In the city proper, Lincoln Park wins hands-down. That includes the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary (including the Magic Hedge), the Bill Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, North Pond, and South Pond (which is now called “Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo). Wooded Island in Jackson Park is also phenomenal and, like North Pond, has organized bird walks almost every week. Calumet Park on the far South Side, and the two new city parks at the old steel plant property (87th and Lake Shore Drive) are great, but under-birded. And LaBagh Woods at Foster and Cicero on the city’s Northwest Side can be really good, especially in the spring. And the big “central parks”—Douglas, Columbus and Humboldt—are good during migration.
Audience Choice: Montrose Point, Northerly Island
Best of Chicago 2014
Daphne Garden on Northerly Island
Originally placed on Michigan and Roosevelt, three of artist Dessa Kirk’s elegant Daphne Garden sculptures enhance and are enhanced by their rustic surroundings on Northerly Island. Passing between these metallic, soaring Daphnes is inspiring, whether they’re surrounded by blossoming flowers or mounds of snow.
Best of Chicago 2012
Former Mayor Daley may have caught a lot of heat in March 2003 when he had Meigs Field torn up in the middle of the night, but runners, bikers and nature-lovers alike aren’t complaining as they enjoy the almost two miles of isolated paths surrounded by prairie grasses that now traverse the island. Even on crowded summer weekends (such as during The Air and Water Show), those seeking it can still find tranquility along with a striking view of the Chicago skyline.
Best of Chicago 2012
It’s been seven years since Mayor Daley snatched Northerly Island back from the politicians and other fatcats who’d been using it as their personal downtown airport and returned this cornerstone of Daniel Burnham’s vision for the lakefront to the people of Chicago. However, the city has not had the money to redevelop the ninety-one acre peninsula just south of Museum Campus, which is actually just fine by us. In this interim, it’s become an oasis in the bustling metropolis, where wildflowers and birds outnumber the mostly runners and bicyclers who traverse its paths. The absence of “attractions” and its distance from most tourist meccas and parking lots means it’s never overrun with people or noise. (Except of course, for the Charter One Pavilion on show nights at its northern end.) A blueprint has just been announced for park development, with a vision that expands on its existing charms, but funding in this economy is far from imminent. No complaints here though; we’re perfectly content to enjoy our secluded spot, one with an attraction that cannot be replicated anywhere: breathtaking views of the city’s skyline, lakefront and the lake itself.
Music/Concerts at Charter One Pavilion
Others that were mentioned a few times, amused us or seemed especially weird: “Walking through the prairie grass and feeling like you’re a million miles away, only to turn around and see the skyline in front of you.”; “That it’s shaped like a penis sticking out of Chicago”
Best of Chicago 2010
A bike racing track on Northerly Island
As “Cyclist-in-chief,” Daley’s legacy is a mixed bag. He gets credit for all the federally funded lanes, paths and racks that materialized during his tenure, the good work of his eponymous Bicycling Ambassadors, and more. But he refused to put cycling in the city budget, resulting in the fizzled Open Streets ciclovia, the anemic B-Cycle bike share network, the bike-parking famine that resulted after 30,000 meters were uprooted and other disappointments. Still, it seems like his heart was in the right place, so why not remember him with a velodrome on Chicago’s peninsula park.
The lakefront at Museum Campus
Others that were mentioned a few times, amused us or seemed especially weird: Parking meters (all of them), Northerly Island/Meigs Field, the entire city
Best of Chicago 2010
In the summertime, Grant Park and Museum Campus swarm with locals and tourists taking advantage of the best that Chicago has to offer. But keep on walking, past Adler Planetarium, past the Charter One Pavilion and into the remains of Meigs Field. As the city tries to figure out what it wants to do with this unfinished bit of the Burnham Plan, it lets the ninety-one-acre peninsula called Northerly Island go virtually unfettered and unpromoted. Take a walk among the tall grass and wildflowers, and you’ll leave the crowds behind for a bit of Walden Pond-like isolation smack dab downtown. If you start to wonder whether you’ve walked through a space warp into Maine or something, take a look up. That skyline will remind you that you’re home.
400 South Lynn White Drive, (312)745-2910
Best of Chicago 2007