Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Oak Park, IL

  • Published 2023/03/15

Oak Park is one of the small communities surrounding Chicago in Cook County, Illinois.

This small village is a few miles west of Chicago.

Besides being a village, Oak Park is a historically significant suburban area.

It’s mainly because of its rich architectural heritage dating from the middle 1800s to the early 1900s.

This community, home to over 55,000 Chicagoans, is an excellent place to explore, especially for historical enthusiasts.

Besides, Oak Park has charming parks and outdoor attractions which you and your loved ones can enjoy.

Once known as the “World’s Largest Village,” this place offers plenty of exciting activities without breaking the bank.

To learn more, here is a curated list of the free things to do in Oak Park, Illinois.

Learn a History Lesson at the Oak Park Public Library

Exterior of the Oak Park Public Library

Hedrich Blessing Photographers, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Oak Park Public Library is an excellent place to get acquainted with this place’s history.

You can visit this library along Lake Street.

This library is part of the public library system of Oak Park, which opened way back in 1903.

The library has various sections which offer everyone books, movies, music, magazines, and computer access for all ages.

Interior of the Oak Park Public Library

Nagel Photography /

This library has plenty of information for those who want to learn more about Oak Park’s history, making it a fascinating place to explore.

It’s also one of the best places to visit in Pak Park since it’s one of the nation’s “Five Star Libraries,” which guarantees an excellent experience.

Besides, the Oak Park Public Library boasts a charming architecture and excellent interiors.

Get Active at Andersen Center & Park

Andersen Center & Park is an excellent place to play sports and get active with your loved ones.

You can visit this park along Hayes Avenue on the northeast corner of Oak Park.

This place has offered everyone plenty of activities since it opened in 1916.

A fun fact about this park, it was named after the famous children’s author Hans Christian Andersen.

It has a pocket soccer field, a children’s playground, a multi-use green open field, and a splash pad, making it a perfect place for a fun-filled family outing.

Meanwhile, its events center is a favorite place for various functions as it’s available for rental.

Whenever you and your loved ones are itching for more outdoor activities, head to Andersen Center & Park.

Reconnect with Nature at the Oak Park Conservatory

Exterior of the Oak Park Conservatory

Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Oak Park Conservatory serves as a local nature conservatory and a botanical garden.

You can visit this charming natural attraction along Garfield Street.

This place is open daily for nature enthusiasts and visitors who yearn to connect with nature and enjoy its tranquil atmosphere.

Besides its natural and charming appeal, this place serves as one of Oak Park’s three historical sites, welcoming over 50,000 visitors yearly.

Facade of the Oak Park Conservatory

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You’ll see over 20,000 plant species when visiting this place.

Check out the garden’s Desert Room, Tropical Room, and Mediterranean Room to see thousands of plants native to these environments.

Besides its botanical garden, you’ll also enjoy its urban outdoor gardens, which feature Illinois’ native ecosystems that you can explore through hiking.

Drop by the Oak Park Conservatory for a one-of-a-kind activity with nature.

Marker of the Oak Park Conservatory

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Wander the Vast Columbus Park

Columbus Park is one of the most extensive parks in Chicago’s suburbs.

You can visit this park on the northern border of Oak Park and Chicago along S. Central Avenue.

The park spans over 135 acres which cover not just Oak Park but also the neighborhood area of Austin.

Visiting this park allows you to see the gorgeous work of renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen who designed it back in the day.

In addition, it’s one of the very few parks in the nation that earned a National Historic Landmark status.

What awaits you in Columbus Park?

It features plenty of amenities, from a nature area, a jogging path, a bicycle trail, a nine-hole golf course, and a fishing lagoon, to sports facilities.

You can enjoy all these amidst its well-maintained beauty that guarantees you a great time during your visit.

Travel Back in Time at Scoville Park

A fountain at Scoville Park

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Scoville Park is one of the community parks you can visit in Oak Park.

However, this park situated along Lake Street stands out among the rest.

It’s mainly because of its historical monuments that detail the community’s rich past.

One of its most prominent monuments is the World War I “Peace Triumphant” Monument which details the nation’s involvement during that great war.

The park, which opened in 1912, also features a plaza-like appeal, an excellent place for relaxation and picture-taking.

Also, the park is one of Oak Park’s favorite places to hold various community events and festivals.

Scoville Park is a great place to explore local history and enjoy outdoor activities.

Sweat It Out at Lindberg Park

Lindberg Park is an excellent place to stretch your muscles and sweat out because of its sports facilities and outdoor amenities.

You can visit this park along N. Marion Street.

This park is known for treating parkgoers with the best outdoor recreational opportunities.

It has numerous sports facilities for basketball, tennis, and soccer.

At the same time, it has a walking trail, perfect for a leisure stroll, and a gorgeous garden for picnicking.

Lindberg Park is one of Oak Park’s oldest parks; it opened in 1925 as a former sugar maple plantation.

Today, this park is one of the best places to play sports and enjoy outdoor recreational activities.

Explore the Hemingway District

Hemingway house at the Hemingway District

MauraWen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hemingway District is the perfect place to learn more about the life of Ernest Hemingway, the famous American novelist.

Hemingway was born in Oak Park, making him one of the most celebrated personalities in this small community.

This district is solely dedicated to Hemingway, which offers visitors plenty of activities and leisure besides learning about his life and works.

Interior of Hemingway house at the Hemingway District

MauraWen, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

It has plenty of art galleries, historical attractions, buildings, and establishments related to Hemingway.

The district is also a stone’s throw away from other historical attractions, such as the Frank Lloyd Wright House.

Explore the Hemingway District to get familiar with the writer and how he influenced Oak Park through local accounts and stories.

Ride the Train at Rehm Park

Rehm Park is your average community park but with a unique feature.

This park along Garfield Street is known for the famous Rehm Park Trains.

These hand-operated trains cruise along a mini track open for all kids for free.

It’s one of the best features of its children’s playground, making it an excellent place for kids to have fun.

Besides the train, this park opened in 1913 and has a 50-meter pool and splash pad.

In addition, Rehm Park has a lovely peaceful ambiance and plenty of trees for shade, perfect for a picnic.

Add this community park to your itinerary for another fun outdoor activity with your family.

Stroll through Downtown Oak Park

Buildings at Downtown Oak Park

Hendrickson Photography /

Downtown Oak Park is the best place to rub elbows and get acquainted with the locals.

Like most downtown districts, this one boasts unique shops, restaurants, art galleries, and other attractions.

Of course, this downtown district is known for its rich history dating back to 1837, when pioneers first settled in Oak Park.

Trail at Downtown Oak Park

Hendrickson Photography /

Today, this downtown district symbolizes the community’s continuing growth and progress, which you can see through its lively atmosphere.

Visiting Downtown Oak Park offers you that ‘small town’ charm and a splendid experience.

Street scene at Downtown Oak Park

David Harmantas /

Hang Out at the Austin Gardens

Austin Gardens is one of the most tranquil spots in Oak Park.

You can visit this community garden along Forest Avenue.

Locals refer to this place as the “Secret Garden” for its quiet atmosphere.

It’s also often the preferred spot for those who want to escape the city stress.

The garden is home to over a hundred tree species and thousands of plants in its four-acre area.

Take a break at Austin Gardens and enjoy its calm and relaxing ambiance.

Besides relaxation, the garden has an Environmental Education Center, which offers kids nature day camps and nature-related programs.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Since Oak Park is a stone’s throw away from Chicago, seize your chance to explore the Windy City with your loved ones.

Besides Chicago, Oak Park’s neighboring suburbs have plenty of hidden gems and attractions.

Here are some recommended attractions nearby Oak Park, which you can enjoy for free.

Cross the DuSable Bridge

Far view of the DuSable Bridge

Nejdet Duzen /

The famous DuSable Bridge is one of Chicago’s most iconic infrastructures.

You can visit this bridge 20 minutes or 11 miles east of Oak Park in Chicago.

This famous bridge connects Michigan Avenue and Downtown Chicago.

A boat passing under the DuSable Bridge

AevanStock /

Many tourists visiting Chicago drop by to take photos because of its ornamental design and stunning details of its overall architecture.

Above all, DuSable Bridge is Chicago’s oldest bridge, which dates back to 1908.

It is a fascinating place to visit or even cross to complete your experience.

Daytime view of the DuSable Bridge

Cal F /

Check Out the Cloud Gate

Daytime view of the Cloud Gate

Max Herman /

The famous Cloud Gate or “The Bean” is an iconic public art installation in Chicago’s Millennium Park.

This unique public art installation earned its moniker because of its sculpture shaped after a bean.

It has a curved underside that lets you see underneath its structure and view your reflection.

People admiring the Cloud Gate

Lissandra Melo /

Thousands of tourists flock to see Cloud Gate, which has remained a top-rated tourist attraction since its construction in 2004.

Its surrounding areas offer equally gorgeous sights.

Remember to list this Chicago tourist attraction in your itinerary.

Reflections on the Cloud Gate

wayfarerlife /

Hike through Schiller Woods-South

Schiller Woods-South is one of Chicago’s best-kept natural attractions.

You can visit this natural area in Chicago, 17 minutes from Oak Park.

This place features a vast wooded riverside park with multiple trails for hiking, running, cycling, and cross-country skiing during winter.

It’s a remarkable place to explore the natural area of Chicago.

You can also find the Des Plaines Trail, home to various natural habitats, from prairies, meadows, wetlands, and woodlands.

While hiking, you’ll enjoy seeing the vibrant flora and fauna of the area.

Besides hiking, Schiller Woods-South is also an excellent place for picnicking and fishing.

Traverse the 606 Trail

Pathway of 606 Trail

Dennis O’Neil /

The 606 Trail is another famous trail you mustn’t miss hiking near Oak Park.

You can visit this trail in Chicago, 19 minutes northeast of Oak Park.

This trail got its name after the Chicagoans’ area code prefix ‘606’ since it connects various communities throughout Chicago.

The trail spans over three miles, taking you to elevated rail trails, neighborhoods, and parks on Chicago’s northwest portion.

People along 606 Trail

Thomas Barrat /

Traversing this trail allows you to explore the other side of Chicago.

At the same time, you learn tidbits of history since the trail once served as a railway back in the day.

Spend an hour or two hiking through the 606 Trail for a round of worthwhile outdoor adventure.

Strike a Pose at the Chicago Old Watertower

Exterior of the Chicago Old Watertower

Bernt Rostad, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Before returning home, check out the historic Chicago Old Watertower.

This famous architecture is one of Chicago’s few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire.

The tower built by architect William Boyington in 1869 remains intact and is one of Chicago’s most famous tourist attractions.

Take family photos by this historic water tower during your trip to Oak Park and Chicago.

Besides taking photos, you can also learn a history lesson by reading the historical marker of the Chicago Old Watertower.

Bottom part of the Chicago Old Watertower

Jose Luis Stephens /

Final Thoughts

Oak Park is a charming community that embraces you with its laid-back vibes that you won’t expect to have despite being next to Chicago.

This village is also an excellent jump-off point to explore Cook County and Chicago because of its location.

There are dozens of free things to do in Oak Park, Illinois, and you’ll likely enjoy them all for your whole stay.

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