This week marks exactly 10 years since I loaded up a moving van in Minneapolis and drove seven hours south to make a new home in Chicago. In the decade that I’ve lived here, a lot has changed but one of the constants is that summer is undoubtedly the best time of year in the city – and not just because of the weather (and, okay, sometimes in spite of the weather).
Nonetheless, I feel like I haven’t taken full advantage of all that Chicago summers have to offer. So at the suggestion of my friend Megan, and with the help of many others on Facebook, I came up with my ultimate to-do list for Summer 2011:
1. Expand my musical horizons in Millennium Park. There is no shortage of free (yay for free!) music to enjoy in Millennium Park. I can discover cutting-edge indie rock, pop bands and rock veterans on New Music Mondays. Or I can scope out Music Without Borders, which “brings the best global sounds to Chicago.” Or I can return to Chicago’s roots and take in the World Class Jazz series, featuring some of Chicago’s best jazz musicians. So many options!
2. Catch a movie under the stars. I love the concept of Movies in the Park – check out a classic movie on the big screen under the stars with good friends, some snacks and a bottle of wine. With a long list of movies to choose from at parks across the city, there’s something for everyone. Even better? It’s free! On my list: Dirty Dancing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Grease, the Wizard of Oz, West Side Story and Sixteen Candles.
3. Volunteer for the Rock’n’Roll Chicago Half Marathon. I have run many races here but have never volunteered at one, so I decided it’s about time to give back. I’ve signed up to work at the start/finish line at the Rock’n’Roll Half on August 14.
4. See Eminem perform at Lollapalooza. I went to Lolla the first three years it was in Chicago. As someone who isn’t much into the indie music scene, I went more for the atmosphere, the people-watching and the big name acts – the Killers, Pearl Jam, Kanye West and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. My main goal this year: to see Eminem. I know he can be controversial, but I think his lyrics are absolute genius and “Lose Yourself” is one of my favorite all-time songs that inspires me every time I hear it. (any leads to a discounted day pass would be much appreciated – they’re not cheap!)
5. Take a Chicago Photography Walk. I recently took a beginner photography class and could not believe how much I learned. With a new camera, I am hoping to start applying my new knowledge both here in Chicago and when I travel. Chicago Photography Walk provides the perfect opportunity for me to explore Chicago in-depth and learn more about taking great photos at the same time.
6. Go on a date at Navy Pier. I may be the only non-tourist in Chicago who actually likes Navy Pier, which is probably why I only go there when people have visit from out of town. But there is something about Navy Pier that makes me think it would be a great date destination, in a cheesy, romantic, high school kind of way. I’m picturing dinner at Harry Caray’s, strolling along sharing a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s or a bag of Garrett’s popcorn, drinks in the Beer Garden while jamming to some live music and ooh-ing and aah-ing while watching the fireworks over the pier.
7. Get my groove on at Chicago SummerDance. Starting in July, Chicago SummerDance is the largest annual outdoor dance series in the country. Each night of the series offers an introductory one-hour dance lesson followed by 2 hours of live music and dancing in the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park. And like Movies in the Park, Chicago SummerDance is totally free! While I have never professed to be a good dancer, I do love to dance, so this is something I have to try.
8. Mix up my running routine. I have been meaning to participate in Fleet Feet Sports’ Fun Runs for about three years now. Leaving every Monday and Wednesday from the Lincoln Square location at 6:30 p.m. and going 3-6 miles, they would be a great way to break up my normal running routine.
9. Play mini-golf at the Green at Grant Park. Mini-golf was one of my favorite summer activities when I was in high school. I suspect playing some putt-putt in Grant Park will beat out the 9-hole course on the side of Highway 96 that I frequented as a teenager.
10. Enjoy a concert at Jammin’ at the Zoo. I’ve missed the likes of Everclear and Sister Hazel playing at Lincoln Park Zoo in the past, much to my dismay. They haven’t announced this summer’s schedule yet, but I promise, I will make it to see at least one previously great band that likely enjoyed its heyday in the mid-90s.
11. Explore the Farmer’s Markets. I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have never been to a farmer’s market in Chicago. So I am going to remedy that this summer. While the Green City Market in Lincoln Park is probably the best known, I’ve also discovered that I’ve got the Lincoln Square Evening Market and the Northcenter Market in my own ‘hood. Looking for a farmer’s market in your area? Check out this list.
12. Try 10 new outdoor drinking locales. Ok, this isn’t anything new, but I tend to stick with the familiar. I find a bar, I like it, and I go back there – a lot. So when I read that there are over 50 new rooftops, beer gardens and sidewalk cafes opening this summer, I decided I need to make a concerted effort to branch out. Sampling all 50 would be a little ambitious, so I’m going with a more reasonable goal of checking out 10, including South Branch (perfect for a Friday happy hour in the Loop), Wolcott’s (just blocks from my house) and Club 162 (great for some pre- or post-Cubs game drinking).
13. Stay out all night and watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan. While training for the Chicago Marathon last summer, I typically started my Saturday long runs around 5:30 a.m. in order to finish before it got too hot. On one of these early mornings, I was running down by North Avenue Beach and saw a couple of twenty-somethings frolicking in the water, wearing what were clearly their clothes from the night before. At that moment, I started thinking how fun it would be to stay out all night and end up at the beach, watching the sun come up over Lake Michigan.
So there you have it – my ultimate to-do list for this summer, and what I personally think is a great list of activities to try in Chicago whether you’ve lived here a decade or are just passing through for a few days. Am I missing anything that you highly recommend?
Of course, it would be way more fun to have some partners in crime as I make my way through my list – if you’re interested in joining me for any of the above, let me know!