Chicago Parks & Gardens Guide

The leaders of Chicago, both past and present, have been dedicated to preserving and enhancing the beauty of the city with parks, gardens, and other green areas. The Chicago Park District manages over 220 stunning facilities throughout the city, with more than 7300 acres of parkland, 552 parks, 33 beaches, nine museums, two world-class conservatories, 16 historic lagoons, 10 bird and wildlife gardens, and thousands of special events, sports and entertainment programs.

The most prominent Chicago park is Grant Park, located along the lakefront, south of the Chicago River. Grant Park features outdoor concerts and hosts the annual Taste of Chicago. It is also home to Museum Campus and the Buckingham Fountain.

The Chicago area has a number of botanical gardens, including the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois, the Osaka Garden in Chicago’s south side, and the Morton Arboretum is Lisle, Illinois.

Chicago’s top Lake Michigan beaches include Oak Street Beach, at the north end of the Magnificent Mile, and North Avenue Beach, further north. Enjoy sunbathing, biking, inline skating, volleyball, or just people-watching.

Buckingham Fountain

Congress Parkway & Columbus Drive
Chicago, IL 60605
Phone: (312) 747-2474

picture of buckingham fountainThe Buckingham Fountain, located in Grant Park, is one of Chicago’s most popular attractions and one of the largest fountains in the world. It was opened in May of 1927. The four sea horses you see on its sides represent the four states that touch Lake Michigan: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

The fountain operates from approximately April 1 to November 1 each year and runs from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm each day. Every hour on the hour for 20 minutes the fountain produces a major water display and the center jet shoots 150 feet into the air. At dusk, the fountain’s hourly major water display is accompanied by lights and music.

The fountain’s water capacity is 1.5 million gallons. Depending on wind conditions, major displays use approximately 14,100 gallons of recirculated water per minute conveyed through 134 jets. The fountain contains 820 lights.

Chicago Botanic Garden

1000 Lake Cook Road
Glencoe, IL 60022
Phone: (847) 835-5440

picture of chicago botanic gardenThe most striking aspect of the Chicago Botanic Garden is its physical face: beautifully designed gardens brimming with two million plants. Twenty-three different gardens showcase the best plants for the Midwest in a variety of beautiful settings. Three native habitat areas, including woodland, prairie, and river habitat, feature native and endangered flora of Illinois. The Chicago Botanic Garden welcomes approximately 900,000 visitors each year.

You can take a 45-minute tram tour or a guided walking tour. The Grand Tram Tour, available every day, is a narrated tram tour around the perimeter of the Garden providing an overview of all areas. The Bright Encounters Tour, available weekdays, is a narrated tram tour that offers a closer look at the gardens on the main island. Advance reservations are required for the walking tours and you’ll be able to choose from seven different themes — English Walled Garden, Rose Garden, Fruit & Vegetable Garden, Japanese Garden, Landscape Gardens, The Greenhouses, and Seasonal Festivals. There is a nominal fee for these tours.

Dining options include The Garden Cafe, serving breakfast, lunch, and snacks in the Gateway Visitor Center, The Grille, for outdoor dining on the Café decks, and Rose Terrace Ice Cream Shoppe. Picnicking is allowed in the picnic area.

Be sure to call ahead or visit the Garden’s website for seasonal hours of operation.

Cuneo Museum & Gardens

1350 N. Milwaukee Avenue
Vernon Hills, IL 60061

picture of cuneo museum gardensCuneo Museum and Gardens is located in Vernon Hills, Illinois. This mansion was built in 1914 and purchased by John Cuneo in 1937. The mansion, with its opulent Venetian style architecture, features a 40-foot high great hall with arcaded balconies, a skylighted ceiling and a grand staircase. Noteworthy are the double formal dining rooms, a private chapel with exquisite stained-glass windows, and the wonderful frescoed ceilings. The walls of the indoor swimming pool are in travertine marble.

Guests will enjoy seeing fine old master paintings, 17th-century tapestries, a custom made gilt grand piano, and an outstanding collection of oriental rugs, sculpture, and silver. Featured in the porcelain gallery is a magnificent collection of Capodimonte porcelain.

The grounds comprise 75 serene acres with lakes, fountains, formal gardens, antique classical statuary, a private 9-hole golf course, and a conservatory housing exotic plants.

Garfield Park Conservatory

300 North Central Park Avenue
Chicago, IL 60624
Phone: (312) 746-5100

picture of garfield park conservatoryGarfield Park Conservatory, consisting of six multi-faceted greenhouses and two grand exhibition halls, is one of the largest and most stunning conservatories in the nation. Often referred to as “landscape art under glass,” the Garfield Park Conservatory occupies approximately 4.5 acres inside and out, and includes cold frames and propagating where thousands of plants are grown each year for displays in Chicago’s parks and spaces. The indoor Elizabeth Morse Genius Children’s Garden provides a fun and engaging space for the Conservatory’s many younger visitors. The Conservatory hosts four major flower shows and several special events each year. Be sure to check their website for current events.

The Garfield Park Conservatory is located in Garfield Park on Chicago’s west side. The Park first opened to the public in 1874. Historic features include architectural landscaping (flower gardens, water court, bridges, lagoons, and the Conservatory), notable architecture (the Golden Dome fieldhouse), the bandshell (or “gazebo” as it is locally known) designed in 1896 by J. L. Silsbee and the golf shelter building, attributable to prairie school architect Hugh Gardner and built in 1907. There are also a number of historic sculptures and statues within the Park.

Both Garfield Park and its Conservatory are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Grant Park

Michigan Avenue & Madison Street
Chicago, IL 60602

picture of grant parkGrant Park is located between Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan and between Monroe Drive and Randolph Street. It is Chicago’s most prominent and beloved park. The Petrillo Music Shell brings all sorts of diverse outdoor concerts to the city, including Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Country, and Classical. It is also the site of Chicago’s annual Taste of Chicago, held each summer.

Grant Park includes Museum Campus, consisting of the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute, and the Field Museum of Natural History. The park’s most distinguishing feature is Buckingham Fountain, built in 1927.

The park was originally named Lake Park in 1847, but in 1901 it was renamed Grant Park in honor of Ulysses S. Grant. Thanks to the 20-year effort by Aaron Montgomery Ward concluding in the early 1900s, the park has been protected from commercial buildings and remains an open park today. The newest addition to Grant Park is at the north end, where Millennium Park has been constructed.

Jackson Park

6401 S. Stony Island Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Phone: (773) 256-0903

picture of jackson parkAfter the state legislature created the South Park Commission in 1869, the renowned designers of New York’s Central Park were hired to layout the 1055-acre park. Known originally as South Park, in 1881 it was renamed Jackson Park to honor Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), the seventh president of the United States. In 1890, Jackson Park was selected as the site for the World’s Columbian Exposition. Today, two structures remain as impressive symbols of the World’s Columbian Exposition. The “Golden Lady” sculpture is a smaller version of Daniel Chester French’s Statue of the Republic which originally stood at the foot of the Court of Honor. The original Fine Arts Palace now houses Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Jackson Park has a variety of recreational facilities, including tennis courts, baseball fields, an 18-hole golf course, and two walking trails (one just under a mile and one almost two miles). Fishing is allowed in the park’s lagoons. Osaka Garden is a Japanese stroll garden located within Jackson Park.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

2400 N. Stockton Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
Phone: 312-742-7736

picture of lincoln park conservatoryLincoln Park began as a small public cemetery on the northernmost boundary of Chicago where victims of cholera and smallpox were buried in shallow lakeside graves. Aware of the public health threat, citizens began demanding the cemetery’s conversion to parkland in the 1850s. In 1860, the city reserved a 60-acre unused section as Lake Park. Shortly after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln (1809-65), 16th President of the United States, the park was renamed in his honor. The city allocated $10,000 for improvements, and nurseryman Swain Nelson created and implemented the park’s first plan. An early donation of mute swans marked the beginnings of the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Citizens argued for the removal of the remaining burial ground. This contributed to a larger park movement, and in 1869, the state legislature created three park districts: the South, West, and Lincoln Park Commissions, each responsible for the parks and boulevards in its region. Under the direction of the Lincoln Park Commission, bodies were exhumed and relocated to other cemeteries, and the park was expanded south to North Avenue and north to Diversey Parkway. Severe winter storms in 1885 resulted in the construction of a breakwater system which included the first of many landfill projects extending Lincoln Park’s boundaries.

The independent park commissions were consolidated into the Chicago Park District in 1934, and Lincoln Park was expanded north to Foster Avenue. A final expansion in the 1950s brought the park to its current size of 1,208 acres. Throughout Lincoln Park’s history, renowned artists, landscape designers, and architects contributed to its development. These included sculptor Augustus-Saint Gaudens, landscape designers Ossian Cole Simonds and Alfred Caldwell, and architects Joseph Lyman Silsbee and Dwight H. Perkins.

Millennium Park

103 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60602

picture of millennium parkFirst planned in 1997 as a way to create new parkland in Grant Park and transform unsightly railroad tracks and parking lots, Millennium Park has evolved into the most significant millennium project in the world. And the reviews are already in. “Millennium Park,” says one prominent civic leader, “will be a worthy creation for all time. It will define Chicago to the entire world as America’s greatest city.”

Millennium Park is located in the heart of downtown Chicago. It is bordered by Michigan Avenue to the west, Columbus Drive to the east, Randolph Street to the North and Monroe Street to the South.

The park is open daily from 6am – 11pm. Admission is always free.

The Morton Arboretum

4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532
Phone: (630)-968-0074

picture of the morton arboretumThe Morton Arboretum is 1,700 acres of beautiful gardens, world-renowned plant collections, and rare and unique natural areas located west of Chicago in the suburb of Lisle. Discover what’s in color – from your car via 9 miles of paved roads, on foot over 14 miles of trails, or on an open-air tram for a one-hour guided tour.

The Visitor Center offers a variety of services, including daily activities and special events, and here you can purchase your tickets for the Acorn Express open-air tram tour.

The Arboretum Store offers decorative, fun, and educational nature-related gift items. The Arboretum also serves lunch, snacks, and beverages and there is also a picnic area.

North Avenue Beach

1600 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60610

picture of north avenue beachNorth Avenue Beach is Chicago’s busiest beach between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The beach gets very crowded and you’ll see singles, couples, families and groups of friends. It is a fairly large, well-maintained beach with rentals available, including chairs, bikes and volleyball equipment (there are 50 or more volleyball courts). You’ll see many runners, cyclists and inline skaters on the lakeshore path, as well as an outdoor mini fitness center and roller hockey rink. Probably the greatest attraction at North Avenue Beach is people-watching.

At the beach house, you’ll find concessions, shops and restrooms, plus a popular casual restaurant on the second floor, Castaways, serving burgers, salads, wings, tropical drinks and more.
Take public transportation or walk if you can; otherwise, be sure to arrive early to find parking.

Osaka Garden

5800 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60636

picture of osaka gardenOsaka Garden is a Japanese stroll garden nestled on the north end of the Wooded Island in historic Jackson Park. The origins of Osaka Garden date back more than 100 years when the Japanese government gave a beautiful building to Chicago for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. This gift planted the seeds of a lasting relationship between Chicago and Japan.

In 1934, Chicago established a garden at the site to show its appreciation for this special place and its gratitude to Japan. Over time, both Chicago and Japan have made significant contributions to the garden. In return, the garden has shared its many gifts with all who visit it.

The natural beauty of Osaka Garden and its traditional Japanese-style elements inspire the viewer. Entering the garden’s wooden entrance gate from the bustle of the city, the visitor discovers a world of peaceful lagoons, lush trees and verdant plants, meandering paths, arching moon bridge and trickling water.

Oak Street Beach

1000 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

picture of oak street beachOak Street Beach, just north of the Magnificent Mile, is one of Chicago’s most popular spots to see and be seen. Oak Street Beach is a haven for inline skaters, cyclists, volleyball enthusiasts, and, of course, sunbathers. The sandy beach is wide and concrete areas at either side are also popular for sunbathing and people-watching.

There are concessions and restrooms, but no parking. At the south end of the beach, the beachfront Oak Street Beachstro serves steak, pasta, seafood, salads, and sandwiches.

Spring Brook Nature Center

130 Forest Ave, Itasca, IL 60143
630-773-5572

Come enjoy a hike through the expansive freshwater marsh or explore our prairie, we hope that you enjoy your visit. Journey along our 700-foot boardwalk and over two miles of trail to see a flowing brook, shady woods, flower-filled prairies, and marshes thick with cattails and reeds. Then stop into our visitor center to view some of the creatures found in the creek and enjoy the kid-friendly discovery room, packed with fun activities and crafts for all ages. Don’t forget to visit the raptor aviary right outside!

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