Monday 19 April 2021
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The Big City Blog: Where to watch and what to expect at the 61st annual Chicago Air and Water Show Aug. 17-18

By Trent Modglin

In terms of large events in this city, not even the Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza can hold a candle to the massive numbers the annual Air and Water Show bring in each year.

An estimated 2.2 million people (you read that correctly) visit our Lake Michigan shoreline each August to witness jaw-dropping maneuvers and daredevil thrills in the air and on the water in what has long been recognized as the largest free show of its kind in the country.

The show regularly showcases some of the top civilian and military pilots and aircraft, and the headliners this year include the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the USAF F-22 Raptor, U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows.

The show can be viewed along the lakefront from Fullerton to Oak Street, with North Avenue Beach (1600 N. Lake Shore Dr.) serving as the focal point for most of the activity and best views. The show runs from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. each day. For more information, visit

Here are a few spots known for their watch parties:

Offshore, the stylish new bar and lounge atop Navy Pier, was recently recognized by The Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest rooftop bar, and it will offer some unrivaled views of the action-filled weekend. Plenty of package options, with general admission starting at $125 and VIP tables and lounges available for groups, all of which includes exclusive access into Offshore, along with open bar, brunch and grilling stations, and live music. 1000 E. Grand. 312-535-6660.

Shore Club, right in the heart of the Air and Water Show festivities on North Avenue Beach, offers general admission tickets to their patio and restaurant, as well as VIP cabanas. They’re famous for their summer cocktails as well. 1603 N. Lake Shore Dr. 312-635-8058.

Castaways, the iconic boathouse on North Avenue Beach, is arguably Chicago’s best-known beach bar, and they throw a lively viewing party on the rooftop deck each year for the Air and Water Show. Plus, the popular pop-up Sand Bar Beer Garden, is the only area on the beach where alcohol is technically permitted during the show. They are offering an all-inclusive package for $180 that features an open bar from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and a breakfast and lunch buffet. Call 312-662-2500 for more info. 1603 N. Lake Shore Dr.


Head north a bit to Fullerton Beach and spread out in front of the historic Theater on the Lake. For $125 per person ($50 for kids 16 and under), guests can enjoy the three-acre lawn located in front of the theater building, as well as music, food and drinks. VIP admission includes an open bar from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and a selection of lunch offerings. Reserved/private areas and custom food and beverage packages are available for groups as well. 2401 N. Lake Shore Dr. 312-414-1313.

Two fantastic hotel bars with great vantage points of the show include the speakeasy-styled, cocktail-focused Drumbar on the 18th floor of the Rafaello Hotel in the historic Gold Coast (201 E. Delaware; 312-924-2531; and J. Parker (1816 N. Clark; 312-254-4747;, the beautiful rooftop terrace on the 13th floor of the Hotel Lincoln overlooking Lincoln Park and the lake.

For a unique experience on the water during the show, check out the cruise options from Shoreline Sightseeing ( and Mercury, Chicago’s Skyline Cruiseline (