Chicago Air and Water Show

Watch in wonder as planes take to the skies over Lake Michigan at this annual event in Chicago.

The Chicago Air and Water Show in Chicago, Illinois (photo by NAB Aerial)

The largest free outdoor show of its kind in the United States, the Chicago Air and Water Show is one of the city’s most highly anticipated summer happenings. The multiday event brings more than 2 million spectators to the shores of Lake Michigan to see pilots from across the country perform astonishing aerobatic maneuvers in the skies above. 

The first Chicago Air and Water Show, held in the summer of 1959, featured a Coast Guard Air Sea Rescue demonstration, a diving competition and even a water ballet performance. Today, the show features not only top-notch pilots but also parachute jumpers and water skiers. Among the highlights are appearances by the U.S. Army Golden Knights, the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. (This year’s event is set for Aug. 19 and 20 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with practice flyovers on Aug. 18.) 

The prime viewing location for the Chicago Air and Water Show is directly along Lake Michigan. Bring beach chairs or a blanket and stake out a spot at North Avenue Beach from Fullerton Avenue to Oak Street, Ohio Street Beach or along Navy Pier.

Those looking to watch the show from the comfort of a sand-covered patio dotted with private cabanas should reserve a spot at the Shore Club on North Avenue Beach. Or, grab a seat at Castaway’s — North Avenue Beach’s blue-and-white boathouse, bar and grill, where cool drinks and live music are always on the menu. 

Many of the city’s tour-boat companies offer special cruises — some with lunch buffets and live music — during the Chicago Air and Water Show. Shoreline Sightseeing, Seadog Cruises and Chicago’s First Lady Cruises are a few of the lines that routinely offer excursions during the show. For more information about this event, visit