Stars, stripes and so much fun. Soak it all up this Fourth of July, when our country turns the big 2-4-2. The holiday falls on a Wednesday this year, and Chicago and the ‘burbs are taking advantage of the extra long weekend to pack in even more events and activities. Expect music, food and fireworks, plus offbeat amusements like turtle races and watermelon-eating contests. Here are our picks for an explosion of family entertainment.

photo: Navy Pier’s fireworks courtesy of Scott L via flickr

Millennium Park’s Patriotic BBQ
Fourth of July weekend demands patriotic plans, and what’s more all-American than a barbecue with Mount Rushmore as your backdrop? For just one day, it doesn’t require a road trip to Mount Rushmore to salute George, Tom, Teddy and Abe. South Dakota’s Tourism is hauling a 22-foot tall model of Mount Rushmore and dropping it in Millennium Park for a day-long celebration and barbecue for the first 1,000 people to arrive. Fill up on buffalo burgers and dogs, indulge in a scoop of vanilla ice cream from Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe and conquer the climbing wall modeled after Custer State Park’s famed Needles area.

Jun. 30, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Millennium Park’s South Promenade
Monroe St. & Michigan Ave.
Grant Park

Navy Pier’s 4th of July Fireworks
Bursting with red, white and blue, Navy Pier’s fireworks will be at the center of Chicago’s Independence Day celebration with the city’s only lakefront fireworks show all synchronized to a patriotic soundtrack.

Jul. 4, 9:30 p.m.
Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave., Streeterville

Take to the Lake this 4th
Make this Independence Day unforgettable with a 2-hour family ride on Lake Michigan with Spirit Cruises. Cruisers will be treated to incredible city views, a three-course buffet style lunch, patriotic decor, games and a DJ proding you to show your moves on the dance floor.

Jul. 4, Boards at noon, cruises 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.
Spirit Cruises at Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Ave., Streeterville
$52.90/adults, $31.95/kids

photo: Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum’s 59th Annual Fourth of July Celebration
While celebrating our nation’s history, take a moment to check out our city’s history. The Chicago History Museum’s July 4th celebration gives kids a chance to hear the Declaration of Independence read aloud, see live patriotic musical performances and watch the World’s Tallest Uncle Sam lead a children’s costume parade. Spend some time in the museum, too; we love the Sensing Chicago exhibit where kids can explore the sights, sounds and smells of the city and Race, the first national exhibition to dive into the concept of race from the biological, cultural and historical points of view.

Jul. 4, 10 a.m.-noon (museum is open until 4:30 p.m.)
1601 N. Clark St., Lincoln Park
Free admission for Illinois residents

Grant Park Music Fest Independence Day Salute
Grab your picnic blanket and settle in for American classical favorites outside in Millennium Park. The Grant Park Orchestra, conducted by Christopher Bell, will treat guests to an evening full of American spirit and song, including the 1812 Overture and Stars and Stripes Forever. Have little ones who call it a night early? No problem — check out the open rehearsal in the afternoon.

Jul. 4, 6:30 p.m.-8 p.m. (open rehearsal is from 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m.)
Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

arlington-clownsphoto: Arlington Park Racecourse

Arlington Park: Fireworks, Racing, & Music
If your kids are horse-crazy, then head to Arlington Park Racecourse for face painting, live music performances, crafts and roaming entertainment. The night will close with fireworks just after dusk.

Jul. 1, family activities 4 p.m.-8 p.m., fireworks at dusk
Arlington Park Racecourse
2200 W. Euclid Ave., Arlington Park
Admission: Starting at $22/adults; $4/ages 4-17; free for ages 3 & under

Naperville: Ribfest
There’s a reason why this annual, finger-licking extravaganza of BBQ is so popular: Grillers come from all over the country to dish their ‘cue and compete for the festival title. The Family Area is a fest unto itself with a petting zoo, magic shows, inflatables and more. Musical headliners this year include Pitbull, Steven Tyler, Jake Owen, Melissa Ethridge and Stray Cats.

Jul. 4-7; family area open noon-8 p.m.
Knoch Park
724 S. West St., Naperville

evanston-4thphoto: Evanston Fourth of July Association

Evanston: Fourth of July Celebration
This blast began in 1922 and this year’s theme is Inspired by Our Diversity. An all-volunteer committee organizes a day of July 4th fun, starting with outdoor games at several local playgrounds (think three-legged races, pie eating contests, water balloon tosses and more). Afterward, join in on a kids half-mile fun run at Ackerman Park before the parade kicks off at 2 p.m. Then, the party moves to Clark Street Beach for a lakefront concert followed by fireworks.

Jul. 4, games at 9 a.m., fun run at 12:45 p.m., parade at 2 p.m., concert at 7:30 p.m., fireworks at 9:30 p.m.
Events held throughout Evanston. Parade is on Central Street, from Central Park to Ashland avenues

Oak Forest: Oak Fest
For 30 years, Oak Forest residents have gathered over the 4th of July weekend to celebrate independence. The fun includes bingo, carnival rides and fireworks. Return on Saturday, July 7 (3 p.m.-6 p.m.) for Family Fun Day which features performances by children’s groups, a watermelon eating contest, a beanbag contest and live entertainment.


Jul. 3-8; Tues., 6 p.m.-midnight; Wed., 3 p.m.-11 p.m. (fireworks at dusk); Thurs., 6 p.m.-11 p.m.; Fri., Fri., 6 p.m.-midnight; Sat., 3 p.m.-midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
159th St. & Central St., Oak Forest

Hinsdale: Independence Day Celebration
A town parade starts at 10 a.m. followed by a family festival with food, crafts, inflatables, carnival games and face painting. What really sets this celebration apart from the rest are the turtle races! Go to compete or just watch the races.

Jul. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Burlington Park
19 E. Chicago Ave. (parade steps off at Sixth & Garfield), Hinsdale

photo: Glen Ellyn 4th courtesy of seanxcummings via flickr

Glen Ellyn: Fourth of July Celebration
Everyone loves a parade — especially one as cheerful and colorful as that in downtown Glen Ellyn. It’s followed by afternoon festivities at Lake Ellyn. Bounce in an inflatable moonwalk, tackle an obstacle course, play carnival games, dance to live music and get your face painted. When the tummies start growling, hit up their Food Truck Picnic in the Park for good eats. Stay at the lake for fireworks beginning at dusk.

Jul. 4, parade at noon; festivities from 1 p.m.-4 p.m.; fireworks at dusk
Downtown Glen Ellyn, Lake Ellyn & Lake Ellyn Park
Parade and fireworks are free; afternoon festivities are $3/person

Hoffman Estates: Northwest Fourth-Fest
Put on by the Village of Hoffman Estates, the Hoffman Estates Park District and Hanover Township, this four-day festival lights up the grounds of the Sears Centre. Kids and adults can have a blast on more than 40 carnival rides, listen to live music, fill up on fest food and even cool off in the “cool zone” complete with water misters. The area’s largest fireworks display promises to be bigger and better this year. Don’t worry about parking — this fest has over 9,000 free parking spaces.

Jul. 4-8; Wed., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Thurs., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fri., 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., noon-6 p.m.
5333 Prairie Stone Pkwy.
Admission is free; food, bingo, and rides an additional cost

Tinley Park: Day of Independence
They start the July 4th celebrating early in Tinley Park with an all-ages Stars and Stripes 5K Run/Walk at 8 a.m. The day keeps going with batting cages, miniature golf, bingo, a carnival, live music and clowns. If after all of that fun you and your kids can stay awake, fireworks complete the celebration.

Jul. 4, starting at 8 a.m.
McCarthy Park
16801 S. 80th Ave., Tinley Park
Admission is free; fee for Stars and Stripes 5K Run/Walk

May the 4th be with you this Independence Day!

— Maria Chambers

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