Take the challenge
The big finish As running events go, few set themselves apart like the Soldier Field 10 Mile. The 10th-anniversary course makes its way along the lakefront and then finishes, spectacularly, on the 50-yard line of Soldier Field, with Jumbotrons flashing and crowds cheering. May 25 in Chicago; soldierfield10.com.
Superstar soccer Lionel Messi of Argentina, the world's top soccer player, comes to Chicago's Soldier Field on July 6 at 6 p.m. for a charity all-star match featuring 36 soccer stars. The event, billed as Messi & Friends vs. the World, is a benefit for his children's foundation. soldierfield.net.
Swim, bike, wisco When it comes to triathlons, the Chicago Lifetime Tri is the undisputed 500-pound gorilla in the room. For a lower-key alternative, look north to the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon. This race is held just over the Wisconsin state line with an unintimidating swim in warm, shallow Lake Andrea. June 23; pleasantprairietriathlon.com
Eat your adventure
Green and good for you Chow down with some of Chicago's top chefs at the annual Green City Market Chef's BBQ benefit. The event will feature samples from around 100 area restaurants using market produce and products, along with local beer, wine, hand-crafted cocktails and non alcoholic drinks. July 18, 5:30 to 8 p.m.; greencitymarket.org.
A low-key foodie favorite Ride your bike (or take the blue line) to the Maxwell Street Market to get your fill of authentic Mexican and Salvadoran food, for cheap. Sure, the shopping is not so great (unless you really need socks) but the flavors make up for it. Choose from endless huaraches, tacos or pupusas and enjoy in a shady tent surrounded by local families and foodies. Repeat until full. Sundays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 800 S Des Plaines St.
Best of the markets Many Chicago neighborhoods host thriving farmers markets, but none is as diverse and diverting as the Logan Square Farmer's Market. Besides a large collection of farmers, you'll find gifts (handmade soaps, jams, nuts); cream puffs, donuts and baguettes; craft-distilled spirits and farmstead cheeses to sample. Just spread a blanket and make a day of it. Sundays starting May 19; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 3111 W. Logan Blvd.; Logansquarefarmersmarket.org.
Dinner on the farm How you gonna keep them down on the farm? Feed 'em. Champaign's Prairie Fruits Farm hosts a series of farm dinners featuring a rotating roster of chefs and restaurateurs. Prices range from $65 to $100 per person. Hungry city slickers should take particular note of the "Downstate Reunion" dinner Aug. 10 with Jared Van Camp, the Danville native behind Chicago's Old Town Social and Nellcote. prairiefruits.com.
Dip a toe
Don't waste your sunscreen on any old spot -- try one of our top Chicago swimming holes:
12th Street Beach Chicago is unusually blessed with swimming spots (hint: keep walking east). But unfortunately, the really popular parts of the lakefront can be mixed blessings -- think North Avenue or Montrose Beach on a sunny July Saturday. Head instead to the Park District's 12th Street Beach on Northerly Island. There's a wide stretch of white sand, a nice, new beach house and nearby parking, all bordering the Northerly Island grassland and under the dome of the Adler Planetarium. chicagoparkdistrict.com.
Cypress Cove Value per splash, our pick for water parks is the Cypress Cove Family Aquatic Park in suburban Woodridge. This oasis of water slide, lazy river and plunge pool is run by the Woodridge Park District and is open to residents and non-residents alike. There are a half-dozen different water areas to choose from, plus concessions, sun decks and green-garden surroundings. cypresscove.org.
Centennial Beach Part beach, part water park, part old-timey swimming hole, this Naperville Park District beach has sand, open water, diving boards, slides and floating docks, and is big enough to host a triathlon and other events over the summer. napervilleparks.org/centennialbeach.
63rd Street Beach The glorious Classical Revival beach house, completed in 1919, makes this the Great Gatsby of Chicago swim spots, but that doesn't mean you have to do without modern amenities. During the summer season, you can indulsge in bike rentals, snacks, and a kid-friendly interactive water feature. Also included: a wide, sandy, beach. chicagoparkdistrict.com.
Savor the summer classics
Day in the country Tired of slicked-up, watered-down urban cowboy county fairs? Then get thee to the DuPage County Fair. The county is keeping it real with pig races, pony (and camel) rides, corn dogs, elephant ears, a pie-eating contest, a hay-bale rolling contest and all the usual bunnies, cows, sheep, goats and chickens. You'll also find carnival rides, home ec displays and the demolition derby. The fair runs from July 24-28 at the DuPage County Fairgrounds. 2015 Manchester Road, Wheaton, 630-668-6636.
The ultimate ice cream sundae A real old-fashioned ice cream parlour, Margie's Candies has been doing it right since 1921. We recommend the Turtle Split, with three scoops of homemade ice cream (we're partial to coconut), dreamy caramel sauce, nuts, a cherry and pillows of whipped cream. Did we mention that this little number comes with a side of fudge, served in a silver gravy boat? 1960 N. Western, Chicago, (773) 384-1035, margiesfinecandies.com.
An old-school skate At Fleetwood Skating Rink on Archer, Saturdays are full of kid birthday party-goers, but on Sundays the classic-model roller rink quiets down, leaving the wood floor comparatively empty for cruising through your roller disco moves or teaching a first-timer to skate. Sundays 1:30 to 9; 7231 W. Archer, Summit; fleetwoodrollerrink.com.
Big days at the ballparks The city's most enduring rivalry plays out over four May days as the Cubs and the White Sox face off in the Crosstown Classic. Head first to Sox territory, U.S. Cellular Field, for night games on May 27 and 28. The action shifts to Wrigley Field for two daytime games on May 29 and 30. For tickets and game info: chicago.whitesox.mlb.com; chicago.cubs.mlb.com. Want to bone up on the series beforehand? Check out The Crosstown Classic page sponsored by baseballhistorian.com for scores, history, lineups, etc.
Be a kid at heart
Picking plenty Pick your own organic strawberries at Rosey's Berry Farm -- this Northwest Indiana spot promises to use no chemical pesticides, herbicides or growth enhancers. Strawberries are scheduled to ripen around June 5 this year -- a little later than usual, due to rain. 1066 N. 1150 West Michigan City, Ind.; strawberry-picking-indiana.com.
Day in the park Quite possibly the most magical park in all of Chicago, Indian Boundary Park is named for a territorial boundary established by the Treaty of 1816 between the Pottawattomie Indians and the U.S. government. Today it boasts a lovely Tudor-style field house, a fantastic playground, a children's spray pool, a small zoo, tennis courts and, best of all, a lagoon filled with ducks, turtles and fish. BYOB: Bring Your Own (stale) Bread. 2500 W. Lunt Ave; chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks/indian-boundary-park.
Moon bathing Playing with fire may be a big no-no but performing with fire can be spectacular. See for yourself at the Chicago Full Moon Jam, on or around the full moon each month this summer in Lincoln Park just south of Foster Avenue beach. About 100 fire "spinners" turn out to perform at the free, family-friendly "fire jams" with flaming batons, hula hoops, fans and poi, which are lengths of chains with a fire ball attached at one end. The action takes place inside a giant "fire circle" laid out on the park lawn. This month's event falls on Thursday, May 23, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Arrive early to spread out blankets, set up chairs and enjoy a picnic; leave grills and alcohol at home. Fullmoonjam.org
Arty stroller tours It's never too early to introduce art to the wee ones, is it? So say a silent prayer of thanks to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago for hosting a "stroller tour" on the first Wednesday of every month. The hour-long program is designed to "allow you to be mindful of your young ones as you look and talk about arts with other adults." Imagine: An hour of Basquiat instead of Barney. June 5, July 3, Aug. 7, 11:30 a.m.; mcachicago.org.
Listen to something live
The sure-thing series While it's often worth leaving downtown at day's end, at least one thing is worth spending evenings with the shopping bag-toters: free music at Pritzker Pavilion. The programming is adventurous, the sound pristine, and the view, unbeatable. Oh, and it's free. New Music Mondays run May 27 to July 29, featuring acts that fit loosely into the "alternative" category. Look for singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten (June 3), Glen Hansard (June 10), Americana outfit Carolina Chocolate Drops (June 24) and L.A. country rock band Dawes (July 8). The series gets more ambitious, too: Loops and Variations, mostly electronic music, is held Thursday evenings between June 13 and July 18; between July 25 and Aug. 29, Thursdays feature Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz. Highlights include the experimental Jeff Parker-Nels Cline Quartet (Aug. 8) and the more classic stylings of Jack DeJohnette (Aug. 29). Millenium Park; chicagofestivals.net.
A whirlwind weekend A weekend with something for everyone. Pitchfork Festival's three-night stand at Union Park, Phish at Northerly Island for the same three nights and Pearl Jam plays at Wrigley Field on Friday. July 19 - 21; Phish.com; Pearljam.com; Pitchforkmusicfestival.com.
A Favorite son Robbie Fulks plays at The Hideout every Monday all year long, but something about a warm day and a cold beer seem to make it even livelier. Each week, a different guest (or guests) joins Fulks for his brand of stomping rock, country and folk. Need a place to start? On May 20, Fulks and band perform Bob Dylan's "Street Legal" in its entirety. hideoutchicago.com.
By Josh Noel, Bill Daley, Doug George, Heidi Stevens, Wendy Donahue, Lisa Futterman, Nara Schoenberg Illustrations by Serge BlockCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun