– By Tom Schaffner
Best Parks in Chicago With Easy Access to the L
With more than 600 parks comprising 8,800 acres of green space, the Chicago Park District is the largest municipal park manager in the nation. It also is responsible for 28 indoor pools, 50 outdoor pools, and 26 miles of lakefront including 23 swimming beaches and one inland beach.
The city’s park system is also convenient. A recent study found that 98 percent of all city residents live within a 10-minute walk — or roughly half a mile — of a public park. In other words, serenity is not very far away.
Since we are a Chicago-area tour company that utilizes the L to visit neighborhoods throughout the city and suburbs, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite neighborhood parks that are also easily accessible via the L:
Only steps from the Green Line, Garfield Park is a 184-acre green space that was designed by William LeBaron Jenney, architect of the world’s first skyscraper (Chicago’s Home Insurance Building). It is the oldest of the city’s three original West Side Parks, which include Humboldt Park and Douglas Park. The centerpiece of the park is the 4.5-acre Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest greenhouse conservatories in the United States. Open year-round, the conservatory is particularly enticing in the middle of winter when it offers visitors an escape from the white snow into a world of green.
Ping Tom Memorial Park
This beautiful 17.24 acre park is located on the south bank of the Chicago River, a few blocks from the Cermak-Chinatown stop on the CTA’s Red Line and, of course, the Chinatown neighborhood. Named for Ping Tom, a prominent Chinatown businessman and civic leader, the park was created in October 1999 and features a pagoda-style pavilion, bamboo gardens and a playground. In warmer weather, the Chicago Water Taxi makes scheduled stops at Ping Tom Park from various downtown locations.
Though only four acres, Wicker Park is a much-beloved and widely-used community park in the heart of one of Chicago’s toniest neighborhoods. Located only steps from the Blue Line L stop at Damen, Wicker Park is dog-friendly and includes baseball diamonds, a walking path, a spray pool and a water playground for children and a statue of Charles Wicker, who, with his brother Joel, donated the park to the community in hopes that it would one day spur development within the community. It did, perhaps well beyond even the wildest dreams of the Wicker brothers.
A short walk from the Pink Line station at California is Douglas Park, named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, a U.S. Senator from Illinois who lost the 1860 presidential race to Abraham Lincoln, also from Illinois. Spanning 173 acres and straddling a few neighborhoods on city’s West Side (Pilsen and North Lawndale), Douglas Park was built for recreation. It currently houses a miniature golf course, five playgrounds, an outdoor swimming pool, soccer fields, basketball courts and an oval running track. It also features a beautiful lagoon, a wide variety of trees and an old stone bridge.
Also proudly referred to as “Chicago’s Front Yard,” Grant Park is one of the city’s largest green spaces, stretching from Randolph St. on the north to the Museum Campus on the south, Michigan Ave. on the west and Lake Michigan on the east. In addition to baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts and breathtaking gardens, Grant Park also hosts innumerable food and music festivals and other special events throughout the year. Also part of the greater Grant Park area are Millennium Park, Maggie Daley Park, Buckingham Fountain, The Art Institute, The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and two leisure boat harbors. The 313-acre park, one of the largest in the city, can be accessed by any L (except the Yellow Line) at stations throughout the Loop.
Located in the nearby suburb of Wilmette, Gillson Park is a half-mile walk from the Linden Avenue stop on the CTA’s Purple Line. This beautiful 60-acre park is located on the shore of Lake Michigan and features a public beach, picnic facilities, sailboat and kayak rentals, bicycling, soccer tennis and a wide variety of other recreational activities. Named for the first president of the Wilmette Park District’s Board of Commissioners, Louis K. Gillson, the park opened to the public in 1910.
Humboldt Park is a 207-acre park on the West Side of Chicago that is located in a community of the same name. The park was named for Alexander von Humboldt, a well-known geographer and naturalist in the mid-1800s. The park features three major historical public buildings, including the Boat House (now a café overlooking the lagoon); the Field House, which includes a fitness center, two gymnasiums, meeting rooms and an inland beach; and the historic Humboldt Park Stables, which is in the process of being converted to the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture. Humboldt Park is a 20-minute walk from the Blue Line Damen Ave. stop.
Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Oz Park takes its name from a novel written by Lyman Frank Baum, a former resident of the neighborhood who wrote “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” The 13-acre park features sculptures of characters from the novel, The Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow and Dorothy and Toto. “The Emerald Garden,” located at the northeast corner of the park, has a path of flowers that visitors can walk through; nearby is “Dorothy’s Play Lot,” which includes swings and climbing equipment for children. Oz Park is located a few blocks from the Brown Line Armitage stop.
Holder of two journalism degrees, including a masters from Northwestern University, Tom Schaffner is a native of the Chicago area and has spent nearly 50 years as a writer, editor, publisher and professional communications consultant. He was also the founder, editor, and publisher of the Chicago File, as well as the co-owner of L Stop Tours.