Chicago’s official motto is “Urbs in Horto,” or “City in a Garden.” It’s an appropriate slogan, considering that nearly 9% of the city’s land is devoted to parks, several of them landscaped by such architectural icons as Frank Gehry, Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted. From beloved Millennium Park to the 1,200-acre Lincoln Park—one of the most visited green spaces in America—Chicago offers a multitude of places to enjoy the great outdoors. One local favorite that’s not to be missed is Maggie Daley Park.
Situated near the Lake Michigan shoreline, Maggie Daley Park is an urban oasis in the heart of Chicago, just a five-minute stroll from the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago. The park was designed by noted architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, who is renowned for his innovative use of natural materials. With 20 acres of beautifully landscaped space, the park is the perfect place to toss a Frisbee on wide-open lawns, start the morning with a vigorous tennis game, or entertain the kids at one of the whimsical play areas.
Best for kids: the Play Garden
On the park’s southeastern side, the three-acre Play Garden is composed of six distinct, age-specific areas. Van Valkenburgh’s landscapes were designed to invoke the wondrous worlds of classic children’s literature. Kids may feel as if they’ve wandered into a fairytale when they stumble upon the Enchanted Forest, a network of pathways complete with upside-down trees and a mirror maze. If they venture farther into the Play Garden, they’ll embark on a magical journey through the Sea, the Wave Lawn and the Slide Crater Zone, which features a suspension bridge, looming towers and spiral slides, all bordered by a canopy of sumac that’s breathtaking in autumn.
Winter fun: the ice-skating ribbon
For a magical winter experience, spend an afternoon gliding along the park’s ice-skating ribbon, which winds through groves of evergreen trees and is designed to mirror an Alpine experience. The city skyline serves as a dramatic backdrop to the quarter-mile loop. Admission is free, and skate rentals are available. In warmer weather, the ribbon serves as a viewing area for Chicago’s only climbing park, where visitors of all experience levels challenge themselves on two climbing walls, with or without harnesses, at heights of up to 40 feet.
Summertime sports and picnics
Back at ground level, you can sharpen up your tennis game on one of the park’s six hard courts; walk-up play is free, and lessons are also available. Golfers can practice their putting while taking a small-scale tour of the city at the 18-hole mini-golf course, which features replicas of Chicago landmarks like the Willis Tower and the Wells Street Bridge.
If you’re in the mood to kick back and soak up the sun, pack a lunch and head toward the picnic groves on the east side of the park. Each season offers a range of outdoor events on the park’s open spaces, including athletic competitions, Halloween parties, Easter egg hunts and art festivals.
A meditative stroll
A post-picnic stroll to the northern side of the park brings you to the Cancer Survivors’ Garden, a reflective, inspiring space created to celebrate life. It’s marked by two 40-foot granite columns, remnants of the city’s circa-1905 Federal Building that were salvaged from beneath Lake Michigan. The garden feels at once manicured and wild, and lends itself to serene walks and contemplation. Its three “rooms” were designed to mirror the three stages of healing: acceptance, support and celebration. If you want to celebrate the strength of survivors, or find your own inspiration, amble down the perennial garden walkway, a flower- and tree-lined path decorated with uplifting quotes and words of wisdom.