ALA Annual Visit: Nature and Outdoor Fun

Chicago is a beautiful place in the summertime. After a long, cold (although in this year’s case not so snowy) winter the city comes alive. The cultural, cuisine, and sports attractions are all wonderful ways to pass a summer day, but it would be a shame to visit this city without also taking advantage of what nature has to offer.

Of course, the largest natural feature of the Chicagoland area is the Lake Michigan shoreline. On a warm day hitting the beach is a great option. North Avenue Beach, right on Lake Shore Drive, is a popular destination. With amenities like jetski, bike, and kayak rentals, volleyball courts, lockers, as well as concessions, there is something for everyone. The beach’s most iconic feature is the beach house, a blue and white building, built to look like an ocean liner.

North Avenue Beach

Also on Lake Shore Drive, but a little closer to downtown is Oak Street Beach. With great views of the city skyline and all the amenities of concession and rental, it does tend to be a little more crowded on hot days and there is only street parking. Farther south is Montrose Beach, another wonderful place to while away a summer day. A unique feature of this beach is a bird sanctuary. Over 300 species have been sighted there with early morning being the best time for bird watching. But, anytime of day the meadow and dunes is a peaceful contrast to the manicured park and busy city that surrounds.

For those who wish for a less sandy outdoor experience the Lincoln Park Conservatory is not to be missed. There are multiple display rooms within a Victorian style glass conservatory as well as beautiful surrounding gardens. Part of this large complex, that is attached to the Lincoln Park Zoo, is a hidden lily pond. Called the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool, there is a stone walkway with prairie-style architectural structures, a pavilion, council ring, lots of shady trees, it’s a sanctuary in the midst of a bustling city.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

The Chicago River is a natural feature nestled right in the middle of a cityscape that also offers opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Take a boat architecture tour led by Chicago Architecture Foundation docents. For those who desire more adventure, book a tour (the Ghosts and Gangsters of Hustlertown is one example) with Wateriders, or simply rent a kayak and paddle at your own pace.

However you choose to spend your time in Chicago, remember that even in the midst of the crowd and concrete of the city there are still opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and find some refuge in the more natural world.

Bridget Farrell is a middle school librarian in a northern suburb of Chicago.

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