With more than 600 facilities throughout the city, the Chicago Parks District boasts something for everyone, whether you're looking for a tiny neighborhood playlot for the kids or a vast swath of green space. Chicago parks are more than just places to workout, ride your bike or play tennis, they also offer plenty of cultural programming, such as the Millennium Park summer concert series or outdoor movies. Most importantly, these Chicago attractions provide a space to relax and momentarily forget that you're in the middle of a large city, filled with people, buildings and cars. Not sure which Chicago parks you should visit? Leaving aside Chicago beaches (unfair advantage, honestly), these are some of our favorite parks in the city.
The best Chicago parks
An instant hit since it was completed in 2004, this 24.5-acre park was named the top attraction in the Midwest in 2017. Among its many draws are Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion, which hosts free concerts and movie screenings in the summer; sculptor Anish Kapoor's 110-ton Cloud Gate (a.k.a. “The Bean”); and Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain, with its ever-changing array of locals' faces spewing water every five minutes in the summer months. The Lurie Garden wows with year-round flower displays and monthly garden walks.
Spanning 319 acres of lakefront property, Chicago's “front yard” actually encompasses several smaller parks and attractions, including Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park, Buckingham Fountain and the Museum Campus. Grant Park was the site where Barack Obama and thousands of supporters celebrated his victory on election night 2008, and every summer it draws thousands more to gigantic festivals like the Taste of Chicago and Lollapalooza.
A formerly abandoned stretch of elevated railway track that runs through Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Wicker Park and Bucktown has found new life as the 606, after an extensive renovation that was completed in 2015. Named after the first three digits in every Chicago zip code, the 2.7-mile path provides a quick way to travel east and west on the North Side, connecting several parks and public art installations. Redevelopment plans for the North Branch Industrial Corridor over the next few years are likely to include an extension of the 606 east past the Kennedy Expressway and the river toward Lincoln Park. Prepare to dodge strollers, bicycles and residents out for a very slow jog on this popular throughway.
Named for Illinois’s favorite son shortly after his assassination in 1865, Lincoln Park stretches six and a half miles along the lakeshore from Ohio Street Beach to Hollywood Beach. Inside the boundaries of the sprawling North Side park, visitors will also find attractions like the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory and the Lincoln Park Cultural Center. The park itself offers golf courses, baseball fields, a skate park and paths for walking, jogging or biking, as well as easy access to the nearby Lakefront Trail.
One of Chicago's more prominent parks on the city's West Side, Garfield Park offers facilities for baseball, boxing, basketball, tennis and swimming and also has a fieldhouse (topped with a gold dome) playground, fitness center, lagoon and paths for jogging, walking and biking. No matter what the weather is like outside, the Garfield Park Conservatory (located in the northwest corner of the park) is a major draw, with about 120,000 plants representing some 600 species occupying 1.6 indoor acres, and 12 acres of outdoor gardens in the summer.
Designed by famous landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Jackson Park became the chosen site for the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 (it even contains a scale replica of the event's iconic golden statue, The Republic). Today, the 600-acre park set along the lake shore on the South Side offers golf, baseball, a fitness center, basketball, a playground, and tennis courts as well as the Garden of the Phoenix—a Japanese-inspired garden on an island in the park's east lagoon. Soon, Jackson Park will also be the home of the Obama Presidential Library, which will take over a portion of the park near Stony Island Avenue and 63rd Street.
Millennium Park's neighbor to the east, Maggie Daley Park's most popular attraction is its quarter-mile skating ribbon (used for ice skating in the winter or rollerskating in the summer), which wraps around a 40-foot climbing wall on the northern end of the 20-acre plot. Nearby, kids can enjoy the park's Play Garden, a giant pirate ship play structure with enormous slides, rope bridges and whimsical climbing surfaces. Don't forget to check out the park's 18-hole mini golf course, which features tiny recreations of Chicago landmarks like Willis Tower and Daley Plaza's Picasso sculpture.
Originally an early-20th-century country club, this gorgeous property was acquired by the Chicago Park District in 1975 and lovingly restored. These days, the main building hums with classes in the arts, culinary workshops, day camps and cultural programs; the grounds include a nature sanctuary, golf course, butterfly garden and plenty of beautifully maintained open spaces. Fans of The Blues Brothers may recognize the building as the exterior of the fictional Palace Hotel Ballroom, where Jake and Elwood performed a concert and eluded the police.
Designed by William Le Baron Jenney in the mid-1800s and enhanced several years later by Jens Jensen, Humboldt Park was once the nation’s greatest public park, boasting acres of prairie-style gardens, grazing animals and a meandering river scene. Though the animals are long gone, the park still offers extensive rose beds as well as tennis courts, an inland beach, baseball fields and bike paths. Take a seat at the Humboldt Park Boathouse and admire the sights from inside a structure inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie style architecture.
This expansive North Lawndale park features gymnasiums, tennis courts, a football stadium, outdoor pool, basketball courts, an artificial turf soccer field, baseball fields and a small golf putting range. Designed at the same time as Humboldt and Garfield parks, the outdoor facility is named for Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, who famously lost the 1860 presidential election to some guy named Abraham Lincoln. Since 2015, it’s also been home to the punk, metal, indie and ’90s rock acts of Riot Fest every September.
A favorite of Lincoln Square residents, Winnemac Park has provided Chicago with more than 22 acres of green space since 1910. The Chicago Park District plot is home to dozens of youth sports leagues and programs, some of which share the adjacent facilities of Amundsen High School and Chappell Elementary School (the park’s popular swimming lessons and programs, for instance, use Amundsen’s indoor pool). And it’s possibly the best spot for family-friendly Fourth of July fireworks on the North Side.
This beautiful neighborhood space in Rogers Park offers a spray park, playground and tennis courts. The playground has an old school vibe: The structure is completely made of wood and the grounds are filled with wood chips. There are swings, tunnels, bridges, slides and more—no plastic here. Housed within the park, the Indian Boundary Cultural Center offers piano, voice and dance lessons for kids.
Known by locals as "Mount Bridgeport," the site of Palmisano Park was formerly a limestone quarry (called Stearns Quarry) that opened in 1836. When the quarry was shut down in 1970, the 380 foot deep hole was used as a dumping site for construction waste until the city stepped in and decided to turn the area into a park. Today, the old quarry contains a fishing pond, while wetlands, running paths and an athletic field surrounding a small hill that provides wonderful views of the neighborhood and the Chicago skyline.
Not far from the rows of restaurants on Randolph Street and Fulton Market, Union Park offers a swimming pool, auditorium, fitness center, tennis and basketball courts, baseball fields and a spray pool. The park also hosts the annual Pitchfork Music Festival each July, which sets up stages filled with a lineup of indie-rock, hip-hop and electronic acts.
Originally a railroad yard, this quiet, contemplative spot is named for the Chinatown resident who was the leading force behind the creation of this community space. With a pavilion that overlooks a branch of the Chicago River, the park is a popular spot for kayaking. The most recent addition to the park is a state-of-the-art fieldhouse, which houses a gymnasium, fitness center and an indoor pool.
This sprawling, 323-acre site in Chicago Lawn, named for 17th-century Jesuit missionary Father Marquette, offers auditoriums, baseball fields, a nine-hole golf course, gymnasium, outdoor basketball courts, paths for running, jogging or biking, a spray pool and tennis courts. The significant green space includes a community garden, a rose garden, a lagoon and a rescued prairie remnant that was transplanted to the park from 87th Street in the 1990s.
Situated in Lincoln Square, Welles Park is best known for its ornate European-style gazebo, which is often at the center of events, providing a stage for performers and speakers. Outdoor facilities include a track as well as fields for baseball, softball and football. Families flock to the soft-surface playground, which is outfitted with swings, slides and a water feature. The Welles Park Fieldhouse contains an indoor swimming pool and a fitness center, which are popular attractions year-round.
This 55-acre Chicago Park District facility in the Irving Park neighborhood offers baseball fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, gyms and a playground. Horner is a frequent host of summer outdoor movies; other cultural offerings include a wide range of art and music classes, and there are regular programs for members of the Deaf community and classes in American Sign Language. The popular Doggie Egg Hunt every spring has led to an ongoing effort to convert a section of the park into a full-time dog friendly area.
Named for Nobel Peace Prize-winning social reformer and Hull House founder Jane Addams as well as the Medill Elementary School that was once located to the east of the park, Addams/Medill is a nine-acre oasis on Chicago's Near West Side. The site will soon host the 100,000 square foot Exelon Student Recreation Center, outfitted with an indoor track, artificial turf field and basketball courts. Addams/Medill was the most recent home of the Spring Awakening Music Festival, but the park's latest improvements forced the annual EDM event to find a new venue.
These two adjacent Park District facilities, occupying a Northwest Side parcel of land that was once home to a sanitarium, offer a range of amenities. The 46-acre North Park Village nature preserve and education center has plenty for kids and adults with hands-on discovery tables and interactive displays. They also offer workshops and camps throughout the year. Peterson Park houses several sports fields, walking trails and an in-demand gymnastics center.
Located right behind Lincoln Park High School, Oz Park is just what you think: a kid-friendly area dedicated to The Wizard of Oz. Sculptures of the popular characters created by Chicagoan L. Frank Baum are scattered around the huge grounds. The small-ish playground has a fun wooden castle/maze structure filled with windows to look through, things to climb, bridges to run across, etc. There is also a plastic tire swing that bigger kids seem to like. The playground even has equipment for the littlest ones who can barely walk—with a separate slide, rocking animals and a wooden train to climb on.