This culturally diverse suburban city lies about ten miles west of the Chicago Loop. Berwyn has a beautiful streetscape, for its abundance of elegant Chicago-style bungalows, mostly from the 1910s and 1920s.
Just north of Berwyn is the village of Oak Park, where the great Frank Lloyd Wright made an indelible impression, designing dozens of buildings early in his career.
Looking around Oak Park you can track the very origins of Wright’s Prairie School movement, and you can see how it influenced landscape design at Jensen’s Columbus Park, also a short hop from Berwyn.
Closer to home, Berwyn has a vibrant cultural scene thanks to the 16th Street Theater and The Outta Space, which combines a bar and creative hotbed.
1. Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio
Completed in 1889 and extended six years later, Frank Lloyd Wright’s house and studio was the very first project over which he exerted complete artistic control.
Wright would spend 20 years here with his family, over which time he repeatedly refined the design of his building as he experimented with the ideas that would define the rest of his career.
The property has been restored to its 1909 appearance, which was the final year he spent here before moving in to his famous Taliesin in Wisconsin.
Looking around the property you’ll notice how the rooms seem to flow together thanks to the wide doorways, closed off by portieres.
One extraordinary space is the children’s playroom (1895), informed by Wright’s belief in the importance of nurture, with a barrel vault illuminated by a skylight with blossom and seedpod motifs.
2. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple
Part of a collective, nation-spanning UNESCO World Heritage Site for Frank Lloyd Wright’s most important works is the Unitarian Universalist church in Oak Park, built between 1905 and 1908.
A weighty cube of unadorned reinforced concrete with an overhanging flat roof, the Unity Temple has been described as the first Modern building, influencing architects who came after, like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
The austere exterior gives way to a warm interior, cherished for the sublime composition of light and space, lit from a high, continuous band of windows in the clerestory and a grid of amber-tinted lights in the ceiling.
3. Brookfield Zoo
Head across the Des Plaines River from Berwyn and on the west bank you’ll find Brookfield Zoo, a pioneering attraction since opening in 1934.
This was the first zoo in America to have giant pandas, and was the first to use moats and ditches for habitats, rather than cages.
And thanks to the Chicago climate Brookfield Zoo has also innovated indoor exhibits, like Tropic World, which became the first indoor tropical rainforest enclosure when it opened in the 1980s.
There are more than 450 species at the zoo, at 20 different exhibits, like Big Cats, Great Bears Wilderness, Habitat Africa!, Reptiles and Birds and the Fragile Desert.
Every year there’s also a new special exhibit, and one that returns every few years is Dinosaurs Alive!, when the park is taken over by dozens of lifesize animatronic dinosaurs.
4. Frank Lloyd Wright Walking Tour
With more buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright than any other place in the world, Oak Park is the ultimate place to visit if you want to witness the development of the nascence of his Prairie School movement at the turn of the 20th century.
Between 1888 and 1913 Wright designed numerous structures around the village, for Sullivan & Adler and then as an independent designer.
These are now encompassed by a designated Historic District. You can download a map for a self-guided tour of Oak Park, taking in masterpieces like the Harry S. Adams House (1913), William E. Martin House (1902-1903), Oscar B. Balch House (1911) and William G. Fricke House (1901-1902).
Conservatively you could make as many as 25 stops on your walk. For a rare inside look you could join the annual Wright Plus Housewalk in May, showing you around eight private residences and two landmark monuments by Wright and his contemporaries.
5. Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum
Within ten minutes of Berwyn you can visit the place where Ernest Hemingway was born and spent the first six years of his life.
The Queen Anne-style house at 339 N Oak Park Ave was built by the author’s maternal grandparents in 1890 and was the first home in Oak Park to have electricity.
Hemingway was born in a second floor bedroom on July 21, 1899, delivered by his father, Clarence, who was a medical doctor. His mother, Grace, was a prominent opera singer and music teacher.
The property was purchased by the Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park in 1992 and opened to the public in 2001 after being restored to its 1890s layout and embellished with Hemingway family heirlooms.
On an informative guided tour you’ll find out about Hemingway’s early days and see objects and fixtures that would have been familiar to the writer.
6. Berwyn Cultural Center
Part of the North Berwyn Park District, this dynamic amenity is in the former library building for Lincoln Middle School, which is still found opposite Elmwood Avenue.
The Berwyn Cultural Center is home to the 16th Street Theater, Berwyn’s only professional equity theater, established in 2007 and staging three superb productions a year.
Many of these shows have been recommended by the Jeff Awards, recognizing excellence in performing arts in the Chicago area.
The theater is also deeply engaged in the community, with acting classes for adults and a diversity of programs for kids and teens, including a popular summer theater camp.
7. Columbus Park
You can keep the Prairie School theme going at this historic park, just beyond Berwyn’s northeastern corner. Columbus Park is held as the highpoint of landscape architect Jens Jensen’s (1860-1951) storied career.
Laid out in 1915, these 135 acres conform to Prairie School principles, emphasizing the natural beauty of the landscape, using native plants and evoking the natural rock outcroppings of the Midwest.
These can be admired along the stone paths and in the layered rock of Jensen’s waterfalls. The park features Jensen’s signature Council Ring, for storytelling or contemplation, while there’s a charming refectory building rented out for weddings and other events.
The park stages a number of events in summer, like Chicago Shakespeare Theater productions and open-air Movies in the Park.
8. Proksa Park
Berwyn Park District’s largest park is a beautiful space, ready for passive and active recreation.
The south side is especially pretty for its rambling paths, flowerbeds, shrubs, hedges and trees, while there’s a pair of picnic groves, a children’s garden, a sizable playground, two ponds and a creek.
Head north, under the canopy of mature trees and past expansive lawns, and you’ll come to the Proksa Park’s sports amenities, which include a small disc golf area, two lighted baseball diamonds and three lighted tennis courts.
It’s no surprise that the park should be a popular venue for weddings in summer, while the Activity Center on the west side is also available for rental.
9. The Outta Space
In the few years that it has been open, The Outta Space has been a linchpin for the local arts community.
Essentially, this is an arts and music venue with a bar, encouraging communication, collaboration and creation.
At The Outta Space local artists have a positive platform to exhibit their work and perform, but, thanks to a rich program of events and workshops, also learn, teach, celebrate and connect.
On the schedule is a ton of live music, but also art shows, art sessions and workshops, mini film festivals, markets, circus performances a lot more besides.
10. Freddy’s Pizza
Next door in Cicero, this family-run corner food mart has been going since 1968. You can come to Freddy’s Pizza for ingredients like olive oils, balsamic vinegars, fresh and dry pasta and capers.
The deli counter is heaven for food lovers, loaded with everything from ricotta to mozzarella, prosciutto, antipasti, capicola, provolone, salami and much more besides.
And as for freshly made specialties, you can choose from Italian sandwiches, indulgent squares of thick crust pizza, all kinds of pasta dishes, chicken eggplant, gnocchi in vodka sauce, delicious homemade gelato and Italian lemonade.
11. North Riverside Park Mall
On Berwyn’s west flank is a vast area, almost a mile wide, dedicated to shopping. Beside the big box centers at Cermak Plaza and North Riverside Plaza is the North Riverside Park Mall.
This opened in 1975 and at the time of writing had more than 150 stores. There are branches of the many well-known chains here, like JCPenney, Foot Locker, Old Navy, Sephora, Victoria’s Secret, H&M and Forever 21.
For dining or snacks you’ll find several mall ever-presents like Taco Bell, Cinnabon, Auntie Annie’s and Subway, as well as a McDonald’s, Sbarro and Olive Garden.
The adjacent centers feature essentials like Best Buy, Costco and Kohl’s, as well as chain restaurants from Raising Cane’s to Red Robin, Panda Express and LongHorn Steakhouse.
12. Freedom Park
This park in the south of Berwyn is the HQ for the city’s Park District, hosting their administrative office, board meeting room and preschool classroom.
Outside, much of the park is taken up by a newly laid football field, with synthetic turf and floodlights.
At the north end, by the buildings there’s a great children’s playground area, while on a sunny day you can bring lunch to the peaceful picnic area, shaded by hardwood trees at the park’s south end.
13. Oak Park Conservatory
Moments north of Berwyn is a gorgeous glasshouse and botanical garden with free entry for the public.
As you see it now, the Oak Park Conservatory is in an Edwardian style, dating to 1929 and restored in the 1970s after decades of neglect.
This stunning piece of heritage has three distinct rooms, for tropical plants, Mediterranean plants and desert plants, including three groups of cactus and a variety of succulents.
There are also delightful urban gardens to explore outside, and this site serves as a nursery for spaces across the Park District of Oak Park.
The conservatory is a backdrop for a host of summer events, like Uncorked, bringing wine tasting, local food and live music.
14. Rehm Park
Opposite Oak Park Conservatory is a gorgeous neighborhood park that just came through a major renovation in 2021.
The first thing to mention about Rehm Park is the pool, which is Olympic sized and is still the most convenient public swimming facility for Berwyn.
This is open during the summer months, weather permitting, and is accompanied by some excellent family amenities.
The playground has been completely revamped and is laid with a soft synthetic turf surface, while another summer highlight is the miniature railroad, with trains propelled by the kids riding them.
A member of the Park District of Oak Park staff needs to be present for this to operate.
15. Berwyn Route 66 Car Show
Ogden Avenue in Berwyn is on the Historic Route 66, and to mark this heritage a car show takes place here every year in early September.
Since 1990, the Berwyn Route 66 Car Show has welcomed hundreds of vehicle enthusiasts and many thousands of spectators. The show shuts down a portion of the avenue, between Ridgeland and Oak Park Avenue.
This is the largest heritage vehicle display in the area, with upwards of 550 vintage cars, motorcycles and trucks, along with a variety of live entertainment and food trucks for local restaurants.