statewide celebration

5 ways to rejoice in a summer of Pride in Illinois

People picnic in a Chicago park. View of dozens of people sitting on blankets and snacking or snogging.

As the weather warms up, the state of Illinois becomes a hotspot for travelers looking to enjoy big city excitement, smalltown charm, and lots of outdoor activities.

And while June is the official Pride month, it’s easy to imbue your entire summer with rainbow hues, no matter when you visit.

Illinois is historically one of the most progressive states in the union, and its central location — not to mention its well-connected airports in Chicago — makes it an easy destination to visit, whether by land or air. 

Pride month is an especially rewarding time to plan a vacation or two. Regardless of when you go, you’ll find a variety of enticing, queer-friendly possibilities to make your trip memorable.

We’ve developed five fabulous ideas for creating your summer of Pride in the Prairie State.  

Celebrate Pride

Several men decked out in Pride attire celebrate on a Chicago street.

Why limit your pride festivities to one place when you can enjoy them around the state?

Illinois is dotted with cities and towns that put their unique spin on the annual celebration. Of course, the state’s highest-profile pride destination is Chicago, where multiple events occur in June. You can kick it off this year with Shedd Pride Night, which takes place at the Shedd Aquarium on June 1 with DJs spinning and an appropriately ocean-themed drag show. 

Smaller community Prides take place around the Chicagoland area, including Buffalo Grove Pride, scheduled for June 2 as a family-friendly event, and Aurora Pride, taking place June 9 with a prom theme and float competition. 

Next up: Chicago Pride Fest.

The biggie takes place June 22-23 in Northalsted, the legendary gayborhood also known fondly as Boystown. The event features more than 150 food and merchandise vendors and live entertainment. Traveling with a pet? Bring your furry family to the Proud Pet Parade. 

Chicago’s Pride Month excitement climaxes one week later when hundreds of thousands of revelers converge on June 30 for the 53rd annual Chicago Pride Parade. “Pride is Power” starts in the Uptown neighborhood and runs through Lakeview before ending at Lincoln Park. 

Multiple celebrations take place in other parts of the state as well — including the Unity Pride Parade in the Quad Cities on June 1, the Pride Alley Party in Rockford on June 1, Lake County PrideFest June 8 in Round Lake Beach, the Ottawa Family Pride Festival on June 8 in Ottawa, the Galena Pride Picnic on June 8 in Galena, and Woodstock PrideFest on June 8-9 in Woodstock. 

Kick off the pride season early at Springfield PrideFest, which takes place on May 18 in the capital city of Springfield — or wrap it up in Peoria, where River City Pride Fest is slated for July 20. 

Explore Northalsted, the state’s biggest gayborhood

Three muscled shirtless men pose for the camera in Northalsted.

Regardless of whether you call it Northalsted or Boystown, one thing is sure: This bustling gayborhood is one of the nation’s top queer communities. Located in the larger neighborhood West Lakeview, it’s brimming with LGBTQ+-owned and friendly businesses. The Northalsted Business Alliance promotes LGBTQ+ events, services, and other programming (including the Chicago Pride Fest). 

Nightlife is a big draw in Northalsted (more about that in the next section), but you’ll find lots of things to do here even if you never step foot in a bar.

Satisfy your shopping instincts at places like CRAM Fashion, which specializes in men’s designer wear; Ragstock, which stocks new and vintage clothing; and Unabridged Bookstore, which carries a robust selection of titles. 

Hungry? Grab a pizza at Big Gay Sal’s, a new restaurant and margarita bar. Enjoy dinner and a drag show at the Kit Kat Lounge & Supper Club, or savor a Sunday brunch of traditional American fare at Wood

You can stay close to Northalsted’s many attractions by checking in at the Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace, a pet-friendly, 83-room hotel in Northalsted where you can have your complimentary breakfast on the terrace. Or indulge at LondonHouse, a Curio Collection by Hilton property set in a former office building that dates to the 1920s. 

Make a Toast

It’s no surprise that Chicago is home to the state’s most extensive array of LGBTQ+ nightlife options, and Northalsted is one of the best neighborhoods to check out. Stop for a drink at Sidetrack, which hosts Friday dance parties with go-go dancers and turns the volume up on show tunes on Sunday, Monday, and Friday afternoons. 

Another longtime favorite is Roscoe’s Tavern, popular for its RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing parties and weekend drag brunches. At Hydrate, meanwhile, you can watch live drag shows or hit the dance floor.

Also worth adding to your after dark itinerary is Beauty Bar, where DJs showcase an eclectic range of musical styles (recent examples include “emo vs. pop punk,” house music, and electronica). 

Explore LGBTQ+-friendly destinations around the state

Orange and red steps lead up to a walkway lined with Pride flags. An adorable dog sits on the steps.

Chicago may dominate when it comes to the sheer size of its queer community, but you’ll find a warm welcome in many other parts of Illinois, too.

You can enjoy an enticing blend of small-town charm and queer-friendly sophistication in Galena, northwest Illinois. This isn’t a destination for all-night partying; it’s a place to sample wines (at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery and whiskey (at Blaum Brothers Distilling Company).

Test your skills as you soar through the sky at Long Hollow Canopy Tours, a zipline and aerial adventure park set in the treetops near Tapley Woods State Natural Area. 

When it’s time to refuel in Galena, you can satisfy your palate at the Galena Bakehouse, featuring breakfast and lunch menus as well as homemade pastries. Or stop for a drink at Miss Kitt’s Grape Escape, where a bloody Mary buffet is a big draw every Saturday.

Spend the night at the gay-owned, cannabis-friendly Aldrich Guest House, which is set in a home that dates to 1845, or the six-room Jail Hill Inn, set in a beautifully refurbished historic building that once housed a jail. 

Other destinations in Illinois with LGBTQ+ appeal include Peoria, where you can attend live theater performances at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, cruise down Grand View Drive (which Theodore Roosevelt once called “the most beautiful drive in the world”), and channel your inner construction worker at the Caterpillar Visitors Center (Caterpillar, by the way, has its own LGBTQ+ employee resource group). 

In the twin cities of Bloomington/Normal, you can trace part of the original Route 66, and admire the interiors of the David Davis Mansion, which belonged to a man whom Abraham Lincoln named to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1862, and have a drink at the Bistro. This gay bar hosts drag shows, karaoke nights, and talent contests. 

Also serving twin-city style is Champaign/Urbana, where you can check the schedule at the Canopy Club, a performance venue that hosts various events, including drag competitions. Sip a cocktail and toast the great state at Anthem, a gay bar that stages drag and other performances. 

Discover queer culture

A gold signpost with the rainbow flag at the top marks the Northalsted neighborhood in Chicago.

After exploring the state, head back to Chicago for a deep dive into culture. For a fascinating introduction, sign up for a free Chicago Greeter tour. These guided excursions, which last between two and four hours, can be customized to focus on LGBTQ+ life and history in the city of Chicago. 

Be sure to head back to Northalsted to stroll the Legacy Walk, billed as the world’s only outdoor LGBTQ+ history museum (it may have been too crowded to appreciate this site fully if you were there during Pride). Each of the 10 pairs of 25-foot-tall steel rainbow pylons is decorated with bronze biographical memorial markers dedicated to those who’ve made a difference in our community’s history — James Baldwin, Matthew Shepard, Marsha P. Johnson, Frida Kahlo, and Keith Haring, to name a few. 

Also worth a visit are the Gerber/Hart Library and Archives, which hosts author talks as well as exhibits of art and other items of cultural importance, and the world-famous Art Institute of Chicago, which features a collection with work by a number of prominent artists including David Wojnarowicz, Mickalene Thomas and Marsden Hartley. 

The Chicago History Museum boasts an online exhibit titled “Drag in the Windy City.” The Leather Archives & Museum serves as an archive and resource for all things related to the leather community. 

Round out your pride-themed visit with time for relaxation at Kathy Osterman Beach (also known as Hollywood Beach), the city’s gay sandy shores. Perhaps stop for drinks and dinner at Big Chicks, which offers dancing and summer barbecues.

Tuck in for the night at the always queer-friendly Virgin Hotels Chicago (and check their calendar for a drag brunch; your festive pride summer isn’t over until you get home), and dream the dream of the state of Pride. 

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