My Kind of Town

Rounding up favorite outdoor spots in and around Chicago
By Christopher Collier
Enjoying the city's green spaces is a year-round affair for Chicagoans.
Enjoying the outdoors is a year-round affair for Chicagoans.

Smack dab in America's Heartland, Chicago is famous for its warmth and friendliness, a feeling that's accentuated by the friendly green spaces that dot the city. Sure enough, when I first came to this city with a dog on my lap, a map in my hand, and everything I owned in the trunk, it was the verdant landscape that drew me in. City parks, pristine preserves, and lush neighborhoodsare why Chicago endures as it was originally conceived: Urbs in horto a city set in a garden.

To generate such warmth, Chicagoans exhibit a relentless determination to keep movingno matter how cold it gets. They conquer the elements because they have to. With woolen scarves and fur-lined caps in tow, Chicagoans jam themselves into bars, restaurants, and theaters to spite the bitter weather. They go on blizzard walks along Lake Michigan or ice fish at Lake Geneva. They pull out cross-country skis, snowshoes, and winter boots with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan in their sights. Getting out and doing is at the heart of the Chicago lifestyle, with seven expressways leading from the city towards adventure in every direction. In the warmer months, you can birdwatch in Wisconsin, hike sand dunes in Indiana, or mountain bike in Michigan, all less than two hours fromChicago.

When the ice breaks and spring comes knocking, Chicagoans answer by congregating in streets, parks, and preserves. Recreational trails alonglakes, rivers, and railroads are replete with hikers, bikers, and skaters in a frenzied embrace of the outdoors.

With the choppy waters of Lake Michigan on one side and a brilliant cityscape on the other, the Chicago Lakefront is an oasis. Indeed, it's often the first thingpeople want to see when they come to Chicago. East of Lake Shore Drive, you findtrails, beaches, green spaces, and harbors. Even just a few rays of sunshine draw people to its pavement. Another Chicago gem is Grant Park's Buckingham Fountain. Skyscrapers loom in the background as mist falls over the park's pristine gardens. Picnickers and Frisbee players enjoy one of the city's many horticultural wellsprings.

With succulent flora adorning boulevards, ornate planters hanging from neighborhood street lights, and backyard bird feeders swinging outside kitchenwindows, Chicago's green neighborhoods are a treat to explore. Though it's been called the city of big shoulders, Chicago neighborhoods are mostly low-to-the-ground brownstones and bungalows. Each year streets are closed off andprivate gardens opened for viewing. Folks visit some of the finer home gardens of Old Town and Lincoln Park on the Sheffield Garden Walk to enjoy the flourishing of the season.

As the third largest city in America, there's no question that Chicago offers everything you'd expect from a world-class metropolis. But what makes Chicago such a superior Big City is, somewhat paradoxically, its intimate relationship with the outdoors. Whetherat the park, along the Lakefront, or on a neighborhood street, what's unmistakable about Chicago is its good nature.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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