While an air-conditioned theater might be just what summer ordered, the best way to watch a movie in Chicago is outdoors. There are parks, nature centers and historic attractions reeling family favs all season long. And their lawns are yours for the taking (BYO chairs and blankets!). Watch a flick while fireflies dance with our guide to summer outdoor movies.

Images made for Parkways Foundation at Chicago History Museum for Movies in the Parkphoto: Chicago Park District

Movies in the Parks
The mother of all outdoor film events is put on by Chicago Park District and spreads across your favorite green spaces, from Wicker Park to Adams Playground Park. Best of all, it’s free! All movies begin at dusk. Since there are too many awesome screenings to mention here, be sure to check out the schedule online.

Locations citywide
Schedule online: chicagoparkdistrict.com

Cantigny Park
If you have a kid that likes trucks and tanks and things that go boom!, Cantigny is a must-visit. Along with the First Division Museum (which documents the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division with soldier uniforms, weapons and more), it has nicely landscaped gardens and a “tank park” spangled with army vehicles that kids can climb on. It all adds up to perfect pre-movie entertainment. And, speaking of movies, on Friday nights you can enjoy a movie at the band shell under the stars at 8:30 p.m. Movies are all free with $5 car parking.

Jun. 1-Aug. 31, Fridays at 8:30 p.m.
1S151 Winfield Rd.
Schedule online: cantigny.org

millennium parkphoto: City of Chicago / Millennium Park

Millennium Park
More free movies! And in the heart of downtown in the shadow of the pretty skyline, at that. Every Tuesday, starting starting in June at 6:30 p.m., you can take a seat at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or plop down on the Great Lawn to fixate on a 40-foot-tall screen. Not every film in this series is appropriate for kids, but jot down July 9 for a special family showing at 11 a.m. of Iron Giant, July 31 to enjoy Wall-E and August 14 to cozy up to Coco.

Jun. 5-Aug. 21, Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m.
Located at Michigan Ave. & Randolph St.
Schedule online: cityofchicago.org

Movies on the Green at Oakbrook Center
Shopping and a night at the movies in the great outdoors join forces at Oakbrook Center’s Movies on the Green. Bring a blanket to spread out under the stars on the Village Green, where a state-of-the-art 32’x18′ digital LED screen will bring your favorite silver screen characters to life every Wednesday evening. Plan on enjoying dinner before or after the show at Oakbrook Center’s brand new dining destination, The District, which features 10 fast-casual dining hotspots, including Nando’s Peri-Peri, Cilantro Taco Grill and for dessert? How about Stan’s Donuts and Coffee?

Jun. 13-Aug. 8, Wednesdays at 7 p.m.-9 p.m.
100 Oakbrook Center
Schedule online: oakbrookcenter.com

Cascade Drive-Inphoto: Cascade Drive-In

Cascade Drive-In
Cascade is still around, offering blockbuster double features under the stars. It’s not often parents have a chance to blow their kids’ minds, but you’ll do just that when you park the car in front of the nation’s largest outdoor movie screen and offer them a dose of yesteryear. Bring your own food and charcoal to cook on one of the grills in the picnic area. Cascade operates March through November.

1100 E. North Ave.
West Chicago
Online: cascadedrivein.com

Oak Park’s Movies in the Park
Just a hop, skip and a jump from the city is Oak Park’s Scoville Park, where they’ll be playing family loved movies at dusk once a month all summer long.


May 19, Jun. 8, Jul. 19, Aug. 16 & Sept. 15; movies begin at dusk
Scoville Park
800 Lake St.
Oak Park
Online: pdop.org

What is your favorite place to watch a movie outdoors? Share it in the Comments!

— Amy Bizzarri