Chicago is known for a lot of things — for instance, deep dish pizza, The Chicago Art Institute and the Annual Godzilla Convention, just to name a few. Additionally, from hitting the shops along the Magnificent Mile to visiting live animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo and, ahem, preserved ones at the Natural History Museum, no one has ever complained of a lack of things to do in the windy city.
However, during these lazy, dog days of summer, it can sometimes be a challenge to provide your dog with the kind of cultural stimulation that we as humans tend to take for granted.
While we at Giordano’s are primarily focused on all things pizza, we’d like to make the case for Chicago to go down in our collective history as America’s greatest “dog town.” Our hometown is becoming known for its widespread dog-loving attitude. Furry friends are welcome everywhere from local dining establishments to farmer’s markets and from trails to beaches — and more. Not to mention, there’s the bustling local dog park scene, where pooches big and small can mix and mingle about town leash-free and uninhibited.
Before we dive in, Chicago’s bustling dog scene generally requires all pups to get a DFA, or “dog friendly area” tag. These DFAs are designated dog zones that fall within the Chicago Park District Network — i.e. dog parks and beaches, where dogs can freely roam and run without the constraints of those pesky leashes holding them back. Of course, you’re still welcome to do some leashed exploring all over town, but DFAs provide an extra level of freedom for dogs outside to get away from their own backyards, providing drinking fountains and an abundance of poop bags (for obvious reasons).
Whether you and your four-legged bestie are just passing through town or you’re both born and bred Chicago natives, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 of our favorite parks, pathways and dog-friendly areas in Chicago, so you can discover the softer, more adorable side of the city.
Lincoln Park’s Wiggly Field is Chicago’s original off-leash dog park. Nestled right up against the Chicago Park District, this double-gated park is the perfect place to let the dogs run loose, without that nagging case of owner’s anxiety that sometimes happens when the leashes come off.
Rather than being a flat patch of dirt like so many other dog parks, Wiggly Field exists on a multi-level plane, so dogs can explore, climb, jump and generally just tire themselves out. The park is mostly covered in asphalt, but it does feature some soft, wood chipped areas for dogs to lay down and take a breather after all that vigorous movement. It’s also lined with trees, and there are plenty of space for the doggies to roam free, unleashing their inner wild beasts.
It even has doggie pools. Like children, most dogs are willing jump at any opportunity to swim. What more could your pooch ask for?
Bonus point: Wiggly Field has doggie bags and water on hand, just in case you forgot the supplies. That’s right — no excuse for leaving a mess behind, and if you try, be prepared for a heavy dose of side-eye from the other visitors.
Part of designated human park, Margate Park, Puptown is a clean, enclosed dog park that accommodates all dogs, even if they are well-beyond their ‘pup’ years. Puptown is a great little spot to take your pup out for a good run on the asphalt, and it also offers a host of extras that sweeten the deal — complimentary balls and poop bags mean you can stay as long as you want, without having to run home and grab a bag because you were unprepared.
Puptown also has plenty of sprinklers in play, keeping dogs cool during our ridiculously hot Chicago summers. Additionally, the park plays host to community events throughout the year, like the Howl-O-Ween costume night (who can resist a dog in a costume?) and regular park clean ups that help keep Puptown in tip-top shape. With plenty of shade and seating, owners can kick back, relax and watch the cuteness unfold.
A word of warning to small dog owners — teeny, tiny purse dogs may easily slip through the fence. The park has addressed this issue by installing a guard along the bottom of the fence to keep the dogs in the dog park, but the very smallest dogs can easily wriggle their way out of there, so keep a close eye.
Skinner Dog Park
One of many “Dog Friendly Areas” in the Chicago Park District, Skinner Dog Park is located in the West Loop area on West Monroe St. This park was the subject of a bit of controversy surrounding its signature artificial turf, but it has quickly become a beloved destination amongst dog owners.
This relatively new park requires members to contribute a reasonable $30 a year to pay for maintenance, which includes a bimonthly cleanup — where community members voluntarily pick up poop, remove leaves and snow and care for the faux grass, which needs to be washed on a regular basis. It does stay green year round, looking its best, no matter what Chicago’s somewhat extreme and varying weather conditions have in store. No park would be complete without the requisite comforts for human visitors, either, so benches, walkways and a three-tiered drinking fountain ensure local dog enthusiasts won’t be anxious to leave after a few minutes of play time.
Hamlin Dog Park
Hamlin Dog Park has it all. One of the city’s larger dog parks, this Roscoe Village doggie destination boasts a huge L-shaped graveled area for pets to roam wild and free, and it is situated rather conveniently next to a tennis court — meaning, no need to bring a ball. There are plenty of trees and benches, so feel free to take a seat and relax while your dog runs around and makes some new friends.
The Valley Line Trail
If you’re looking for a little more adventure than the usual routine of taking the dog out to the park and running around until they tire themselves out, it’s time to grab a leash and hit the trail. Chicago’s Valley Line Trail is one of the many (1600+) so-called, rail-trails in the Chicago area. It’s a part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s efforts to convert former rail lines into a nationwide network of hiking trails.
The Valley Line, which exists along a former railroad corridor, is now a safe and fun place to walk your furry hiking companion. The trail features two bridges, so you can avoid crossing busy roads with precious cargo in tow. Start your hike at nearby Sauganash Park (right off N. Rogers Ave.), where you’ll find restrooms and a parking area. Not to worry — if you do forget to “go before you go,” the path is a quick 1.1-mile trek.
Chicago Lakefront Bike Path
Let’s get this out of the way: The Chicago Lakefront Bike Path is not just for bikes. This dog friendly path is a multi-use trail, offering a great way for tourists and locals alike to explore the city by foot (or skateboard!) with pets in tow.
The lakefront bike path is fully contained within Chicago’s city limits and is located along Lake Michigan. The trail connects the various parks, beaches and more in the area. Walk your dog along this 18-mile stretch and take in the splendor of the city. The path runs from north to south, passing through Chicago’s famous park district. For a little unleashed fun, veer off the path and visit the Grant Bark Park — mostly, so you can have a seat for a few minutes while your dog gets to break free.
Montrose Dog Beach
One of a handful of dog friendly beaches in Chicago, and hands down one of the coolest dog hangouts in the city — or the country for that matter, Montrose Dog Beach is the stuff any dog’s dreams are made of. We’re talking, sand, sun and and miles upon miles of open water at Chicago’s beloved first off-leash dog beach. This gem is located right next to the city in the Northwest corner of Montrose Beach, right off Wilson Avenue, near the Old Boat Launch.
Be sure to keep an eye on your dog, though, especially if they’re a big swimmer. Naturally, you can’t exactly gate off Lake Michigan, and you don’t want them swimming away or getting out too deep.
It’s also worth mentioning that the dog beach tends to get busier in the morning, as people like to arrive before it gets hot. Additionally, while the dog beach itself is free, DFA tags are a requirement for all dogs.
The Farmer’s Market (a couple locations)
Get some shopping done while you take Fido for a walk. Alright, sure, a bunch of loose produce just hanging out right at doggie eye level doesn’t sound like the best approach for local farmers. But, the outdoor farmer’s market scene provides lots of sights, sounds and smells for humans and canines alike. There’s always going to be a few curmudgeons in the mix, particularly at busier times, but for the most part, dogs can expect to be greeted with a tasty treats and loads of attention.
Many of the vendors even have water bowls out in case it gets hot, so take your time and savor all those seasonal flavors — we’re thinking berries, peaches, nectarines or perhaps an artisanal stone-ground dog bone, if someone’s been good. There are farmer’s markets all over the city, so you can easily find one that works best for you.
This may be a little out of the ‘ballpark’ so to speak, but once a year, you can catch a baseball game with your dog. The Chicago White Sox host a twice-yearly Dog Day — one in April and the other in September. According to a spokesperson for the team, tickets are first come, first served, and they tend to sell out rather quickly.
Tickets usually go on sale early in the year once the promotional schedule is announced. Check out the Sox’s website for more information on tickets and updates. One note to fireworks aficionados, too — they skip the post-game ritual on Dog Days, for obvious reasons, but we think it’s a fair tradeoff.
If you thought dogs and baseball were an unlikely pair, then get a load of these doggie cruises. Being in the mid-west, these Seadog Cruises aren’t exactly in the sea, but they’re pretty cool nonetheless — plus, all dogs ride free with their paying, human companions.
See the Chicago sights by speedboat with your pooch by your side. The cruises depart from Navy Pier, and there are a wide variety of tours to choose from. The most popular tour is a quick, 30-minute adventure (you know, when you don’t have time for a full boat ride) that showcases Chicago’s “highlight reel” of tourist attractions.
If you want a more leisurely tour, head out on the 75-minute River and Lake Architecture Tour, which extends your adventure from the lake all the way through the Chicago River Locks. For more adventurous pets, try the Seadog Extreme tours, which claim to be 30% faster than their more traditional counterparts. The “extreme” rides boast sharp twists and turns paired with an interesting Chicago narrative and some rock n’ roll, so make sure your pup is secure when you board.
Coming From out of Town?
For our visiting furry friends, Chicago — or the city of dogs that it is — is home to a ton of pet-friendly hotels. Many of them offer a wide variety of somewhat surprising accommodations, like room service and massages (yes, for dogs), as well as extra supplies like toys and bedding and more.
Though you can generally find Airbnb locations that welcome pets with open arms, standby hotels like the Westin, Sheraton, Hilton all accommodate dogs as well. Some of these places will even find you a dog sitter if you need a little break to eat or enjoy the sights (we can’t be with our best friends 24/7, that’s for sure). That way, you don’t have to go out and look for one yourself — when it’s time to grab a bite to eat or perhaps enjoy some of the more human-centric Chicago attractions.
Enjoy these last few “dog days” of summer and experience the many parks that allow dogs in Chicago with your furry friend by your side. If you’re exploring the area with your dog and you get hungry, stop by one of our many Chicago locations. You’re sure to find one nearby, regardless of what dog parks, or dog cruises for that matter, you and your pooch visit. Besides, nothing beats a few slices of hot, fresh pizza after a long day of taking in the city’s many offerings.