An insider’s guide to the new Maggie Daley Park

In what’s arguably the most exciting thing to happen to downtown Chicago recently, Maggie Daley Park (and its unparalleled Play Garden) is moments away from welcoming the city of broad shoulders into a wonderland for little legs.

Maggie Daley Park

 

337 E. Randolph Ave., Chicago
chicagoparkdistrict.com

337 E. Randolph Ave., Chicago

chicagoparkdistrict.com

 

Eager for some insider information on this three-acre playground extravaganza? Here’s the good stuff to know before you—as the Chicago Park District encourages—“come out and play.”

The scoop

This past December, the only activity getting more buzz than seeking out a Santa was the opening of the skating ribbon at Maggie Daley Park. The first part of the grand landscape to be completed, the “rink” consisted of a quarter mile of winding ice, holding up to 700 skaters at a time.

Chilly Chicagoans were hooked and anxiously awaited more details about the powerhouse project that would connect the Daley Bicentennial Plaza to the already world-famous Millennium Park.

The ribbon will now feature roller skaters.

The strategy

Slated for a grand opening in June, the play spaces are rarin’ to go even as other sections are still being completed. (Besides, what kid isn’t thrilled by a bulldozer or two?) That said, as it’s bordered by Columbus Drive, Randolph Street, Monroe Street and Lake Shore Drive, Maggie Daley Park is prime (and popular) real estate for parking.

Save yourself a headache and map out the best public transit route at transitchicago.com.

Definitely driving? You can save yourself a chunk of change at the plentiful parking garages by using a pre-paid service like SpotHero.com or ParkWhiz.com.

As a last resort, there’s a tiny amount of metered parking along Randolph Street right next to the park, underneath the Brown Line tracks, and around the Mag Mile’s side streets.

The shelter

Even in comparison to Chicago’s many green areas, this park is big. Especially since most visits to Maggie Daley Park will include a trek across the BP Bridge (which connects to Millennium Park mainstays like The Bean!), you might want to toss a wagon in the back of the ol’ wagon.

And if there’s still room in there, maybe toss in a grownup friend or two—the kind who doesn’t mind rescuing one kid from a lighthouse tower while you chase a toddler across a shaky moat bridge.

This is definitely going to join the ranks of the play spaces where you’re glad you brought a lightweight stroller, too. And even though looming trees and manmade shade structures will eventually pepper the park, allow for the fact that your kid will be in supremely wide open spaces with a supremely unforgiving amount of sun. SPF and hydrate up, friends.

The Shangri-la

Take a moment and think back on the best playground from your childhood: the one with the tallest structures for climbing, the expanses for running amok and the ability for pure whimsy. This one leaves them all in the dust.

For starters, did the park of your youth feature separate (and separately awesome) areas with their own fancy names? Distinct play areas called the Lagoon, the Sea, the Harbor, and the Slide Crater offer innumerable ways to create, dream and move.

Your kids will have a hard time choosing their favorite sea-faring structure: The marvelously accessible ship or the spiral slide jutting out from the kid-powered lighthouse? Which slide jets them down the quickest, and which ones let you zoom down while holding hands with a friend?

According to my 3- and 5-year-olds, the answers are as follows: the ship is great for resting, climbing and yelling into the “talking” tubes; the lighthouse is the place they’d like to stay all day; and Slide Crater’s center chutes (equidistant between the two towers!) are the best for tandem sliding.

And for the smaller set, my 1-year-old highly recommends the Harbor’s boat swings, that is, when he could get a squeal in edgewise.

Stay tuned!

Even more magic is being planned for this cross between Wonderland and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. There’s the wave lawn, perfect for games of Capture the Flag, exploring the prairie wildflowers, or—a personal family favorite—rolling downhill until dizziness strikes.

The Enchanted Forest, with its 3,500 square feet of upside down trees, a giant tea party table, and mirrored kaleidoscope maze promise an inspiring (and shady!) respite.

Add in climbing walls for beginners to the advanced (some reaching heights of 40 feet), and Maggie Daley Park might just be the “something for everyone” tourists and Chicagoans will adore.

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