Summer Guide 2012: Fairs and Festivals

Monday, Jun 18th, 2012 by

We’ve already had “A Taste of Wheaton,” “PrairieFest” in Oswego and the “Pride on the Fox RiverFest” in St. Charles this month. But if you like fairs and festivals like I do, there are plenty more to look forward to this summer. In addition to festivals in the western suburbs, I’ve included on the below list a few notable fairs that are within a 2- to 3-hour drive. 

Please let me know if I’ve missed a fair or festival you think I should include. I’ll be glad to do an update! 

Photo by topshampatti on Flickr.PrairieFest

Swedish Days 

  • Where: Downtown Geneva
  • When: June 19 through June 24
  • Why: This is a great all-around festival, marking the longest days of the year and the city’s Swedish heritage. It features a carnival, music, food, craft show, children’s games and a parade on the final day that’s particularly good. Friday, June 22, is “Kids’ Day,” featuring a Kids’ Day Parade, Radio Disney and other entertainment that will appeal to children.
  • Cost: Free admission. 

Long Grove Strawberry Festival

  • Where: Old McHenry Road and Robert Parker Coffin Road in Long Grove
  • When: June 22 through June 24
  • Why: Long Grove says the Strawberry Festival is the “granddaddy” of the town’s signature festivals, drawing thousands of visitors for music, food and fun. You’ll find strawberry treats, plus free live entertainment. For kids, there are kiddie rides, face painting and family activities. 
  • Cost: Free admission


  • Where: Naperville’s Knoch Park
  • When: June 29 through July 3
  • Why: Well, the name just says it all, doesn’t it? The proceeds go to a great cause: helping eliminate child abuse and domestic violence. In addition to ribs, ribs and more ribs, the “Family Area” features a carnival, inflatables, a circus aerial show, magic show, climbing walls and family music concerts. Make sure to spend some time on the impressive website before you go, including the “Tips & FAQs” section.
  • Cost: Admission at the gate is $12 per person. Children 11 and under are free. Tickets this year will only be available online in advance and at the gate. 

Lisle Eyes to the Skies Festival  

  • Where:  Off Route 53, between Ogden and Maple avenues in Lisle
  • When: June 27 through July 1 for the carnival; June 29 through July 1 for the festival
  • Why: The balloons are scheduled to fly each day at 6 a.m. and at 6 p.m. At 8 p.m. each night, the balloons will be tethered to the ground, but turn on their burners occasionally, so they “glow” against the night sky. In addition, this festival has a carnival and bags tournament, plus a busy children’s area, with a lumberjack show, princess and pirate parties, guitar lessons, craft and coloring tables, animal shows and art room. Fireworks are scheduled for June 29, June 30 and July 1, beginning at 9:45 p.m each night.
  • Cost: $5. Children 5 and under are free. Parking costs $5 per car, with shuttle buses taking visitors to the festival’s entrance. Private businesses also sell parking spaces.

Photo by Master Phillip on Flickr. Windmill City Fest

Windmill City Fest 

  • Where: Batavia Riverwalk
  • When: July 13 through July 15
  • Why: Features live music, a 5K, craft show, flea market, touch-a-truck, pet parade, diaper derby and more. It’s put on by the Batavia Park District.
  • Cost:  Free admission.

Kane County Fair

  • Where: Kane County Fairgrounds in St. Charles
  • When: July 18 through July 22.
  • Why: It offers all the hallmarks of a good county fair: Concerts, talent shows, carnival rides, greasy food and more.
  • Cost: Children under 5 are free; Visitors 5 and up are $5 on Wednesday, $8 Thursday through Sunday.  Check the website for specials each day.

Lake County Fair

  • Where: Lake County Fairgrounds in Graysake, about 40 miles northeast of the Fox Valley
  • When: July 25 through July 29
  • Why: I have to admit I haven’t been to this fair yet, but it comes with a good recommendation from an expert on these sorts of things. From the schedule, it looks heavy in an agrarian focus, with lots of 4-H judging. There’s also pro motorcross races, a carnival, a demolition derby and truck and tractor pulls.
  • Cost: General admission is $10; Seniors are $5; Children ages 5-12 are $5; Children ages 4 and under are free.

Sugar Grove Corn Boil

  • Where: Volunteer Park in Sugar Grove
  • When: July 27 through July 29
  • Why: I favor festivals that have a unique focus, and a corn boil sure is a good one. This event also features a “Corn Cooking Challenge” and a “Kids Zone,” with puppet shows, face painting, storytimes, an ice cream eating contest, magic show and more. We went to the Sugar Grove Corn Boil in 2010 and had just a wonderful time — including riding in the golf cart that took us from our parking spot to the festival!  
  • Cost: Free admission

The Wisconsin State Fair 

  • Where: Wisconsin State Fair Park, in West Allis, just outside Milwaukee, about 100 miles north of the Fox Valley. 
  • When: Aug. 2 through Aug. 12
  • Why: Of course I think the Illinois State Fair can’t be beat (see below), but if you’re looking for a state fair closer to home, this is a great option. I visited the Wisconsin State Fair probably 10 years ago, and my main impressions were: It’s a great fair, but felt much smaller to me than Illinois;’ I waited in a very long line for one of the famous cream puffs produced by the Wisconsin Bakers Association — and it was worth every second; and U.S. Senator Herb Kohl sponsored a milk stand where you could buy inexpensive flavored milk. 
  • Cost:  Tickets at the gate are $9 for adults (12 and over); $5 for kids (ages six through eleven) and children five and under get in free. Check out the fair’s website for special deals and promotions if you buy your tickets in advance or visit on certain days. Last year on “Illinois Day,” for instance, you could get two adult admissions for $10 when you presented your Illinois driver’s license at the ticket window. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

Art in Your Eye Fine Art Show & Festival

  • Where: Batavia Riverwalk.
  • When: Aug 4 and Aug. 5
  • Why: Looks like this year’s schedule is still being finalized, but last year’s event featured live music (art in your ear), outdoor fine arts show featuring 75 award-winning artists, art demonstration and dispals by artists from Water Street Studios, a children’s art tent, spoken word tent, a Shakespeare play performed on Clark Island, food from area vendors.
  • Cost: Free admission

Mendota Sweet Corn Festival

  • Where: In downtown Mendota, about 65 miles southwest of the Fox Valley
  • When: Aug. 9 through Aug. 12
  • Why: I’ve already stated that I think corn is a winner when it comes to a festival’s focus, and this one uses a vintage steam engine to cook sweet corn that is served free to the crowds on Sunday afternoon. Plus you can also buy fresh sweet corn by the bag to take home with you. This year will be the 65th edition of this festival, which also features a carnival, petting zoo, pony rides, a flea market, youth parade, grand parade and of course a sweet corn eating contest.
  • Cost: Free admission, except for the beer garden

The Illinois State Fair 

  • Where: At the State Fairgrounds, in Springfield, about 200 miles southwest of the Fox Valley.
  • When: Aug. 9 through Aug. 19
  • Why: Since I grew up just outside Springfield,  this fair of course is associated with so many wonderful memories for my family. But I really do think a newcomer would greatly enjoy themselves: Your kids can see a cow made of butter and get the chance to milk a live one; watch diving shows and talent shows; and spend a fair chunk of your paycheck in the large midway area. If you’re looking to take refuge from the sun, you can duck into the Grandstand to watch harness racing. One of my favorite activities as a kid was visiting the barns where all the livestock were kept, and peeking into stables where farm kids had set up cots so they could sleep near their animals. The “Kids Korner” has puppet shows, musical concerts, storytellers, face painting and a coloring mural until 6 p.m. each day, as well as a nice, clean spot to change diapers or nurse your baby. 
  • As for the food, don’t miss hot french fries from Culler’s served in a paper cone — don’t forget the salt and vinegar, a scoop of hard ice cream from the Dairy Building and a tenderloin sandwich from the Pork Pavilion. Just avoid the place shaped like a giant carton of milk that advertises milkshakes — they’re glorified Frosties. 
  • Cost: Those 13 and over are $7. Children 5-12 are $3. Children under five are free. Seniors are $3. Family Day is Aug. 19, when general admission is just $2.
  • For parking, you can either park in the fair’s official lots for $7, or find a business or homeowner near the gate who has created a parking lot on their property, usually for $7 or $5. 

Montgomery Fest

  • Where: Montgomery Park, along the Fox River
  • When: Aug. 10 through Aug. 12
  • Why: The city promises “old-fashioned family fun” with musical performances, carnival rides, food vendors, pony rides, petting zoo, fishing derby, car show and parade. Note the schedule is still being finalized, so keep an eye on the village website.
  • Cost: Unclear.

RiverFest Express

  • Where: South Elgin’s Panton Mill Park
  • When: Aug 16 through Aug. 19
  • Why: Live entertainment, craft show, carnival, trolley rides, car show, fireworks and a Civil War re-enactment, complete with a campsite and skirmish. The night before RiverFest begins is “A Special Night for Special Kids,” offering free carnival rides, entertainment and food for kids with special needs and their families.
  • Cost: Free admission 

Elburn Days 

  • Where: Lions Park in Elburn
  • When: Aug. 17 through Aug. 19
  • Why: This event is sponsored by the Elburn Lions Club, and profits generated are donated to Lions Club charities such as local families in need, the Elburn Food Pantry and a number of programs aimed at the visually impaired. 
  • Cost: Suggested parking donation of $2.

Corn Fest 

  • Where: DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport
  • When: Aug 24 through Aug. 26
  • Why: As its website points out right away, Corn Fest is one of the last remaining free summer music festivals in Illinois, as well as one of the oldest summer musical festivals in the state. It attracts more than 100,000 people each year. In addition to the musical acts, there are canival rides, food booths, a craft show, kiddie corner, family entertainment and more.  
  • Cost: Free admission.

Hometown Days

  • Where: Yorkville’s Beecher Community Park
  • When: Aug. 30 through Sept. 2
  • Why: I just love the name “Hometown Days.” Plus it’s held over Labor Day weekend, and who doesn’t want to go to a festival over Labor Day weekend! It features carnivals, musical performances, a baby contest, bean bag tournament, touch-a-truck event, car show and more.
  • Cost: Children under 5 are free; Admission is $2 after 5 p.m each night.  

The Sandwich Fair 

  • Where: At the Sandwich Fairgrounds in DeKalb County
  • When: Sept. 5 through Sept. 9
  • Why: Well, if the fact this fair is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year isn’t enough for you, how about harness racing, tractor pulls, a fiddle contest and square dancing? Yes, this one definitely has an old-fashioned agricultural feel to it. I’ve been here a few times for the Sandwich Antiques Market, and the grounds are charming.
  • Cost: This year’s prices haven’t been posted yet, but last year, general admission for adults was $8. Children ages six through twelve were $4, and children five and under were free. Also check the website (a new one is under construction) closer to the fair for special promotions.

One thought on “Summer Guide 2012: Fairs and Festivals

  1. Kelly

    This list is amazing!! Thanks so much for compiling the best for us- and even giving some insider tips!! We'll definitely be using them!

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