Labor Day is a bittersweet holiday because for many, it signals the end of summer vacation. And for cities like Chicago, it’s one of the last big holidays to celebrate before the weather becomes chilly and the lake freezes over.
On the bright side, Labor Day isn’t bound by specific traditions, so you can have lots of fun with it.
It’s a national holiday created to honor the contributions of American workers, and it usually falls on the first Monday in September. For those in Chicago, there are lots of ways you can get creative with your celebrations.
The Windy City is home to 2.7 million people and received a record 54.1 million visitors last year. If you plan spend Labor Day in Chicago, here are five fun, budget-friendly ways to enjoy the long weekend:
1. Head to the Beach
Chicago has over a dozen different beaches, and they’re all free. The city sits alongside Lake Michigan, so while you may not get the ocean experience that you’d have on a California beach, you can still have fun and relax.
If you visit one of the beaches near the downtown area – such as the North Avenue and Oak Street beaches – you’ll get a nice view of the tall buildings that make up the Windy City’s famous skyline. You can pack a lunch or order food and drinks from the concessions area nearby and have a fun day full of swimming, beach volleyball, and sunbathing.
2. Attend the Annual Jazz Festival
Each year, Chicago hosts a free jazz festival at Millennium Park. This year, the jazz festival takes place Labor Day weekend. Events start every evening from August 31 to September 3. If you’re a fan of jazz music, you’ll enjoy this outdoor celebration of both contemporary improvisers and legendary musicians. There will even be tributes to icons like Ella Fitzgerald.
3. Stop by the Navy Pier
The Navy Pier is one of the best attractions Chicago has to offer, and it’s perfect for family fun. It’s a 3,300-foot-long pier on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The great thing about the Navy Pier is that it’s free to enter and walk through. There are several fun activities and restaurants along the way, but not all of them are free.
The Navy Pier is home to the Chicago Children’s Museum, Shakespeare Theatre, Centennial Ferris Wheel, Miller Lite Beer Garden, daily lake cruises, and plenty of places to eat. Plus, there are some free community programs at the pier each week, and this Labor Day weekend, there’s a music festival and free entertainment for kids.
4. Go on a Cocktail Cruise
Renting boats to cruise the lake can be expensive. But cruises from the Navy Pier are much more affordable than most because they’re public cruises. Some of them provide dinner, but the ones that don’t will be cheaper. This Labor Day, you can board the Anita Dee II Yacht at the Navy Pier for a 2.5-hour sail along Lake Michigan for as little as $12.50. Cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, and light snacks will be available for purchase once you're onboard. Plus, there will be a live DJ and a fireworks display at the end of the night.
5. Lincoln Park Zoo
If you’d rather be exploring the outdoors on Labor Day this year, the Lincoln Park Zoo is a worthy free option for you to enjoy the day with friends and family. It’s a free zoo in the North Side area of Chicago that’s home to 1,200 animals, from lions and zebras to apes and flamingos.
Another great thing about the zoo? It hosts special events throughout the year, including outdoor yoga sessions, the Summer Wine Fest, Craft Brews, and kid-friendly sing-alongs.
No matter what your interests are, Chicago has lots of opportunities for frugal fun.