Since joining Visit Oak Park in 2018, I’ve been shocked by the number of local Oak Parkers who tell me they’ve never been to the village’s many attractions, like the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, Unity Temple or Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Museum.
I guess it’s easy to take what we have here in Oak Park for granted. I’m guilty of it myself. As someone who’s had the opportunity to live all over the country, no matter where I’ve lived, it wasn’t until shortly before I was moving away that I realized I had to make a mad dash to see all the sites before I packed my bags and left town. There’s nothing more embarrassing than telling people you lived in Washington, D.C., (twice for matter) but never visited the White House, Lincoln Memorial or Smithsonian, right?
As a local, it might be easy to forget, but Oak Park has a unique set of attractions that draw visitors from across the country and around the world. There’s not a lot of places anywhere that can make that claim. Take it from me, as the former deputy state travel director for the State of Illinois, I know what I’m talking about. Honestly, it was part of the reason why I wanted to come to Oak Park in the first place. It isn’t very fun for anyone in the tourism industry to work in an area that doesn’t have any attractions, right?
If there was ever a time to be a tourist in your backyard, it’s now, Oak Parkers. It’s no secret that the pandemic has been devastating for the tourism and hospitality industry over the past three years. While visitors are trickling back to our local attractions, they need your support. With that, I'm thrilled to partner with the Chamber to highlight all the amazing attractions here and a few great ways to explore your own backyard with your family and friends:
You might not know this, but Oak Park is the birthplace of American architecture. If you’ve never visited, drop by the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio, and enjoy a guided tour of where Wright’s Prairie style design got its roots. Take a Pedal Oak Park tour from the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust to get a deeper glimpse into the mind of this genius designer with a tour of the surrounding historic neighborhood. And, of course, no tour of Wright’s Oak Park is complete without a visit to Wright’s famed Unity Temple, a National Historic Landmark and part of a collection of Wright works inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Of course, Frank Lloyd Wright is not the only game in town. Pleasant Home and Cheney Mansion are two other homes in Oak Park notable for their intriguing architecture. Check out one of the three unique tours Pleasant Home offers. Get a glimpse of servant life at the mansion, or take an expanded tour and see all three levels of the home. There’s also tour of the grounds of both Pleasant Home and Cheney Mansion, too.
Did you see the Ken Burns Hemingway documentary on PBS last year? Why not take a tour of Ernest Hemingway’s Birthplace Museum and get a behind the scenes glimpse of this enigmatic author that you just can’t get from watching the documentary on your DVR.
Have you been to the Oak Park River Forest Museum? This beautiful museum showcases unique and interesting historical artifacts of the area. Check out their many historical and timely exhibits, including the Fair Housing exhibit.
Got little ones? Let them kick off their shoes and put their creative thinking caps at Wonder Works Children’s Museum, loaded with six multisensory, interactive exhibits, like Lights, Camera, Action! for darling divas and Build It! for future Frank Lloyd Wrights.
It’s the plants that put on a show of their own at the Oak Park Conservatory. Citrus trees, scented geraniums, dreamy tropical palms, and desert cacti and succulents take turns in the spotlight. Kids love the chatty parrots. You know what natural wonders you’ll see at the Hal Tyrrell Trailside Museum of Natural History in River Forest either. It’s a storybook setting for kids curious about nature.
Be sure to check out Visit Oak Park’s website to find local shopping and dining options to fill out a perfect day for your family and friends. Be sure take plenty of photos and use our #visitoakpark hashtag to show others all the fun you’re having exploring everything in your backyard, okay?
Eric C. Wagner
President & CEO
Visit Oak Park
Visit Oak Park is the tourism bureau serving the Village of Oak Park and its neighboring Cook County communities, including the villages of River Forest, Berwyn, Brookfield, Forest Park, La Grange, and Riverside.