See what I did there? Parks and Recs? Yeah, I’m probably not as funny as I think. Anyway, we’ve been visiting a lot of new-to-us parks around the Chicagoland area lately, and I wanted to review, rate and recommend (or not) some of them for you all. We’re living in a crazy time, where parents might have kids home A LOT more than normal, so anything we can do to get outside and to entertain the little people is necessary.
parks and recs rating system:
scale from 1-5 (1 is horrible, 5 is fantastic)
- Safety (fenced in/ability for kids to run away, equipment)
- Bathroom accessibility
- Appeals to multiple ages
- Location (all relevant I suppose)
table of contents:
- Bent Park – Evanston
- Central Park – Lincolnwood
- Eggleston Park – Evanston
- Emily Oaks Park and Nature Preserve – Skokie
- Laramie Park – Skokie
- Oakton Park – Skokie
- Penny Park – Evanston
- Prosel Park – Lincolnwood
- Sunset Woods Park – Highland Park
2524 Cowper Ave, Evanston, IL 60201
- Safety – Fence on the road side, and pretty enclosed for little kids to run around. Also a huge field behind the playground that’s great for running. On a super quiet side street. There was also a lot of shade for hot summer days. 5/5
- Bathrooms – Clean and open. 5/5
- Fun – Sand area (for moms who let that happen), little kids area and “bigger” little kids area with things kids can do independently. Baby and big kid swings. A little small and a bit hard to social distance if there are a ton of people there. 4.5/5
- Ages – Good for walkers through 5/6 years. Wouldn’t be fun for older kids. 3/5
- Location – Easy to get to. Available street parking. Main cross roads are Central Ave and Crawford in Evanston. 5/5
Overall rating: 4.5/5 We loved it! The equipment was fun. My kids stay away from sand if I tell them to, so it wasn’t a problem for us. They could do pretty much everything on their own, and there were plenty of benches for me to sit safely nearby and watch. Also the bathrooms were right next to the playground, so that was great for the kids. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures. Will update when we’re there next time. We’ll definitely go back to this little slice of cutie in Evanston!
6450 N Central Park Avenue, Lincolnwood, IL 60712
- Safety – The park isn’t set back from the street very far, but it’s on the corner of two fairly quiet streets. There’s also a fence surrounding it on all sides, but if a kid wanted to go through the fence, they could. 3/5
- Bathrooms – No bathrooms. Lots of houses around in case you want to knock on a door. LOL Azi peed in a bush. 1/5
- Fun – This park is great for the climber. I don’t think all kids will enjoy it because some of the climbing structures are a bit high/intimidating for younger kids. My 4 and 5 year olds were just getting the hang of it. There are a bunch of slides in case, climbing isn’t your thing. There are also some swings and a basketball court. It is NOT a big park. Definitely for smaller outings. 3/5
- Ages – As I mentioned above, there are aspects of this park on the main structure that I think are suited for older children (6 and above), but there are parts for everyone — swings, slides, etc. There is a very small toddler area. But I’m not sure how long it would keep the toddlers engaged. I definitely think this is more for slightly older kids. 3/5
- Location – Easy to get to. Lots of street parking. No parking lot. 4/5
Overall rating: 3/5 This is a cute, neighborhood park. It’s not meant to cater to the masses, but if you’re just looking for something new and not too big, this is a great option. There is a small basketball court and tennis courts, a shaded pavilion, small toddler area and swings. It ticks all the boxes. The main structure is definitely not meant for very little kids. I was impressed at the variety of climbing structures they had, but again, I just think the main part of the playground is for slightly older kids (6+). We would probably come again, but it’s not top of my list.
8750 Niles Center Rd, Skokie, IL 60077
- Safety – Although it’s off of Niles Center Rd, which can be busy, Carol Park is completely fenced in on all sides, so I never have a fear of my children running into the street there. There are benches, tables and the park is mostly in the shade, which is great for hot summer days. There are climbing structures for little toddlers and then a climbing structure for older kids as well. It’s not the biggest park by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a great little park for a little bit of fun. 5/5
- Bathrooms – No bathrooms. Nearest bathroom would be the Skokie Target, which is down the block. 2/5
- Fun – The entire park is brand new, so the climbing structures are completely modern. I’ve seen some of the elements before on other parks, but there are a few different slides, which is fun. There are also a lot of swings so you never really have to wait in line. 3/5
- Ages – There is a small structure for toddlers (2-5), and the bigger structure is recommended for ages 5-12. I would think that older kids might get a little bored here pretty quickly. 2.5/5
- Location – Easy to get to, but there isn’t really good street parking due to the sticker-only parking on the side street (Carol) closest to the park. So you’re stuck parking on Niles Center, which isn’t necessarily the safest. 2/5
Overall Rating: 2.5/5 It’s not that it’s not a good park, but compared to others, it’s really small and not in a very convenient location. Therefore, it gets this score. However, if you’re on the way to Target or need to kill a few minutes before a Skokie school pick-up, it might be a good option. I’d imagine that if you went at “prime park time” (weekends, afternoons) it might get super crowded, super fast.
McCormick Blvd & Bridge St, Evanston, IL 60201
- Safety – Although it is off of McCormick, which is a super busy road, it’s set back enough that it’s not an immediate fear that a child would make a break for it. The playground is in its own area, and there are a few benches for adults to sit on within a good proximity of play. The playground isn’t fenced in, and there are a lot of open fields that kids can run to. Equipment appears well maintained and new enough. There are a few climbing structures that could be scary for littler kids. Because of this, I’d give it a 3.8/5 in terms of safety.
- Bathrooms – There are NO bathrooms. There are some bushes where you could go if you were desperate. 1/5
- Fun – There are lots of little places to run and hide. There is a sand area (if you’re into that), and the two climbing structures are different and inviting. There were two slides that were kind of small. This park is definitely recommended for younger kids (ages 2-5), so older kids likely wouldn’t have as much fun. There is a basketball court, bike path and open fields that are definitely fun for older kids. The climbing structures could also be fun for older kids, but since it’s meant for littler kids, it would be best if big kids stay off. I hate it when big kids invade a little kid play space. I know you know what I’m talking about.
- Ages – This park is definitely recommended for younger kids (ages 2-5), so older kids likely wouldn’t have as much fun.
- Location – Easy to get to. Right off of McCormick, and there’s a decent amount of street parking on the quiet street. 4/5
Overall rating: 4/5 It was not crowded at all, which was nice, and my kids said they LOVED it. As a parent, there could’ve been more seating, and I would’ve liked a restroom. But it’s super easy to get to, and there is enough shade for a hot summer day (even though today was chilly). You also don’t really notice the noise of the busy street, which is nice as well. We’ll definitely go back!
Emily Oaks Playground and Nature Preserve
4650 Brummel St, Skokie, IL 60076
- Safety – It’s right next to the parking lot, but it’s off a very quiet road, and the playground is pretty set back and distinguished from the road. There is also a small fence. There are some leaf climbing things (you have to see them), but they go EXTREMELY high, and I don’t think it’s safe for kids. The rest of the play ground is pretty great. 3.2/5
- Bathrooms – No bathrooms. Port-a-potties outside the park off the main street. 1/5
- Fun – 2 different play areas. One is for toddlers 2-5 and the other is for 5-12. There is a sand area and swings as well. In the sand area, there is a platform on concrete, so even kids who don’t play in the sand can get in on the sand action. There are a lot of innovative climbing and playing structures. Very imaginative. The area is not so big, so it’s not great for a game of tag, and if there were a lot of people, you wouldn’t be able to social distance. 4/5
- Ages – Great for toddlers and older kids. 4/5
- Location – Pretty easy to get to. Great parking. The road that leads back to the parking lot is a 2-way street, but drives more like a one-way. I always get a bit nervous driving on it. 4.5/5
Overall: I really like the play structures, and my kids had a lot of fun because the structures are unique and different from other playgrounds we’ve been to. There is an entire nature preserve and pond to walk around as well. It’s great for family photos and observing nature in all seasons. I don’t like that there aren’t bathrooms, and I don’t like the high “leaf climbing” thing. But it’s a cute, little, contained area to play with available parking. It’s also on our way home from school, so that’s another win in my book. 4/5
5251 Sherwin Ave, Skokie, IL 60077
- Safety – There’s a small parking lot off of a VERY quiet side street. The playground is set back from the street and playground. The structure itself isn’t fenced in, but it feels pretty safe to let kids run. I will say that it was completely overrun by older kids, and while there are plenty of benches, I found it difficult to spread out too much. 3.5/5
- Bathrooms – indoor bathrooms under a pavilion 5/5
- Fun – This park is FUN. There’s an in ground merry-go-round, a swaying “couch”, two huge slides and lots of fun climbing structures as well. There is a ping pong table near the pavilion, and there are adult workout stations as well. Part of the playground is also handicap accessible. There are a ton of swings and room to run around. 4/5
- Ages – Great for toddlers to 12 year olds. There are differently elements that are fun for everyone. Small toddlers won’t be able to do everything, but there is still fun for all. Be careful when older kids take over the playground. It’s not spread out enough, so the little kids feel a little intimidated when the big kids come. 3/5
- Location – Easy to get to, even though it’s off of a one-way street. There is a parking lot with plenty of parking. It’s in the shade, which is really nice. 5/5
Overall rating: 4/5 Azi had a BLAST at this park. I loved that it was in the shade, and the pavilion offers room to spread out. There are sporting fields to either side, and overall the innovative play structures were enough to capture Azi’s attention for a long time. Although I felt that it was a bit close together and there wasn’t enough room to spread out, we wore masks and made it work. We’ll definitely come back here.
Located in back of Oakton Community Center. 4701 Oakton St, Skokie, IL 60076
- Safety – It’s set far back from the road and parking lot, and on the far side of the playground there is a wall and fence, so there are only 2 ways in and out. There are benches scattered around the perimeter of the play area. Parts of it are handicap accessible, and there are lots of shaded areas. 5/5
- Bathrooms – There is a port-a-potty. But there are a lot of hidden trees and areas that a boy could technically pee on, but you didn’t hear that from me. 1/5
- Fun – This park is FUN. It even has a music/dance feature that Azi really liked. There are a number of different levels, large and small slides, and also some climbing structures that I’ve never seen before. If your kid is into the dreaded sandpit, this one is pretty cool. It has two digging features and dinosaur bones you can uncover. It’s not the BIGGEST park so I’d imagine that if there were a lot of people there, it might be a bit uncomfortable, but we had a great time. 4/5
- Ages – This park is great for all ages. They have baby swings, a true toddler area and then an area that’s for the “bigger kids”. Everyone can have fun here. 5/5
- Location – It’s easy to get to, right off of Oakton St. in Skokie. The only annoying thing is that you have to park in the Oakton Community Center Parking lot because the street behind the playground is permit only. 3/5
Overall rating: 3.8/5 This park was new, pretty easy to get to, and Azi had a great time. I like the surrounding area as well, with a huge baseball field, the Skokie Water Park and Exploratorium in the Oakton Community Center (when not closed for Covid). I’d imagine that it might feel crowded when there are a lot of people because there isn’t a whole lot of running space in the actual playground. There are picnic tables right next to the toddler area, and swings for everyone as well. I’d say that Azi’s favorite part was the music feature. I wasn’t thrilled because we come to the parks to play tech-free. But I realized that it’s just music, and Azi was definitely moving and grooving to the music. We’ll definitely be stopping here on our way home from school more often.
1500 Lake St, Evanston, IL 60201
- Safety- It’s on two side streets in Evanston, and it is fenced in on all sides with scattered openings. There’s not a lot of shade on a hot summer day, but I feel very comfortable letting kids run free here. Everyone is required to play wearing a mask at this playground. There is also stadium seating in the middle of the playground structure where parents can position themselves to be closer to their kids. And if you want to be separate from others there are spread out picnic tables and benches. It’s also handicap accessible. 4.5/5
- Bathrooms – There are two port-a-potties within the playground fences. Better than nothing, I guess. Azi still peed on a tree. 2/5
- Fun – There is definitely no lack of that here. This gigantic wood structure has so many alcoves, hiding places and towers to explore. You could go a different route every time. There aren’t a vast amount of slides, but the exploring is so high quality and imaginative that it makes up for it 10-fold. There are swings and baby swings as well. This is the perfect park for your little explorers and imagination users. There’s also a sand pit if your kids are into that. You’ll know now that we aren’t. But, it’s there anyway. 5/5
- Ages – This park is great for kids ages 2-12 years. There are 2 baby swings, as well as big kid swings and 2 tire swings. The slides are pretty little for bigger kids, but again, this playground is about exploring. There is also an open field next to the park that is still fenced in, and is great for running around. 5/5
- Location – Fairly easy to get to. Some of the roads are narrow for driving. Street parking only, but it seemed plentiful. 3/5
Overall rating: 4/5 This park is so fun and different from other playgrounds. The only issues are that it gets very hot in the summer with the lack of shade, and there are no indoor toilets. Other than that, this park is a clear winner in my book.
6915 Kostner Ave, Lincolnwood, IL 60712
- Safety – Fence on quiet street side. Opens back up to a large field. Pretty enclosed for little runners, but not totally enclosed with a gate. On a super quiet street. There are a few hand sanitizing stations as well, and a lot of shade for hot summer days. I was super impressed. 5/5
- Bathrooms – Right next to the playground area, clean and open. 5/5
- Fun – Two awesome play structures that seem brand new. One is for walkers to about age 3 and the other one is for ages 5-12, but my 3.5 yr old was totally fine on it. If you have ambitious toddlers, it’s totally doable and safe for them. The slides are pretty big on the larger structure. My 4.5 year old was pretty intimidated, but was okay once she finally went down. There are baby swings and big kid swings. Also a swing for kids with disabilities. There are two music toys that actually work and are pretty awesome as well! 5/5
- Ages – There is a walker/toddler section with a baby swing, and then there’s the larger structure that is great for kids about age 4-12. There are also separate swings and a handicap accessible swing. Basically, there’s something for everyone here. 5/5
- Location – Very easy to get to, and it’s off a quiet street with a lot of parking. 5/5
Overall rating: 5/5 It was easy to social distance, although I imagine if there were more people there, it might have been difficult. There’s also a large volleyball court behind the playground for kids who want to play in sand. I thought the structure had some really unique elements that older kids would definitely like, but it was totally fun and accessible for kids with different levels of climbing confidence. We’ll definitely go back to this park.
1801 Sunset Rd, Highland Park, IL 60035
- Safety – This park is huge and has 3, separate play structures throughout. The baby/toddler area is completely gated with a door, which is super nice for runaways. All of the playgrounds are set back a ways from the parking lot, which is off of a quiet road, and there is a fence that blocks the park from the parking lot. I wouldn’t expect anything less from Highland Park. 5/5
- Bathrooms – There are VERY clean, indoor restrooms right near the play areas. 5/5
- Fun – There’s really something for everyone here. There are 3 separate “playgrounds”, and they’re all really awesome in their own way. One is specifically dedicated to babies and toddlers. It has baby swings, is completely gated and also has a sand area (if you’re into that).
The second (technically first) structure is the oldest, but is still in really amazing condition. It’s tall, so it’s perfect for climbers, but even older toddlers would be okay there because the climbing isn’t so complex. There are also swings there for everyone. And the third play structure appears to be the newest. It’s wheelchair accessible, which I love, and has climbing, slides and fun for all. It’s great for toddlers to older kids. Miri loved this area so much. 5/5
- Ages – As mentioned above, it’s really great for everyone. And if you’re not into playgrounds, there are picnic areas, benches and fields to run. There’s also a skating rink for scooters and skaters. 5/5
- Location – It’s about 25-30 minutes from Chicago, but is pretty close to U.S. 41, so it’s not too hard to get to. There’s a parking lot that’s right next to the play areas. 4/5
Overall: 5/5 There really is something for everyone. It’s so beautiful, and is really just a place you could spend an entire day, which is what a lot of families appeared to be doing when we were there today. In fact, Miri and I loved it so much that we’re going to take Azi back there in the morning. If you’re looking to get out of the city, this is the perfect suburban feel!