Where to Watch Chicago Marathon: Best Places to Enjoy the Race

Where to Watch Chicago Marathon: Marathon runners on the route

Are you looking for the best place to watch the Chicago Marathon? The annual event draws thousands of spectators each year, many of whom want to witness it from the best vantage point.

This article will explore some of the top places to watch the Chicago Marathon. So if you want a great view of all the action, keep reading!

Course Overview

The Chicago Marathon draws thousands of spectators each year. You can ensure the best spectator experience by understanding the course overview.

The course is flat and fast. It takes runners through some of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods.

It starts at Grant Park, then heads north to Wrigleyville, south to Loop, west to Damen, and south to Bridgeport. It winds through 29 distinct Chicago neighborhoods. The finish line is back at Grant Park.

Runners will pass several spots, including Grand Avenue, Lake Shore Drive, and Lincoln Park, that provide excellent views of the marathoners and make great places to observe the race.

If you are one of those running this fast course, read our Chicago Marathon tips to make it your best race.

Spectator Routes

On race day, spectator access to Grant Park’s start and finish areas is not allowed. Only participants with event bib numbers, event staff, and ticketed guests have access to this area.

After the race, there are designated areas to meet runners at Grant Park. Runner Reunite area is accessible through entrance gates at Jackson Drive and Michigan Avenue or at Ida B. Wells Drive.

Most spectators watch the runners along Michigan Avenue, where they can be seen at various points along their 26.2-mile journey. There is a lively crowd cheering on and supporting their favorite runners.

Marathon organizers encourage spectators to move around the course, and you can spot runners in multiple locations.

Recommended Viewing Spots

If you want to be close to the start, go to Grand Avenue, between Columbus Drive and State Street (Mile 1 of the race). State Street between Grand Avenue and Jackson Boulevard is also a good option.

Bank of America Cheer Zone at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road is closest to the finish.

Lincoln Park is a popular location because it’s halfway through the race and provides a great atmosphere with plenty of cheering fans. This spot also gives you access to food and drink vendors.

There are 4 specific cheer zones on the course.

1) Shamrock Shuffle Cheer Zone: Located in Lincoln Park at the 8K mark. 

2) Chicago 13.1 Cheer Zone:  This cheer zone at the west side is the halfway point of the course (13.1-mile mark)

3) Charity Block Party: This cheer zone is located at Adams Street and Loomis Street near Whitney Young High School (15-mile marker)

4) Bank of America Cheer Zone: This cheer zone is just before the finish line (mile 26) near Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road.

Local running clubs, community groups, etc., organize cheer zones throughout the course.

For more information, visit the official website of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Television broadcasts and online streaming options are available for those who prefer to watch from home.

Mobile App with Runner Tracking

You can download the Bank of America Chicago Marathon App to your phone, whether running or spectating.

You can track runners on the course with the app. You can find the app in your device’s app store.

Pre-Race Activities and Post-Race Celebrations

There are pre-race activities, from live music performances to yoga and fitness classes. Specialty foods and drinks can be found at various vendors throughout the marathon area.

Post-race festivities take place all along the course and in Grant Park, where activities such as live music, food vendors, and medal engraving will be available for runners and spectators alike.

Public Transit

CTA rail system with extra services makes it easy to reach the desired spots without worrying about parking. Plus, many downtown stations offer access to multiple viewing areas, so you can easily switch locations if you’re looking for a new angle on the race.

Parking Options

Traffic will be heavy, and there will be a lot of street closures and parking restrictions.

Street parking is limited during the time of the race. 

Another option is using parking garages or lots located throughout the city. Additionally, specialty marathon-related services offer parking close to the race route for an extra fee.

Accessibility Options

For those who need a wheelchair or scooter, there are designated areas along the course with optimal views. And if you need special seating, some grandstands accommodate wheelchairs and other seating needs.

Not to mention, all bus transportation provided by the marathon is wheelchair accessible.

The marathon also offers audio description services so visually impaired spectators can get all the action.

What To Bring

Wear comfortable clothes and shoes that you can stand in for a long time. Bringing a folding chair or blanket will allow you to rest if needed. Fill up a reusable water bottle and pack some snacks.

Safety Precautions

If you plan on being close to the runners as they pass by, ensure you stay within designated areas and do not obstruct the race path in any way.

Remain alert while watching the marathon – this means keeping an eye out for any potential hazards, such as debris or slippery surfaces, that could pose a risk to both runners and spectators alike.

Hotels Near The Route

Finding a hotel close to the marathon route is ideal for visitors from out of town. To make sure that you find a hotel that suits your needs, take some time to research hotels near your desired location along the route. 

Try planning ahead and make reservations at restaurants or cafés near popular spots along the marathon route to have easy access during the race.

When Does the Chicago Marathon Take Place?

The Chicago Marathon takes place in October each year. The 2024 event will be held on Sunday, Oct. 13.

The Chicago Marathon is a popular event; getting into the race can be competitive. The lottery system, however, gives applicants a fair chance to participate.

Our other article discusses How To Get Into Chicago Marathon (Guide on Requirements And Fees).

When Do the Runners Start?

Starting at Grant Park, the marathon starts in waves.

  • Wheelchair (men): 7:20 a.m.
  • Wheelchair (women): 7:21 a.m.
  • Handcycle: 7:23 a.m.
  • Wave 1 (red): 7:30 a.m.
  • Wave 2 (blue): 8 a.m.
  • Wave 3 (orange): 8:35 a.m.

The Bottom Line

The Windy City comes alive each year for the Chicago Marathon! Up to 45,000 racers from around the world converge in Chicago to run a 26.2-mile course through some of its most famous streets. That makes it one of the biggest marathon events in the world.

If you love watching road-running races, the Chicago Marathon is an event you don’t want to miss out on. Every year, it’s filled with intense racing, passionate fans, and incredible energy.

Did you catch Kelvin Kiptum’s run during the 2023 race? It was a breathtaking world-record run! So, the Chicago route really is fast.

Running is not just about races or marathons. These Chicago running trails offer stunning views to take in, no matter the distance you’re running or walking.

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