When it comes to 4th of July fireworks, Chicago has no shortage of unsanctioned displays. From a rooftop perch, you can get a nonstop show—particularly, we've found, if the building is in Pilsen or Humboldt Park. The downside: You might get a bottle rocket in the eye. Lower-risk fun can be had at scores of authorized fireworks displays. The only proper shows in Chicago are at Navy Pier on July 4. Nearby suburbs, though, offer lots of bang for your travel buck.
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Navy Pier The city canceled its fireworks show in 2011, and Navy Pier has been Independence Day central since. A patriotic soundtrack blares as fireworks go boom overhead. For a completely unobstructed view, pony up some cash to board one of several boats—the more expensive options are dinner cruises—that depart from the Pier and head out onto Lake Michigan. Register at entertainmentcruises.com. Navy Pier. July 2 & 4, 9:30; July 5, 10:15pm with Afrojack.
Arlington Heights The post-race fireworks display starts at dusk, but you can arrive early in the afternoon—and hurry, the first 5,000 people get a secret gift and 1,000 kids get a free Firecracker popsicle. Horse races start at 3pm. Arlington Park Racetrack (2200 Euclid Ave, Arlington Heights). July 4 at dusk. $16.
Aurora The day begins with the Aurora Forth of July Parade (at 10am), followed by food, drinks, family friendly festivities and concerts. A fireworks display caps off the night. RiverEdge Park (360 N Broadway Ave, Aurora) or McCullough Park (Illinois Ave and Route 31, Aurora). July 4 at 9:30pm. Free.
Downers Grove Come with friends and family to the Village of Downers Grove and Village of Woodridge Independence Day parade. You could even bring your dog, but he will have a special section and must be leashed. The night ends with a fireworks display. Downers Grove (75th St and Lemont Rd, Downers Grove). July 4 at 9:30pm. Free.
Eyes to the Skies Festival From July 2–6, this festival and carnival will have you looking up in the sky all day and night with balloon launches and fireworks extravaganzas. Lisle Community Park (1825 Short St, Lisle). July 3, 4 & 5 at 9:45pm. Free.
Evanston The Palatine Concert Band pipes out patriotic and popular music from 7:30–9pm. Not close enough to hear the music live? It will be simulcast on 90.5 FM, so pack a portable radio. The focal point of this firework frenzy is at Clark Street Beach, but Evanston encourages people to park downtown and stake out a viewing spot along the lakefront. Clark Street Beach (1811 Sheridan Rd, Evanston). July 4 at 9:15 p.m. Free.
Glen Ellyn Independence Day festivities begin with a parade at noon, carnival games from 1–4pm and fireworks at dusk. The fest also includes live music, concessions and face painting. Lake Ellyn Park (645 Lenox Rd, Glen Ellyn). July 4 at dusk. Free.
Glenview The 49th annual Glenview Independence Day Celebration begins with a bike parade, then a main parade. A twilight concert and fireworks follow. Glenview Park Golf Club (800 Shermer Rd, Glenview). July 4 at 7:30pm. Free.
Highland Park A children’s bike and pet parade are part of the main Independence Day procession of floats, marching bands and novelty groups. The fest has carnival rides, a petting zoo and pony rides, followed by a battle of the bands at 6pm in Wolter’s Field where a fireworks display concludes the evening. Wolter’s Field (1080 Park Ave, Highland Park) July 4 at dusk. Free.
Hoffman Estates From July 3–6, the Northwest Fourth-Fest offers up family friendly activities such as arts and crafts fair, parades and music from the likes of Smashmouth and Kashmir. Sears Centre Arena (5333 Prairie Stone Parkway, Hoffman Estates). July 4 at 9:30pm. Free.
Itasca The village of Itasca takes the Fourth of July very seriously, putting on one of the largest displays outside of Chicago. Are you ready for 25 minutes of midair explosions? Hamilton Lakes Office Campus (Illinois Rt 53 and Thorndale Ave, Itasca). July 4, 9:45pm. Free.
Lake Forest Festival & Fireworks Big Head Todd and the Monsters headline this suburban fireworks fest. Once you the music stops, you can watch the bombs burst in air. Deerpath Park (Deerpath Rd at Hastings Rd, Lake Forest). July 4, 5–10pm. $15, Lake Forest and Lake Bluff residents $10, kids 5 and under free.
Plainfield Park District Patriotic Picnic and Fireworks Before the fireworks, check out the inflatable obstacle course, face painting, crafts and games at this family-friendly fest. You can bring a picnic basket, but you'll have to leave the beers at home. Plainfield Central High School (24120 W Fort Beggs Dr, Plainfield) July 3, dusk. Free.
Naperville Ribfest Fireworks The 25-minute display is part of Naperville’s Ribfest, celebrating finger-lickin’ fare from around the country. Fireworks viewing is good from anywhere in the park. The event will be simulcast with music and broadcasted on FM 104.3 K-Hits. Knoch Park (700 S West St, Naperville). July 4, 9:30pm, $15. After 7:30pm free.
Rockford The fireworks show isn’t the only reason to head out to Rockford. Preceding the display are a motorcycle parade and a performance by the Silver Creek Band. David Park (211 N Main St, Rockford). July 4 at 9:30pm. $6.
Skokie Park District Fireworks The show gets some extra spark with “3-D fireworks.” Special glasses add color to the aerial display, making them really pop. Skokie Park District will give away free glasses to the first 10,000 people starting at 5pm. Niles West High School (5701 Oakton St, Skokie). July 4 at dusk. Free.
Taste of Lombard Fireworks An aerial display caps off this local food festival. You can bet Gianorio's—the beloved pizzeria owned by Lombard's new village prez, Keith Giagnorio—will be slinging slices per usual. Madison Meadow Park (Madison St and Ahrens Ave, Lombard). July 4 at dusk. $3, children 9 and under free.