Exploring Chicago Neighborhoods,  museums,  random adventures

secret gardens of chicago – part 1 – alfred caldwell lily pool

This is the first in a series of posts about the secret gardens in Chicago and is in honor of my Mom and Mother’s Day. She has the unique ability to identify so many flowers & plants. A trait that I, sadly, did not inherit. Love you, little Momma!

alfred caldwell lily pool

One of my favorite escapes from the hectic, urban jungle is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool (aka Lincoln Park Lily Pool). It is a serene outdoor oasis located in the south section of the Lincoln Park Zoo (Cannon & Fullerton). 

Originally part of a Victorian Garden built in 1889, it fell out of popularity and into disrepair until 1936. In the Prairie School landscape architectural style (Frank Lloyd Wright), Alfred Caldwell redesigned the pool and surrounding area. It definitely has a very zen feel to it.

The Lincoln Park Conservancy & Chicago Park District collaborated on a master plan to restore this historic landscape and improve accessibility in 1997. The $2.4 million project began in 2000 and opened to the public in 2002. The renovation has earned this hidden gem both the National Historic Landmark and Chicago Historic Landmark status.

This lovely 2.7-acre garden is free and open every day, 365 days a year, the same as the Lincoln Park Zoo. Free street parking is available on Stockton Drive and a little further north on Cannon Drive. There are a couple of parking lots available nearby as well. 

nature museum

While you are here, I suggest you walk north toward Cannon Drive and circle around North Pond. You’ll pass the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, operated by the Chicago Academy of Sciences. They focus on the natural history of the Chicago region and offer educational programs for children and adults. Known for its amazing butterfly house, it also has a lab that teaches about the local butterfly population.

north pond casting pier

Heading north, to the museum’s left, you’ll come across an interesting plus-shaped concrete walkway at the pond’s south end. This is a casting pier that has been here since the late 1800s. 

The current North Pond casting pier was constructed in 1946 by the Lincoln Park Casting Club, known today as the Chicago Angling & Casting Club. A popular venue for birders and nature lovers alike, this structure is dedicated to preserving and promoting the art and sport of bait, spin, and fly casting – while in a natural environment within the City of Chicago.

The North Pond casting pier has been the site of multiple national and regional casting competitions and introduced thousands of Chicagoans, young and old, to the art and sport of casting – a tradition that continues today.

The Chicago Angling & Casting Club, with support from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, Anglers’ Club of Chicago, Elliott Donnelley Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, maintains this pier for the enjoyment and teaching of the art of casting. Stemming from one of the oldest organized casting clubs in the world, the Chicago Angling & Casting Club traces its roots back to the founding in 1891 of the Chicago Fly Casting Club, which hosted the world’s first international casting tournament at the Columbian Exposition in 1893 at what is now the Museum of Science & Industry.

urbs in horto

Continue strolling north, and you’ll pass by one of a few natural prairie gardens with an abundance of wildlife. They have planted the area with the native vegetation of prairies, savannas, wetlands, and woodlands. These plants, in turn, support and shelter all kinds of living things. Look for the turtles sunning themselves, ducks gliding in for a smooth landing, and a variety of happy birds in the bird garden. 

north pond cafe

On the north end of the pond sits an arts & crafts style building, the locally renowned North Pond Cafe. While it has been a consistently excellent dining experience for many years, the structure originally was a warming house for ice skaters. 

Continuing around the pond, you’ll wind up back at Fullerton. Follow Stockton south and pass the Lincoln Park Conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo. The Conservatory is a year-round respite for Chicagoans and was built around 1875. You can enter the zoo here or continue through the park to the main entrance at Stockton & Webster. This is one of the oldest free zoos in the country. It started with two pairs of swans from New York’s Central Park in 1868. It is open every day, and it hosts a variety of year-round activities like summer concerts and ZooLights in the winter.

lincoln park

As you continue strolling south, you will pass Cafe Brauer, Farm in the Zoo, and the South Pond Nature Walk. Look for the Lincoln Park Zoo Board Walk Pavilion designed by Studio Gang (our top female architect, Jeanne Gang) and the Ulysses S. Grant Monument. Not only is there a statue of Grant in Lincoln Park, there is a statue of Lincoln in Grant Park!

On the right side of the park, you’ll see where the Green City farmers market takes place on Wednesday & Saturday mornings. To the left, you’ll be heading toward North Avenue beach, or to the right, and you’ll be in Old Town, another great neighborhood to explore. We end up here on my North Michigan Avenue, Gold Coast & Old Town neighborhood walking route. Click here to book this tour.

living on the lakefront

For many years, this was my front yard when I owned a condo in the Marlborough, a lovely old hotel from the 1920s. When I moved in, I remember my Mom saying she could sit in the beautiful lobby all day and people-watch. 

Living so close to the park and lake, I often hung out and relaxed either by the lily pond or the north pond. Biking & running was a daily activity as well, and I was lucky enough to have a friend who had a boat docked just steps away at Diversey Harbor. 

One of my fondest memories is rolling out of bed, coffee in hand, heading out to cheer on the first marathon participants running past on Cannon Drive. I may just move back when I’m retired.

If you are interested in checking this area out, it is one of the stops on my Chicago Highlights tour by car route. With a car & driver, we are able to see the city in 4 hours and cover a lot of ground. Interested in this tour? You can book it here. I can also create a custom walking tour of this area as well. 

I hope you enjoyed discovering this secret garden in Chicago, and I would love to show you my beautiful city. Click here to peruse my other walking and driving tours.

Are you ready for an urban adventure?


  • Beth Elkassih

    I’m so glad I read this blog about Chicago’s secret garden. Can’t wait to get back to this find city and discover. Thanks for sharing.

  • mimi

    Thanks for finding me & your kind comment!

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