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Lincoln Park, Chicago guide to the best things to do

Explore this upscale neighborhood along the lake with our guide to the best things to do in Lincoln Park, Chicago

Lincoln Park
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas
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Home to the largest Chicago park, one of the best museums in Chicago and a zoo that you can visit without paying a dime, you don't have to look hard to find worthwhile attractions in Lincoln Park. Stroll through the campus of DePaul University before you head for the neighborhood's namesake green space, where you'll find a conservatory, the Chicago History Museum, beaches, a lily pool and a pavilion designed by Jeanne Gang. In the evening, stop by the Second City to see improvisers at work or see the latest premiere at the Steppenwolf Theatre before a meal at on of the best Chicago restaurants. Have some fun in one of Chicago's most popular neighborhoods by making your way to these Lincoln Park attractions.

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Chicago

Things to do in Lincoln Park

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Lincoln Park Zoo Lion
Photograph: Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
Things to do

Lincoln Park Zoo

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With more than 1,000 animals, from apes to penguins, housed inside one of the only free zoos remaining in the United States, this Lincoln Park attraction is one that's worth multiple visits. While it only occupies 35 acres of space, exhibits like the Regenstein Center for African Apes, the Kovler Lion House and the Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House are packed with interesting sights and incredible creatures. During the summer, the Lincoln Park Zoo hosts beer festivals and adult nights, but when the holidays arrive, the twinkling ZooLights display takes over the park.

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Photograph: Courtesy Second City
Comedy, Comedy clubs

The Second City

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Even if you know nothing about improv, chances are you've heard of the Second City. This is the place that put both sketch and improvised comedy on the map while launching the careers of comics like Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Chris Farley, John Belushi, Joan Rivers, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell. Most people show up to attend the mainstage revues (make sure you buy tickets in advance), which combine topical sketches with some post-show improvisation by the cast. If you're willing to see something a bit less polished (but potentially even more hilarious), check out some of the student shows being staged in the Second City's smaller theaters.

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Museums, History

Chicago History Museum

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Chicago is a city with a story, and you'll be able to learn more about where its been (and get a glimpse at where it's headed) at the Chicago History Museum. Permanent exhibitions like "Lincoln's Chicago" and "Chicago: Crossroads of America" take guests back in time, allowing them to hop on a vintage CTA El car or gaze at drawings of the city circa the 1860s. Kids will love the "Sensing Chicago" exhibit, which features a gigantic Chicago-style hot dog that visitors can climb into and more interactive stations that show off famous sights, sounds and scents.

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Things to do

Lincoln Park

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Chicago's largest public park covers more acerage than New York's Central Park and counts former United States President and Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln namesake. Stretching from Grand Avenue to Ardmore Avenue along seven miles of the lakeshore, the portion of the park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood contains North Avenue Beach, the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center.

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Photograph: Max Herman
Things to do

North Avenue Beach

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As one of Chicago's most popular beaches, North Avenue Beach features a unique beach house inspired by a beached ocean liner as well as a cabana and restaurant called Shore Club where guests can relax with drinks and a menu of Mediterranean cuisine. If you can't find a spot on the volleyball courts, you can always sprawl out on the sand, take a dip in Lake Michigan or rent a bike, jet ski or kayak. During the summer, stick around on Wednesday and Saturday nights for a view of the Navy Pier fireworks.

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Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

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This secretive spot just north of the Lincoln Park Zoo is a quaint, calm hideaway from the hustle and bustle of the city. No matter the season, the canopy of trees and chirping birds provide a peaceful place to take a mental hiatus. If you don't have time to sit under the shaded pavillion and take in the scenery, at least walk by lily pool on your way to the zoo via the gate at the northeast end of the garden.

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Attractions, Parks and gardens

Lincoln Park Conservatory

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The conversatoryin Lincoln Park host tens of thousands of plants under a glass dome and in greenhouse rooms just northwest of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Can't-miss sights include an extensive fern collection, a room filled with dozens of orchid varieties and a 50-foot rubber tree. You'll also find rotating flower shows on display throughout the year, devoted to spring blooms, tropical plants and more. Admission is always free, so stop by if you need a few moments indoors during your visit.

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Theater

Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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Founded in the basement of a church in nearby Deerfield, Steppenwolf Theatre Company has grown to become of Chicago's most respected institutions. The theatre's ensemble has featured actors like Laurie Metcalf, Gary Sinise, John Malkovich and Tracy Letts, but the narratives that come to life on one of the three stages in Steppenwolf's Lincoln Park home are just as exciting as the people treading the boards.

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Museums, Art and design

DePaul Art Museum

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Hop off the train at the Fullerton Red, Brown and Purple Line station and you'll find yourself at the front door of this art museum on the DePaul University campus. There are typically two or more small exhibitions on display simultaneously, featuring large sculptures, photographs, paintings and installations made by established and emerging artists. Admission is free (though donations are welcome), so don't be afraid to step inside and see what's on the walls.

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Museums, Natural history

The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

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Named for the benefactor who helped fund the museum's new home in Lincoln Park, this local institution helps people of all ages learn more about the natural world surrounding them. Hands-on interactive displays on marsh and river ecosystems engage kids, while the fluttering beauties inside 2,700-square-foot Judy Istock Butterfly Haven (a greenhouse filled with more than 1,000 winged insects) appeal to people of all ages. After you've seen everything inside of the Nature Museum, make sure you walk some of the trails surrounding the building.

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Things to do

Oz Park

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With statues of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Dorothy and Toto on display, Oz Park pays tribute to the literary creations of author L. Frank Baum, who worked as a reporter in Chicago. In Dorothy's Playlot, kids can climb on a wooden castle while adults enjoy the nearby tennis courts. Take a stroll through the Emerald Gardens and admire the flowers—all that's missing in this park dedicated to the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is a Yellow Brick Road.

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DePaul University, Cortelyou Commons
Photo: Max Herman
Things to do, Schools and universities

DePaul University

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With nearly 25,000 students, DePaul University is among of the nation's largest private universities, with colleges devoted to music, theater, social sciences and communication. DePaul's Lincoln Park campus winds through a sizable portion of the neighborhood, allowing visitors to stroll through its trees and gothic architecture on the way to local attractions. Many student performances at the DePaul School of Music are free and open the public, while the Theatre School sells tickets for its student productions.

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Lincoln Park
Photograph: Pixabay
Attractions, Parks and gardens

Lincoln Park Cultural Center

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A small brick building located near Clark Street and Dickens Avenue houses the Lincoln Park Cultural Center, which houses a stained glass shop, ceramics studio, dance studio and woodshop. Operated by the Chicago Parks District, there's programming for kids, adults and seniors on the calendar year-round, offering a place for members of the community to come and learn new skills.

More things to do in Lincoln Park

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