Even though Chicago is one of the biggest cities in the U.S., it isn't all about concrete and skyscrapers. Chicago has some of the most beautiful outdoor green spaces, including parks and gardens, ideal for picnics and walks.
According to the Chicago Park District, Chicago has more than 7,300 acres of green lands, including over 500 parks, 33 beaches, 16 historic lagoons, two world-class conservatories, and over 10 bird and wildlife gardens.
Of course the best known park in Chicago is Grant Park, located along the city's lakefront. Grant Park features outdoor concerts and events, including the Taste of Chicago, and the iconic Buckingham Fountain.
Here is a sampling of some of Chicago's best outdoor spaces, great for spending a summer day under the sun or for a picnic or even just for pure people-watching.
Garfield Park Conservatory:
Garfield Park Conservatory - One of the U.S.'s top conservatories with six multi-faceted greenhouses and two grand exhibition halls with various shows, including the current Summer Tropical Flower with more than a dozen dark and purple-leafed plants, including Black Magic Colocasia, Stobilanthes, and Red Shield Hibiscus. Admission: free.
McCormick Bird Sanctuary:
McCormick Bird Sanctuary - This six-acre sanctuary contains two prairies, a shrub and woodland habitat, and a freshwater stone birdbath. These habitats provide food, resting places, and shelter for some of the millions of birds that migrate along Chicago's lakefront every year. Admission: free.
Lincoln Park Conservatory:
Lincoln Park Conservatory - Admire tropical palms and ancient ferns and enjoy the Conservatory's outdoor park with rows of flowers and plants and a fountain, all adjacent to the Lincoln Park Zoo. right in the heart of Lincoln Park. Admission: free. Tip: Near the Lincoln Park Conservatory, you will also find, the Chicago History Museum and the Sydney R. Marovitz Golf Course. (Also read: How to Get Around Chicago on Public Transportation.)
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary:
Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary - Located in Lincoln Park, Montrose Point is a 10-acre bird sanctuary that attracts tens of thousands of migratory birds of more than 300 different species each spring and fall. Important migrants include most species of Warblers seen in the Chicago area, Thrushes, Sparrows, Purple Martins, Woodpeckers and many others. Nesters include Common Yellowthroats, Catbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Mourning Doves, and Brown Thrashers. Admission: free.
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum:
Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum - Here you'll find more than 15,000 square feet of gardens, exhibits, and waterways, as well as the famous butterfly house and walking trails that cut through vegetation from Illinois' early days, including restored tallgrass and indigenous plants. Admission: $9 for adults; $7 for students and seniors; $6 for kids (children under 3 are free).
North Park Village Nature Center:
North Park Village Nature Center - Considered Chicago's first nature center, the North Park Village Nature Center is located on the northwest side of Chicago and includes a forty-six acre nature preserve and also an educational facility. Admission: free.
North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach:
North Avenue Beach and Oak Street Beach - These Lake Michigan beaches are located at the north end of the Magnificent Mile (map) and are great for sand volleyball, sunbathing, swimming, and even biking along the lakefront path. Admission: free.
Osaka Garden - Japanese-style garden in the Wooded Island (Paul H. Douglas Nature Sanctuary) in Jackson Park. Admission: free.
Chicago Botanic Garden, the Morton Arboretum and Millennium Park:
Chicago Botanic Garden - Over 300 acres of gardens and lagoons with more than 1 million plants. It is also one of the most visited botanic gardens in the world. Tip: The Botanic Garden's outdoor café is open daily until 9 p.m. and includes a grill with such Midwest favorites as "Ale Braised Sheboygan Bratwurst." The Botanic Garden also has weekly events and concerts in the summer. The Botanic Garden also has extended summer hours. Starting June 4, it will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission: free; charge for parking, including $20 per car.
Morton Arboretum - The Morton Arboretum, located about 15 miles outside of Chicago in Lisle, IL, has a 1,700-acre outdoor museum with collections of more than 3,400 kinds of trees, shrubs, and other plants displayed in woodlands, gardens, and a restored tallgrass prairie. Admission: $11 for adults ; $10 seniors; $8 children (2-17); kids under 2 are free.
Millennium Park - Chicago's crown jewel, in terms of outdoor spaces, is Millennium Park (located at the northwest corner of Grant Park off of Michigan Avenue), which includes the Lurie Garden, known for its botanical beauty, and summertime concerts by the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra. Admission: free, including to the summertime outdoor orchestra concerts. (Tip: Burnham Park, which extends from Chicago's Museum Campus off of Lake Shore Drive, south all the way to the north end of Jackson Park at 56th Street, is also worth a visit. To the left of the park is the old Meigs Field, which has been transformed into Northerly Island Park, a 30-acre prairie with a network of paths and a concert venue at the Charter One Pavillion. Adler Planetarium is also nearby.