The South Loop, with its vast expanse of Grant Park stretching from Buckingham Fountain south across the Museum Campus, is essentially Chicago’s frontyard.
If you live in the area, you come to know that South Loop community events are events for the whole city — and the suburbs, and for out-of-towners.
The neighborhood barbecue? Taste of Chicago. Cruise Night? The Chicago Auto Show. A block party? Lollapalooza. The local fun run? Well, 40,000-plus finishers in the Chicago Marathon cross the line here.
Simply, events in the South Loop are big. Here are some of the biggest:
Taste of Chicago: Since 1981, the multiple-day July feast has fed millions — literally, more than 1 million attend most years. Each year, dozens of restaurants from around the city offer their favorite dishes. Chefs demonstrate techniques. Headlining artists perform at the Petrillo Music Shell while up-and-comers perform on three smaller stages.
Lollapalooza: The 2018 Lolla is a four-day August fest featuring more than three dozen acts each day spread across eight stages. Since 2005, Lolla has made a home in Grant Park as artists from Kanye West to Pearl Jam, Green Day to Daft Punk have graced the stages for crowds in the hundreds of thousands each year.
Chicago Auto Show: The nation’s oldest auto show was first staged in 1901. It is also the largest, eating up more than 1 million square feet of exhibition space in McCormick Place’s North and South Exhibit Halls. First Look for Charity is an annual black-tie event the evening before the show opens to the public. The 10 days that follow allow millions the opportunity to shop for or simply ogle the latest cars from most of the world’s major manufacturers, and get a glimpse at the many concept cars that debut in Chicago. Its February dates have a nice way of breaking up the winter doldrums, too.
Events in the South Loop are so plentiful, they offer a sampling in a few categories:
Music: Grant Park Music Festival brings an annual 10-week calendar of classical music to the Pritzker Pavilion. Chicago Blues Festival is the world’s largest, with three days of music on four Grant Park stages. Chicago Jazz Festival is a 40-year Labor Day weekend tradition celebrating all forms of jazz.
Literature: Printers Row Lit Fest is considered the largest free book fair in the Midwest. More than 125,000 annually attend the two-day event on Dearborn Street, between Harrison and Polk Streets, where hundreds of exhibitors sell and dozens of authors celebrate the written word. Since 2010, C2E2 has been celebrating pop culture in all its forms — from graphic novels to film and television — in a cosplay-heavy frenzy of fandom at McCormick Place, drawing more than 80,000 attendees in 2018.
Fitness: The bike paths tracing Lake Shore Drive spawn daily impromptu South Loop Community Events, but on Memorial Day weekend each year, bicyclists get the chance to take on the whole of Chicago’s most scenic road, which is closed for the annual Bike the Drive. Starting and finishing in Grant Park, Shamrock Shuffle, a St. Patrick’s Day 8k, kicks off Chicago’s running season and routinely has numbers (30,000-plus) that rival the Chicago Marathon.