Where to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show

The Chicago Air and Water Show is one of the city’s most spectacular and beloved summer events. A longstanding tradition for more than six decades, this Lake Michigan spectacle has grown into the largest free show of its kind in the country.

The 63rd annual event will take place on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug. 20, 2023, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with practice flyovers on Friday, Aug. 18.

Looking for a spot to catch the show? We’ve got you covered with waterfront viewing parties, the best beaches, stunning rooftop bars, and more. Check out the top places to watch the Chicago Air and Water Show 2023. 

Chicago beaches

Chicago’s gorgeous beaches are popular all summer long, but the Air and Water show always draws crowds to Lake Michigan’s sandy shores. The best spot to view the show will be on the lakefront between Oak Street and Fullerton Avenue, which includes North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach. Bring a lawn chair and find a spot to watch the show!

Shore Club

Located directly on North Avenue beach, Shore Club is the perfect option for those wanting to elevate their experience and be in the center of all the action. Their annual Air and Water Show watch party includes access to the Shore Club’s outdoor patio and shaded restaurant, a beachside brunch, a bloody Mary bar, frozen cocktails, and a premium open bar.

Tickets start at $80. Reserved seating and VIP cabanas are available for purchase. Get your tickets for the practice run on Friday, Aug. 18 and the main event on Saturday, Aug. 19 and Sunday, Aug, 20.

Theater on the Lake

Photo courtesy Theater on the Lake

Spread out across three acres of open green space along the lakefront while enjoying food, drinks, and incredible views at Theater on the Lake’s annual viewing party. The all-inclusive experience includes delicious food from Smoque BBQ and an open bar with beer, wine, mixed drinks, and non-alcoholic options. There will be ample seating, but guests are invited to bring their own chairs and blankets. Tickets start at $100 and are available for Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20.


Castaways Cabanas

You won’t get much closer to the action than at Castaways, the iconic blue and white boat house on the sands of North Avenue beach with unobstructed views of the jets soaring through the air. The viewing party will run from Friday, Aug. 18 to Sunday, Aug. 20, featuring an open bar with frozen and specialty cocktails, a lunch buffet, and an ice cream bar cart. Tickets start at $130.

Rooftop bars

Chicago has no shortage of rooftop bars with stunning lakefront views. Here are a few popular spots to catch the Air and Water Show display, just make sure to come early or grab a reservation since these spots fill up quickly.

Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association
The J. Parker in Hotel Lincoln
Offshore Rooftop & Bar at Navy Pier
Streeterville Social at Loews Hotel

Navy Pier

Navy Pier offers unbeatable views of Lake Michigan and the Navy Pier Beer Garden is a great space to soak up all the excitement of the weekend. In addition to being surrounded by the Air and Water show action, the Beer Garden will also feature various live music throughout the weekend.

Many other Navy Pier restaurants also offer waterfront patio space, make sure to grab your reservations ahead of time or get there early. There’s also plenty of green space and open areas where the public is able to hang out and enjoy the show for free.

Lake Michigan cruises

One of Chicagoans’ favorite ways to enjoy the Air and Water Show is to watch the festivities from the bright blue waters of Lake Michigan. There are a variety of afternoon boat cruises that will give you a perfect vantage point of the Air and Water Show. Here are just a few setting sail on Air and Water Show weekend:

Early Air and Water Show Preview Brunch Cruise by City Cruises
Air and Water Show Cruises by Chicago Fireboat Tours
Skyline Lake Tour from Navy Pier by Shoreline Sightseeing
Chicago Air and Water Show Cruise from Tall Ship Windy

Afternoon Air and Water Show Lunch Cruise by City Cruises

Check out more Chicago boat cruise options for the 2023 Air and Water Show.

Observation decks

See the soaring jets at eye level when you visit these Chicago observation decks during the Air and Water Show. 360 CHICAGO offers unbeatable views of Lake Michigan, and you can keep the adrenaline pumping at their thrilling TILT ride. Or visit SkyDeck Chicago, on the 103rd floor of one of the world’s tallest buildings, for a jaw-dropping vantage point of the show and the entire city from The Ledge.

More places to catch the show

Whispers on Oak Street Beach: Kick back and relax with your toes in the sand at this beachfront bar and restaurant. Grab a spot at the picnic tables, cabanas, or day beds and enjoy excellent views of the show and party vibes.

Caffe Olivia: On Ohio Street Beach, Caffe Olivia is tucked away inside the scenic Olive Park. It’s the perfect under-the-radar spot to watch the Air and Water Show from a prime location.

The Patio at Cafe Brauer: Head further into Lincoln Park for one of the most iconic al fresco options in the city. Situated inside Lincoln Park Zoo, The Patio at Cafe Brauer is a great option to soak up the city lakefront views and watch the Air and Water Show display, while surrounded by a lush, tranquil environment.

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