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Enjoy the changing leaves on a hike through one of Chicagoland's many trails.

The 23 best things to do in Chicago this fall

If you do nothing else this fall, make time for these 23 restaurant openings, art exhibitions, theater shows and more

By Madeline Wolfson

As if to make up for the fact that summer is over, the city's culture shifts into high gear in the fall, making the switch from outdoor music festivals to indoor art exhibitions that much easier. Of the countless exciting theater shows, restaurant openings and film premieres happening in Chicago this season, these are the 23 things you should clear your calendar for.

RECOMMENDED: Your guide to fall in Chicago

Midnight Circus in the Parks

Things to do Performances

Get under the big tops popping up in parks all over the city each weekend and enjoy affordable circus shows. Prepare to be amazed as an eclectic ensemble of acrobats, aerialists and eccentrics perform under intimate tents at a park near you. Plus, proceeds from these family-friendly events benefit the Chicago Park District.

Kate Arrington and Aaron Himelstein in a promotional phot for East of Eden at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Photograph: Saverio Truglia

East of Eden

Theater Drama

Nearly three decades after adapting John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for Steppenwolf (and eventually winning a Tony Award for Best Play), Frank Galati returns to the author’s work with a new adaptation of Steinbeck’s sprawling tale of two families in early-20th-century California. Terry Kinney directs. Don't miss this highly anticipated fall show.

Renegade Craft Fair 2011
Photograph: Mandy Dempsey

Renegade Craft Fair

Shopping Markets and fairs

It's time to do some hardcore shopping at this annual Wicker Park fair, where serious crafters from around the country to sell their handmade arts and wares. Workshops, local food vendors and live music invade Division Street and we couldn't be happier.

Stonewall, 2015
Photograph: The Silverman Group

Reeling Film Festival


The festival will screen nearly 40 features and more than 60 short films from home and abroad and is proud to include many Chicago premieres. Audience favorites Brokeback Mountain and I am Love, the highly anticipated drama Freeheld (Julianne Moore, Ellen Page) and documentary centerpiece Tchindas are only a handful of the hot tickets.

Expo Chicago at Navy Pier
Photograph: Audia

Expo Chicago

Art Fairs

Expo Chicago brings in more than 100 galleries representing 16 countries for a gigantic international art fair. Take in a breathtaking selection of contemporary art, all in a space specially designed by Chicago architect Jeanne Gang. This year EXPOSURE features younger galleries, giving them the chance to participate in an international fair, and IN/SITU and IN/SITU Outside will feature site-specific projects.

John Hodgman: Vacationland

Comedy Solo shows

See Daily Show's resident expert, podcast judge and humorist John Hodgman perform stories and jokes at Thalia Hall, where he will discuss topics like Massachusetts and "how to decide what small animals you should love as members of your family and which you should kill with traps and poison."

The inaugural Great Chicago Fire Festival was held this weekend on the Chicago River to celebrate the city's renewal after the 1871 fire.
Photograph: Max Herman

The Great Chicago Fire Festival

Things to do Festivals

After an inaugural event that failed to bring the heat (and flames), the Great Chicago Fire Festival is asking for a mulligan. This year, the closing ceremony moves to Northerly Island, where Redmoon Theater is organizing a neighborhood bazaar, performance stages, food vendors and more. The evening will conclude with a burning building and an explosive fireworks display.

Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare

Things to do

Noted musician and horror film director Rob Zombie brings his Great American Nightmare back to Villa Park, complete with three haunted houses. Join the police in The Devil's Rejects and hunt down the murderous backwoods Firefly family. Face a violent gang of evil clowns in 31 and enter a haunted carnival at Bloody Blvd. Rob Zombie himself performs on October 2 and 4 at 8pm.

The annual Chicago Gourmet festival features tastings, cookoffs, book signings and more.
Photograph: Max Herman

Chicago Gourmet

Things to do Festivals

The annual three-day fest kicks off Friday with its Hamburger Hop throwdown. Walk in to Millennium Park and waddle out once you've stuffed your face at cooking demos, tasting pavilions and a wine sampling.

World Music Festival

Music Latin and world

Globe-trot through music at this free, citywide fest featuring artists from around the world. Highlights from this year's lineup include performances by North Indian brass band Red Baraat (Sept 12), Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista (Sept 12), desert rockers Terakaft (Sept 13) and Afrobeat legend Orlando Julius (Sept 18, 19). For a full schedule of concerts, check out the festival's website.


Red Bull Flying Bach


It makes sense that a German breakdance crew would decide to perform to Bach's solo keyboard music mixed with electronic beats. The result is an energetic, Red Bull-powered live performance that merges classical music and modern dance. Baroque fans and b-boys, unite!

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder
Photograph: Joan Marcus

A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Theater Musicals

A scoundrel attempts to speed up a family inheritance by offing the relatives who stand in his way in this comic operetta, which offers a particularly juicy quick-change role for the actor playing eight of the targeted relatives. Written by Broadway first-timers Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, Gentleman's Guide became the underdoggish winner of the 2014 Tony Award for best musical.

T. Rex SUE at the Field Museum
Photograph: Courtesy Museum Week

Chicago Museum Week

Things to do Festivals

Twelve of the city’s top institutions have teamed up to bring Chicago Museum Week to life. Art, science, history and nature museums come together offering a week filled with special tours, shows and events as well as extra family and kids programming and extended hours. To sweeten the deal, participating museums offer free days for Illinois residents, discounted admission and savings on memberships.

Taste Talks Chicago


Want to learn about the food you’re eating, restaurant trends and the food and drink industry? Paul Kahan (Avec) teamed up with April Bloomfield (San Francisco’s Tosca and New York’s The Spotted Pig) to curate a weekend of panels, tastings and dinners led by noted food media and chefs, including Girl and the Goat’s Stephanie Izard, who will speak about “Prepping and Expediting a Cookbook” with Bloomfield.

Chicago, 2014.
Photograph: Iwan Baan

Chicago Architecture Biennial

Things to do Festivals

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events partners with the Graham Foundation to present a series of exhibitions, installations and events that explore the state of modern architecture and urbanism. Architects, designers and planners from around the world will gather during the Chicago Architecture Biennial to exchange ideas about the future of building.

A summit at Chicago Ideas Week.
Photograph: Sarah Jane Rhee

Chicago Ideas Week

Things to do Festivals

Lasting change begins with new ideas, which is what organizers are hoping to spark during Chicago Ideas Week. The series of more than 80 talks, events and summits invites artists, engineers and industry leaders to share their thoughts around the city. Where else can you hear David Axelrod talk on leadership or bake pies with Bang Bang Pie Shop?

Photograph: Courtesy Cannes

Chicago International Film Festival


See more than 150 indies, foreign films and under the radar documentaries with categories like New Directors, Out-Look, ReelWomen and Black Perspectives. There will also be several U.S. premieres this year, so get ready for two fabulous film-filled weeks.

Hubbard Street dancer Jacqueline Burnett in Quintett
Photograph: Cheryl Mann

Hubbard Street Dance: Fall Series

Dance Contemporary and experimental

Hubbard Street devotes its fall program to works by William Forsythe, widely acknowledged as one of the most important choreographers working today, known for a dance language that incorporates sharp angles and off-kilter balance. Hubbard Street performs three of Forsythe’s best known pieces: Quintett, One Flat Thing, which features 14 dancers moving around 20 tables, and the first American production of the quartet N.N.N.N.

Sarah Vowell
Bennet Miller

Chicago Humanities Festival

Things to do Festivals

Devoted to making the humanities a vibrant and exciting part of everyday life, this ambitious event brings some of the world's best and brightest to celebrate human creativity. This year boasts an impressive lineup of humanists and artists, including acclaimed writer Sarah Vowell, leading critic on race relations Ta-Nehisi Coates, dynamic writer Roxane Gay and prolific author and thinker Walter Isaacson.

Spooky costumes and clever getups fill the streets of Boystown at the Northalsted Halloween Parade, October 31, 2014.
Photograph: Matthew Sperzel

Northalsted Halloween Parade

Things to do Festivals

Drag queens, pets and kids fill the streets of Boystown at the 19th annual Northalsted Halloween Parade. The annual event attracts a wonderful cross section of humanity sporting ghoulish makeup and fashionable costumes. The parade is open to all, but you'll need to register if you want to walk in it.

Yo La Tengo
Photograph: Dusdin Condren

Yo La Tengo

Music Rock and indie

On Stuff Like That There, indie-rock cornerstone Yo La Tengo reimagines tracks from its deep catalog and throws in covers of tunes by Hank Williams and the Cure for good measure. At this special acoustic gig, the New Jersey band will be joined by its former lead guitarist, Dave Schramm.

Kate Hunt, "Davidson Flag"
Photograph: Courtesy Diehl Gallery

SOFA Chicago

Art Fairs

One of Chicago's longest continually running art fairs returns to Navy Pier, displaying a variety of Sculptures, Objects and Functional Art (that's why it's called SOFA). You probably won't be able to find a new sectional for the living room, but you will be able to peruse a selection of ceramics, wood, glass, fiber and metal works from more than 70 galleries.


Festival of Barrel Aged Beers

Things to do Festivals

The Festival of Barrel Aged Beers (not to be confused with the Barrel Aged Beer Festival or the Chicago Beer Festival) features more than 90 breweries, 300 beers and the 2015 National Wood-Aged Beer Competition. It's the largest celebration of barrel-aged beers in the country and, let's face it, an excuse for us beer lovers to sample our little hearts out.


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