Stars, stripes and so much fun. Soak it all up this Fourth of July, when our country turns the big 2-4-3. The holiday falls on a Thursday 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

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. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details.

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. Thurs. Jul 4. More details. 

photo: Mercury Cruises

Experience the 4th in 3D
Plan a memorable family outing with Mercury Cruises aboard a Fourth of July 3D Fireworks Extravaganza Cruise and enjoy a spectacular fireworks show—with a twist! Each guest receives complimentary 3D glasses and a delicious treat box to enjoy the fireworks show! Thurs., Jul. 4. More details

Rock in the Park at Parkway Bank Park
While not exclusively a 4th of July event, Parkway Bank Park’s Rockin’ in the Park is a free summer concert series that includes a post-show musical fireworks display. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details

photo: Chicago History Museum

Chicago History Museum’s 59th Annual Fourth of July Celebration 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. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details

Independence Day Salute
Prepare for a sensory feast as Christopher Bell and the Grant Park Orchestra observe the nation’s birthday with rousing marches and patriotic anthems including Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever, the Armed Forces Salute and more. Have little ones who call it a night early? No problem—check out the open rehearsal in the afternoon. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details.

arlington-clownsphoto: Arlington Park Racecourse

Northwest Fourth Fest
Put on by the Village of Hoffman Estates, the Hoffman Estates Park District and Hanover Township, this three-day festival lights up the grounds of the Sears Centre, Jul. 4-6. Kids and adults can have a blast on more than 40 carnival rides, listen to live music, fill up on fest food, cool off in the “cool zone” complete with water misters and watch one of the best fireworks displays in the area. Thurs., Jul. 4-Sat., Jul. 6. More details

4th of July at Arlington Park Racecourse
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. Thurs., Jul, 4. More details

Fireworks Night at Arlington Park Racecourse
Experience live music and entertainment all day and into the night, with a fireworks display that kicks off just after dusk. Fri., Jul. 5. More details

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 Billy Idol, Flo Rida, Brantley Gilbert, and Bad Company. Wed., Jul. 3-Sat.., Jul. 6. More details

4th of july stock photophoto: Stephanie McCabe via Unsplash

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. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details

Oak Forest: Oak Fest
For over 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 6 (3 p.m.-6 p.m.) for community day events. Wed., Jul.3-Sun., Jul. 7. More details.

Make Red, White & Blue Cupcakes with Taste Buds Kitchen
Show your USA pride and whip up perfectly patriotic Red, White and Blue Cupcakes completely from scratch! Plain old vanilla? Bore-ring! Bring on the pizzazz, the color, the fireworks! Sat. Jul, 6. More details

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. Thurs., Jul. 4. More details

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. Thurs., Jul 4. More details.

— Maria Chambers


The Ultimate Summer Bucket List for Chicago Parents

Red, White & Blue Recipes to Make This 4th of July

38 Festive Crafts to Make This 4th of July