For summer’s first al fresco meal you may have carefully chosen the thickest peanut butter, the sweetest jelly, the freshest bread and the coldest beer. But if you haven’t put as much thought into the site of your outing, you may find yourself left with little more than sticky fingers, a sore butt, and a headache from all that squinting. Luckily, as a public service for Chicago’s picnickers, the Newcity investigative team scoured the metropolis for the most appealing spots to roll out your red-and-white checks and pull up an Igloo.
• •Where South Hyde Park Boulevard and East Hyde Park Boulevard butt up against each other you’ll find the southern tip of Burnham Park, over which Harold Washington looked when he lived in the Hampton House Condominiums. In the center of the park stands an old maple tree, its trunk branching off in three directions, providing ample shade and a choice of perches. Its thick green leaves defiantly wrap around a lamp post that dared to shoot through its limbs. The only complaint from some Sunday afternoon picnickers: the preponderance of yellow dandelions.
• A few blocks west, at the corner of East 55th Street and South Cottage Grove Avenue, lies the DuSable Museum of African-American History, and the more expansive Washington Park. Across the street from the museum stretches a huge field perfect for flying kites, with room for several simultaneous softball games. A few steps shy of the first baseline on the southern field, a couple of trees form a site suitable for an all-day sprawl. Sightlines only enhance the spot—the Amoco Building and the Sears Tower rise over the horizon and Midway’s planes criss-cross the blue bowl of sky above.
• Near downtown, in the Printer’s Row neighborhood, picnickers can put roots down in the small but quaint Dearborn Park. Nestled behind the clock tower of Dearborn Station, this park boasts one particularly charming crepe myrtle tree near the corner of South Plymouth Court and West 9th Street. The area around the tree is nicely mulched and its low-hanging, angled and arched limbs form a natural umbrella from the sun. But watch out, in this popular dogwalkers hangout, for that unexpected step into a pile of poo.
• In Grant Park, a grove of trees in the northeastern corner of the area around Buckingham Fountain provides another shady respite. Even during a Saturday afternoon traffic jam, the fountain drowned out the cars on nearby Lake Shore Drive and turned this soft, grassy plateau into a mini-forest.
• Moving north, in Oz Park you’ll discover a maple tree with a trifurcated trunk, similar to the one near Washington’s home. It’s just off the path leading from the statue of the Tin Man that greets you at the park’s West Webster Avenue and North Larrabee Street entrance. Its leaves overlap with those from three other trees, providing a density and depth to its cover. But be sure to bring along a soft blanket for this one. While it gives good shade, this tree’s soil is packed pretty hard and doesn’t provide a grassy cushion.
• Finally, we scoped out Lincoln Park, emptying our basket near the corner of North Lakeview Avenue and West Roslyn Place. On what may be the only hill in the city, we discovered two pine trees that offer a great view of North Pond from their base. Only about fifteen feet high, these low-riding evergreens provide year-round cover from the elements. And there’s a nice breeze off the water to boot. The sap from the trees, though, may attract an unfair number of ants and bumblebees, so bring along bug spray or a lot of patience.