Washington Park is a beautiful oasis in the middle of Chicago’s South Side that offers urbanites a wonderful retreat from the concrete jungle. While excitement often revolves around the neighborhood’s namesake park, the rest of the community is not to be overlooked. The DuSable Museum of African American History is a big attraction that highlights Washington Park’s local heritage. It is the first museum of its kind in the United States and “the only major independent institution in Chicago established to preserve and interpret the historical experiences and achievements of African Americans.” DuSable is open to the public Tuesday – Saturday (10am – 5pm), with free admission on Sundays for all visitors (noon – 5pm).
In addition to museum exhibits, the multicultural heritage of Washington Park is celebrated by annual community events and outdoor fairs. The African Caribbean International Festival of Life is a well-anticipated neighborhood event that happens every summer on the eastern-most edge of the park. Vendors set up rows of booths selling everything from tribal jewelry to customary cuisine. Traditional African garments and fine art are highly featured at this festival and can easily have price tags in the thousands of dollars. Live reggae bands and other musicians provide the entertainment with dozens of performances that inspire visitors to dance in the street and sing along.
In early August, Washington Park gears up for another fun-filled cultural festival—Belize Day in the Park. The event is free and only lasts one day, but it packs in a lot of activities nonetheless. The park transforms into a tropical paradise with a calypso beat pulsing through the crowd and the unique aroma of spicy chicken drifting through the air.
When there’s not an outdoor fair lined with food stands to grab a bite, Washington Park has a selection of restaurants that specialize in soul food and barbeque ribs. The local mom-and-pop diners dish out healthy servings of southern-style cooking, including favorites like corn bread, collard greens, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish and black-eyed peas.
Chicago’s mass transit system (the CTA) makes it simple to travel around Washington Park and get downtown. The Green Line train runs through the neighborhood with stops at 55th Street and 63rd Street. It delivers passengers right to the Loop. If you have a car, the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94) is a couple blocks west of Washington Park and Lake Shore Drive is to the east about a dozen blocks. Both routes are relatively fast for heading north to the Chicago Loop—as long as it’s not rush hour.