Finally! Summer Weather in Chicago... and That Means It's Festival Time!

My favorite activities in Chicago are the free and abundant art and music events held all over the city. The creative buzz of these festivals enhance Grant and Millennium Parks all summer long.
07/19/2013 12:37 pm ET Updated Sep 18, 2013

Welcome to summer in Chicago even though it has arrived a little late this year. I always wait anxiously from the beginning of April to the end of May for the city-wide tree and floral blooms to sprout along the thoroughfares, the balmy breezes along Lake Michigan to warm my face, the colorful magical dancing waters of Buckingham Fountain to make a return appearance, and of course, the announcements heralding the schedules of the dozens of festivals that highlight the season in every neighborhood in the city.

As an inner city dweller, and a non driver, this summer wanderer navigates the city most often by public transportation with senior bus pass firmly in hand (or purse) and walking shoes tied comfortably. For most tourist and locals, buses and trains are the best way to get around and to visit Chicago's wonderful neighborhoods. Granted, they can sometimes seem a bit packed but if you come with a good attitude and a sense of adventure it works out just fine. On Michigan Avenue there are red trolleys where you can hop on and off as you check out the attractions nearby.

My favorite activities in Chicago are the free and abundant art and music events held all over the city. The creative buzz of these festivals enhance Grant and Millennium Parks all summer long. My personal favorite is Summer Dance in Grant Park -- it's the largest outdoor dancing series in the U.S. The program began June 27th and continues through September 15th. Dance lessons and open dancing is offered Thursday through Sunday from 5:30pm to 9:30pm in the Sprit of Music Garden located in Grant Park along South Michigan Avenue. Adventurous dancers are encouraged to learn new dances and stay until the very end so they can show off their new steps! There will be more than 44 bands representing all types of music during the festival. I may stop by to watch, and who knows, maybe do a little salsa of my own that I learned last year when we were shooting one of our programs in Cuba!

Speaking of music, Lollapalooza in Grant Park from August 2nd - 4th has become one of Chicago's major festival attractions and brings in thousands from all over the world. Top musical performers from all genres appear on multiple stages. If you like new music, big stars, and large happy crowds, this is the place for you.

Chicago's outdoor life wouldn't be as exciting and fun with out the 33rd annual Taste of Chicago. This extravaganza of food and music, July 10-14, is eagerly awaited by city and suburban dwellers, as well as, tourists that flock in from nearby states, and the world. Something new this year will be popular food trucks, which should make for a very interesting and different experience. In all, Chicago restaurants and food trucks will serve a quarter of a million people a potpourri of food from appetizers to barbeque to desserts. I've been coming to the Taste for most of my life and I never tire of the variety of tempting food one can sample. For me it's always been Robinson's Ribs and Eli's Cheesecake. If you come to Chicago in the summer, bring your family to the Taste it's a must!

Other fun things to do include taking a boat ride on Lake Michigan that usually includes a snack or even a dinner. I can't forget Chicago's other significant body of water - the Chicago River. Several sightseeing boats ply the waters showing off the wonders of Chicago architecture. A cruise is a perfect and relaxing way of discovering the assets of my remarkable hometown. I make it a point to take friends, who are first time visitors, on a river tour.

Of course Navy Pier is a great place to take the entire family. Just about walking distance from Michigan Avenue or a ride on one of the free trolleys, and you are right there! So much to see - a stain glass window exhibition, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, lots of food courts, a children's museum, and an IMAX theater are all there. But for me, it's the Ferris Wheel! Once aboard you can see spectacular views of the city and the Lake. Of course the fireworks are spectacular throughout the summer.

Other festivals like Venetian Night with the Parade of Boats at the 31st Street Harbor on Jul 27th, Air and Water Show in August and the fabulous Jazz Festival over Labor Day weekend, are all worth seeing. And to ensure your stay is even more wonderful, you can visit any one of the neighborhood and suburban festivals taking place all summer-long too. Check out the other Chicago neighborhood music festivals.

And what's Chicago without checking out the city's neighborhood festivals. We were recently in Croatia to film for one of our episodes and quickly fell in love! The Croatian community in Chicago is active and well-known for their annual celebration - one of Chicago's oldest festivals Feast of the Assumption, or "Velika Gospa". The festival is a spiritual, cultural and culinary experience and has been celebrated at St. Jerome's Croatian Church in ArmourSquare/Bridgeport on the same streets and the same date, August 15th, since 1906.

There are sunny afternoons when I am inclined to visit Lincoln Park Zoo and talk to the animals. The zoo is open all year around and best part - it's free. Or I might shop along State Street or North Michigan Avenue and later find a spot on 31st Street beach near my home to admire the views. Our beaches (both north and south of downtown) are clean and the beach volley ballplayers are fun to watch.

Indeed there is something for everyone in Chicago. Summer here is as flashy as the Florida coast, enticing as a southern California beach town, sophisticated in spots as in Nice, France, and much cheaper than a trip to the Caribbean in the heat of the summer. For me it's the perfect "Staycation" or getaway spot in the Midwest.

Come to Chicago, my home to relax, explore and enjoy...and stay awhile. Our summer is a perfect time to be in "My Kind of Town."

Pat Johnson
Grannies on Safari

Summer in Chicago -- that means its festival time!