I consider Michigan Avenue the heart of Chicago, even though that’s probably up for debate.
The area surrounding Michigan Avenue’s strip of retail and architecture splendor that runs from about Oak Street on the north to the Chicago River on the south is actually a handful of overlapping areas and neighborhoods. If you’re from out of town, you might assume that this area is our “downtown,” but actually, the Loop is what we consider downtown, and it’s southwest of this major part of Michigan Ave.
So what we’re really talking about here is the Magnificent Mile, though literally no one that lives here would ever say that out loud 😉
My little family and I live a few blocks off of this strip of
The Mag Mile Michigan Avenue, and while it may seem like a tourist mecca (which it is) it’s also a super-densely populated residential area. I’m happy to report that whether you’re from out of town, a local mama in the area for a doctor’s appointment or shopping, or a proud Streeterville mom like me, there are a TON of free, family-friendly activities in our neck of the woods–and today, let’s talk playgrounds.
You’ll notice that two of these playgrounds are just over the river, near Millenium Park. And all of the playgrounds are east of Michigan, which is a great excuse to explore the beautiful “Third Coast” and take in some lake views.
Seneca Playlot is our most frequented playground for three reasons. One: they have a sandbox! Two sandboxes, actually. Two: FOUR baby swings. Three: it’s beautiful. This playground is right next to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Chicago’s Watertower mall, and is adjacent to a real, live, fire station. Sometimes the fire station does tours! There’s two large sections of this park, loosely broken up for big kids and little kids. There’s also a small grassy section adjacent to the playlot that’s great for picnics or playing catch.
Photos from YoChicago.com
Lake Shore Park is a beautiful park about as far east as you can get without diving into the lake. It’s not huge, but it does have some key attributes. Like that beautiful walking track you can cruise around (or let your kid run laps around!) while taking in the Hancock building on one side and the lake on the other. It also has another incredibly important attribute: CLEAN BATHROOMS! Lake Shore Park is home to a fieldhouse, where there are sometimes free classes or activities but always (during the park’s opening hours) clean bathrooms. The playground itself is small-ish, but well kept and a fun time for little ones.
My husband is a Chicago architecture fiend and assures me that the difficulty finding this park, which is literally RIGHT THERE, is not imagined. The Lake Shore East neighborhood was carefully planned to be an oasis in the heart of the city, and they’re not making it easy for tons of people to cruise through. It took some seriously detailed step-by-step instructions from a great mama in a local Facebook mom group for me to even know it was there!
The key is getting yourself down one level from Michigan Avenue to the park level–there are elevators at the Mariano’s grocery store on one side of the park and multiple sets of stairs scattered around the perimeter. I know this all sounds rather insane for a playground, but I promise that it’s worth the effort: the park is stunning and truly feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle just outside of the perimeter. The landscaping is INCREDIBLE, with water fountains and beautiful flowers throughout the whole park. The playground has a small splash pad in the summer and is nautical themed. Also, it has that awesome rubber flooring that feels like the world is a trampoline 😉
Photo from Maggie Daley Park
And we reach the Motherlode. Maggie Daley, just east of the “Bean” at Chicago’s Millenium Park, is basically the Mecca for children. This park has it all: tennis courts, a climbing wall, an ice skating ribbon in the summer! But the heart of it all is the playground–nothing short of kid heaven. The playground is three acres but divided into lots of different sections so it’s slightly (?) less overwhelming than it sounds.
There are plenty of easily accessible bathrooms and this park is very easy to get to if you just head east on Randolph from Michigan Avenue.
My caveat is: this place gets crazy. I’ve seen more than one story on local Facebook mom groups about mamas losing track of their kiddos for a short period of time in the chaos. The park facilities and security apparently do a great job at handling these situations and helping find the missing child right away–but it’s so big that it’s simply not that easy to keep an eye on your kid at the busiest times. This park is just never going to be quiet, but I suggest going at off hours–mid-afternoon or in the evening for the most relatively peaceful experience!
5 – Bennett Park*
Photos from DNAInfo.com
The reason this park gets an asterisk is because… it doesn’t exist yet. But, all of the local mamas are
dying patiently waiting for this to hurry up and open already. A new residential tower called One Bennett Park is going up just west of Navy Pier and as a part of that development, a new park is being created around it. All of the renderings shared with the community promise that it’ll be worth the wait: just look at that little woodland-themed playground! The last I heard, this playground was slated to open summer of 2018. So you know, only like… 334 days. But who’s counting. This park will be a great addition for Streeterville residents as well as for visitors heading to or from Navy Pier, which has plenty to do for kids–but somehow, no playground!
So that wraps up our list, my friends! Chicago is an amazing city for even it’s littlest visitors and residents, and I’m proud to show off some of these family-friendly playgrounds in my neighborhood.