5 Ways to Experience the Oak Park Area

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1. Prairie Style Pleasures

Begin your adventure visiting the landmark that shaped global architectural practices. The Frank Lloyd Wright Home & Studio, nestled on
a tree-lined street in the heart of Oak Park, is known as the birthplace of Prairie Style architecture. See original blueprints in the immaculate laboratory and marvel at colorful stained glass in the adjacent living quarters before hitting the streets of the Frank Lloyd Wright Historic District. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this fairytale neighborhood is home to 25 Wright-designed residences. Landmarks like the Nathan Moore House, Heurtley House, and Hills-Decaro House, illustrate Wright’s evolution from traditional homes to the flat-roofed structures he is known for today.

No architectural odyssey would be complete without a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple. Arguably the boldest design of the 20th century, this National Historic Landmark is fresh off a long-awaited $25 million restoration – and after seeing the renewed grandeur of its ornate woodwork and skylights, it’s clear the project was worth the wait. Another distinguished example of Prairie Style architecture is just down the street, and is the only George W. Maher design currently open to the public; the Pleasant Home, an opulent 30-room mansion, boasts a softly lit porch and picturesque garden from the outside. Venture inside to see its elegant woodwork, decorative motifs and colorful tilework.

The nation’s leading example of Prairie style commercial architecture, Scoville Square, sits at the prominent corner of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue. While it’s primarily a meeting and events space, visitors can pop into the impressive lobby to see the monumental oak staircase and marble wainscoting. The building also has a variety of merchants, like the casually elegant New American eatery Winberie’s Restaurant.

2. HISTORY BUFFS

Start with a guided interior tour of the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace. This beautifully preserved Victorian home, where the author was born and spent his first six years, showcases antiques and rare family photographs offering a glimpse at Hemingway’s early influences. You can also step into another time at the Nineteenth Century Club. Once the private women’s club for the area, this landmark structure now hosts public art, music, and cultural events. Catch an afternoon performance in its stylish ballroom before checking out the Oak Park River Forest Museum. This new museum, housed in a restored historic firehouse, sheds light on these distinct communities with its rotating exhibits and never-before-seen artifacts. The Riverside Historical Museum, in Riverside’s historic downtown is another must-see for its compilation of archival material highlighting Frederick Law Olmsted’s landscape architecture. The village’s architectural legacy is also emphasized, from the famed village water tower to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Coonley House.

3. BOTTOMS UP

Craft beer lovers, rejoice! The Oak Park Area is brimming with micro-local breweries for drinkers of all palates. Fancy lagers? Check out Kinslahger Brewing Company, named one of the nation’s best local breweries by Travel + Leisure. Flagship beers like the creamy Baltic Porter and the earthy Chicago Common continue to satisfy locals and visitors. Those looking for a variety of year-round ales alongside a constantly changing line-up of seasonal offerings should stop by Wild Onion Tied House, a buzzy family-owned brew pub in Oak Park’s Pleasant District. Two Brothers Social Tap, Oak Park’s newest haunt for craft beer, offers a selection of artisanal coffees and well-balanced beers in a bustling space steps from the CTA Green Line. The Oak Park Brewing Company, the area’s first brew pub, is a local favorite. The relaxing ambiance, sustainable brew practices, and live entertainment lineup contribute to its enduring appeal.

Not a beer guru? Indulge in award-winning wines and made-from-scratch bites at Coopers Hawk Restaurant and Winery, a modern eatery with a Napa-style tasting room and artisan market. Craving a stronger libation? The historically-inspired, small-batch artisanal spirits at Quincy Street Distillery are the cornerstone of handcrafted cocktails in the on-site speakeasy bar.

4. FAMILY FUN

Coming to the Oak Park Area with the kids in tow? Begin your trip at Brookfield Zoo, home to more than 3,000 animals representing some 420 species. Hands-on experiences like penguin encounters and giraffe feeding allow your family to connect with nature like never before. Afterwards, chase some mind-bending indoor thrills at Vault Escape in Riverside. Guests can choose from five different on-site escape rooms, varying in theme and difficulty, requiring teams to work collaboratively and solve puzzles before time runs out.

Feeling adventurous? See the Forest Preserves of Cook County from the treetops at Go Ape! This seven-acre park features five breathtaking ziplines, suspended obstacle courses, Tarzan ropes and a junior course for younger kids who want to experience the action closer to the ground. Tykes 8-and-under will love Wonder Works Children’s Museum, a 6,400-square-foot place for fun and creative play. Engaging activities like “Build It!” and “Lights, Camera, Action!” aim to spark cooperation and imagination.

Aspiring scientists shouldn’t miss the Cernan Earth and Space Center, one of two space-age planetariums in Chicagoland. Watch a laser light show in the 44-foot dome theater, then peek at the lobby’s display of notable spacesuits, fossils and telescopes. Continue your afternoon of exploration at the Oak Park Conservatory. Home to more than 20,000 plants in its fern, desert and tropical showrooms, this botanical wonderland is a lush and hidden oasis sure to enthrall visitors of all ages.

5. Adventures in Art

It only makes sense for an artist to start their journey at the Oak Park Art League, one of the longest, continually-running non-profit arts organizations in Illinois. Housed in a rehabbed 1902 carriage house, this beloved landmark offers an array of arts courses for all skill levels and hosts rotating exhibits in its historic gallery space. Check out Riverside’s artistic spirit at the Riverside Arts Center, a gallery and event space making seasonal exhibits and arts education accessible to the area’s creative community for more than 20 years.

The area’s vibrant artistic spirit is perhaps best reflected in the “Urban Local Made” collection at the Oak Park Visitors Center. Debuting in fall 2017, this curated product line features exclusive artwork, gifts, and gourmet edibles made by local artisans and artists. If the handcrafted items inspire you, head to Laura Atwood Studio Beads & Trading Co. to shop the vast selection of handmade items from around the world. Beads, vintage textiles, one-of-a-kind jewelry, and other arts-and-crafts supplies fill the 1,200-square-foot shopfront along Brookfield’s Broadway Avenue. Higgins Glass in Riverside is another haven for artsy types, offering an enchanting and colorful line of collectible glass pieces like rondelays, jewelry, and ornaments.

Next, plan a day in the Oak Park Arts District. A stretch of quirky boutiques, art galleries, and eclectic eateries line Harrison Street in this low-key, friendly neighborhood in Southeast Oak Park. The district has something for everyone: hear some stand-up at the Eastgate Café, satisfy a sweet tooth at the Happy Apple Pie Shop, see a show at Open Door Theater, or catch a set from a local musician at Buzz Café.