Chicago is one of America’s most special cities. Not only is it the birthplace of the skyscraper, but it boasts some of the most incredibly unique architecture in the nation. While it is often nicknamed the “Second City,” there’s one thing for certain Chicago does better than New York City: urban green spaces. And comedy. But that’s beside the point.
Chicago’s Department of Cultural and Natural Resources is responsible for managing over 8,100 acres of land. That’s right. This midwestern gem is not only full of charm and rich history, but its eco-friendly escapes make it so remarkable. While these green spaces may be no mystery to locals, they’re worth highlighting for those of you who haven’t visited.
This space was once known as an urban wasteland. These days it features Cloud Gate (also known touristically as “the bean”), a five-acre perennial garden and a world-class music venue. In fact, the park also holds the title for the world’s greenest rooftop – 24.5 acres. The grass covers a railway, an opera hall and two parking garages. Pretty awesome if you ask me. As if the park itself wasn’t green enough, the five-acre Lurie Garden is on the property, too. Chances are you’ll find some 9-5ers seeking solace here during their lunch hour.
Bonus: If you’re visiting Chicago during the summer, check out this music schedule for Millenium Park. Each Tuesday, bands play in the Pritzker Pavillion free of charge. The event is obviously BYOB – because that’s the Chicago way.
Address: 201 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, IL 60602
Lincoln Park Conservatory
Luckily for Chicago residents, the city hosts three gorgeous and well-kept nature conservatories for those who need a breath of fresh air mid-winter. I often found myself escaping to Lincoln Park’s Conservatory Greenhouse, wandering through the different houses admiring our Earth’s gifts. I am particularly fond of the greenhouse’s orchid room, as I’m always fascinated by their intricacies.
Protip: If you’re keen on visiting the city’s most expensive farmer’s market afterward, you’re in luck. It’s located just around the corner!
Address: 2391 N. Stockton Drive, Chicago, IL 60614
Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool
Out of all the eco-friendly spots in Chicago, this one has my heart. The lily pool means a lot to me as I spent quite a lot of time there throughout college. I can’t remember the exact moment I discovered this zen haven, but I’m so fortunate to have done so. While this pond may be located in one of Chicago’s most well-known neighborhoods, it’s not the easiest to find. The entrance is just off a busy road and blends in with its surroundings. This peaceful slice of heaven is just around the corner from the Lincoln Park Conservatory!
Protip: If you’re into long walks, walk down to the Chicago Lakefront Trail after perusing the grounds. It’ll take about 5-10 minutes to get to the entrance.
Address: 125 W. Fullerton Parkway, Chicago, IL 60614
Jackson Park Osaka Garden
While the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is the epitome of zen on the north side, the west side is home to the city’s king daddy of zen. Located adjacent to the Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary, this peaceful spot has been renowned as a perfect escape for decades. Walking into this park will make you feel as though you’re time traveling into ancient Japan. The garden hosts various pools, a rock waterfall, lanterns, a mood bridge, a Torii gate and is home to several rare flora. Although it may be a bit of a hike from the city center, this sanctuary is worth a visit.
Address: 6401 S. Stony Island, Chicago, IL 60637
Milton L. Olive III Park
This is another spot on the list that captured my heart. While this park may not be as grand as New York City’s Central or Bryant Parks, it’s certainly a special one. Its namesake is a Chicago-native and Vietnam War veteran. Although he left Chicago at a young age and relocated to Mississippi, the city honored him with this lovely park alongside Lake Michigan. It’s a wonderful haven with a bit of history. Win-win!
Protip: Avoid the touristy Navy Pier and continue walking along Lakeshore Drive!
Address: 500 N. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611
Chicago Lakefront Trail
If you’re a bicycle fanatic or runner, you’ll love this trail. One of the cooler things about Chicago is that it’s located alongside the beautiful Lake Michigan, while still emitting big city vibes. This trail highlights both of these features and allows for both its urban and natural characteristics to compliment one another. I spent lots of time on this path when I lived in Chicago – both on foot and via bike. In fact, I spent pretty much every day bicycling here before I moved to Korea.
Protip: Take advantage of Chicago’s bike share program and rent a Divvy bike. Ride up to Montrose Harbor and walk over to the beach. There’s a bar along the beach called The Dock, and there’s often live music during the summertime. Montrose Beach is a dog-friendly spot.
Address: This path is 18 miles long, and can be entered in a few locations.
I used to live around the corner from this park, so it’s certainly one that I love. One of the quirkier aspects that make Oz Park stand out from the rest is that there are statues of the Wizard of Oz situated throughout. While it may not be the largest park on this list, it’s a perfect spot for a romantic stroll and allows you to walk through Chicago’s ritzy Lincoln Park neighborhood afterward.
Protip: If you’re in the mood for brunch, head over to Toast – located around the corner from the park entrance. If your walk is in the evening, walk about 15 minutes north on Halsted to AliveOne for some tasty beer and good tunes. If you want a good burrito, walk about 10 minutes to Allende, located near the corner of Lincoln and Halsted.
Address: 2021 N. Burling Street, Chicago, IL 60614
This nature haven isn’t exactly close to the city, but it’s worth the drive or train ride. The 184-acre park boasts a swimming pool, fishing lagoon, sports courts and a conservatory that puts its Lincoln Park sister spot to shame. In fact, the Garfield Park Conservatory is home to over 12,000 plants and one of the largest greenhouses in the United States. That’s pretty impressive, right? If you want some Jurassic Park vibes without escaping the urban limits, be sure to stroll through the conservatory’s fern room.
Protip: Take the train. It’s worth seeing and is an experience within itself.
Address: 300 N. Central Park Avenue, Chicago, IL 60624
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