Welcome to Oak Park, a highly walkable Chicago suburb full of history, charm and plenty of things to do. Oak Park sits west of the Loop and offers plentiful options, whether you love architecture, want to connect with nature or crave live entertainment.
Check out these things to do in Oak Park, whether you call the city home or just want to swing by for a visit.
Explore Frank Lloyd Wright’s Work
Oak Park oozes with architecture from Frank Lloyd Wright, claiming the title of the world’s largest collection of Wright-designed buildings. Wright lived and worked in Oak Park, where he developed his signature Prairie style of architecture. To truly experience the neighborhood, visiting some of the sites he designed is a must.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio is the perfect place to start. Wright called this house home, using it to test out different design ideas. His adjacent studio is the place where he and his associates created the Prairie style. The only way to see the interior of the home and studio is through a guided tour. Advanced tickets are recommended. Keep in mind that you have to pay a little more to take pictures in the home.
The next stop on the Frank Lloyd Wright tour is Unity Temple, his first public commission. The temple offers year-round tours plus special events. Check out the complexities of Wright’s modern design, which excel at using light and space. The design takes into account the limited budget and urban location, using poured concrete and other materials used primarily in commercial applications at the time. Unity Temple joined the ranks as a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
A walking tour past the multiple Frank Lloyd Wright homes in the area is another option. The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust offers both self-guided and fully guided walking tours to several of the homes in Oak Park. You can find listings of homes and tours through other sources, or you can create your own tour.
If you want to see the exteriors of Wright’s creations without taking a formal tour, walk or drive by these Oak Park locations:
- Laura Gale House, 6 Elizabeth Court
- Hills-DeCaro House, 313 Forest Avenue
- Frank Thomas House, 210 Forest Avenue
- Nathan G. Moore House, 333 Forest Avenue
- Arthur B. Heurley House, 318 Forest Avenue
- Robert P. Parker House, 1019 Chicago Avenue
- Thomas H. Gale House, 1027 Chicago Avenue
- Walter H. Gale House, 1031 Chicago Avenue
- Peter A. Beachy House, 238 Forest Avenue
Visit a Museum
Frank Lloyd Wright isn’t the only famous person with roots in Oak Park. Ernest Hemingway was born in the neighborhood, and you can learn about his early life in two different stops in Oak Park. While his words about Oak Park weren’t always glowing, the city embraces his connection through the Hemingway Museum and the Hemingway Birthplace Home. If you’re a fan of the author, visit one or both of these Oak Park historical sites.
The Hemingway Museum resides in the Arts Center of Oak Park. The museum documents Hemmingway’s life from childhood and beyond, including a glimpse of his early writing style in his childhood diary. Historic doors form the backdrops for the displays that include photos and artifacts from the author.
A few blocks away, you’ll find the Hemingway Birthplace Home, where Hemmingway was born on the second floor. His grandparents built the Queen Anne house, which still looks like it did when Hemmingway lived there. Take a tour of the home to catch a glimpse of the author’s early years.
When you’ve had enough of Hemmingway, head to the Pleasant Home. This Prairie-style mansion, designed by George W. Maher, served as the home of John W. Farson. Maher was a well-known architect with more than 300 U.S. structure designs to his credit. Of all his designs, the Pleasant Home is the only one functioning as a museum open to the public.
The 30-room mansion is on the National Register of Historic Places and showcases the 19th century’s style and craftsmanship. Now operated as a museum, the Pleasant Home is open year-round for tours, with special programs and events throughout the year.
If you need to entertain kids, check out the Wonder Works Children’s Museum. The museum features five indoor experience zones and an outdoor organic garden to encourage kids to explore and use their imaginations. Concepts developed through the interactive displays include design, building, performance, art and more.
See a Show
Chicago boasts many award-winning theatre productions, but you don’t need to leave Oak Park to take in a good show. Whether you prefer a movie or a live performance, the city gives you options to stay entertained while keeping close to home.
When you want to see a good movie, head to the Lake Theatre. The art deco-style building opened with a single auditorium in 1936. It eventually deteriorated, with many of its original features painted over or destroyed.
Then, in the 1980s, Classic Cinemas purchased the theatre and began slowly restoring it to its original condition, while expanding to add more screens. Walking into the Lake Theatre is an experience you can’t get at newer theatres. Many of the elements are original or are salvaged from other area theatres that are no longer operating. While the décor holds on to the past, the technology gives you a modern movie experience.
If you prefer a live theatrical performance, check out the Oak Park Festival Theatre during the summer months. The company performs outdoor plays in the summer. The performances started in Austin Gardens, but eventually expanded to other locations. Check out their current schedule to see when and where they’re performing this year.
The Madison Street Theatre hosts a variety of performances, presented by many different performing arts groups. The theatre includes multiple stage areas, a screening room and a rehearsal room available for various groups to rent. This brings in a variety of live entertainment options for Oak Park residents.
Connect to Nature
You don’t have to look too hard to find a little nature right in the middle of the city. The Oak Park Conservatory features three rooms full of plants, for a year-round escape into lush greenery. The rooms include the desert room, tropical room with waterfalls and koi, and the fern room.
Another way to relish in Mother Nature’s beauty is to visit the Garfield Conservatory, which is one of the largest conservatories in the nation. The approximately two-acre building houses thousands of plant species in tropical temperatures year ‘round. It’s the perfect way to take a break from those Chicago winters while imagining you’re on a tropical vacation.
The conservatory offers another 12 acres of outdoor gardens for your enjoyment during the warmer months. Plants are grouped in different rooms based on type. If you have kids along for the visit, stop at the E.M.G. Children’s Garden, where kids learn all about plants in a play-based educational environment.
Austin Gardens offers a peaceful respite from city life, with mature trees sheltering the garden, which includes a wildflower woodland habitat. The Environmental Education Center hosts a variety of activities for all ages. The flowers may not bloom in the winter, but Austin Gardens still offers a way to enjoy nature with an outdoor ice rink.
Grab a Bite to Eat
If you spend any amount of time in Oak Park, you’ll need to refuel during your adventures. The city offers many locally owned restaurants, specializing in various types of food.
Satisfy your hunger at one of these Oak Park restaurants:
- Hemingway’s Bistro, 211 North Oak Park Avenue: Experience a touch of France in the Midwest at Hemingway’s Bistro. The French menu incorporates fresh, high-quality ingredients from the Midwest. The upscale restaurant is inside the Write Inn Hotel and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Maya Del Sol, 144 South Oak Park Avenue: Enjoy the flavors of Central and South America at this Latin fusion restaurant. The vibrant atmosphere and top-notch hospitality make the experience as wonderful as the food. Don’t miss the creative cocktails served at Maya Del Sol. Dine on the large patio in warm weather. The restaurant also serves up live music to add to its lively atmosphere.
- Poor Phil’s, 139 South Marion Street: Poor Phil’s has a kid-friendly pub vibe to it. This popular spot boasts the largest beer menu in Oak Park, with a variety of boutique brews on hand.
- Delia’s Kitchen, 1034 West Lake Street: Catch Delia’s Kitchen at breakfast or lunch to try the freshly prepared dishes on the menu. The food gains inspiration from European and American culinary styles, using the finest ingredients to ensure a quality experience.
- Jerusalem Café, 1030 Lake Street: Get your fill of hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, kabobs and other Middle Eastern food at Jerusalem Café. The kitchen cooks up all the favorites from scratch every day, with no reheating or precooking. You’ll enjoy the flavor of fresh ingredients, no matter what specialty dish you choose.
- Petersen’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream, 1100 Chicago Avenue: The ice cream served at Petersen’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream is made fresh, but the recipe is almost a century old. When Danish immigrant Hans Petersen landed in Oak Park, he quickly opened his ice cream shop, using a Danish recipe containing 18% butterfat. That recipe still stands. With several flavor choices, you may have trouble narrowing it down to one option.
- Serenitea Tea House, 1046 Pleasant Street: Serenitea gains inspiration from the tea rooms of yesteryear, serving a vintage tea room menu. Loose leaf teas served in tea cups with saucers help create that ambiance.
- Barclay’s American Grille, 1120 Pleasant Street: Located in the Carleton Hotel, Barclay’s American Grille serves American-style favorites with a bit of a twist. Burgers, seafood and steak highlight the menu in this casual dining spot.
- The Buzz Café, 905 South Lombard Avenue: Head to the Buzz Café to enjoy delicious food with a sense of community. The café sources ingredients locally with an emphasis on organic, vegan and vegetarian options. Look for live local entertainment and artwork showcased at the café.
- Connolly’s Public House, 1109 South Boulevard: When you’re in the mood for Irish pub fare, head to Connolly’s Public House. The goal of the restaurant is to create a welcoming environment where the community can gather for any number of reasons. While the menu is heavily Irish-influenced, Connolly’s adds variety with dishes for the adventurous, as well as healthier options.
- Spilt Milk, 103 South Oak Park Avenue: If your cravings include baked goods, head to Spilt Milk, an Oak Park bakery focused on using local, seasonal ingredients. The tasty baked goods sold at the bakery are made from scratch every morning.
- Giordano’s, 1115 West Chicago Avenue: Our Oak Park location serves up your favorite pizzas, Italian favorites, sandwiches and more. Eat in our dining room, or order your food for delivery or pickup.
Shop Through Oak Park
Chicago is full of amazing independently owned shops, and Oak Park is no exception. This neighborhood offers up many boutiques and shops to fit a wide range of interests and needs.
Check out the Oak Park shopping options at one of these boutiques:
- Gem, 135 North Oak Park Avenue: Shop for unique jewelry pieces from small, independent jewelers at Gem, an upscale jewelry shop in Oak Park. Custom elements in the lighting, shelving and cases makes this a truly unique jewelry shopping experience.
- HooDoo HeadWear, 111 North Marion Street: If you wear hats, HooDoo HeadWear is the perfect Oak Park shop for you. You’ll find an assortment of hats for men and women, plus accessories. The store stocks primarily American-made hats with some European options to round out the selection.
- The Book Table, 1045 Lake Street: When you need a new book to read, head to The Book Table to browse more than 60,000 titles. The husband-and-wife owners aim to please as many people as possible with their diverse selections.
- Divine Consign, 809 South Oak Park Avenue: Divine Consign gives you the chance to purchase unique furniture and accessories. The consignment shop offers a wide range of furnishings presented in a tasteful way.
- CarefulPeach Boutique, 1024 North Boulevard: Self-proclaimed as a lifestyle boutique, the CarefulPeach Boutique offers carefully curated and high-end furnishings, including European kitchen and bath items.
The Oak Park Arts District features a string of studios, galleries and shops focused on artistic endeavors. The thriving artist community includes about a half-mile stretch of Harrison Street between Austin Boulevard and Elmwood. Members of the community focus on creatively reusing spaces along the corridor to renew the vitality of the area.
Some of the highlights of the Oak Park Arts District include:
- Art Gecko, 41 Harrison Street
- Bead in Hand, 145 Harrison Street
- Calypso Moon Studio, 331 Harrison Street
- Expressions Graphics, 29 Harrison Street
- Inner Arts Studio, 140 Harrison Street
- Whispers from the Moon, 235 Harrison Street
This small sampling of sites along the Oak Park Arts District gives you an idea of the type of experiences you can find. Give yourself plenty of time to explore this section of Harrison Street to get your creativity flowing!
With so many amazing examples of architecture and a rich historical vibe, you won’t run out of places to go in Oak Park. And whether you live here or are just visiting, Giordano’s offers up the deep dish pizza and Italian favorites you crave after a long day of exploring.