The Chicago Air and Water Show officially soars across the lakefront on August 17 and 18 (in addition to some test flights earlier in the week), which means that it's time to find a place to watch the planes and boats. You'll get some of the best views of the action by heading to Chicago beaches, but if you don't feel like spending the weekend on the hot sand, you’ve got options. We've gathered some of the best places to experience the death-defying action, including rooftop bars, outdoor restaurants, some of Chicago's best boat tours and more. Find your preferred vantage point with our guide to where to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show.
RECOMMENDED: Your complete guide to the Chicago Air and Water Show
Restaurants and bars
Castaways' classy, put-together big sister, Shore Club, is hosting one of the fanciest Air and Water Show viewing parties, with a brunch buffet and a premium open bar from 9am to 2pm. If you're really feeling flush, rent out a cabana in the Oasis at Shore Club. Tickets start at $125.
The North Avenue Beach bar that looks like a beached cruise ship always throws one of the wildest and exorbitant parties during the Air and Water Show. This year, attendees can purchase a $180 ticket that includes an open bar (9am–3pm), a brunch buffet (9–11am) AND a lunch buffet (noon–3pm). Don't eat so much that you doze off and miss the Blue Angels!
The world's largest rooftop bar makes its Air and Water Show debut with a pair of viewing events over the weekend. Guests will enjoy a thrilling perspective of the high-flying action in addition to an open bar, brunch, grilling stations and live music. Each event runs from 10am to 3pm with tickets starting at $150 per guest (VIP table reservations start are $2,500).
Grab a seat and a drink at Navy Pier's outdoor beer garden and watch the Air and Water Show with a cheering crowd. Once the planes leave the sky, you can stick around for a few more beers.
Sit down at one of Chicago’s most scenic al fresco restaurants during either day of the Air and Water Show. Cafe Brauer is offering $4 beers with the purchase of any food item throughout the weekend.
The Chicago Park District's lakefront venue hosts two days of prime views, lunch and an open bar during the Air and Water Show. You can snag a ticket to the party for $125—it takes place on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18 from 11am to 4pm. If you don't need the food and just want to watch from the lawn in front of the theater, a general admission ticket will only set you back $20.
It's already difficult enough to get a seat on the J. Parker during the summer, but Air and Water Show weekend typically makes the wait for tables even longer. Still, if you're willing to show up early and lock down your spot, you can't beat the aerial views from the rooftop restaurant.
The rooftop restaurant and bar at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel offers some of the best views of the city—and that includes the weekend's Air and Water Show. Competition for a seat on the rooftop will be fierce, so show up early to snag your spot. When you're not staring at the planes in the sky, you can take a look at what's happening in Millennium Park.
Joy District features New American cuisine and unique cocktails in a space with private enclosures, a rooftop deck and a late-night lounge. Head to the roof to take a peek at the planes flying overhead and order a large format cocktail to share with your friends.
North Avenue Beach is the official viewing area for the Chicago Air and Water Show, which means that it gets packed with people (and their chairs and coolers). If you want to watch the action from this stretch of sand, arrive early and take public transportation so you don't waste time parking your car.
This is the spot for some of the best crowd-free views of the city and planes flying by overhead. You can watch from near the Adler Planetarium or venture out into the park, where there's plenty of space to spread out as you crane your neck.
Don't want to deal with the hordes of people gathered on North Avenue Beach? Head north to Montrose Beach where you can take in the aerial sights while still enjoying the feel to sand beneath your toes.
Oak Street Beach isn't too far from North Avenue Beach, which means that plenty of people have figured out that it's a good alternative for Air and Water Show watching. It's worth a try to scope out a spot here if the sand at North Avenue is already covered with chairs and coolers.
You don't have to be on the North Side to enjoy a stellar view of the planes zooming by the skyline. Lay out a blanket on 31st Street Beach and look past Navy Pier to observe all the high-flying stunts.
A building that will be forever called the Sears Tower by many Chicagoans, Willis Tower boasts the 103rd floor Skydeck that's open to the public. As the second-tallest building in America, the Willis Tower is as close as you can get to the Air and Water Show without being in an airplane. Plus, on Saturday, the Skydeck hosts a ticketed event called Picnic in the Sky, allowing guests to enjoy food, beer and wine while taking in the views.
Want VIP access to the Willis Tower Skydeck and cocktails while taking it all in? The Metropolitan Club is hosting an Air and Water Show viewing event on Saturday, August 17, allowing guests to sip boozy beverages and fill up at a buffet from 11am to 3pm. Tickets are $25–$79.
Overlooking Oak Street Beach, 875 North Michigan Avenue (formerly the John Hancock Center) is ideally situated for viewing the Air and Water Show. On a clear day, viewers can see 55 miles out and four states from this 94th floor observatory. During the Air and Water Show, guests will need to purchase a $25 ticket to hang out in 360 Chicago from 11am to 3pm.
If you require a buffet stocked with shrimp, salads, cheeses and fruit while watching the Air and Water Show, stop by the Signature Room on Saturday or Sunday from 10am to 3pm. You'll be able to take in the high-flying sights while enjoying a gourmet buffet and a premium open bar. Tickets are $175.
Step on board the Odyssey at Navy Pier and enjoy brunch or a buffet lunch while you snap photos of the Air and Water Show from just below the action. The Odyssey will offer a preview cruise on Friday, August 16 as well as trips on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18. Prices range from $70 to $90.
Launching from Navy Pier, Spirit of Chicago is hosting early brunch and afternoon lunch cruises on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18 during the Air and Water Show (and two preview cruises on August 15 and 16). Tickets include a three-course buffet, a DJ, entertainment and games. Tickets range from $65 to $80.
Take a four-hour cruise during the Air and Water Show on the Mystic Blue, which will offer three-course lunch buffets and unobstructed views of the sky. The boat departs at 11am on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18. Tickets are $110.
Want to get a high-speed, 30-minute look at the planes soaring by during the Air and Water Show? The Seadog speedboat is the fastest way to see the sights—tours depart on Saturday, August 17 and Sunday, August 18. Tickets range from $21 to $28.