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The Garfield Park Conservatory is one of the best spots for lounging outdoors with a book.

Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

The seven best places to sit and read a book outside in Chicago

Parks, beaches, cafes, libraries — all you need to bring is your current book. Need a suggestion? We have those, too.

Since moving to Chicago five years ago, I’ve scouted out dozens of places to sit down with a book, whether it be coffee shops, beaches or my neighborhood Chicago Public Library branch. Gloomy weather feels cozy when you’re inside with a novel and have Netflix’s fake fireplace pulled up. But summer’s arrival means I don’t want to waste time indoors — even if it’s with my books.

Here are seven of the best spots to read during those perfect, 75-degree, no-wind days. This list also considers other summertime activities you might want to do before, after or during your reading. After all, you might decide that with late-evening sunlight, you don’t want to head home right after lunch with friends or walking around a street fest. And if reading itself is your activity for the day, I’ve highlighted bookstores, libraries and museums nearby.

We also asked Greta Johnsen, former WBEZ podcast host and current author of the GRETAGRAM newsletter, to give a few of her recommendations. See her picks here, along with inspiration for your summer reading list.

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The Montrose Bird Sanctuary has it all: shady places to sit in the grass, a great view of the downtown skyline and the sounds of birds chirping.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Chicago Sun-Times

Montrose Bird Sanctuary and harbor

The lakefront abounds with excellent spots to plop down with a book and a blanket, and this list could easily consist of locations solely within sight of Lake Michigan. But the area just south of the Montrose Bird Sanctuary has it all: shady places to sit in the grass, a great view of the downtown skyline and the sounds of birds chirping and waves crashing against the shore.

Prepare for crowds on sunny weekends, but if you’re able to show up on a weekday morning, you’ll have the place almost all to yourself. Prefer a bench to sit on? A short walk over to Montrose Harbor gives you the same skyline view and lots of spread-out benches to choose from.

Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool

Enter this hidden garden on Fullerton Parkway just behind the Lincoln Park Conservatory. The garden features its namesake lily pool and a variety of native plants. You can sit down at the edge of the lily pool to soak in some sunshine and get a broad view of the garden. Or, for a little more seclusion, keep walking along the stone path around the pool until you get to a covered stone spot called the Council Ring (warning: tours led by the Lincoln Park Conservatory often stop here). Note that because of a restoration project, the garden will not open until July this year.

Washington Square Park

Not to be confused with the famous park of the same name in New York City, Washington Square Park sits right in front of the Newberry Library on the Near North Side. Though the independent research library’s building is stunning, venture across the street to take advantage of nice weather. Benches border a large fountain and floral garden, and skyscrapers surround the park. You definitely feel like you’re in downtown Chicago, but without the chaos of the touristy Mag Mile nearby.

And if you’re a fan of dogs, you’re in luck: This is a popular spot for pet parents to bring their pups, making the park ideal for dogspotting in between chapters.

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Downtown’s Riverwalk offers prime people-watching opportunities and has plenty of seating

Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times

Riverwalk

Downtown’s Riverwalk offers prime people-watching opportunities and has plenty of seating in the form of public benches, grassy spots and outdoor seating at restaurants. My favorite spot when I want to read — but also be around the party boat-goers, joggers and architecture boat cruisers that make up most of the Riverwalk — lies just off the State Street entrance. Tucked away near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (which was just restored this year), a patch of grass offers a perfect spot to lie down with a book and take in the Riverwalk revelry in the background. But because it’s not right on the sidewalk like the nearby benches, it feels slightly more private — and tourists are less likely to ask you to take their photos every five minutes.

Another great downtown people-watching/reading spot: Buckingham Fountain.

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Guests can still walk around the UChicago campus and take in the mix of modern and ivy-covered Collegiate Gothic buildings.

Mendy Kong/WBEZ

University of Chicago campus

While building access is limited to UChicago students, faculty and staff, guests can still walk around the campus and take in the mix of modern and ivy-covered Collegiate Gothic buildings. Numerous museums — such as the Smart Museum of Art and the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center — are on or within walking distance of the campus, too.

Once you’ve had your fill of museum-hopping, wander until you find a spot outside whichever hall suits your fancy and relax with a dark academia novel befitting the surroundings. Don’t have a book on you (or just want an excuse to buy another one)? Pop by one of several nearby bookstores, including Powell’s Books Chicago, Seminary Co-op and 57th Street Books.

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The outdoor gardens at the Garfield Park Conservatory has perfect reading spots.

Brian Rich/Chicago Sun-Times

Garfield Park Conservatory outdoor gardens

The Garfield Park Conservatory’s indoor spaces keep me afloat in the winter and early spring when I need somewhere to read that’s not my apartment but doesn’t require buying coffee or food. But the conservatory is just as great in the summer — especially its outdoor gardens. The lily pond in the City Garden has stone benches along the edge that make perfect reading spots.

Chinatown Branch of the Chicago Public Library

Aside from the branch in my own neighborhood, this is my favorite Chicago Public Library location I visit most often. The second floor offers comfortable seating next to floor-to-ceiling windows (natural light!) with great views of the skyline and Red Line trains rolling past. Plus the design of the building — inside and out — feels open, inviting and less boxy than some public buildings can. During summertime, take advantage of the tables and chairs just outside the main entrance.


Bianca Cseke is a newsletter reporter at WBEZ.

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