One of the most thrilling annual events in the Chicago area is the Chicago Air and Water Show, whose 57th edition will hit the shores of Lake Michigan on August 15-16. This exhibition has been entertaining residents and visitors since 1959 and is the oldest and largest of its kind to offer free admission to the public.
The show features aerial acrobatics by both military and civilian aircraft, as well as parachuting, boating and diving. This year’s headliners include the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the U.S. Navy Parachute Team Leap Frogs and the U.S. Army Parachute Team Golden Knights.
Prime viewing for the Air and Water Show is at North Avenue Beach, between Fullerton Avenue and Oak Street. There is also great viewing at Navy Pier (including the Landshark Beer Garden or the RIVA Café) and less-crowded albeit more distant viewing at Diversey Harbor and Belmont Harbor. The show runs from 10am-3pm, but many people camp out from very early in the morning in order to secure a great viewing location.
For anyone with the wherewithal, dining cruises and tour boats offer spectacular views of the show from Lake Michigan itself. A number of restaurants also offer great views of the event, including Kanela Breakfast Club Old Town, which will be offering a special French Toast Flight in honor of the event, and Oak Street Beach Food + Drink. Just like the beach itself, these viewing locations will fill up quickly, so it is a good idea to show up early and stake out a spot.
There are also a number of locations that allow the public to view the air show from a truly lofty vantage. Rooftop dining at the Hotel Lincoln and the W Chicago Lakeshore Hotel both offer great open-air viewing experiences. 360 Chicago, formerly the John Hancock Observatory, has incredible views from the 94th floor. And the Willis Tower, the second tallest building in the United States, is offering a “Picnic in the Sky” (advance reservations required) on Saturday the 15th only for Air and Water Show viewing.
If you plan to camp out on the beach for the Air and Water Show, make sure that you come prepared. Chairs and blankets are allowed, but umbrellas and canopies that can block others’ views are forbidden. As a result, it’s important to bring hats and sunscreen to protect you from the sun. BBQs/grills and alcoholic beverages are also prohibited, but it’s a great idea to bring food and plenty of water. Food and beverage vendors will be stationed along the waterfront, but if you plan to be there the whole day it’s nice to save time and money by bringing a few of your own snacks along.
The Chicago Fire Department Air/Sea Rescue will be among the performers at the Air and Water Show. Local sponsors for the event include the Chicago Transit Authority, the Chicago Tribune, WBBM Newsradio 780 and 105.9FM, which will be providing a live broadcast of the show from 10am-3pm each day. For viewers who are too far away to hear the live speakers, this is a great way to follow longtime announcer and former stunt pilot Herb Hunter’s coverage of the show.