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Best time to see the Chicago Air and Water Show without the crowd? Here’s what organizers say

One of the city’s most iconic events, the Chicago Air and Water Show, is just hours away.

“It’s a wonderful event” said Air and Water show boss Dave Adams. “It’s free. Families can come out, spend the day at the beach, look at planes go over the water, and look at the beautiful backdrop, which is our skyline.”

It’s also one of the most crowded. More than one million spectators are expected to descend on the lakefront from Fullerton to Oak Street to watch the weekend show, with North Avenue Beach as the show’s focal point, organizers said.

There may be one way to see the show however, without the mass of people around: Catch the practice.

“Everybody knows the rehearsal show is a full show,” Adams said. “So if you want to beat the crowd, today’s the day to come.”

Rehearsal for the Chicago Air and Water Show takes place Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. And according to Adams, one of the shows most highly anticipated acts, the Thunderbirds are set to rehearse Friday from about 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m.

“The Thunderbirds are coming back for the first time since 2018,” Adams said. “They’ve choreographed a new show, and this is the first time the show will be on display.”

The annual, free event, which began in 1959, originally started as an air show with an $88 budget. It has now grown to one of the largest shows of it kind, with tricks from high-speed civilian and military plots and aircraft, as well as boats, and dive and parachute teams.

Shows on Saturday and Sunday will also go from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to officials, the lineup will be determined the morning of the show by the pilots.

“Performers are subject to change,” officials said.

However, according to Adams, the Thunderbirds are scheduled to perform around 2:15 p.m. for about 40 to 45 minutes each day — including Friday.

Getting to the Show

The city recommends using public transportation to get to the show, as there will be no public parking at the beach over the weekend. Additionally, the CTA’s no. 72 bus that typically stops at North Avenue Beach will be rerouted. However, the Millennium Park Garages have discounted pre-purchased parking and a shuttle from the garage to inner Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive. 

Additionally, the CTA is set to provide additional routes and buses, and Metra is set to provide extra service on four lines for those coming to the lakefront.   

More information about the 2023 Chicago Air and Water Show can be found here.