By Amy Tara Koch
October 08, 2014
Credit: Helen Sessions / Alamy

In addition to its architectural marvels, impressive skyline, and culinary achievements, Chicago has yet another accomplishment to tout. The Windy City boasts the oldest and largest park district in the United States. With 580 parks, 24 beaches, 77 public pools, 16 historic lagoons, and 10 bird sanctuaries, the city’s dedication to maintaining its collection of urban oases has earned Chicago multiple awards, and is a key reason why this city is so liveable. The Park District not only tends to the green spaces, but it also develops programming for the community. An array of exercise, sports, art, and music classes are offered throughout the year for both children and adults. During the spring and summer, parks all over the city feature movie showings, in addition to theater and musical performances. Check for details, or simply stop by any of the spaces below to see what’s going on any day of the year.

Lincoln Park

Chicago’s largest park is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo and its siblings: the nature boardwalk and the Farm-in-the-Zoo. With 1,208 acres of rolling green meadows studded with playgrounds, harbors, fitness circuits, interior ponds, and a rowing lagoon, this lakefront property is the Chicago equivalent of New York’s Central Park.

Osaka Gardens in Jackson Park

Frederick Law Olmsted created this zen refuge for the 1893 Worlds Fair as a backdrop for the Japanese Pavillion. From a sandbar, an island was crafted and adorned with cherry trees, waterfalls, ponds, sculpted shrubs, and decorative pathways. This Hyde Park treasure has been delighting Chicagoans for over a century.

Millenium Park

Millenium Park is a multifunctional green space peppered with impressive works of art, architecture, and gardens. Wade into the reflecting pool of the Crown Fountain and meander over to the Lurie Gardens, an interactive floral masterpiece with a 15-foot-high protective “shoulder” hedge to represent Carl Sandburg’s moniker—City of Big Shoulders—for Chicago.

Oz Park

Flanked by bronze statues representing the characters in L. Frank Baum’s famous novel The Wizard of Oz, this quintessential city park has it all: tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, a jumbo kids playground, and expansive lawns for picnicking. It’s a perfect weekend spot for both families and fitness buffs.

Grant Park

Often referred to as the city’s “front yard,” this massive green space separates Chicago’s downtown from Lake Michigan. Grant Park is home to baseball diamonds, miles of bike paths, the iconic Buckingham Fountain, and The Art Institute of Chicago. During the summer, stop by for performances like Lollapalooza and the city’s jazz and blues festival.