Chicago is known for being an expensive city, and embarking to the city for an internship, I was eager to take on all opportunities for free activities. Luckily, a few resided next to my former neighborhood in Old Town. A hop, skip, and across a couple of traffic light stops, I made my way to free entertainment and activities in one area: Lincoln Park. This park covers a large area, so there’s more to explore than what I found, but if you’re looking for a way to save some money, enjoy Chicago’s greenery, and find a place to wander, consider a few options in Lincoln Park.
- Discover the statues of literary and historical figures. From Benjamin Franklin to Hans Christen Andersen to Abraham Lincoln, you’ll find many statues throughout the park. You can’t miss them when they look right at you or direct your attention upwards to the sky. It’s hard to not think of the spooky stories that might lurk in these grounds of a former cemetery, but now it’s known for one of the Great Public Spaces in America in 2009 by the American Planning Association (APA). I’m sure there’s plenty of statues I missed, but it was always a fun way of entertaining myself to find more than I expected throughout the 1,208 acres of land.
- Say “Hello” to your animal friends at the Lincoln Park Zoo. I originally thought a free zoo would be small with a few offerings of birds or reptiles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were tigers, leopards, giraffes, and plenty more from the animal kingdom. The Zoo began around the same time as the park was named after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination and $10,000 was allocated to the city for improvements. A donation of mute swans marks the beginning of the Zoo, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that’s all you’ll find in Lincoln Park Zoo.
- Spend some extra free time at the Lincoln Park Conservatory. Heading north past the Zoo, I stumbled upon the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a structure built from 1890-1895 and designed by Joseph Lyman Silsbee and M.E. Bell. Housing tropical palms and ancient ferns, I felt I was in “Jurassic Park,” especially after someone hummed John Williams’ theme music in the Fern Room. My favorite part remains to be the Orchid House, where I found an abundance of this unique and captivating flower. It turns out I’m not the only one taken in by the Conservatory’s flowers since the Egyptian government requested seeds for the park’s water lilies in 1897.
- Head over to the North Avenue Beach and admire the scenery. So, if you know anything about me from my blog, you know I love the beach. I wrote about my time in San Jose del Cabo and I also took on a surfing lesson in Mancora, Peru. The beach never gets old for me and I constantly find myself at home, which is why I spent nearly every other day at this beach. Sure, it’s not an ocean I’m looking at, but Lake Michigan is bluer than some of the oceans I’ve seen in southern California. This beach isn’t lacking any necessary equipment with paddleboards and kayaks lined up for rentals.
- Take a break on a park bench and read a book. You might say, “Why does this matter? I could do this at any park.” Well, not just any park. Some are too busy and have lots of foot traffic, others seem sketchy and unreliable, while others are just not big enough or far enough from the city life. Although Lincoln Park is near main roads and hosted a couple of festivals during my time there, I never felt overcrowded. In fact one day I only took the keys to my apartment and a book. I took the time to open it up on a park bench or sit near the ocean and just read. How often do we get to do that? Is reading not your speed? Then head for a kayak, or just watch the muscular volleyball players entertain you. That never hurts.
Even though I’ve left Old Town and moved to Buena Park, I’m finding there’s plenty left to explore in Lincoln Park. There are museums and conservatories as well as numerous beachside activities I haven’t uncovered, but for now, the free stuff suits me just fine. I’d like to think that eventually I’d have a bigger paycheck to return and find more in Lincoln Park, but there’s plenty to find that doesn’t cost a penny.
What other free activities have you found and would recommend in Lincoln Park?