Editor’s note: TheBlot Magazine’s “Park It” series highlights the best — and often little-known — parks and green spaces in cities around the world.
Taken a stroll in the park lately? Well, you lazy bastard, you should. America is filled with many great public parks.
As a citizen of the great of city of Chicago, I’m lucky enough to be closest to several of the coolest in the country. Chicago’s commitment to parkland is why the city carries the official motto Urbs in horto, which is Latin for “City in a garden.” The city boasts 7,600 acres of parkland split into 570 individual parks. Whether you’re looking for a place to walk your dog, read a book or take your lunch break, the Windy City’s got you covered, so here are five of the best parks in Chicago:
The masterpiece of architect Jens Jensen, Columbus Park was largely finished in 1920. Several of its present-day features include an outdoor swimming pool, boathouse, basketball and tennis courts, children’s playgrounds, bike and jogging paths, fishing lagoon and a nine-hole golf course. Located on the city’s West Side, this 135-acre beauty was named a National Historic Landmark in 2003 and is considered one of the 150 Great Places in Illinois.
Covering 1,200 acres, Lincoln Park is the city’s largest. Its 20 million annual visitors are second only to Central Park in New York. Named after the neighborhood it was originally designed in, the park now stretches through several others. It’s home to usual park features, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum and North Avenue Beach. It even has a zoo! Lincoln Park Zoo was founded in 1868 and is one of the oldest in the country. The 35-acre area is one of the few free zoos in the U.S., with more than 1,100 animals and about 200 species.
This 184-acre, urban park on Chicago’s West Side is one of the oldest in the city. Designed by William LeBaron Jenney, Garfield Park features gardens, sports fields, bridges, lagoons, playgrounds and the Golden Dome. The field house contains an Olympic-sized gym, swimming pool, theater and boxing ring. The park’s main attraction is the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest greenhouses in the country. After decades of neglect, it underwent a multi-million dollar renovation in 1994 and now welcomes large numbers of visitors each year. It’s home to some 200-year-old cycads and the Palm Room, which features more than seven dozen different varieties of palm trees.
Home to several annual events that include Lollapalooza and Taste of Chicago, Grant Park is the “front yard” of beautiful downtown Chicago. Summer visits are a must to see concerts, food fests or just hang out around the world-famous Buckingham Fountain. Its 319 acres included gardens, the Petrillo Music Shell, bike trails, tennis courts and baseball fields, the Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History. Grant Park took the national stage as the setting for President Barack Obama‘s historic election-night rally in November 2008.
Quickly, this has become not only a great park but one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Just south of Grant Park and east of Michigan Avenue, Millennium Park got off to a dubious start due to poor planning and city politics. Originally slated to open in 2000 to commemorate the new millennium, the park finally opened four years later in July 2004. But despite its inflated budget, even its most-vocal opponents can agree the park is gorgeous and has been a boon to the city.
The former derelict rail yard contains four popular artistic achievements: the Frank Gehry-designed band shell Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Anish Kapoor‘s frequently visited, bean-shaped “Cloud Gate,” Jaume Plensa‘s interactive art-and-video sculpture “Crown Fountain” and the 2.5 acre Lurie Garden. The park’s recent updates include the McCormick Tribune Plaza & Ice Rink and Park Grill, grinder and pedestrian footbridges, bike stations and solar energy-generating pavilions. Time magazine calls the park a must-see during any visit to Chicago.
Tony Hoffman is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.