Which came first, the park or the neighborhood? Don’t worry, this isn’t a proverbial chicken/egg question. In the case of Lincoln Park, the neighborhood is named after the city’s largest park, stretching 1,208 acres along Lake Michigan in Chicago’s north side. Established as Lake Park in 1860, it was renamed after the then-recently assassinated President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Today, it is home to beaches, recreational areas, nature reserves and the famous zoo. Throughout, find manicured gardens, public sculptures and bird refuges. The park also features several museums and a theater along the lake. With acres that stretch for six miles from North Ave to Diversey Parkway, locals and tourists alike flock to the park in droves come sunny days.
Lincoln Park Features
Open since 1868, the free Lincoln Park Zoo has been a favorite for generations. Big cats, gorillas, penguins, monkey and reptiles are among the 1,250-some animals who call it home. There are two sections designed specifically for children: the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo and The Farm-on-the-Zoo. The former is a partially indoor habitat of North American wildlife, and the latter is a working recreation of a Midwestern Farm, where children can feed and interact with animals like cows, pigs and sheep.
Even on rainy days and in colder months, the Lincoln Mark Conservatory is a great stop. Built from 1890 to 1895, the conservatory features year-round displays of plants from climates around the world. There is a vestibule, several display halls and more than a dozen growing houses. The Palm House features giant palms and rubber trees, including a 50-foot fiddle-leaf rubber tree planted in 1891. There are also historic artworks throughout, like Garden Figure, a sculpture by Frederick Hibbard found in the Palm House. Free tours are offered each weekend.
The Alfred Caldwell Lily pool can be found on Fullerton Parkway between Stockton and Cannon Drives. Originally built in the late 1880s, it was redesigned in Prairie School style in the 1930s by landscape architect Alfred Caldwell, and is still a historic example of this form or architecture. The pool is open from mid-April to mid-November each year, when it offers free tours on the weekends.
The park is also home to several museums, including the Nature and History museums. The Nature Museum features exhibits detailing the history of the midwest’s ecology. There is also a green home demonstration and a live butterfly house, home to more than 200 exotic butterfly species.The Chicago History Museum is situated at Clark Street and North Avenue. It details the city’s human history and includes prominent artifacts like Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed. The museum also contains important artifacts relating the the Great Chicago Fire.
The city’s darker history can be seen in the park’s Couch Mausoleum. Located at the corner of LaSalle Drive and Clark Street, the mausoleum is the last remaining artifact from the land’s use before 1864, when it served as a cemetary. Many graves here once contained bodies of soldiers from Chicago’s Camp Douglas, a prisoner-of-war camp in the Civil War. Bodies were relocated by the city.
Still, there’s more to the park than just the museums, zoo and conservatory. The Lakefront Trail at the east of the park connects several beaches along the way. Along the park’s seven-mile stretch, there are many playgrounds, sporting courts, boating facilities, playing fields and a golf course. Further north in the park, find the North Pond Nature Sanctuary, home to native species of heron, beaver, snapping turtles and ducks, among others.
It’s a lot to navigate on foot, but you can rent a Divvy bike from stations at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and North Boulevard and at the Theater on the Lake building to cover more ground.
Lincoln Park Events
Located at Fullerton Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, the Theater on the Lake is a historic Prairie Style building that offers stunning views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline. Constructed in 1920, the building today features four venue options as well as the upscale Lakefront Restaurant. Individuals can rent the one of the venues for private events.
Here, the theater hosts Chicago’s Summer Theater Festival. The 10-week annual festival supports an array of off-Loop theater. Held from late June through August, th festival features a array of performances and special events each summer.
At 1970 N Clark Street, the Green City Market is the city’s largest farmer’s market every Saturday. Find bright produce as well as cooking demonstrations from the city’s top chefs.