Chicago/Lincoln Park-Old Town

For other places with the same name, see Lincoln Park (disambiguation).

In Lincoln Park, collegians mix with freshly-minted lawyers and barrel-chested brokers, all come to sing their good fortune in beer gardens on the north side of Chicago, a short walk from miles of beautiful parks and the fabulous Lincoln Park Zoo. Just south is Old Town, a striking collision of rich and poor, and home of Chicago's two most celebrated theaters, Steppenwolf and Second City.


Skyline view from Lincoln Park's South Pond

The flames of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 lapped at the borders of Lincoln Park, and burned no further than Fullerton Avenue. It was, then, a small community of Polish and German settlers near the northern boundaries of the city, named Lake Park for the swamplands (and cemeteries) that were drained by the lake, and renamed Lincoln Park for the slain president in 1865.

Back to that fire, though: refugees poured into the neighborhood for safety, and with their former homes in ashes, plenty of them decided to stay. Lots were sold to "worthy families," and it suddenly became a very fashionable place to live. With the arrival of the elevated train, a construction frenzy began. In fact, an estimated 60% of the buildings that currently stand in Lincoln Park date from the three decades after the fire. Cultural institutions emerged to match: for example, with the $10 purchase of a bear cub, the Lincoln Park Zoo opened to visitors in 1874, and DePaul University evolved from a small religious college to the center of life for the neighborhood, with strong academic and sports programs throughout much of the twentieth century. (Long-time basketball coach Ray Meyer introduced the concept of the skilled seven-footer to the sport when he recruited George Mikan in the 1940s.)

The area now known as Old Town was not so lucky in the Fire, but was spared the extensive damage of the city center. Today, its pre-fire history can be seen in the winding layout of the streets in the Old Town Triangle Historic District, and can be heard in the bells of St. Michael's Church, one of the few structures to stand in the path of the fire and survive. The neighborhood was hit hard by the urban flight of the 1950s, and many of those classic structures were converted into boarding houses that became affordable for beatniks: artists, folk musicians, actors, and others moved in and made Old Town into the counterculture capital of Chicago for the next two decades. Miles, Janis, Dylan, and Seeger played in and outside of the clubs in Old Town. It was where teens from staid neighborhoods (like Lincoln Park) came to feel the edge. Guitars! Long hair! Loitering! Old Town had it all.

Into this environment came the city's greatest comedic force, a group of ex-pats from Hyde Park who named their new theater The Second City, and reinvented American comedy. Years later, a similarly talented band of college actors arrived to establish Steppenwolf, who set the tone for the next two decades of dramatic theater.

The shocking violence of the 1968 Democratic Convention spelled the end of the hippie era in Old Town. Soon, property values were on the rise, and only the more financially successful countercultural outlets could stay in business. Today, you'll find a historic district and the new Chicago History Museum to guide you around, and you can split an amazing night at the theater with one of the trendy restaurants nearby. Old Town is divided, though: crumbling buildings sit on one side of North Avenue without ever much affecting a trip to Steppenwolf on the other side. Old Town is a neighborhood that knows the contradictions within its boundaries, and lives with them.

North Avenue Beach from Hancock Observatory

Lincoln Park, on the other hand, is oblivious. Most of the North Side wouldn't live in Lincoln Park if you paid them to do it, and most of Lincoln Park would refuse to live anywhere else, understanding other neighborhoods only as wastelands with poorly groomed people and an unacceptable shortage of Starbucks. Thanks to the presence of DePaul, Lincoln Park has a distinctly collegiate atmosphere, created not only by students but also by young professionals with fond memories of having been students within the last two decades. The weekend club scene in Lincoln Park will either offer an exhilarating trip back to your college years or a vision of hell on earth. That aside, Lincoln Park also has a row of shopping boutiques that is the envy of much of the rest of the city, and the taxes that churn through the local economy go to the well-maintained expanses of the eponymous park, the lakefront bike and jogging trails, and North Avenue Beach.

Also, to its credit, the Lincoln Park Zoo didn't rest on its laurels after it got that bear.

Get in

By train

The CTA Red Line runs along Sheffield Avenue and stops at Fullerton in Lincoln Park and North/Clybourn at the edge of Old Town. The Brown Line, further west, connects with the Red Line at Fullerton, but also makes stops in Lincoln Park at Armitage and Diversey, and in Old Town at Sedgwick.

The Metra Union Pacific District Northwest Line and Union Pacific North Line both stop at the Clybourn station just across the Chicago River on Armitage just west of Ashland, from which you can catch the 73 Armitage bus into Lincoln Park. Note that the Clybourn Metra station, despite its name, is not located on Clybourn Avenue.

By bus

By car

Lake Shore Drive has exits at Fullerton for Lincoln Park and North Avenue for Old Town. From the Kennedy Expressway, take any of the eastbound exits at Division, North, Fullerton, and Diversey.

Traffic is not swift on the streets of Lincoln Park and Old Town, but it's generally manageable. Beware of parking on side streets that require residential permits. (If you're not parking at a meter, take a quick walk up and down the block to make sure that a permit isn't required to park there.)

There are parking garages in close proximity to the theaters (notably Piper's Alley in Old Town) and on the grounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo ($14, 1-3 hours).


John Dillinger's final bow, Lincoln Park

The Lincoln Park Zoo and the lakefront are the biggest highlights for a day here, especially with kids, but a few sights, particularly the Biograph Theater and the historic districts, are at their most powerful by night.

Meerkats, Lincoln Park Zoo

Historic districts

These areas have some of the most impressive homes in Chicago, and can be covered easily on foot. For guided walking tours, check with the Chicago History Museum (above).


Summer on North Avenue Beach

Events & Festivals

Summers in Lincoln Park are full of festivals, with one for every major street and parish. Expect beer, non-descript food and a few jam bands. Old Town has one that's definitely worth singling out, though.


It's art, Dad: Second City


Trendy boutique shopping can be found at the shops on Armitage between Halsted and Sheffield in Lincoln Park.


The Lincoln Park Zoo may be free, but the food court and the concessions are a bit steep. If you need to eat at the zoo, take some solace in remembering how much you paid to get in!


The DePaul area has a lot of fast food targeted at students, mostly sandwich and noodle shops.


Lincoln Park is crammed with mid-range Italian restaurants. Sushi places aren't rare, either.



The Red Lion Pub, Lincoln Park

If there's a college sports game that you can't miss while you're in town, make tracks to Lincoln Park. Most of the alumni associations (especially for Big Ten schools) have a bar staked out for themselves.

Neo nightclub



Go next

Routes through Lincoln Park-Old Town

North Lincoln Lakeview-North Center  NW  SE  Near North The Loop
Rogers Park Lakeview-North Center  N  S  Near North The Loop

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Sunday, February 07, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.