In the northwest of metro Chicago, this upscale city sits just east of the Des Plaines River. Something that distinguishes Park Ridge is its flourishing downtown, known here as “Uptown”, with restaurants, shops, idyllic parks and eye-catching architecture.
The presence of the Des Plaines River gives Park Ridge a wonderful natural escape on its west side, where a long mixed-use trail connects a series of Cook County forest preserves.
O’Hare International Airport is just a mile or two southwest of Park Ridge, and in between is Rosemont, with its wealth of shopping, sports and entertainment destinations.
Park Ridge is also known for its many famous former residents, including Hillary Clinton and the film stars Karen Black and Harrison Ford.
1. Pickwick Theatre
Park Ridge’s standout landmark is an exquisite Art Deco movie palace completed in 1928. On the National Register of Historic Places, the Pickwick Theatre has an imposing marquee, below a 100-foot tower.
Inside, the main auditorium is designed like a Mayan or Aztec temple, retaining its original five-aisle layout, and with a capacity for 1,000, while there are four additional theatres in a building at the back.
Just as it did in the 1920s, the Pickwick Theatre is a venue for both movies and stage shows, and was the home venue for the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra for 26 years up to 2020.
One of the designers who worked on the building was Alfonso Iannelli, whose studio can be found in Park Ridge, while the facade featured on the opening credits to Siskel and Ebert’s At the Movies (1982-1990).
2. Uptown Park Ridge
Unlike plenty of the Chicago suburbs, Park Ridge has a definite core, abounding with independent shops, restaurants and of course the regal Pickwick Theatre.
To avoid confusion with Chicago, this area has long been called “Uptown” rather than downtown, and is a lively and not to mention walkable place for an outing.
There’s ample greenery, thanks to Hinkley Park, Hodges Park and the grounds of the central public library, as well as tree-lined streets and a rich variety of architectural styles.
You can browse cute one-off shops for fashion, jewelry, tea, fabrics, accessories and handmade gifts, and the dining choice runs to contemporary American, sushi, Indian, Irish pub fare, pizza, Mexican, pan-Asian and steaks.
3. Des Plaines River Trail
The Des Plaines River meanders north to south through the Chicago suburbs before joining the Illinois river near Joliet. The river is the thread for an almost unbroken succession of Cook and Lake County forest preserves, and this is true for Park Ridge.
You can discover this tranquil sequence of oak-hickory woodlands, grasslands and wetlands via the Des Plaines River Trail.
This multi-use path traces the river through almost all of Lake County, and large portions of Cook County, for brief strolls, wildlife-spotting trips and day-long hiking adventures.
In the Park Ridge area you pick up the trail in the south at W Higgins Rd and follow it north for several miles as far as Campground Road Woods in Des Plaines.
4. Wildwood Nature Center
In five acres of restored native prairie and woodland is a wonderful amenity where families can get to know the wildlife of northeastern Illinois.
The highlight here is the animal exhibit room, keeping rabbits, prairie dogs and a host of native snakes, turtles and amphibians.
Next door is the Nature Nook, an interactive educational area full of games, puzzles, puppets, books and assorted activities.
Of course, Wildwood Nature Center hosts all kinds of child-oriented programs throughout the year, while outside you can visit the woodland and prairie, embroidered with wildflowers in spring and summer.
5. Prospect Park
Home to a pair of beautiful century-old cottages, this park was acquired by the local park district in 2013 and opened to the public three years later.
One of those cottages is now home to the Park Ridge Historical Society museum (more below), while an elegant community building has been raised with a design in keeping with the park’s historic architecture.
As for amenities Prospect Park has a playground, splash pad, pavilion, picnic area and concessions, available when the splash pad is open in summer.
There’s also a performing arts area, which is an anchor for summer performances and anticipated events like the family-friendly Movie in the Park series during the school summer break.
6. Dam No. 4 Woods East
Part of that green corridor along the Des Plaines River, Dam No. 4 Woods East is on the Des Plaines River Trail, but also stands alone as a peaceful place to jog, walk the dog, relax or take a picnic.
As with most of this chain of Cook County Preserves the main habitat is oak-hickory woodland, and this is broken up by picturesque grassy spaces and picnic groves bordering the access road from Park Ridge.
That road also leads down to the riverbank, and you stand a good chance of seeing deer, particularly just after sunrise or before sunset.
7. Centennial Park
The city’s main community park for recreation is packed with indoor and outdoor facilities.
At the north end is the state-of-the-art fitness center, loaded with aerobic and strength training machines, as well as free weights, a natatorium with a 25-yard pool, double gymnasium, racquetball courts and an indoor jogging track.
Outside there’s the aquatic center, open in summer, as well as a sledding hill in winter, batting tunnel, ball fields, soccer fields, picnic areas and a playground.
Concessions are available when the aquatic center is open during the warmer months.
8. Iannelli Studios Heritage Center
A friend and collaborator with Frank Lloyd Wright, the sculptor and designer, Alfonso Iannelli (1888-1965) moved to Park Ridge with his wife Margaret, herself an important illustrator, in 1919.
Here they set up one of the most prestigious studios in the Chicago area at the time, working with innumerable collaborators and making a profound impact on architecture, interiors, product design and commercial design over the following decades.
In 2011 the studio was purchased by the Kalo Foundation and has set about preserving this important historic site. You can visit to check out art exhibits, find out more about Park Ridge’s artistic heritage and catch music performances.
9. Park Ridge History Center
The museum run by the Park Ridge Historical Society can be found on the west side of Prospect Park.
Since 2017 the venue has been the charming Solomon Cottage (1908), built as the receiving facility for the Illinois Industrial School for Girls, which was founded in 1877 and closed in 2012.
Inside you can view meticulously researched exhibits, both permanent and temporary, examining the compelling history of Park Ridge.
A couple of recurring figures are Harrison Ford and Hillary Clinton, who grew up in Park Ridge and graduated from Maine East High School here in 1960 and 1965 respectively.
10. Axehead Lake
One of the most popular fishing destinations in the area can be found in that string of forest preserves along the Des Plaines River. Axehead Lake covers 17 acres and was excavated in the 1950s during expressway construction.
There are largemouth bass, bluegill and northern pike here throughout the year, but people flock to the lake in spring and fall when it is stocked with thousands of rainbow trout.
You can only fish from the shore here, and there’s a picnic shelter close to the water with a capacity for 150+ people.
11. Parkway Bank Park
Between Park Ridge and O’Hare International there’s a cluster of major facilities in the Village of Rosemont.
As well as Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs baseball team, you’ve got the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, several hotels, the gigantic Fashion Outlets of Chicago and the famous Rosemont Theatre.
If you’re in need of some inspiration for an evening activity, Parkway Bank Park is a 200,000-square-foot entertainment district, with an AMC dine-in theater, no fewer than 15 food and drink options, an indoor skydiving complex and an NHL-sized outdoor rink in the winter.
12. King Spa & Sauna
Something that might take you by surprise is a traditional Korean-style bathhouse, just next door in Niles.
The King Spa & Sauna is modeled on the Jjimjilbang, a 24-hour amenity that has existed for centuries in Korea, but is a fresh concept for America.
What you get at this enormous complex, the largest of its kind in the country, are nine sauna rooms, sleeping areas/relaxation lounges, a relaxation pool, a movie theater and even a food court with anything from wings to bubble tea.
A wide array of additional services are available, including various facial massages, body scrubs and acupressure massages for the body and feet.
13. Hodges Park
Like an old-fashioned town green, this open space sits directly in front of Park Ridge City Hall and was the first park to be established by the local park district.
This is the site for Park Ridge’s war memorial, and is a pretty place to pause for a minute or two, surrounded by the impressive Colonial Revival architecture of the City Hall and the Park Ridge Community Church.
Since the Maine Township High School Band first performed here in 1959. Hodges Park has been the go-to for outdoor summer concerts, and there’s an exciting lineup every year, with a special event on the July 4 weekend.
14. Park Ridge Farmers’ Market
A short walk from the Metra station in downtown Park Ridge there’s a weekly farmers’ market every Saturday morning, late May through the end of October.
This institution has been running since 1989 and invites vendors from Illinois, Michigan and Indiana.
On an average week you’ll find as many as 40 vendors at the market, specializing in seasonal fruits and vegetables, flowers, herbs, baked goods, jams, pickles, marinades, rubs, spreads and other hard-to-find specialty foods.
There’s always a choice of delicious food and beverages to go, from shaved ice to tamales.
15. Discover Symphony (Park Ridge Civic Orchestra)
Based for its first 26 years at the Pickwick Theatre, this highly-regarded ensemble was established in 1994 and has picked up numerous awards since that time.
In 2020 the Park Ridge Civic Orchestra changed its name to Discover Symphony to reflect its growing reach in metro Chicago.
The orchestra was founded by the first violinist for the Chuicago Symphony Orchestra, Edgar Muenzer, along with his wife Nancy, and has performed with a prestigious roll-call of guest artists, among them violinist Rachel Barton Pine, pianist Ralph Votapek and cellist John Sharp.
Whereas the PRCO would perform only at venues in Park Ridge, Discover Symphony is more of a roving ensemble, still anchored in this city.