by Cecilia Karl | Banner Photo by Jazmin Corona
Little known fact: Chicago is home to more than 580 parks, amounting to 8,100 acres of lush, green space. Our fair city has the oldest and largest park district in the nation, but its green spaces are so much more than, well, green space. Each combines history, character, and—at times—striking architecture. So for you, dear reader, we took to the CTA to explore the tiniest percentage of these public parks. Were they all that special? We wanted to know. The answer, of course, is yes. We report back.

Jackson Park
6401 South Stony Island Avenue

This is the park that the nickname, “White City” originates from. Jackson Park was home to the 1893 World’s Fair where a “white city” of white stucco buildings was built and illuminated for the fair. Many of the structures from the World’s Fair were temporary, but one remaining structure, the Palace of Fine Arts has evolved into what is now the Museum of Science and Industry. There are plenty of choices for sports and activities. The park contains a golf course and driving range, sports fields, basketball and tennis courts, a gymnasium, and a fitness center. For boating enthusiasts, there are multiple harbors. The lakefront beach is a great spot to lay out and read a book, or brave the waters of lake Michigan if you feel like a dip. Take a leisurely walk through the park on any of the scenic paths that cross through the park. The middle of the park features an island that you can get to by bridge on the north and south sides.

Favorite feature: Osaka Garden is located on the wooded Island. This Japanese garden is a wonderful place for a serene stroll. Note: Interested in travelling down to Jackson Park? We suggest a car trip for this one.

Indian Boundary Park
West Ridge
2500 W. Lunt Ave

Did you know that Lincoln Park Zoo is not the only zoo in the city limits? Indian Boundary Park is home to Chicago’s other zoo. The zoo initially served as the home for one lone bear back in the 1920s. Word is, he enjoyed his stint in the city prior to his liberation some years ago. Currently the zoo serves as residence to a host of farm animals. Aside from the zoo, the field house, an English Tudor-style building, is an official Chicago landmark. It serves as a cultural center and plays host to a number of activities. However, it is presently undergoing a restoration. This park also features a lagoon and tennis courts, and holds the honor of being included on the national registry of historic places.

Favorite feature: Sheep, goats, chickens, and ducks-- the zoo is a wonderful place to drift away from the urban surroundings for the afternoon!

Oz Park
Lincoln Park
2021 N. Burling St.

Oz Park, nestled in the bustling DePaul area, has enough charm to warrant repeat visits. While it lacks the extraordinary features of Lincoln Park, and the remarkable history of Jackson Park, what Oz Park does have is this: The Scarecrow, the Tinman, Dorothy, and the cowardly Lion. That’s right, our favorite childhood characters are immortalized in metal and stand to greet visitors at each entrance. While this neighborhood park isn’t as sprawling as others on our list, with its rainbow-hued gardens, and well-tended lawns, it makes the perfect spot for a summertime picnic with pals.

Favorite feature: We love Oz Park for its Wizard of Oz theme, of course. And we’re particularly delighted that this urban oasis serves to honor L. Frank Baum, a long-ago Chicagoan who spent his formative years in Humboldt Park.

Humboldt Park
Humboldt Park
1440 N. Humboldt Dr.

Humboldt’s namesake park is reminiscent of the stately, manicured, and sprawling gardens of European cities. Stretching more than 200 acres, Humboldt is part of the city’s ‘Emerald Necklace,’ a collection of large Chicago parks connected by beautiful boulevards. Original graystone houses line the park, and if you peek just right through the trees, you’ll be rewarded with a view of the downtown skyline.

Favorite feature: The formal garden (corner of Division and Humboldt) at Humboldt Park serves as one of the reasons why Chicago is nicknamed a ‘city in a garden.’ Bursting with a lush array of colors, heights, and textures, this garden is worth a quick visit—though we’ll warn you, you’ll want to stay all day. Visit the boat house for a nice view of the park’s lagoon—and the perfect setting for photos.

Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park
2045 North Lincoln Park W

There isn’t a woman among us who hasn’t heard of Lincoln Park, and for good reason. This winding park boasts bicycle and running paths, baseball diamonds, a lagoon, striking views of the skyline, a conservatory, and lakefront views. The list goes on and on to include a zoo that's free to the public, a rowing canal, and an archery range. It's a prime place for picnics, long strolls, and paddle boat rides. A lesser known fact about Lincoln Park? Prior to its status as one of the city's most beautiful parks, the space was used as a burial ground in the 1800s. We think you'll agree, we much prefer the park as it stands today.

Favorite feature: A peaceful and verdant space near the lakefront, the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool is as serene as it gets. Wander the edge of the pond and appreciate how well the walkways let you feel almost alone in a public park.
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