8 Things You Need to Do This Fall in Chicago

Fall is in full swing! Pour yourself a pumpkin spice latte and check out all of our urban activity guides to get the most out of the season no matter what city you’re in.

Flying pumpkins. Brilliant lectures. Pyrotechnic art. Costumed drag queens. There’s so much cool and crazy stuff going on in Chicago this fall, it’s hard to know where to start. Begin by marking your calendar for these unmissable events.

The Great Chicago Fire Festival, Oct. 4

The fire that began on October 8, 1871 lasted for three days, destroyed 70,000 buildings covering 73 miles of streets and killed 300 people. To honor the tragedy and the city’s rebirth, the Redmoon Theater will light up the city with a pyrotechnic spectacle and neighborhood arts events. Centering around the Chicago River, the event will include fiery cauldrons on bridges, kayakers pulling flaming buoys, fireworks and floating sculptures representative of the lost homes.

Chicago International Film Festival, Oct. 9-23

Binge on 150 features, 68 shorts and special events at this cinematic feast, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. There’s the usual awards-seasons fare, like Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Wild, but also quirky foreign flicks and indie finds you might miss others. The festival is also shining a spotlight on Scandinavian films, screening classics and premieres.

Chicago marathoners. (Courtesy of TonyTheTiger)

Chicago Marathon, Oct. 12

Kudos to all the jocks out there, but we think it’s more fun just watching this thrilling civic event from the sidelines, hot apple cider in hand. Tens of thousands of athletes come from around the world to run a course that begins and ends at Grant Park. Cheer them as they book it through the Loop, Lincoln Park, Chinatown and on the final stretch at Michigan Avenue.

Chicago Ideas Week, Oct. 13-19

Think of this as a TED event, just actually affordable and inclusive. Sure, George Lucas will be making an appearance, but there are also more casual conversations on innovation, design, marijuana and race. The hands-on Labs series offers courses on random topics like plastic-bag fashion, welding and cocktails. Or want to learn how to make 3D prints of your own body parts? Yes.

Open House Chicago, Oct. 18 and 19

This free architectural festival offers behind-the-scenes access to over 150 buildings around town. It’s a chance to stop and look at famous structures you’d otherwise breeze by, like the Kemper and Monroe Buildings, and explore cool sites like the Divvy Warehouse and Argus Brewery. Better plan your attack to hit as many as possible.

Chicago Humanities Festival, Oct. 25-Nov. 9

Get that back-to-school feeling at this brainy showcase, now in its 25th year. It brings together dozens of dazzling thinkers for erudite talks on subjects ranging from contemporary art and jazz to global affairs and politics. The insane lineup includes Martin Amis, Jamaica Kincaid, David Brooks, Patti Smith and Lena Dunham (yeah, that one’s sold out).

Northalsted Halloween Parade. (Courtesy of Chris Bentley)

Northalsted Halloween Parade, Oct. 31

Drag queens, costumed pugs, fire-blowers, stylish ghouls and kids on sugar highs: It must be Halloween in Boystown. Open to all, the ragtag parade is a crazy spectacle of Chicaogoans of all stripes and draws thousands of spectators to Halstead Street. Register in advance to compete for one of five prizes: best drag costume, scariest adult costume, most original adult costume and best group.

Shades of Autumn Festival, weekends through Nov. 2

Hayrides and pumpkin patches are a given at farms outside Chicago in the fall, but Stade’s in McHenry County goes way beyond that. They have a corn maze, pony rides, duck races and a cannon that blasts pumpkins. At the market, pick up apples and cider donuts for the ride home.

Fall in Grant Park photo courtesy of Chris James.