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.