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How to Spend the Perfect Summer Weekend in Lake County, Illinois

With average summer temperatures in the low 80s, you couldn’t pick a better time to spend a weekend in Lake County, Illinois, located just north of Chicago. There’s water everywhere, whether you prefer a leisurely swim or a fast-paced boat ride. Beyond the beaches you’ll find plenty of other great ways to explore this area. Here’s a three-day itinerary to maximize your time in Lake County during the summer.

Waukegan Municipal Beach Lake Michigan

Waukegan Municipal Beach on Lake Michigan, Waukegan, IL

Friday: Do What the Locals Do

Start your weekend at one of this area’s many summer festivals. During the four-day Vernon Hills Summer Celebration in mid-July, carnival rides glow with bright colors after dark and spectacular fireworks fill the sky. Kids can get their faces painted and make free crafts. Adults will enjoy the Bags Tourney and numerous food vendors. Hear music headliners on Saturday night—or enjoy the annual car and bike show on Sunday. You can check this calendar of events for all kinds of fun summer ideas in Lake County prior to your trip.

In late August, marvel at rainbow-hued balloons that take flight during the Color Aloft Festival. You can also watch balloons being inflated in the morning and then retrieved and lit at ground level after dark. Enjoy family activities, plenty of food and live music, and even a Civil War-era baseball game. 

If there aren’t any events that coincide with your weekend getaway, consider a visit to Six Flags Great America, especially if this is a family vacation. Located 45 minutes from Chicago, the amusement park features 14 roller coasters that include Goliath, a super-fast wooden roller coaster with the world’s tallest and steepest drop. Kids love the 20-acre water park and three children’s play areas at Six Flags as well.

 Color Aloft Festival in Grayslake Six Flags Great America 
 Color Aloft Festival, Grayslake, IL  Six Flags Great America, Gurnee, IL

After a day of fun, save room for dinner at a classic Lake County restaurant, operating for 167 years. The Village Tavern in Long Grove features a massive 35-foot mahogany bar that survived Chicago’s Great McCormick Place Fire in the 1960s, and there’s live entertainment on most nights. Enjoy a steak or homemade ravioli, amid historic surroundings. 

Saturday: Hit the Beach—or Dock

Start with a quick hotel breakfast, and then pack your swimsuit and sunglasses. In summertime, Lake County beaches are perhaps this area’s biggest draw. Inexpensive day passes are your ticket to Spring Lake Beach in Lincolnshire or Diamond Lake Beach in Mundelein, where swimming is a favorite activity. At Diamond Lake you can also grill picnic food or take a turn at volleyball and paddleboats. Fish Lake Beach in Volo offers mini-golf, as well.

Boating enthusiasts have plenty of choices, too. In Lake Forest, Forest Park Beach encompasses 29 acres of beach and grass, with a boat launching ramp and storage area. Dozens of boat slips are available at Antioch: Turtle Beach Marina, too.

Blarney Island, Antioch, IL
Blarney Island, Antioch, IL

Lindy’s Restaurant and Marina combines boating fun with a full-service restaurant. So don’t leave before you grab a Lindy burger, featuring Great Lakes Swiss cheese and grilled onions, or spicy Bubba’s Jambalaya. There are two outdoor decks and live weekend entertainment throughout the summer, too.

Featuring 1,000 boat slips, Waukegan Harbor and Marina is a great place to fuel your boat, with shuttle service available from parking lot to watercraft. The beach and numerous restaurants aren’t far away either. Beautifully groomed sand and natural dunes fill the mile-long Waukegan Municipal Beach, where you’ll find lifeguards and Chicago skyline views. It’s a great place to sunbathe and swim, or try out kite boarding and surfing.

At dinnertime, visit Port of Blarney, in Antioch. Operating for more than three decades, it has a tropical ambiance and a broad menu. Whether you order a Cordon Bleu burger or Parmesan crusted salmon, enjoy the waterfront patio that overlooks a tributary to the Fox River and Grass Lake, or sip a specialty cocktail while playing a game of bags. Some customers ‘park’ in one of 20 public boat slips.

Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL
While you’re on Blarney Island, explore the nation’s busiest inland waterway in your boat, or by helicopter. You can also get around on the Blarney Shuttle Boat.

There’s no better way to end a day in Lake County, Illinois than a concert at Ravinia Festival. The oldest music festival in North America presents more than 120 summer events each year. Venues include an open-air pavilion and lawn, the 450-seat Bennett Gordon Hall and the 850-seat Martin Theatre, built in 1904. From John Mellencamp to Stevie Nicks, the variety is endless and the surroundings are incomparable.

Sunday: Lake County Send-Off

After a good night’s sleep, spend the morning at Chicago Botanic Garden. World-renowned for lush plant collections and displays, it includes 23 gardens and three native habitats, spread across nine water-wrapped islands. Kids love the Model Railroad Garden or climbing up a waterfall garden. Butterflies and Blossoms has become a signature seasonal event with butterflies from the Americas, Asia and Africa. Tram tours are a leisurely way to explore.

If you prefer a little physical activity, check out scenic Independence Grove Forest Preserve. Swim in the lake, reclaimed from a gravel quarry, or hike and bike along seven miles of trails. There are also certified professional instructors on hand, who can teach you to paddle canoes and kayaks.

And before you leave Lake County, revisit the 1950s, at Millers Dog N Suds Drive In. Serving diner fare for nearly five decades, it has been named one of Chicago area’s top 10 hot dog stands. Steamed Coney dogs and creamy homemade root beer are several classic offerings. 

 Millers Dog N Suds, Ingleside, IL
Millers Dog N Suds Drive In, Ingleside, IL (Photo: ClassicRecollections.com)

More Places to Stay

Only half an hour from downtown Chicago or O’Hare International Airport is Marriott Lincolnshire Resort, which has gorgeous water views and will reopen during the second half of 2017 following a $22 million makeover. Renovations will include a complete overhaul of the resort’s King’s Wharf Restaurant, two new restaurants, a full-service Starbucks, a new spa, a new Marriott Greatroom lobby and updated guest rooms. The resort features an acclaimed musical theater on-site too, as well as pools and a spa.

Waterfront views are also a big draw at Zion’Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center, where some suites feature separate living areas. There’s an enormous indoor pool and easy beach access too. Enjoy prime rib or cocktails in the Sandpiper Lounge and Lakeside Restaurant. The resort recently completed a $2 million renovation after storm damage, and now guests can enjoy restoration that accentuates the art deco design of the building with modern amenities.

More Summer Events

August is a big month for festivals and one of the largest is the 45th Annual Gurnee Days Celebration Celebrating Heroes. Four days of activities and entertainment include a petting zoo and pony rides, with families and classic cars on parade, too. Chow down on pancakes or enjoy a rib fest and eating contest. Watch young talent and marvel at the fireworks. There’s plenty to eat and loads of shopping, too.

In late summer, check out one of this area’s oldest summer festivals. The five-day Lake County Fair in Grayslake has taken place since 1928. In addition to live animals, festival food and carnival rides, the event features motocross and a demolition derby for “motor heads,” and a flower show. Pageant, talent and livestock competitions are part of the fun too. Be sure to get tickets for this year’s headlining concert on July 28, featuring LoCash. The band’s duo—Chris Lucas and Preston Brust—are two of the most thrilling country music performers, known for their hit song, “I Know Somebody.”

More than 100 juried artists from across the nation compete for attention and dollars each August during the Lincolnshire Art Festival. Live music provides a pleasant backdrop, and activities include a massive scavenger hunt. Professional artists provide demonstrations, and festivalgoers can contribute to an on-site festival mural. You’ll love the food too.

Lake County Fair, July 27-31, 2016
Lake County Fair, July 27-31, 2016



A three-day visit will only scratch the surface of what Lake County, Illinois, offers during the summertime. To plan your next trip, explore more of our website.

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No matter which route you take, all roads lead to fun in Lake County, Illinois, which is located halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee. Lake County is home to 170 lakes and rivers, 30,000 acres of lush forest preserves, miles of hiking and biking trails, Six Flags Great America, Naval Station Great Lakes, Ravinia Festival and sandy beaches along Lake Michigan's shoreline. Family adventure is around every turn and awaits you in Lake County.
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