While sitting on the curb of Milwaukee Avenue last weekend waiting for a table at a popular brunch spot, I was reminded how summer has been my favorite time of year in the city. And, if the forecast is right, the season has just begun.
The winter is when I’m engrossed in books, fixated on a computer screen and in a fixed mindset: school, work, school, work, school, work and “Oh my God, it’s cold.” But, summer is the time to wind down and enjoy the city without more than three layers fastened on and tucked in.
And the place to do it is in the South Loop. The smells alone of hot concrete, the humidity and the whiff of the train blowing up through the sidewalk grates are enough to get me. But if that’s not enough, here are a few things to take part in this summer in the “SoLo”:
Outdoor seating: It’s fine to eat inside, but why do it when it’s so nice outside? Restaurants in the South Loop put out their cast-iron tables and chairs and raise their umbrellas. It’s the perfect opportunity to sit outside with some friends, enjoy a nice summer salad, maybe with a glass of lemonade, and catch up on gossip and summer reality shows. Don’t just resort to Panera.Venture out.
Movies in the park: Pack a blanket, gather some food and send a Facebook invite to the entire crew. Grant Park screens classic and old school films throughout the summer, and the best part about this is that they’re all free. We don’t have any drive-ins in the city, but this is a close second. It’s much better than staying inside sweating without air conditioning watching the latest blockbuster that’s On Demand. Get out there and enjoy a good laugh and some wine and cheese.
The view at the Shedd Aquarium: The Shedd has one of the most stunning views of the Chicago skyline. The path that wraps around at the Museum Campus is one of the best places to buckle down and enjoy the breathtaking view of the city. It might be too touristy, but summer is the time to take a free pass and just enjoy—it’s OK to be cliche. This spot is also great for catching the Air & Water Show in late summer.
Independence Day: It might not be environmentally-friendly, but fireworks are still one of my favorite things. I’ve sat on the steps at Buckingham Fountain and jumped up onto the wall that separates Grant Park from Millennium Park to watch the crackle and pops in the sky. I have yet to find a bad view of the show. The enormous crowd might be a drag, but be patient and go with the flow. The spectacle is worth it, plus the people watching is priceless.
Free music: Big headliners come through each year to the play at the Taste of Chicago and other music fests throughout the city during the summer. It’s the one chance to catch a great performance for free and check out some bands from the old days. Who would deny a free two-hour Stevie Wonder concert in a park? Just remember those bottles of water will cost an extra nickel.
Street performers: The subways are lined with them, and some of them are actually good. My favorite is the guy in the Lake Red Line stop. He takes requests and does a pretty decent job of the Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and The Temptations’ “My Girl.” Plus, they serve as good entertainment while waiting for the trains.