Named after the famous Roman consul, this western suburb of Chicago is a blue collar town long associated with manufacturing.
In the 1920s Cicero was where Al Capone relocated to escape the attention of the Chicago police, and there are a couple of landmarks around town harking back to his time.
A manufacturer at the height of its power in Capone’s time was Western Electric at Hawthorne Works, and the last remaining vestige of this vast complex survives in the form of a Medieval-style tower along West Cermak Road.
This factory, manufacturing phone components and electrical products, essentially gave birth to Cicero and is remembered for its progressive employment ideals and its well-paid and content workforce.
1. Columbus Park
A masterpiece in the Prairie Style, this park just northeast of Cicero was designed entirely by the feted landscape architect Jens Jensen (1860-1951).
Jensen was given free rein to implement his ideas at Columbus Park, and these 144 acres were laid out between 1915 and 1920.
Complementing the natural beauty of the pre-existing landscape, the park features a meandering lagoon designed to evoke a prairie river, endowed with charming little cascades and waterfalls made from stratified stone.
Native plants grow throughout Columbus Park, and there’s a tangle of stone paths that converge on the “Council Ring”, a circular stone bench for storytelling.
Incorporated into the fabric of the park is the nine-hole, links-style Columbus Park Golf Course.
2. Oak Park Conservatory
Both a remarkable piece of local heritage and a botanical wonder, this conservatory is on a small plot a couple of minutes from Cicero.
The structure, dating to 1929, has a stately Edwardian design and contains a wide array of plant life. Many of the plants growing in Oak Park’s public spaces are cultivated in this facility.
In the collections are desert species, including several groups of cactus and succulents, as well as bay, figs, date palm and olive trees.
You can also see a variety of orchids, rainforest plants and ferns, and exotic fruits, from fig to banana, lemon and papaya.
The conservatory has a bustling events program, including Uncorked, a monthly wine festival, with local food and live music.
3. St. Mary of Częstochowa
One monument that will capture your attention on your way around Cicero is an historic church, completed in 1918.
This opulent neo-Gothic building is a classic example of the Polish Cathedral style that is specific to the Great Lakes region.
These Catholic churches, mostly from the 19th and early 20th century are renowned for their grandeur and theatrical ornamentation, and St. Mary of Częstochowa is no different.
Visible for miles around, the two towers framing the main portal are 200 feet tall and are crowned with crocketed pinnacles.
Inside, the communion rail, pulpit and altars are all fashioned from Carrara marble, and the main altar is capped with a replica of the venerated Polish icon, the Black Madonna of Częstochowa.
On the sidewalk in front is a sculpture of Christ the King, by Czesław Dźwigaj, famed for the monumental bronze doors on St Hyacinth’s Basilica in Chicago.
An interesting piece of trivia about the church is that Al Capone’s sister Mafalda was married here in 1930.
4. Hawthorne Works Tower
Up to 1983 Cicero was dominated by an immense factory complex that opened in 1905 and manufactured telephone equipment and household appliances.
At its peak the Hawthorne Works employed 45,000 people and became the focus for influential academic industrial studies in the 1920s.
Around that time the trailblazing engineers and statisticians Walter A. Shewhart and W. Edwards Dennin were employed at the works.
After the factory shut down the land was redeveloped as a shopping center, but the works’ famous castle-like tower, complete with decorative arrow loops and machicolations continues to rise over the former site.
To see artifacts and accounts from Hawthorne Works, check out the excellent Hawthorne Museum at Morton College.
5. Freddy’s Pizza
This family-run Italian deli, market and restaurant at 1600 61st Ave is a neighborhood go-to, in business since 1968.
Freddy’s Pizza is completely without pretence, so it’s appropriate that you’ll find such a place in Cicero.
What you get are delicious Italian specialties, from Neapolitan and Chicago-style pizza to ravioli, stuffed gnocchi in vodka sauce and chicken vesuvio.
At the deli counter you can pick from a vast range of imported fine meats and sausages, cheeses, seasonings, olive oils, homemade marinara sauce and freshly prepared salads and pasta dishes to take home.
Always popular are the frozen lemonade and gelato and in a range of homemade flavors.
6. Cicero Community Park
This spotless neighborhood park is the main gathering place for Cicero. The centerpiece at Cicero Community Park is a little plaza couched in formal flower beds and traced by a pergola.
During the summer there’s a calendar of festivals, games and programs happening here, while carnivals are set up in the parking lot on the southwest corner.
A lovely time to come is around the holiday season for the Christmas lights. The park also has a few permanent amenities, like an open skate park, while the network of paths have a steady stream of joggers, families with buggies, cyclists and dog walkers.
7. West Cermak Road
This artery passes through Cicero and runs as far east as McCormick Place south of downtown Chicago.
In Cicero, West Cermak Road is where most of the local businesses are located. And given Cicero’s Hispanic population there’s no shortage of authentic taquerias and Mexican restaurants, bakeries, ice cream shops and markets.
Some picks are La Lupita (6539), Indio (6037), La Central (6034), Paleteria Las Delicias De Michoacán (5737), Taqueria La Guadalupana (5517).
For a bit of local history, 4833 W. 22nd Street is the site of Al Capone’s Cicero headquarters in 1924.
There’s plenty of early 20th century architecture to admire on West Cermak Road, and this goes especially for the Olympic Theatre (6134), dating to 1927.
8. Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink
Named for one of the greatest Chicago Blackhawks of all time, this open-air skating rink in Cicero opened for its inaugural season in 2011.
Weather permitting, the Bobby Hull Community Ice Rink is open seven days a week, all season long.
Open skate entry fees and skate rentals are $3 and $5 respectively for non-residents and just $1 each if you live in Cicero.
Most days are broken down between stick and puck sessions (normally 10 am til 3 pm), and lighted open skate, which continues into the evening.
9. Hawthorne Park District
Cicero proper doesn’t have a ton of other public open space, but the Hawthorne Park District building backs onto a large sweep of greenery.
This offers a few amenities, like a basketball court in great condition and tennis and volleyball courts, along with a small swing set for children.
You’ll find a large open field for casual sports, picnics and walks, bordered by tall mature trees and with a pair of baseball diamonds on the south side.
There’s ample free parking by the park district building and you can rent a hall here for private events.
10. Portillo’s Hot Dogs
If you’re in the Chicago area and craving some quick indulgent food, this Second City icon is a good bet.
Portillo’s was founded in Villa Park in 1963, and despite its high reputation has only recently started to branch out beyond Illinois’ borders.
Almost all of the chain’s 60 locations are within this state, and there’s a spot a few minutes west of Cicero on Roosevelt Road in Forest Park.
Best known for its Chicago-style hot dogs, with chopped onions, tomatoes, pickle and everything else piled onto a poppy seed bun, Portillo’s also has a menu packed with other Chicago favorites like Italian beef sandwiches and baked mostaccioli pasta.
11. Barrie Park
As soon as the snow settles in winter, families flock to this neighborhood park, which has one of the best sledding hills around.
The slope is well cared for throughout the season, while the park, a few minutes north of Cicero, also has a small playground for wee ones, a soccer field and a baseball diamond.
Barrie Park has an interesting past, as the site of a manufactured gas plant at the turn of the 20th century.
In the late 1990s hazardous chemicals were found in the soil, which triggered a three-year clean-up operation before the park bounced back better than ever in 2005.
12. Cicero Marketplace
On the east side of Cicero, this enormous shopping center has a ton of big box stores and chain restaurants.
Cicero Marketplace has been around since 1995 and has a Target, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, GameStop and Five Below, to name a few.
Sprinkled around the place are branches of IHOP, Sonic, McDonalds, KFC, Panda Express and Starbucks.
A little further north, in the shadow of the Hawthorne Works tower is another strip mall with a Foot Locker, Menards, a 14-screen AMC multiplex and a few more eateries like Taco Bell, Popeye’s and Subway.
13. North Riverside Park Mall
Keep going along West Cermak Road and in a few minutes you’ll come to this large mall in North Riverside.
There are close to 100 stores and services at the North Riverside Park Mall, including familiar brands like Old Navy, Sephora, H&M, Forever 21, Foot Locker, Victoria’s Secret, Hot Topic, Claire’s and Kay Jewelers.
The main anchor on the south side is JCPenney, and here and there you’ll find some food court favorites like Cinnabon, Dunkin’, Baskin Robbins and Auntie Anne’s.
14. Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park
If you’re on the hunt for family activities, this center is in North Riverside, right next to the mall.
There’s a lot going on inside Urban Air, and the range of attractions extends far beyond a typical trampoline park.
You’ve got go-karts, virtual reality games, a climbing wall, a “Sky Rider” zip line, a ropes course, kid-friendly “Adventure Hub” playground and bumper cars.
Added to that are all of the side activities you would normally find at a trampoline park, like a Wipeout area, battle beam, dodgeball court, tumble track and slam dunk zone.
You can also purchase flexible passes giving you access to as many or as few attractions as you please.
15. Hawthorne Race Course
In the south of Cicero, the Hawthorne Race Course first opened in 1891, making it the oldest family-run racetrack in North America.
When horse racing was banned in Chicago in the early 20th century the field became a testing ground for the aviation pioneers Victory Allan Lockheed.
A noteworthy detail about the main track here is the home stretch, which at 1,320 feet is one of the longest in the United States.
Three events to mark in the diary are the thoroughbred graded stakes races, the Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicap (October), the Illinois Derby (April) and the Sixty Sails Handicap (April).
When we wrote this article the course was in the process of a $400 million redevelopment, which will turn the track into a casino and entertainment destination, to go with its historic track.