By Amy Tara Koch
Updated: January 20, 2017
Kim Karpeles / Alamy

While you’re boating in a lagoon—tucked amidst rolling meadows, and sandwiched between Lake Michigan and a nature boardwalk teeming with wildlife—it’s hard to believe that you’re smack dab in the middle of one of the largest cities in America. The ability to metaphorically depart the stress of the city and dive into the loving embrace of nature is the draw of this neighborhood park. With acres of green space studded with playgrounds, harbors, a theater and bike paths, it’s has been deemed the Central Park of Chicago. But this public paradise is more than jus parkland. It is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a 100-year-old conservatory and adjoining botanical gardens, and an iconic Prairie-style lily pond. The neighbrohood of Lincoln Park may be known for its trendy restaurants and shops, but, the best activities are actually in the  park itself.

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The Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo

Stroll around this 14-acre ecosystem, with the the Chicago skyline as its backdrop, and you’ll experience the true definition of “urban oasis.” Connected to Lincoln Park Zoo, the nature boardwalk crisscrosses a large pond which serves as an ecological habitat teeming with turtles, fish, frogs and birds. Prairie grass surrounds the perimeter. 

Lincoln Park Conservatory

Even in the dead of winter, you can find a bit of paradise at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Built in 1890 as a “paradise under glass,” this Victorian-era edifice is brimming with tropical plants, ancient palms and exotic ferns. During the spring and summer months, there are formal gardens just outside the conservatory. Docent tours are free.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Polar bears? Zebras? Rare red kangaroo?  With more than 1,200 animals, Lincoln Park’s zoo ranks as one of the finest in the country. Highlights include the Endangered Species Carousel and Regenstein African Journey, an interior exhibit that mirrors a safari. Don’t miss a Farm-in-the-Zoo, where young kids can pet animals and enjoy interactive exhibits.

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum

For science buffs, this Lincoln Park museum is a treasure. You can amble through ecosystems, take an outdoor birdwalk with binoculars and get wet while learning about river flow. The piece de resistance is the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, a 2,700-square-foot greenhouse with 1,000 butterflies from 11 different countries, fluttering freely about their tropical habitat and interacting with visitors.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond

Tucked behind modest gates is this secret garden, a Prairie-style masterpiece that was designed in 1939 for the people of  the “megalopolis” to rest after a stressful day. Now a National Historic Landmark, the cascading waterfalls, Zen stone pathways and pristine flora-filled Lily Pools offer tranquility to a new generation of stress cases.

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