Sitting just beyond the southwestern fringe of Chicago, Oak Lawn is a culturally diverse suburb with ample green space.
In fact there’s more than 300 acres of public parkland in Oak Lawn, and the superb amenities managed by the local park district include a pool and splash pad, a nature preserve, a fantastic golf course and any number of pristine neighborhood parks.
On the west side of the village is the Chicago Ridge Mall, among the premier one-stop shopping destinations for the Chicago Southland.
There’s no lack of inspiration for things to do close by, from major sports venues to family fun centers, performing arts venues and massive parcels of restored nature.
1. Centennial Park Pool and Splash Pad
The largest public space for recreation in Oak Lawn is the stage for softball league games and all kinds of youth programs.
In a little under 40 acres, Centennial Park packs two playgrounds, two picnic areas, four softball fields, a soccer field, a basketball court, two roller hockey rinks and four sand volleyball courts.
Come summertime the big family attraction is the Centennial Family Aquatic Center at the park’s east end, featuring a pool with two waterslides, a diving area and a splash pad for hours of fun on sunny days.
As part of a major upgrade there’s now LED lighting throughout Centennial Park, as well as new exercise stations along the park’s trails.
2. Wolfe Wildlife Park
Stony Creek rises in Oak Lawn, flowing through the village for several miles and crossing the golf course of the same name before joining the Cal-Sag Channel. You can visit the source at this preserved wetland area towards the south of Oak Lawn.
More than 100 different birds have been recorded at Wolfe Wildlife Park, among them a number of waterbirds like the great white egret, double-crested cormorant and the black-crowned night heron.
On the trails here you may catch sight of foxes, turtles, frogs and raccoons, while the preserve is aflutter with monarch butterflies in summer. At the park’s southeast end is a wonderful nature-themed playground for kids.
3. Children’s Museum in Oak Lawn
Made for kids aged 1-12, this attraction provides open-ended and experiential learning in creative ways.
Whether the topic is science, math, the arts or future career paths, the Children’s Museum encourages children to take part and try new things. The exhibits are constantly refreshed so no two visits will be the same.
Some of the many spaces when we wrote this article included a role-play animal shelter, an interactive table demonstrating topography, a playground with oversize building blocks, an engaging exhibit dealing with earth and space and “What If”, explaining disabilities like hearing impairment and celebrating diversity.
4. Chicago Ridge Mall
Across U.S. 20 from Centennial park is one of the top shopping destinations for Southwest Chicagoland.
The Chicago Ridge Mall was first built in 1981 and at the time of writing had close to 120 stores.
To name a handful you’ve got Dick’s Sporting Goods, a two-story H&M, American Eagle, Forever 21, Old Navy, GameStop, Kay Jewelers, Claire’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and Yankee Candle.
The dining court has mainstays like Panda Express, Sbarro, Sarku Japan, Subway and KFC-Taco Bell, while dotted around the center are the likes of Five Guys, Chick-fil-A, Red Robin and Chili’s.
5. Haunted Trails Family Entertainment Center
This chain of Halloween-themed family fun centers has three locations in Chicagoland, the closest being minutes to the northwest in Burbank.
Awaiting you is a slew of indoor and outdoor attractions like go karts for all ages, a laser maze, a miniature golf course, batting cages, carnival rides designed for the youngest members of the family, and two enormous rooms loaded with arcade and redemption games.
The outdoor attractions are open April through October, or earlier, weather permitting, while the arcade rooms can be visited year round.
6. Beverly Arts Center (BAC)
Established in neighboring Beverly/Morgan Park in 1967, this multidisciplinary arts center has dynamic and high-quality programs for theater, dance, film, visual arts and music.
The Beverly Arts Center covers more than 40,000 square feet and features a 400-seat auditorium, an art gallery and various other exhibition spaces and studios.
So you can pay a visit to check out a contemporary art exhibit, or catch some live music, a play or a movie screening.
The BAC has a school of fine arts providing expert tuition to people of all ages in everything from dance to visual art, theatre and music, while the center also hosts regular workshops and talks.
7. Stony Creek Golf Course
Run by the Oak Lawn Park District, this 18-hole public golf course will test your approach shots, made up mostly of par 3s and par 4s.
The greens are always smooth and in impeccable shape, and there’s a multitude of bunkers to keep you on your toes.
The course is complemented by some fantastic facilities, including a driving range with 52 bays, three practice greens with a sand trap, two golf simulators and an 18-hole miniature golf course that kids are sure to love.
You can also sign up for lessons from a PGA pro, gear up at the pro shop and bring your round to a fitting end at the bar & grill, which has a big outdoor patio.
8. Memorial Park
On the east side of Stony Creek Golf Course is a public park adored by young families. For much of its history Memorial Park was known as Rocket Slide Park, and this stems from a space age piece of playground equipment.
The original rocket slide is long gone but has been replaced by another space-themed station. On the park’s east side is a large splash pad, equipped with flying saucers and rockets, and open in summer.
Elsewhere Memorial Park boasts a long paved trail for walking, cycling and jogging, as well as a beautiful pond, fringed by trees and equipped with a fishing dock.
9. SeatGeek Stadium
Close by in Bridgeview is a major sports venue, opened in 2006 with a capacity for 20,000 fans. For much of its history, the SeatGeek Stadium has been the home field for the Chicago Fire of the MLS.
They moved out in 2019, but the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars are still in residence and were runners-up in the NWSL Championship in 2019.
Over the last 15+ years, the stadium has hosted a wealth of other sports events, including games for the United States and Mexico men’s national soccer teams, rugby union matches and men’s and women’s soccer matches for Roosevelt University.
The stadium is also an entertainment venue, and has welcomed the likes of Bob Dylan, Phish, Kiss and Dave Matthews Band.
10. South Side Escape Rooms
Designed with a lot of flair by a husband and wife team, this escape room attraction in Oak Lawn has won a lot of praise for its ingenuity.
With a riveting backstory, South Side Escape Rooms require you to solve a diversity of puzzles across a spectrum media, so it will never feel like a “lock chase”.
When we put this list together the two rooms were The Invitation and The Storm, the latter designed as a sequel. Both rooms are for groups of four or more and are recommended for ages 15+ because of their difficulty level.
11. Cal-Sag Trail
The Cal-Sag Channel snakes past Oak Lawn to the south, linking the Little Calumet river in the east with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in the west.
The 16-mile channel was excavated in the 1910s for barges serving the heavy industry that used to dominate the area, and is now used more for flood prevention and pleasure boating in summer.
Since 2015 a multi-use trail has been taking shape on the south bank and will eventually stretch almost 27 miles along a green corridor from the Sag Quarries to the Burnham Greenway by the Indiana border, linking with more than 60 miles of additional trails.
For a gentle walk or bike ride by the canal there’s a designated parking lot close by in Palos Heights, and from there you can wander or cycle, spotting barges and birds by the water.
12. Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens
On the canal’s south bank no more than five minutes from Oak Lawn is a non-profit park in 85 acres.
Exploring Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens you’ll traverse woodlands, prairie, wetlands and the shores of a ten-acre lake.
On the shores of the lake are exquisite gardens for wildflowers, herbs & butterflies and heritage cultivars, as well as an arboretum planted with oak, beech and sweet gum.
Following the trails you’ll come across nature play areas for kids, a lookout by the canal, a beaver lodge, sculptures and a barefoot path.
The Nature Center has informative displays including animal terrariums and hosts a lot of interesting classes and programs throughout the year.
13. Patrick Sullivan Park
When Patrick Sullivan Park was first laid out in 1955 it became the first park in Oak Lawn east of Cicero Avenue.
Today it’s a typically well-kept public space, bordered by a paved path that takes you past plenty of deciduous trees, with a little grove on the northwest side that is beautiful during the fall.
For facilities, you’ve got a children’s playground, tennis courts, a picnic shelter, a sand volleyball court and fields for baseball/softball and soccer.
14. Stony Creek Promenade
At the corner of Cicero Avenue and 111th Street, by Wolfe Wildlife Park, there’s a recently regenerated shopping center.
Over the course of several years the Village of Oak Lawn purchased the surrounding properties, many of which had fallen into obsolescence.
Now Stony Creek Promenade has locations for Mariano’s, HomeGoods and T. J. Maxx, as well as a helping of chain restaurants like Raising Cane’s, Chipotle and Starbucks.
One much-loved local spot here is The Barrel Club, specializing in contemporary American cuisine, whiskey and craft cocktails.
15. Worthbrook Park
On a long and rectangular plot, this neighborhood park sits next to Hemlock Plaza at the northernmost end of Ridgeland Ave.
Worthbrook Park is a little shy of nine acres and owes its current layout to a redesign in 2003. It’s a handy destination for parents with smaller children thanks to a superb playground with a small splash pad beside it.
Right next to this is a popular skatepark where there used to be tennis courts. You’ll find a couple of basketball hoops close by, as well as a trail with fitness equipment, a baseball/softball field and a soccer field.