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The best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Find the best things to do in Chicago this weekend with our guide to concerts, exhibitions, festivals and more.

Air & Water Show Sunday, August 21, 2016
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

The weekends of summer in Chicago are quickly waning, so don't waste any time finding amazing things to do while the temperatures are hot. The Air and Water Show will send jets zooming across the skyline this weekend, but if you don't feel like craning your neck, you've got plenty of additional options. Half Acre Beer Co. throws its Big North beer festival at its Balmoral brewery on Saturday, Gelato Festival Chicago serves unlimited frozen treats on Taylor Street, the 1060 Block Party brings acts like Ted Leo and Antibalas to Wrigleyville, and Pilsen Fest celebrates the neighborhood's Latinx community. Plus, you can go to a groovy Austin Powers pop-up bar in Logan Square, play indie video games during Bit Bash at the Museum of Science and Industry or dance the night away at the latest edition of Soul Summit. Find a good reason to get out of the house among the best things to do in Chicago this weekend.

RECOMMENDED: Full Chicago events calendar

Things to do this weekend in Chicago

Neon Summer
Photograph: Courtesy Neon Summer
Things to do, Quirky events

Neon Summer

icon-location-pin 1465 N Elston Ave, River West/West Town

The folks behind Jack's Pumpkin Pop-up and Frosty's Christmas Bar have set their sights on summer in Chicago, when the weather is warm and people generally want to be doing something outdoors. Neon Summer transforms a two-acre stretch of land just west of Goose Island into a destination for family-friendly fun and late night thrills for those who are at least 21 years old. With a go-kart track, a mini golf course (outfitted with its own cocktail bars), photo opportunities for your Instagram and food trucks serving hot dogs, cotton candy and more, this pop-up may transport you back to the summers of your youth—even if they're a distant memory. Admission includes access to the mini-golf course, but you'll need to pay an additional fee to get behind the wheel of a go-kart.

Photograph: Anjali Pinto
Nightlife, Cabaret and burlesque

The Fly Honey Show

icon-location-pin The Den Theatre, Wicker Park

Now in its 10th season, the Fly Honey Show is back for an annual celebration of body, sex and self. The milestone season will feature a cast of more than 300 performers, artists and special guests, including the likes of Vocalo's Jill Hopkins, comedian Shannon Noll and Chicago's first all-female mariachi group, Mariachi Sirenas. An evening with the Fly Honeys includes high-energy dance works, riveting storytelling and a nine-piece live band. This year, organizers will donate a portion of proceeds to Ultraviolet, a national advocacy organization that drives feminist cultural and political change—giving you one more reason to get wrapped up with the Fly Honeys for this epic anniversary season.

Off-White for Nike, Virgil Abloh
Photograph: Courtesy MCA Chicago
Art, Design

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”

icon-location-pin Museum of Contemporary Art, Streeterville

An Illinois native and a graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology's architecture program, Virgil Abloh's decision to pursue a career in fashion recently landed him a job as the artistic director of Louis Vuitton. The MCA's latest exhibition explores Abloh's career, including his time as creative director of Kanye West, his popular streetwear company Off-White and the various high-profile collaborations he's had a hand in. Throughout the exhibit, you'll find examples of Abloh's work in fashion, music, design and architecture, offering an intimate look inside his creative process. Naturally, you'll also be able to cop some exclusive Abloh-designed threads when you exit through the gift shop.

Fantastic Bug Encounters!
Photograph: © Te Papa 2016
Museums, Natural history

“Fantastic Bug Encounters!”

icon-location-pin The Field Museum | Chicago, IL, Museum Campus

There are far more bugs than humans on the planet, and the Field Museum's latest exhibition gives you an opportunity to learn more about the tiny, multi-legged creatures that largely go unnoticed in our day-to-day lives. “Fantastic Bug Encounters!” features larger-than-life models created by Weta Workshops (the folks behind the Lord of the Rings movies) that allow guests to see insects like bees and praying mantises in extreme detail. Interactive stations let you test your reflexes against those of a mantis, send origami butterflies into a wind tunnel and perform bug brain surgery. There's even a bug zoo where you'll be able to get your hands on a dozen live bug species.

Photograph: Courtesy DCASE
Things to do, Festivals

Chicago SummerDance

icon-location-pin Multiple venues

All ages and skill levels are welcome at this annual event series that will allow you to practice your jives, twirls and jumps. The dancing breaks out Thursday through Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park, where a professional instructor gives dance lessons (with genres ranging from Swing to Argentine Tango) for the first hour before allowing participants to cut a rug with the accompaniment of a live band.

Photograph: Gregg Gilman


icon-location-pin Steep Theatre, Edgewater

Alistair McDowall’s Pomona wears its influences on its sleeve—film noir, Dungeons & Dragons, the horror oeuvre of H.P. Lovecraft—yet it still feels bracingly original. At the center of this stunning play sits the island of Pomona, a blasted strip that floats in Manchester like a black hole at the heart of a cold, unfeeling cosmos. McDowall takes a simple premise—a young woman, Ollie (Amber Sallis), searching for her sister in Manchester’s criminal underbelly—and turns it into a rabbit hole leading down to the gates of Hell. In the play’s bleak estimation, there is no guiding hand of fate; if there is a God, he’s playing 20-sided dice with the universe. But unlike many dark-minded works, Pomona is also a wildly good time: a surreal puzzle box that is equal parts dream logic and classic gumshoe mystery.

Time Out says
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
Art, Prints & editions

Hebru Brantley: “No ID”

icon-location-pin Rotofugi, Sheffield & DePaul

The creator of the iconic Flyboy character that graces walls throughout the city presents a new solo exhibition featuring hand-embellished prints. Bronzeville-native Hebru Brantley's work will hang on the walls of Rotofugi throughout August following an opening reception on Saturday, August 3 from 7 to 10pm. Attendees at the opening will have the first opportunity to purchases pieces in the exhibition, so line up early for your chance to take home a Brantley.

Yayoi Kusama Infinity Mirror Room
Photograph: Courtesy wndr museum
Art, Installation

wndr museum

icon-location-pin 1130 W Monroe St, West Loop

Step inside one of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama's famous Infinity Mirror Rooms at this pop-up exhibition, which features installations that blend art and science. The latest "chapter" of wndr museum features a lineup of new installations (giving previous visitors a reason to come back), focusing on works that utilize technology. Among the new experiences are a room lined with LED walls that guests can "draw" on with water, a series of abstract shapes that guests can project images onto and an interactive dance station that replicates and manipulates your moves on a screen. You'll also find a two-story rainbow slide and murals by local artists Mac Blackout and Lauren Asta. The latest iteration of wndr museum will stick around for "limited, yet undetermined amount of time," so squeeze in a visit while the current batch of installations is on display.

Édouard Manet. In the Conservatory, about 1877–79.
Courtesy Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie
Art, Painting

“Manet and Modern Beauty”

icon-location-pin Art Institute of Chicago | Chicago, IL, Grant Park

Unlike many of his contemporaries in the mid-1800s, French painter Édouard Manet prefered depicting contemporary subjects instead of historical figures and Biblical scenes. In “Manet and Modern Beauty,” the Art Institute collects his paintings of men and women decked out in fashionable attire, rendered with an eye for detail in his distinct impressionist style. The exhibition also includes some of of Manet's personal letters, as well as paintings of flowers and fruits (which, aside from stylish women, were among his favorite subjects).

The Obama Paintings Rob Pruitt
Photograph: Courtesy Stony Island Arts Bank
Art, Painting

“The Obama Paintings”

icon-location-pin Stony Island Arts Bank, South Shore

The Obama Presidential Library in Jackson Park is years away from completion, but a new exhibition near the facility's future home pays tribute to the former Illinois Senator in a fasinating way. "The Obama Paintings" is an exhibition made up of nearly 3,000 red- and blue-tinged paintings depicting scenes that correspond to each day of Obama's presidency. Artist Rob Pruitt renders everything from a walk with the Obama family dog, Bo, to State of the Union addresses and meetings with heads of state.

Photograph: Courtesy Melissa Ann Pinney and the Museum of Contemporary Photography
Art, Photography

“Go Down Moses”

icon-location-pin Museum of Contemporary Photography, Loop

Former The New York Times Magazine photography critic Teju Cole curates a collection of images that draws parallels between the past and present challenges faced by Americans. For his first major curatorial project, Cole selects images from the Museum of Contemporary Photography's permanent collection, including works by Myra Greene, Melissa Ann Pinney and Roy DeCarava.

Photograph: Zach Weiss
Things to do, Festivals

Bristol Renaissance Faire

icon-location-pin Bristol Renaissance Faire,

Game of Thrones is over, but you can fill the medieval void in your life with a trip to the Bristol Renaissance Faire, which recreates a 16th-century port city (call is King's Landing, if you like). You'll find knights in shining armor, jousting archery, Cornish pasties and dubious English accents throughout the grounds. Plus, for an additional fee you can join in on immersive RenQuest theatrical gaming experience, interacting with characters to complete quests and solve mysteries.

Photograph: Reilly Drew

Sportsman’s Club Summer BBQ Series

icon-location-pin Sportsman's Club, Ukrainian Village

Sportsman's Club backyard BBQ series is back again and stronger than ever, with a total of 18 events hosted by some of the best restaurants in Chicago, including Elske, Galit and Lula Cafe. For the uninitiated, the takeovers are first-come, first-served, with the featured chef holding court over the bar's grill and menu. For $20, guests are treated to a heaping plate of food and a beverage pairing. It's one of our all-time favorite summer pastimes.

Photograph: Michael Brosilow

True West

icon-location-pin Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Lincoln Park

In 1982, True West put Steppenwolf Theatre Company on the map. With John Malkovich and Jeff Perry in the main roles, under Gary Sinise’s guiding hand, the young theater’s scrappy, say-it-to-your-face style proved a perfect match for Sam Shepard’s wild tale of brotherly enmity. When the production transferred to New York (and Sinise took over for Perry), it was a watershed moment for the Chicago theater scene. Now, for the first time since that legendary production, Steppenwolf is taking another run at the material, with Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood as the dueling brothers Austin and Lee, respectively. Steppenwolf is a different company now than it was then, and this production reflects that.

Time Out says
Photograph: Courtesy Pritzker Military Museum and Library
Museums, Military and maritime

“D-Day +75”

icon-location-pin Pritzker Military Museum & Library, Loop

The Pritzker Military Museum and Library marks the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of northern France (better known as D-Day) with an exhibition that unpacks the planning and execution of Operation Overlord. Filled with vintage photos, maps, interviews with World War II veterans and other memorabilia from the operation, “D-Day +75” explores how Americans and their British, Canadian and French allies banded together to pull off the largest seaborne invasion in history.

Hideout Picnics on the Porch
Photograph: Courtesy Hideout
Music, Folk, country and blues

Picnics on the Porch

icon-location-pin Hideout, River West/West Town

Hideout's annual summer concert series brings the bands out of the back room and onto the venue's front porch for intimate performances under the setting sun. As usual, the Picnics on the Porch series features sets from a selection of folk and country acts, including Big Sadie, Joan Shelley and Freakwater. Ukranian Village eatery All Together Now will be offering a menu of picnic meals and snacks to accompany the music, including "Lunchables for Grownups," brats and roasted beet sandwiches. If you're craving dinner and show, this summer tradition is one of the best ways to spend a warm Chicago evening. This week, Jack Klatt performs on the porch.

Art on theMART
Photograph: Joshua Brott
Art, Film and video

Art on theMART

icon-location-pin Merchandise Mart,

Every night, a 25-story-tall video installation takes over the side of the Merchandise Mart, filling the building's historic facade with vibrant colors and moving images. Harnessing 34 digital projectors, the show features work by a rotating lineup of artists and is best viewed from Wacker Drive or the Riverwalk, between Wells and Orleans Streets. Art on theMART lights up the night Monday through Sunday, with projections beginning approximately 15 minutes after sunset.

Hamilton: The Exhibition
Illustration: David Korins
Museums, History

“Hamilton: The Exhibition”

icon-location-pin 1535 S Linn White Dr, Museum Campus

Experience the life of Alexander Hamilton at this stand-alone exhibition, created by the team behind the hit musical Hamilton. Debuting in Chicago, "Hamilton: The Exhibition" takes visitors on a journey from a trading post in St. Croix to the New Jersey hilltop where the Founding Father was shot in a duel, using imaginative environments (created by the Broadway production's set designer David Korins) to immerse guests in the historical tale. Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda serves as the exhibition's narrator (via a high-tech headset), fleshing out details as you make your way through the display and listen to rearranged music from the Broadway show.

Photograph: Alan Alabastro

Love, Chaos & Dinner

icon-location-pin Cambria Hotel Chicago Loop/Theatre District, Loop

In 2017, the staff at the Cambria Hotel were shocked to discover a long forgotten theater hidden behind their walls. Two years later, the newly renovated space is being christened by Love, Chaos & Dinner, a circus/comedy/cabaret confection from Seattle-based troupe Teatro ZinZanni. The show is performed inside a Belgian mirror tent and features a menu from Debbie Sharpe of The Goddess and Grocer.

Morton Arboretum Nature Connects
Photograph: Michael Hudson
Art, Outdoor art

“Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks”

icon-location-pin Morton Arboretum, Suburbs

Take in 15 sculptures spread throughout the Morton Arboretum's pathways, including an eight-foot dragonfly, a peacock, a turtle and a nearly life-size family of deer—all made out of LEGO bricks. The intricate models are the work of New York-based artist Sean Kenney, who is well-known for turning the tiny plastic bricks into creative works that tour the world as part of the "Nature Connects" exhibition.

GYG Chicago TTD