Every year, the Navy Pier fireworks over the lakefront are a highlight of summer in Chicago. While sparklers light up the night sky over Navy Pier every Wednesday and Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the extra-long, super-sized Fourth of July display is one not to miss. With July 4 falling on a Thursday in 2019, you'll want to make plans in advance for how and where your family will catch the big sparkler show. We've rounded up a few of the best ways to watch the Fourth of July fireworks downtown, plus a list of well-worth-the-drive fireworks displays in the near suburbs.
July 4 Fireworks Downtown
While some downtown neighborhoods are infamous for their "unofficial" fireworks (which can start days in advance of the actual holiday and go late into the night, to the dismay of the fireworks-freaked pets and toddlers in the area), there's only one "official" fireworks show in downtown Chicago for the Fourth of July, and that's the one off Navy Pier.
The 15-minute fireworks display at Navy Pier on July 4 typically starts at 9:30, with a synchronized soundtrack of patriotic music blaring in tandem with the sparklers. You can see the fireworks from the Pier itself, of course (best of luck braving the crowds), but there are also plenty of other places to see the show:
Beaches: Pull up a blanket or a beach chair for a view of the fireworks from the lakeshore. Some of the best beaches for family viewing are Oak Street Beach, 31st Street Beach (a particularly good choice for families thanks to its super fun playground and sprinklers), and Fullerton Beach. Stake out your spot early and travel light if you can—in case your little one decides they're not a fan of fireworks after all, and you need to beat a hasty retreat.
Fireworks cruises: Over half a dozen charter boat companies offer fireworks cruises from Navy Pier, ranging from low-frills and family-friendly to high-end dinner cruises. The cruises for the night of the Fourth book up early, even the expensive dinner sails, so if you're interested in seeing the sparklers from the water, don't wait to book your tickets.
Millennium Park: Arrive extra-early to spread out your picnic blanket for a stirring, patriotic concert at the Pritzker Pavillion at 6:30pm on July 4, including the obligatory 1812 Overture, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, and the Armed Forces Salute. Alternatively, you could let the kids run out their pre-fireworks energy at Maggie Daley Park and find a clear spot from which to view the fireworks nearby.
Museum Campus: The Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium are surrounded by green spaces, trails, and a concrete breakwater on the northern end of Northerly Island, jutting out into the lake from the shore and offering a lovely view of the fireworks and the city skyline.
July 4 Fireworks in the Suburbs
Some of the best (and longest) July 4 fireworks displays are outside of downtown. For these shows, you're best off packing a blanket and a picnic and hightailing it to the community park where the fireworks are launched, since the sightlines are less likely to be blocked.
Arlington Park (on July 5)
Downers Grove, Woodridge, and Darien
Lisle (part of the Eyes to the Skies hot air balloon festival)
Naperville (part of the Rib Fest)
Palatine (on July 5)
Roselle (on July 3)
Wheaton (on July 3)