4th of July: The Best Spots to Watch Fireworks in Chicago

Loads of options exist for the upcoming 4th of July weekend. For many, it marks midsummer, and might be the last shindig in Chicago before many embark on summer travel (it’s wedding season, too!). So, it’s one of those holidays where everyone gears up and (Chicago is true to form) really crams quite a bit into one long weekend.

I asked one friend what she was doing, and she said: Saturday biking to a friend’s BBQ, Sunday Pig Roast, Monday maybe (illegal) fireworks in Winnemac Park?

We’ve noticed people’s wishes to be close to downtown for fireworks erodes over time. In fact, I could almost predict the length of time you’ve lived here by where you end up for the fireworks.

4th of July Spot 1 – Downtown

Are you visiting Chicago this year for 4th of July?

For tourists and travelers, a 90 percent likelihood exists (FYI, not a scholarly study) that you will end up at Navy Pier on Independence Day and 100 percent chance at some point you will hear someone turn to their hubby or wifey and say, “Honey, I hate the city. It’s too crowded!”

Despite this, Navy Pier has an amazing display and a brand-new 150-foot Ferris wheel, and if you can get a ticket it’s well worth the crowd.

Lots of other spots are downtown to see fireworks, like the Riverwalk at Wacker Place (people stand along the bridge, or find seating at one of the terrace front restaurants). Bonus points if you know someone who lives in the Corncob building or are staying at a 27floor hotel.

For a more mature vibe with cocktails and DJs, people flock to the rooftop bars and restaurants in Gold Coast and Streeterville, such as Vertigo Sky Lounge in the Dana Hotel. There’s also Roof on the Wit Chicago, and Streeterville Social (a good bet for seating at this 9,000-square-feet location). Some house restaurants as well, like The Terrace at Trump, Riva Crab House, and about a dozen other hotels.

Planning for the 4th is a good idea if you’re going to be anywhere near downtown. Driving and parking are a collective nightmare, so try to bike or take public transit at least part of the way. If you do drive, research parking and the best route. The fireworks begin around nightfall, that’s about 9:30 p.m. these days. Most will get downtown at least a few hours early for this. The Fourth of July is an all-day event, so for any of the above options, stragglers will be hard-pressed to find good positioning.

4th of July Spot 2 – Beaches, Balconies & Boats

Are you new to Chicago or lived here less than four years?

Maybe you still do Navy Pier, downtown, as close as you can get? Maybe you want to avoid that whole ****show? Your favorite spot for this mega-holiday (as a secular holiday, a BBQ holiday, everyone participates) may be your downtown office’s terrace, or your friend’s Ukrainian Village roof (roofs due west of downtown are best!

Arguably by now you really should know someone with a boat, and if you don’t, I’m sorry (maybe next year). Despite the possibility of motion sickness, especially when involved with adult beverages, a boat in the water is just about the best vantage point you could get for fireworks. Many private boat companies offer tours for the fireworks display, but they fill up fast, so if you want to go this route, you better get on it.

One caveat: you are stuck on a boat, so make sure you like your company.

One of my favorite Fourth of July’s started off as I was racing to meet a friend downtown as night was falling. I didn’t make it to see her, but I did see a network of small illegal displays going off as I was biking through neighborhoods. By the time I passed through the gamut, I’d missed the big display, but “ooh’d” and “aah’d” over fireworks plenty.

The next year, I chose Fullerton Beach for my viewing pleasure. Though the display is a bit distant, Fullerton has a promontory with lots of nice spots on a grassy knoll, and it’s usually less crowded than other beaches.

Perhaps, like me, your tolerance for the sweaty, crowded mise-en-scene downtown is lowered. But you still want to see fireworks from the lake.

If you can, host or better yet wrangle an invite to a beach party. This is by far the easiest, chilliest way to catch the show. Each beach has its own flavor. The default downtown, besides Navy Pier, will be Ohio Street Beach. As you go north and south along the beach there’s 57th Street Beach in Hyde Park, Oak Street Beach in Gold Coast/Streeterville, rowdy North Avenue Beach (AKA volleyball beach), Hollywood Beach, Fullerton Beach, all the way up the North Shore.

The beaches are generally quieter as you travel north. As you go north you also can position to catch both Evanston and Chicago fireworks.

4th of July Spot 3 – The Burbs: Speaking of Evanston…

Have you lived in Chicago more than four years?

And you still live in the city? Well, for those who do, many friends have by this time moved out to the ‘burbs, so one of these years you may find yourself leaving Chicago for the 4th to visit.

Suburban displays are usually smaller, but less crowded. You can get decent positioning right under them if you want, depending on your tolerance for the stray ash when the wind blows the right way.

Evanston has a solid lakefront display and still attracts crowds, but it’s Evanston, so expect a relaxed vibe, lots of families arrayed on the beach at Clark Street, and a mass exodus directly after the show. As for other nearby towns, we’ve seen or heard good things about Glenview, Downers Grove, Arlington Heights, Skokie, Lake Forest, Itasca, Highland Park, Rosemont, and Hoffman Estates’ Independence Day offerings.

Not every city has its display on July 4th but on the 3rd so check local listings. You can even catch a suburban display on the 3rd and then hit Chicago on the 4th (for the serious fireworks aficionado).

July 4 falls on a Monday this year, so we are looking forward to three days off of beautiful, temperate weather, BBQs galore, some endless meandering and fancy summer cocktails. And in typical Chicago-fashion, I know you won’t but I just need to tell you this: Pace yourself ‘til Monday!

Emily Johnson

Emily Johnson is a writer, researcher, editor, and publishing consultant with a decade of learning in the field. For Truepad she covers real estate trends and develops knowledge base articles that help people learn about the process of buying as they’re looking for a home. She went through the process herself two years ago and is a proud homeowner in Logan Square.

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