Spring Flings: 20 Excuses to Head Outdoors in Chicago

From the best waterfront spots to great picnic locations, here's how to enjoy the great outdoors in Chicago

The Chicago area has innumerable spots for great drinks, delicious eats and endless people-watching. But when spring fever starts to set in, it's nice to indulge in all those treats in the great outdoors, and we've found 22 places that let you do just that.



J. PARKER Stunning skyline, park and lake views are what you get at this chill Lincoln Park restau-bar, a welcome respite from the throng-populated River North scene. Unobstructed, 13-story views and plenty of indoor and outdoor seating add to the appeal, facts furthered by globally inspired cocktails and casual-cool, pickled-centric bites from adjacent Perennial Virant. Hotel Lincoln, 1816 N. Clark St., 312.254.4747

NOMI GARDEN Sedate and swanky at once, this seventh-floor spot affords sweeping city views from its outdoor terrace. Dotted with sleek table seating and low-slung furniture, it’s the perfect place to while away hours over craft cocktails. Since tipples alone won’t do, pair them with maki, selections from the raw bar or indulgent local cheeses plated with house-made jam. Park Hyatt, seventh floor, 800 N Michigan Ave., 312.239.4030

DRUMBAR Make your way to the 18th floor for Hancock, lake and Water Tower Place views – not to mention a lineup of elegant, Sicilian-inspired edibles. Quench your thirst with an impressive array of tincture-laced cocktails, by-the-glass vinos and bottle service, all the while absorbing the swank, speakeasy vibe. A guest bartender series, eclectic DJ-spun beats and a well-heeled crowd of scenesters up the ante. Raffaello Hotel, 201 E. Delaware Pl., 18th floor, 312.924.2531

III FORKS Head to the rooftop of this Lakeshore East haunt for cabana seating and stone and glass-encased fireplaces. While taking in the twinkling skyline, pair chicken-fried prime rib or duck and waffles with a pitch-perfect glass of Pinot Noir. As the hours wane, stroll through art-filled Millennium Park. 333 E. Benton Pl., 312.938.4303

Beer Gardens

SHEFFIELD’S WINE & BEER GARDEN The city’s most beloved beer garden is set amid vine-trimmed brick walls and old growth trees. It’s nothing fancy, mind you—just a handful of picnic tables—yet the jovial vibe is precisely the draw. That, and the umpteen brews, thoughtful vins and finger-licking ’cue. 3258 N. Sheffield Ave., 773.281.4989

HAPPY VILLAGE Expect a crowd—especially on weekends—at this Ukie Village watering hole, where the beer garden is strung with Christmas lights and there’s a trickling goldfish pond that lends a backyard feel. 1059 N. Wolcott Ave., 773.486.1512

MOODY’S PUB Throwback in the most endearing way, this Edgewater tap is a fuss-free place to enjoy balmy days. Grab a seat on the shaded, tiered beer garden, taking in the park-like setting, complete with waterfalls and ivy-trimmed walls. Then, order a Moodyburger or the self-proclaimed “biggest salad in town.” Moody’s Pub, 5910 N. Broadway St., 773.275.2696

MARIA’S PACKAGED GOODS & COMMUNITY BAR Artisanal cocktails, grab-and-go booze, a serious in-house selection of craft and Belgian beers and an artsy, DJ-manned setting exude plenty of Chicago charm. That said, you’ll want to grab a seat on the petite patio during summertime, when free Polish-Korean barbecue keeps hunger pangs at bay. 960 W. 31st St., 312.890.0588


CYRANO’S FARM KITCHEN A verdant, tranquil waterfront seating draws sun-seekers to this farm-to-table café and wine bar along the riverwalk. It's the perfect place to sample bistro favorites and score ice cream from the  restaruant's adjunct parlor. 546 N. Wells St., 312.467.0546

ESTATE ULTRA BAR This posh pad features a rooftop deck along the Chicago River, albeit one dotted with wicker furniture and backdropped by sweeping skyline vistas. There’s a large beverage and beer list to whet your whistle, along with plenty of shareable plates. 1177 N. Elston Ave., 312.582.4777

Picnic Spots

NORTHERLY ISLAND This 91-acre peninsula located south of Adler Planetarium is a bucolic place for a stroll, and equally pleasing for leisurely lunches, fishing and seasonal concerts. 1521 S. Linn White Dr., 312.745.2910

MILLENNIUM PARK There’s so much to love about this focal Loop landscape: iconic sculptures, the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion and the lovely Lurie Garden, to name a few. Some advice: Brown bag it or pick up grub from Tony Mantuano’s al fresco salad bar, and take it all in. 201 E. Randolph St., 312.742.1168

GRANT PARK MUSIC FESTIVAL This collaboration between the Grant Park Orchestral Association, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District is a free outdoor classical music series held at the architecturally impressive Jay Pritzker Pavilion all summer long. Pack a picnic and eat beneath summer skies. Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St., 312.742.7638

ALFRED CALDWELL LILY POND This quiet escape was designed by its namesake landscape architect in the prairie school style. Enter at Fullerton Parkway between Stockton and Cannon Drives, and take a seat along flagstone steps leading to the water’s edge. 2391 N. Stockton Dr., 312.742.7736


OAK STREET BEACH Catch some rays along North Lakeshore Drive at this sublime shoreline stretch, home to a coastal bar and restaurant, a see-and-be-seen expanse of powdery beach. Chair and volleyball rentals are also available. 1000 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312.742.5121

KATHY OSTERMAN BEACH Marked by a LEED-certified beach house, this sandy arc (also called Hollywood Beach) sits at the northerntip of Lincoln Park. It’s an ideal spot for swimming or jounging around. 5800 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312.742.5121

NORTH AVENUE BEACH Anchored by an iconic blue and white, ocean liner-inspired beach house, this sandy expanse lures locals for  sandwiches, salads and ice cream at its seasonal Castaways Bar and Grill. Rent jetskis, kayaks and lounge chairs or join in a yoga session, which takes place seasonally at sunrise, during late morning and at sunset. 1600 N. Lake Shore Dr., 312.742.5121

Outdoor Venues

CASCADE DRIVE-IN Take a jaunt to the suburbs and see a flick at this screen under the stars. Plan ahead and cook out on the provided grills, or snag snacks from the concession stand starting annually in March. 1100 E. North Ave., West Chicago, 630-231-3150

SYDNEY R. MAROVITZ GOLF COURSE With tight greens, bunkers and impressive length, this par 36, lakeside course is challenging.  When the greens tucker you out, refuel on flatbreads, wraps and burgers at Clock Tower Cafe. 3600 N. Recreation Dr., 312.245.0909


By Jennifer Olvera