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The 10 Best Pocket Parks In Chicago

By Staff in Best Of on Sep 24, 2014 6:20PM

Despite (or maybe because of) the months of cold weather Chicagoans endure, our city truly loves to enjoy its vast outdoor spaces when Mother Nature gives us a break. Chicago is full of glorious expansive parks, ponds, fountains and fresh air, some of our favorite places to sit with our own thoughts or simply bathe in the sun.

Sure, we love our beaches and big green spaces, but tucked away between towering buildings or alongside busy roads stand some of the most charming green spaces in our city; pocket parks. Those smaller hideaways where you can take a breather on a bench, enjoy lunch in the shade or just watch the city pass by. Pocket parks are more intimate, like a secret hideaway within the confines of our city, and usually less busy than your popular tourist spots. They are an ideal oasis when you need to pop in for some fresh air and a quick break from the daily grind.

Here are some of our favorite pocket parks throughout the city and as always, if you've got a favorite you'd like to share let us know in the comments.

(Milton Lee Olive Park/ Photo: vbajda)

Milton Lee Olive Park
We’ve sung the praises of this park before, but it’s worth mentioning again. Milton Lee Olive Park is wonderful because it’s a pocket park. It’s nestled right in the thick of things with neighboring Ohio Street beach and Navy Pier, but somehow it’s a quiet oasis. Whether you’re on the sea wall watching a sunset, walking hand-in-hand down a beautiful allee of honey locust trees, or people watching from a bench overlooking the beach, it’s a great way to relax. I highly recommend kicking off your shoes on a particularly gorgeous day and wiggling your toes in the incredibly soft green grass. Or bring a blanket and nap in the remarkably quiet park with the sounds of the city at an ambient distance and the calm shore sounds more prominent. This park isn’t flashy, or big, but it is beautifully shaded and tucked away like a wonderful secret. — Marielle Shaw

Milton Lee Olive Park is located adjacent to Ohio Street Beach and the Jane Addams Memorial Park.

Connors Park
Situated in the triangle between Rush, Wabash and Chestnut Streets in the Gold Coast, this tiny park is a nice refuge for anyone who lives or works in the area that is dominated by tall buildings and concrete. Sure there’s a giant greenhouse-style Argo Tea in the space now, but the tables and chairs on the green space are for anyone to use. — Michelle Meywes

Connors Park is located at 861 N. Wabash.

North Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden at The Art Institute of Chicago
One of the very best spots to escape to in the Loop is the Art Institute of Chicago's serene North Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden. Here, visitors will find sculptures such as Henry Moore's "Large Interior Form" and Alexander Calder's "Flying Dragon" coexisting with the lovingly cared for flowers with low-hanging trees all combining to create a truly idyllic setting within a busy area of the city. I myself love to have my lunch there often and read or even just watch the diverse and beautiful birds who also flock to the park. Open daily till dusk through spring into late fall, the burgeoning nature attracts artists and many times you will find one or several with brush or pencil in hand creating their unique interpretation of these wondrous surroundings or the nearby skylines and buildings. This space is also a favorite for special occasion photos, with many wedding parties posing for photographs on Saturday. This spot is truly a gem of the city, and even though it is very much in the bustle of this busy intersection, when in these gardens it is easy to feel the sense that this is a place for a reprieve from the metropolitan pace and crowds, a place that evokes inspiration and relaxation. — Carrie McGath

The North Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden is located at the corner of Monroe and Michigan Avenue.

(757 Orleans Condo Assoc. Park/ Photo: Jim Kopeny/Tankboy)

757 Orleans Condo Assoc. Park
This tiny little plot of greenery with a few benches is nestled within the concrete canyons of the River North neighborhood. On nice days it’s the perfect escape to grab a few minutes with a good book or share lunch with a few friends. While the park seems to have no official name and is governed by the adjoining building’s condo association it is completely open to the public. If you’re looking for a quick little getaway in that neighborhood for a little dose of some greenery, this is the spot for you. Heck, it beats laying out a towel in any of the surrounding parking lots and eating your lunch in one of those, right? — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

757 Orleans Condo Assoc. Park is located at the corner of Orleans St. and Superior St.

Heritage Green Park
For a period of time after college, I was a dog walker (still one of my favorite jobs ever), which meant I became well acquainted with the small parks tucked between the concrete of the city. And one of my favorite usual spots when walking the pups each day was Heritage Green Park. It’s a small plot just across from Old St. Patrick’s Church with flowers and plants surrounding a statue by Irish artist Maurice Harron. The park is moderately busy, you’ll usually find a few kids and strollers tottering around while a dog or two runs with its owner or walker in the large grassy area on the east end. A nice amount of benches are available to relax and enjoy your lunch outdoors (FYI, the park is just a half a block away from an Al’s Italian Beef location). It’s a nice spot of green grass to take a breath and relax amongst all the pavement and tall buildings surrounding its downtown urban environment. — Lisa White

Heritage Green Park is located at 610 W. Adams St.

Elm Park
Elm Park is just one of the many green spaces that dapple the Hyde Park neighborhood, but it is probably one of the least well-known. This tiny park is located on Woodlawn between 53rd and 52nd, directly behind Kimbark Plaza. Not only are there plenty of great benches for reading, but this park also features some sweet and simple landscaping and a large open gazebo. It's a great place to take a break from all of your hurrying and just relax. — Sophie Day

Elm Park is located at 5215 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Park 567 at Milwaukee Ave and Leavitt St
Looking for a sneak preview of the 606 renovation? Plan a visit to the park at Milwaukee and Leavitt. When the renovation is complete, the park will serve as an entrance and exit to the trail, but for now it’s open to visitors walking along Milwaukee. It’s ideal for those looking for a quick stop by a park that’s relatively dog-free. The layout is more suited for humans with a book as opposed to dogs with a tennis ball. — Rob Winn

Park 567 is located at the intersection of Milwaukee Ave and Leavitt St.

(South Garden at The Art Institute of Chicago/ Photo: rwchicago)

The South Garden at The Art Institute of Chicago
One of my favorite things about the city parks I love is how unexpected they are. Milton Lee Olive Park is unexpectedly quiet in an area where quiet is just not the norm. You step inside and suddenly you’re using words like pastoral. How is that kind of thing possible when you’re right in the heart of the downtown area? This is also something I love about The Art Institute of Chicago’s South Garden. It’s on Michigan Avenue, but when you walk amongst the beautiful shade of trees and sit by the reflecting pools it doesn’t seem like it anymore. It’s wonderful on a hot and sticky summer day, but it’s gorgeous in every season. The dappled sidewalks remind me of walking through similar pathways in Dresden, and indeed, at Olive Park, which is no surprise, since both parks were the product of Daniel Kiley, a lauded Chicago landscape architect. It’s manicured but natural, welcoming and simultaneously self-contained, and I absolutely love spending time here. You’re as able to lean back against a tree with a good book as you are to watch the beautiful brides take pictures with their friends and family, depending on your mood. It’s also a great place to recover after a day perusing the magnificent, but unrelentingly large Art Institute. North or South, the Art Institute has done a great job of making even the outside of their building a destination. — Marielle Shaw

The South Garden at The Art Institute of Chicago is located near the intersection of Michigan Ave and Jackson Blvd.

Bickerdike Square Park
The sad fact about most pocket parks is they don’t have a ton of space everyone can use. Most of them in my neighborhood are playgrounds, which are limited to children 12 or under and their guardians. Despite being the size of some 12 year olds and the fact I love swings, I don’t think there is an exception. I wish the Chicago Park District would create more places for adults to play and climb. But Bickerdike is a rare pocket park anyone can go to. You can enjoy a book on one of the benches or admire the flowers. It’s also perfectly shaped for playing fetch with your dogs.— Melissa McEwen

Bickerdike Square Park is located at 1461 W. Ohio St.

Pritzker Park
It’s easy to dismiss this patch of green in the Loop as nothing more than a place for hobos to sleep and beg for change, but it’s one of my favorite little patches of green in a downtown starving for it. Measuring at .7 acres, Pritzker Park contains a plaza and seating, a raised lawn with grass and trees, and a knee-high ornamental wall that is the best part of the park. Take a look at it and soak in the quotes from the likes of Carl Sandburg, Sandra Cisneros, Walt Whitman and other famous authors. It’s like reading BrainyQuotes etched in concrete.

The Park District and Chicago Loop Alliance have used Pritzker Park for art installations and other creative ways of public use of land over the years, most notably “Eye,” Tony Tasset’s 30-foot plexiglass eyeball sculpture. Like snowflakes, no two visits to Pritzker Park are alike. — Chuck Sudo

Pritzker Park is located at 310 S. State St.