Combine a summer beach holiday with four famous festivals and a fifth newcomer celebrating culture, tradition, and fantastic performances.

When summer is a whole flower in August, but hints of September and autumn start to claim one’s attention, many are still thinking about summer vacation plans. Suppose this describes you, and you are anywhere near the Great Lakes. In that case, there are many possibilities for a quick getaway that combines beach and water activities by day with exceptional cultural experiences in the evening. Festivals of music and theatre abound.

If you have time for a ‘real’ vacation, i.e., ten days or more, your trip could include a number of the large, long-established, well-known festival celebrations of culture. Classic and contemporary drama, classical music, Celtic music, and ballet and modern dance festival in Chicago await you in August in the Great Lakes.

Visit Three Great Lakes and See World-Famous Drama in Ontario

Every year the Shaw Festival at Niagara-on-the-Lake, on Lake Ontario, produces ten to twelve plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries, presented in four theatres. That adds up to nearly 800 performances, an audience approaching 300,000. This year, you could be one of them and watch the festival’s esteemed acting ensemble present Candida, On the Rocks, Heartbreak House, or My Fair Lady, or see one of the seven non-Shaw productions. The festival is celebrating its 50th season this year.

Niagara on the Lake, the community that hosts the Shaw Festival, is a summer vacation destination, one of the oldest small cities in Canada; it is also considered one of the most charming, with elegant houses and gardens on its tree-lined streets. The Niagara River joins Lake Ontario here. Is Niagara Falls twenty minutes to the south. ?Directly across from Lake Ontario in Toronto, which is about thirty miles due north.

Ontario has that if there is one drama experience to rival or surpass the Shaw Festival. The Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a mere nine years older than the Shaw Festival, sets the bar for classical theatre in North America. From its first production in 1953, this festival created excitement with its efforts to produce Shakespeare’s plays on an open stage or “under stage conditions for which they had been written,” according to former Festival archivist James R. Aikens.

The town of Stratford is not on any lake but is nicely positioned between three large ones. Toronto has spread out along the north shore of Lake Ontario just a two-hour car ride to the east, while an hour drive to the west brings you to charming beach towns on Lake Huron. Suppose you head north from Stratford for approximately two hours. In that case, you will come to the rocky Bruce Peninsula that encloses Lake Huron’s beautiful Georgian Bay or enjoy a shorter drive south to the sandy beaches of Lake Erie.

The Peninsula Music Festival and Irish Fest on Lake Michigan

Over on Lake Michigan, you can combine your beach vacation with music. In Door County, WI, the Peninsula Music Festival is an orchestral tradition dating back to 1953, the same year that the Shakespeare Festival began. It continues every August with professional musicians from major symphonies and rising young guest soloists. This year’s soloists have included cellist Wendy Warner, pianist Stewart Goodyear, and eighteen-year-old violin prodigy Caroline Goulding.

For a complete change of pace, travel down Lake Michigan’s shore to Milwaukee where the city’s Summerfest grounds, adjacent to the lake, will ring non-stop for four days, with the insistent rhythms of the fiddles, tin whistles, uilleann pipes, and bodhrans of Irish music and step dances. 


At the bottom of Lake Michigan and also the bottom of the August calendar, there is one last festival for your consideration. While the Chicago Dancing Festival may not have the decades-long track record of the other events described here, it is undeniably significant. In 2011, the event celebrated its fifth year; it has brought some of the biggest names in the ballet and modern dance world to Chicago for free concerts that have been presented to tens of thousands.

The company, San Francisco Ballet. 

Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, Azure Barton, and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater are just some of the fantastic dancers and companies that have performed at the Harris Theatre and the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park the last week in August.

The 2019 Chicago Dancing Festival has expanded to five days of performances beginning Tuesday, August 23, at various indoor venues, culminating with the outdoor concert at the Pritzker Pavilion. Saturday, August 27, featuring the Paul Taylor Company, Ballet West, the Joffrey Ballet, New York City Ballet artists, etc.