This summer, Chicago Pride Fest (June 18-19) and the Chicago Pride Parade (June 26) return to the Windy City in all their rainbow revelry.
The signature celebrations attract upwards of 60,000 fans and are a benchmark of the many pioneering communities to discover throughout Illinois.
With many direct flights to two major airports, Chicago has long captivated queer travelers looking for nightlife, unique accommodations for a range of budgets, a dynamic culinary scene, and neighborhoods that celebrate the intersection of our queer and cultural identities.
This year’s Pride Fest includes performances by Alaska Thunderf*ck and Queen of the Universe winner Grag Queen, Madison Rose, and many more electrifying acts. The June 26 parade will be Chicago’s 51st, culminating in Pride in the Park, a two-day festival outdoor music festival in Grant Park.
Here are 10 ways to turn your Pride trip into a memorable LGBTQ Chicago getaway.
Discover LGBTQ history in Northalsted
Chicago was home to the first gay march, organized by the Chicago Gay Liberation movement on June 27, 1970 (one day before New York City). Over the past half-century, Chicago’s queer movement has taken root in the Lakeview neighborhood, populated with plenty of restaurants, bars, and shops. Take the time to discover The Legacy Walk along N. Halsted Street — an outdoor LGBTQ history museum marked by its rainbow pylons commemorating iconic members of our community and allies from James Baldwin and Harvey Milk to Audre Lorde and Frida Kahlo. Book a private docent, and the proceeds will benefit Illinois’ new LGBTQ-inclusive public school curriculum.
Head to the Lakefront
Summer in Chicago is spectacular, thanks to plenty of public spaces and parks. Take a break from the packed Pride schedule to unwind along The Lakefront Trail, 17 miles to walk, run, or bike along Lake Michigan’s scenic coastline. There are plenty of photo opps to discover, such as Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium, along with direct access to Navy Pier, Chicago’s premier waterfront destination.
Go local in Andersonville
Originally settled by Swedish farmers in the mid-19th century, Andersonville was once considered a distant suburb. Over the years, it’s become one of Chicago’s most vibrant, locally driven neighborhoods with a thriving LGBTQ population. Unique finds include AlleyCat Comics for all things illustrated and Women & Children First, one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country with upwards of 20,000 titles.
A meal to remember
Chicago’s culinary scene is so legendary that the city continues to host the restaurant industry’s most prestigious accolade, the James Beard Awards (June 11-13). Chicago chefs have earned 15 semifinalist nominations for this year’s awards and 23 Michelin-starred restaurants, such as the modern Japanese Momotaro, featuring a lower-level Izakaya featuring shared plates and craft cocktails. A wow-factor meal can be found for all budgets, though. Time Out Market Chicago is packed with local favorites in a communal setting, while out chef Zoe Schor’s Split-Rail delivers comfort food inspired by local and seasonal ingredients.
Dance the night away
Our best insider tip for the ultimate Chicago Pride getaway? Take a disco nap because nightlife reigns supreme, with unique venues to be found throughout the city. Perhaps most iconic is Berlin, which has stood the test of time since its opening in 1983, attracting an eclectic crowd and consistently ranking as one of Chicago’s best nightclubs. Just a few blocks away in Northalsted is Hydrate, known to quench the thirst of all its drag-loving customers with a rotating roster of performers, DJs, and viewing parties.
Whether you’re visiting for Pride or any time of year, Chicago is the epicenter for visual arts. The legendary Art Institute of Chicago is home to some of Monet’s most iconic works. At the same time, the Museum of Contemporary Photography’s current exhibit “Beautiful Diaspora / You Are Not the Lesser Part” explores the experiences of global artists of color and Black diasporic artists. The Center on Halsted, Chicago’s community center, also houses two art galleries with changing exhibitions throughout the year.
Sunshine and stage shows in Uptown and Edgewater
Chicago includes 77 diverse communities, and if you head north to Uptown and Edgewater, you’ll discover unique finds unlike anywhere else in the city. Kathy Osterman Beach (known to locals as Hollywood Beach) has become the de facto gay summer hangout, named after the pioneering politician who fought for equality in the 1980s. Low-key and friendly, it’s a sunny and sandy spot to socialize and catch some rays. Also famous for live music and theater, the neighborhood boasts one of the city’s most legendary jazz venues, The Green Mill, and 15 theater companies, including the Neo-Futurist Theater Collective, where you can see 30 original plays performed in 60 minutes.
Head to the streets to discover more examples of Chicago’s diverse LGBTQ communities. Sam Kirk’s mural “Fierce” celebrates the global queer community in the Pilsen neighborhood on the city’s lower west side. Head south to Hyde Park to see Andy Bellomo and Sandra Antongiorgi’s “Rebirth,” a tribute to queer artists of color. And be on the lookout for Mexican American queer tattoo artist Zeye One’s murals in Wicker Park.
High and low
There’s no shame in embracing your inner tourist! Chicago is packed with iconic experiences that should be on any visitor’s bucket list. Head to Skydeck Chicago in Willis Tower, the highest observation deck in the U.S. at a staggering 1,353 feet, featuring The Ledge, a glass floor balcony that will suspend you over the city streets. For those more comfortable at sea level, an architecture river tour offers one-of-a-kind access to over 40 Chicago landmarks, including the Wrigley Building and the Merchandise Mart.
Stay a while
There’s plenty of character to discover among Chicago’s hotels. The city’s personality shines through from luxury suites to intimate boutique accommodations. One of the newest openings includes Sable at Navy Pier, part of LGBTQ-friendly Hilton’s Curio Collection. The lakefront property showcases floor-to-ceiling skyline views, with top attractions like Centennial Wheel and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre (the new musical It Came From Outer Space premieres this summer) steps away. For a trip back in time, consider The Lincoln Hotel, whose structure dates back to the 1920s and features a year-round rooftop lounge and easy access to one of the city’s most beloved treasures, The Lincoln Park Zoo.
Discover Pride throughout Illinois, any time of year
Come June, the energy heightens for Pride events throughout Illinois that unite locals and visitors alike. Woodstock PrideFest returns June 12 in the town’s historic square, while Aurora celebrates its third annual Pride parade on the same date.
But don’t feel beholden to the calendar — thanks to its ideal location in the middle of everything, Illinois is full of discoveries to be made all year long. While Chicago continues to establish its legacy as an integral part of our collective queer history, charming LGBTQ-welcoming towns throughout the state offer respite from the daily grind. Head northwest to Galena to discover Main Street, with dozens of independently owned stores, vineyards, and distilleries nearby. Downstate in Peoria, a coalition of LGBTQ community members and allies organize events throughout the year, such as town halls, River City Pride in August, and an annual Queertober Ball each October.
Ready to plan your LGBTQ Illinois getaway? Visit EnjoyIllinois.com.