The 9 Best Places To Enjoy The Outdoors In Chicago

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 9, 2014 9:30PM

The sun is starting to shine and stay up a bit longer each day, which means instead of heading home in the dark after office hours we're wanting to stretch our legs and breathe in some fresh air. Winter in Chicago is rough but this season has been a special kind of hell, so we can't wait to fully relish every moment of the outdoors in the coming months.

We already chose some of our favorites last year but with a new spring upon us we decided to pick a fresh crop. Slather on some sunscreen and read on to find some new spots to enjoy while the weather stays nice.

(Garfield Park Conservatory/Fredy Peralta Jr)

Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park Conservatory has a ton of rare tropical plants inside their greenhouses, but they also have a lot going on outside. Among their outdoor gardens are the Monet Garden with it’s “living wall” and Demonstration Garden where you can learn about urban gardening and even beekeeping. My favorite though is City Garden, which is essentially the backyard of the Conservatory. The large area contains a lily pool and winding walkways where you can often see artists making sketches or paintings of the beautiful landscape. Admission to the Conservatory and its gardens is always free.— Michelle Meywes

Garfield Park Conservatory is located at 300 N. Central Park Ave.

Montrose Dog Beach
When I need some fresh air and cheering up, I head north to Montrose Harbor to get some TLC from man’s best friend. Whether you bring your own pup or not, time spent at the Montrose Dog Beach is a sure bet you’ll leave feeling a bit happier after doling out a few chin scratches and belly rubs. I’m currently dogless at this point in life (curse you apartment I love that doesn’t allow dogs), but I spent a few years walking dogs in college and I can attest to the fact that some daily attention from a precious pooch really does relax you and make life a bit better. Hanging out at the dog beach is one of my favorite summer activities, watching all the happy dogs playing together while catching some sun. You can enjoy the beach for free, but if you are an avid visitor you can join MonDog, the dog owners group that helps keep the waste bags stocked and help care for the beach. It’s a great way to support a local spot that provides a lot of fun in the sun for pups and people alike. — Lisa White

The Montrose Dog Beach is located at Montrose beach near the intersection of Wilson Ave. and Simonds Drive.

Humboldt Park
“You go running where?” Amid the paths, bridges and lagoons of Humboldt Park. At 219 acres the west side oasis offers scenic views of wetland, birding, formal garden and fishing areas that are a far cry from the congestion of the Lakefront Trail. Despite what you’ve heard, there’s plenty of perfectly friendly activity throughout the park including soccer, tennis, grilling out, live music at the boathouse and baseball at “Little Cubs Field” complete with announcers. If you don’t want to trek to the lake check out Humboldt Park’s pool or splash around on the inland beach. Take in the neighborhood flavor by hitting up some jibaritos from a food vendor and visiting Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, which is housed in the park’s historic stables. Humboldt Park has attracted new visitors by hosting Riot Fest the in recent years; here’s hoping they overcome the neighborhood stigma and give this community gem the recognition it deserves. — Jessica Mlinaric

Humboldt Park is located at 1440 N. Humboldt Dr.

Rosehill Cemetery
You could walk off your winter weight anywhere, but there are few spots in the city as scenic and enchanting as Chicago’s largest and oldest cemetery. Rosehill Cemetery is the final resting spot for over 1,500 prominent Chicagoans including army generals, mobsters and local celebrities like Oscar Mayer. The main entrance resembles a gothic castle, an appropriate introduction to the array of glass-encased sculptures, epitaphs and marble monuments, which are no less beautiful. At sunset, step into Rosehill’s Community Mausoleum where the light streams into the various windows featuring scenic stained glass. Finish off your walk at dusk, when the graveyard is at its most enchanting. If you’re lucky, you might even meet one of Rosehill’s notorious ghosts. — Erika Kubick

Rosehill Cemetery is located at 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave.

I have a love/hate relationship with Ravinia. The hate stems from experiences of driving to popular concerts, finding the parking lots full and I need to take the remote parking shuttle to the park. Once I arrive, concertgoers, who seemed to get more annoying as the concert goes on, take up every square inch of lawn. No glass of wine is large enough to dull that irritation. The love for Ravinia, however, comes when I wisely take Metra from the city - it drops off passengers right at the front gate - and I sit out on the lawn during a concert held in the Martin Theatre. The 850-seat Martin Theatre is an intimate and beautiful setting to watch a concert, but I have found the lawn to be a lot more enjoyable during these concerts. There is more space available between attendees and the music, quite honesty, sounds the same through the speakers. You can just sit back, sip your wine, listen to the music and just relax. Isn't that point? — Paul Leddy

Ravinia is located at 200 Ravinia Park Rd. in Highland Park, IL.

Milton L. Olive Park
There are a lot of reasons to love this park. Maybe I lived in the desert too long, but I have a strong desire to be by the lake whenever the weather is nice. This is often problematic if you also don’t want to be near a giant mass of people splashing, screaming and carrying on, and you’d rather read a good book in peace under the shade of a tree. Enter Olive Park. It’s strangely underpopulated, even in the heat of the summer tourism season when nearby Navy Pier is bombarded. It features a beautifully tree-lined entrance that leads out to a nice open space by the fountain or my favorite: soft, tufted green grass overlooking the lake. It’s butted up to a swimming beach, but somehow far enough away that the sounds of the beach are an ambient background. You can sit along the sea wall and watch sailboats go by, or lay comfortably in the grass and peruse whatever publication you’re into at the time. It’s got a great view of the skyline, and is usually a pretty quiet place, making it perfect for me. If you’d like a history lesson, do yourself a favor and Google Milton Lee Olive, for whom the park is named. Olive was the first African-American to earn the military’s highest honor for his heroic actions during the Vietnam War. It’s a beautiful park that’s a great tribute and I recommend you visit it. Just...don’t tell too many people. Whoops. — Marielle Shaw

Milton L. Olive Park is adjacent to the Ohio Street Beach.

Lurie Garden
Just steps away from the expanse of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion is a quiet, high walled garden perfect for taking a respite from the hustle and bustle right in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Lurie Garden is not completely enclosed, but feels closed off from noise and other people due to it’s staggered, maze-like hedges. I often walk through the gardens as a shortcut to Grant Park, but there are benches inside for sitting and spending a little more time enjoying the “Urbs in Horto” (City in a Garden).— Michelle Meywes

Lurie Garden is located at the south end of Millennium Park near Monroe St.

Winnemac Park
Winnemac Park sprawls over 40 acres of Lincoln Square with a little something for everyone. Amundsen High School borders the park and offers a fieldhouse and track for regular park programming, but local runners and dog walkers can also enjoy looping trails. The baseball diamonds are filled with Little Leaguers and adult softball leagues during the summer. I’ve also seen a few wedding parties take advantage of the native Illinois prairie grass for their photos. But the real highlight of Winnemac Park comes every Fourth of July. Put the kids in a wagon and carry a blanket and cooler to the park to watch the best amateur fireworks display in the city. — Jennifer A. Freeman

Winnemac Park is located at 5105 N. Leavitt St.

Chicago Water Taxi
What could be better than slowly cruising the Chicago River & taking in the city’s canyon of world renowned architecture along its banks on a warm, sunny day? After a long day at the office, I often find any excuse to enjoy a 15 minute cruise from the Madison Ave. stop near my office (and Ogilvie Transportation Center) to their dock along the side of the Wrigley Building, just off Michigan Ave (this route will also stop at LaSalle/Clark on request). For just $3 a ride, it’s a cheap and relaxing way to get across town and enjoy the views. The Chicago Water Taxi also has a dock in Chinatown and last summer added a stop on the north end of Goose Island, near North Ave. Check for schedules. — Benjy Lipsman

Chicago Water Taxi docks are located along the Chicago River at Michigan Ave, between LaSalle & Clark, Madison Ave., North Ave.. and Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown.