

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4100 IL-53
Lisle, IL 60532
(630) 968-0074
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Located in Lisle, Illinois, this 1,700-acre “living museum” features over 4,100 species of local and imported flora, and is the perfect spot for getting in touch with Mother Nature. Admission is a reasonable $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for children and parking is always free. Group tour packages are available for parties of 15 or more.

13. Promontory Point

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5491 S Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60615
(312) 742-5369
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Just because George Lucas and spouse Mellody Hobson spared no expense shutting down this man-made peninsula for their 2013 wedding, there’s no reason you can’t throw your next event at Promontory Point inexpensively. A popular location for swimming and informal barbecues, the point also offers a Park District-owned private event spot with outdoor verandas facing the skyline. You can also stroll through nearby Jackson Park, which is another great spot for a warm-weather picnic.

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14. Steelworkers Park

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3100 E 87th St
Chicago, IL 60617
(312) 747-6651
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Though the Far South Side’s former U.S. Steel South Works plant remains vacant and undeveloped, you still can visit a public lakefront park at the site’s eastern edge. Know as Steelworkers Park, this off-the-path hidden gem features a climbing wall along one of the old “ore walls” that once held the raw materials used in steel production.

15. Dan Ryan Woods

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W 87th St &, S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60620
(773) 792-0149
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Located just north of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, this 257-acre, family-friendly forest preserve features sports fields, wooded groves, paved walking trails, and a sledding hill in the winter. The Dan Ryan Woods is home to multiple picnic shelters with the largest accommodating up to 350 people. As with the aforementioned LaBagh Woods to the north, the Cook County Forest Preserve does require a picnic permit for larger groups.

1. Ravinia Festival

418 Sheridan Rd, Highland Park, IL 60035

Located in suburban Highland Park, Ravinia is the nation’s oldest outdoor music festival and can be an affordable place to host an informal gathering—provided you pick the right day to attend. While lawn tickets for sell-out pop performances can exceed $50, there are plenty of classical music nights offered in the $10 to $25 range. Food at the North Shore venue can get pricey, so you’re better off bringing a picnic. Take a Metra train directly to the park to avoid traffic and parking fees.

418 Sheridan Rd
Highland Park, IL 60035

2. Chicago Botanic Garden

1000 Lake Cook Rd, Glencoe, IL 60022

Not far from Ravina is the Chicago Botanic Garden which features 26 gardens spread across 385 acres. Admission to the gardens is free, but parking is $25 per car on weekdays and $30 on the weekend and federal holidays. The cheapest option is riding the Metra from the city and walk roughly one mile from the Braeside station. If you must drive, try to carpool with other people in your group. Looking to book the garden for a private event? Get more information here.

1000 Lake Cook Rd
Glencoe, IL 60022

3. Arlington Park

2121 West Northwest Highway, Arlington Heights, IL 60004

With general admission starting at $8, you don’t have to drop big bucks for a memorable group outing at Arlington International Racecourse (although fancier options are available too). The impressive 50,000-seat race track is open May through September and features action on its dirt and turf ovals as well as special events such as live music performances and movie screenings. Like Ravinia, Arlington Park offers the convenience of a dedicated Metra stop.

2121 West Northwest Highway
Arlington Heights, IL 60004

4. LaBagh Woods

Chicago, IL 60646

This 160-acre forest preserve along the Chicago River is surprisingly close to the city considering its natural beauty and peaceful vibes. Located between the Sauganash and Jefferson Park neighborhoods, LaBagh Woods is an ideal spot for picnics and other group events. Although parties of 25 or more must obtain permits, the bucolic North Side venue can accommodate extra large gatherings of 200 to 350 individuals. Permit fees run between $80 and roughly $200, depending on the size of the group and the shelter being reserved.

5. Cricket Hill

Lakefront Trail, Chicago, IL 60640

Just north of Montrose Harbor and far from the hectic crowds of North Avenue Beach, Cricket Hill is considered one of the best places in the city to fly kites. If that’s not really your thing, you’re also steps from Montrose Beach and its food concessions and kayak and volleyball rentals. The area is also home to a natural dunes wildlife habitat and the Magic Hedge bird and butterfly sanctuary.

Lakefront Trail
Chicago, IL 60640

6. Lincoln Park Zoo

2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614

If you’re looking for a cheap activity to celebrate a birthday or entertain out-of-town guests, it’s hard to beat Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo. The North Side venue is open 365 days a year and offers free admission. For groups of 20 and more, there are also packages that provide a discounted rate on optional extras like box lunches and carousel tickets. The zoo can also accommodate larger, more formal private events like weddings or corporate galas.

2001 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60614

7. Chicago Food Truck Festival

50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602

People love food trucks but reserving one to cater your private event can be a pricey endeavor. As a thrifty alternative, try bringing your group to where the food trucks already gather: downtown’s Chicago Food Truck Festival. While certainly not the only opportunity to catch a meal from one of these rolling kitchens, the fest will give you and your group a chance to sample from a large selection of cuisines. The Chicago Food Truck Festival runs April through September at Daley Plaza and Pioneer Court. Check out the official schedule here.

50 W Washington St
Chicago, IL 60602

8. Jay Pritzker Pavilion

201 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601

On top of being one of Chicago’s most photogenic spots, Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to bring a small or medium-sized group to enjoy live music, movies, dance lessons, and other performances. Grab a blanket or lawn chair and soak up the skyline views and the iconic sculptural bandshell designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. If you can sneak away from work, the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra holds open rehearsals midday Tuesdays through Fridays.

201 E Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601

9. Douglas Park

1401 S Sacramento Dr, Chicago, IL 60623

While many Chicagoans know Douglas Park for hosting Riot Fest, the 173-acre West Side green space has a lot more to offer. Amenities include five playgrounds, a pond, an outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, basketball courts, gardens, and plenty of places to cook-out. If that wasn’t enough, Douglas Park is home to a free golf complex featuring a three-hole learning course, a putting green, hitting nets, and an 18-hole miniature golf course.

1401 S Sacramento Dr
Chicago, IL 60623

10. Henry C. Palmisano Nature Park

2700 S Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60608

Created in 2009 out of a former limestone quarry, this 26-acre park in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood offers walking trails, a restored wetland, and a fishing hole stocked with bluegills. An elevated open meadow provides a great place to fly kites, enjoy a picnic, or take in downtown skyline views.

2700 S Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60608

11. Guaranteed Rate Field

333 W 35th St, Chicago, IL 60616
Getty Images

Though not as famous as the ivy-clad ballpark to the north, the home of the Chicago White Sox makes a great venue for a group day out. The South Side stadium offers dedicated event spaces with food packages to fit a variety of budgets, but the smart play here is to buy a block of seats for one of the “Family Sundays” when tickets start as low as $5 in the upper level and $15 in the lower level. For everything you need to know about Guaranteed Rate Field, check out Curbed’s handy stadium guide.

333 W 35th St
Chicago, IL 60616

12. The Morton Arboretum

4100 IL-53, Lisle, IL 60532

Located in Lisle, Illinois, this 1,700-acre “living museum” features over 4,100 species of local and imported flora, and is the perfect spot for getting in touch with Mother Nature. Admission is a reasonable $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for children and parking is always free. Group tour packages are available for parties of 15 or more.

4100 IL-53
Lisle, IL 60532

13. Promontory Point

5491 S Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60615

Just because George Lucas and spouse Mellody Hobson spared no expense shutting down this man-made peninsula for their 2013 wedding, there’s no reason you can’t throw your next event at Promontory Point inexpensively. A popular location for swimming and informal barbecues, the point also offers a Park District-owned private event spot with outdoor verandas facing the skyline. You can also stroll through nearby Jackson Park, which is another great spot for a warm-weather picnic.

5491 S Shore Dr
Chicago, IL 60615

14. Steelworkers Park

3100 E 87th St, Chicago, IL 60617

Though the Far South Side’s former U.S. Steel South Works plant remains vacant and undeveloped, you still can visit a public lakefront park at the site’s eastern edge. Know as Steelworkers Park, this off-the-path hidden gem features a climbing wall along one of the old “ore walls” that once held the raw materials used in steel production.

3100 E 87th St
Chicago, IL 60617

15. Dan Ryan Woods

W 87th St &, S Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60620

Located just north of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood, this 257-acre, family-friendly forest preserve features sports fields, wooded groves, paved walking trails, and a sledding hill in the winter. The Dan Ryan Woods is home to multiple picnic shelters with the largest accommodating up to 350 people. As with the aforementioned LaBagh Woods to the north, the Cook County Forest Preserve does require a picnic permit for larger groups.

W 87th St &, S Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60620