Below is a simple map showing the various major areas for restaurants, night spots, hotels and shopping. The dashed lines indicate where the Chicago street numbering system breaks into North/South and East/West. Please note that a mile transpires for every 1000 address numbers.
Most common destinations occur in one of two areas, the Downtown core and Lincoln Park street corridors. Here are where the most common types of locations can be found:
Hotels – Chicago River and Michigan Avenue
Shopping – Michigan Avenue with some in the Loop
Restaurants – River North and Rush Street with some on Wells, Clark, Lincoln and Halsted.
Night Spots – River North, Rush Street, Clark and Lincoln
Movies – Michigan Avenue and Streeterville
Police and Hospital – Streeterville
(more info on each area, below the map…)
West Loop / Greektown / Printer’s Row / Chinatown
The Magnificent Mile / North Michigan Avenue
The Chicago River
Grant Park / Museums / Soldier Field / McCormick Place
Rush Street / Wells Street
Lincoln Park / Beaches and Harbors
Clark Street / Lincoln Avenue
Halsted Street / Broadway Street
Armitage Street / Sheffield Street / Belmont Avenue / Bucktown
Other Points of Interest
The Loop – The Loop is the central financial area for downtown Chicago. It contains the Board of Trade and various major banks. It has a few large hotels such as the Palmer House and Hilton Towers and is comparatively sparse on restaurants and night spots. Most places to eat cater either to quick lunches for business people or the tastes of older professionals. One draw of the loop is it’s two large department stores, Marshall Field’s and Carson Pirie Scott. The Loop is also the home to most of Chicago’s cultural events, namely orchestral music, opera, ballet and Broadway-style shows. This area is referred to as “the Loop” because all of the elevated (“el”) trains and subways converge here to form a large circular path. It also contains what was up until recently the world’s tallest building, the Sears Tower. You might want to visit it’s Skydeck for an overhead view of the city. return to index – next item
West Loop / Greektown / Printer’s Row / Chinatown – West Loop and Printer’s Row are basically extensions of the Loop, except that one crosses the Chicago River and the other Congress Avenue. Close in, the West Loop contains the two major train stations, Union Station and Northwestern Station, where you can catch most of the commuter trains to the other suburbs and Amtrak trains to other cities. The Greyhound Bus Terminal is also located at the Southern end of the West Loop. In addition, this area also has a small number of noteworthy features, such as Oprah Winphrey’s Harpo Studios, the east Bank Club workout facility, the Wishbone restaurant and Shelter, a popular industrial dance club. Farther out, the West Loop contains a number of photography studios and businesses that service the local restaurant industry. Eventually, going West, you will come to Greektown, where (you guessed it) the Greek restaurants are found. Past Greektown, visitors will find United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks.
Going South, you will cross over into Printer’s Row, known for it’s publishing history. Today, you will find it filled with loft apartments and a few nice restaurants like Prairie. Far beyond Printer’s Row is Chinatown, where you will enjoy such fine restaurants as the Three Happiness and other things oriental in nature. return to index – next item
The Magnificent Mile / North Michigan Avenue – North Michigan Avenue is pretty much the focal point of Chicago. (I always used to tell my friends that Chicago was only a mile long and two blocks wide.) The Magnificent Mile is indeed a mile in distance, spanning Michigan Avenue from Madison Street (0 North) to Oak Street (1000 North). The Michigan Avenue bridge, where Michigan Avenue intersects the Chicago River, marks the beginning of Chicago’s prime shopping area. (Please refer to the visual guide of the Magnificent Mile.) This area, North of the river is home to several large high-rise shopping centers; Chicago Place, Watertower Place and 900 North Michigan. The “Mag Mile” is also home to two of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions – The John Hancock Building and the NikeTown (no kidding!) Many of the more established hotels can be found along the Magnificent Mile as well. These include The Intercontinental, Marriott, Omni, Allerton, Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, Westin, and Drake. If you are looking for movie theaters, you can find several along the Mag Mile at 600 N. Michigan, Watertower Place and 900 N. Michigan.
If you are new to Chicago, you may want to use the John Hancock building as a landmark to guide you, should you become lost. It is extremely tall and visible, with tapered sides and a bright colorful band at the top marking the observation deck at night. The Michigan Avenue bridge is also a useful point to rendezvous at, not to mention the boat and bus tours that begin there. It is also where the famous Wrigley Building can be seen as it is brightly lit up at night from a large bank of spot lights on the opposite bank of the river. Michigan Avenue is an ideal area in which to catch taxi’s and various buses. return to index – next item
The Chicago River – The Chicago River is a “Y” shaped body of water that runs down the center of Chicago and is fed by Lake Michigan. As you might guess, this is where Chicago was founded. Fort Dearborn, an early settlement, was built on what is now the South end of the Michigan Avenue bridge. If you take a look at the various bridges that cross the river, you will notice that they are all drawbridges. These drawbridges are all functional and typically are raised and lowered a number of times each week. During the warmer months, sailboats pass down the river to get to the lake on Sundays around Noon, causing all the bridges to be put up in succession. On Saint Patrick’s Day they dye the river a bright fluorescent green. (That might explain it’s odd green coloration the rest of the year!)
As to practical information, the Chicago River is lined with all sorts of recently constructed buildings, some of which are hotels. These include, the Swissotel, Sheraton, Executive House, Renaissance, Westin River North (formerly Hotel Nikko) and the Holiday Inn in the Apparel Mart. Two other buildings of note are the Merchandise Mart and Marina Towers. The Merchandise Mart is said to be the world’s largest building (next to the VAB building at Kennedy Space Center where rockets are assembled.) Marina Towers are the two “corn-cobbed” shaped buildings constructed of reinforced concrete. Residents in these buildings can park their boats below on the river level. In the same complex is the “House of Blues” music club / restaurant and a large public bowling alley.
If you are looking for boat tours, there are plenty to be found along the Chicago River. These come in all sorts of price ranges, lengths of tour and themes. If you want to know more about Chicago’s history or the architecture along the river and lakefront, there are some wonderful boat tours for these topics. Look for tours in these 3 areas:
along the Chicago River, extending West of the Michigan Avenue Bridge
in and along North Pier, on Illinois Street at McClurg Court
along the outside edge of Navy Pier, at the end of Illinois Street (where it meets the lake)
return to index – next item
Grant Park / Museums / Soldier Field / McCormick Place – Grant Park is a large area of grass and trees directly East of the Loop and a little South of the Chicago River running along the lakeshore. At it’s Southern end are The Field Museum, The Shedd Aquarium, The Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field and McCormick Place. At its center is the awesome Buckingham Fountain which can be seen in the opening credits of Fox’s “Married With Children”. (Grant Park often makes me recall the 1970′s song “Saturday in the Park” by the band Chicago. No doubt it’s references to the 4th of July are regarding the “Taste of Chicago” or something that preceded it.) During the Summer, Grant park is home to many festivals and musical performances, namely the Taste of Chicago, the Chicago Blues and Jazz Festivals and weekly musical performances at the Petrillo Music Shell.
If you love museums, Chicago has some great ones. For art lovers, The Art Institute can be found on the Western edge of Grant Park at Adams Street. The Art Institute houses a number of famous works and always seems to have a temporary exhibit or two worth seeing. For the naturally-minded, The Field Museum of Natural History is a goldmine of items. Its new “Life Over Time” exhibit is very impressive (especially the dinosaurs).This is not to mention all of the other things you come to expect from places like this; mummies and Egyptian artifacts, mineral and precious stone collections, stuffed animals and insects, artifacts from other cultures. I must admit that one of my favorite places to be in Chicago is the dark and moody Eskimo exhibit with all the totems and such. You’ll love it. But if you like fishy things, then you should venture over to the Shedd Aquarium. You can spend hours in there looking at all the different species. They have a wonderful circular tank in the center that features divers and a whole underwater habitat. However, the star of the aquarium is the recent whale and dolphin wing. A must-see. And of course the cool frog exhibit will probably be there for a while longer, too. Last of all is America’s first planetarium. Go there to relax and look at the heavens.
Beyond the museums is Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears football team (at least for the time being). It also features a mega-concert or two every year. After that is the gigantic McCormick Place convention Complex, now consisting of three massive exhibit halls. McCormick South was recently finished in time for the Booksellers Show and is truly amazing. return to index – next item
Streeterville – Streeterville, named after an early settler on this land, is for the most part a pretty low-key area. In it you will find such things as the Northwestern Memorial Hospital complex, a major police station, McClurg Court movie theaters, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the local NBC and CBS television studios, a variety of smaller hotels and several nice, yet trendy hangouts such as Avanzare, Bice and The Gold Star Sardine Bar. However, for the tourists, there is one small section on Illinois just for you. That area contains North Pier and Navy Pier, where you can have all the fun and excitement you can handle. North Pier has two major bars, Dick’s Last Resort and the Baja Beach Club. It also has a number of small shops to shop at, a game arcade that includes laser tag and computer simulators, plus the delightful Nature Museum where you can get to know snakes and bugs intimately.
Navy Pier is a world unto itself. The most noticeable structure you will see upon approaching Navy Pier is the large ferris wheel that lights up in an array of visual patterns. (There have been numerous comments about this from the local residents who face Navy Pier). Secondly, you will notice the large white, umbrella-like canopy behind the ferris wheel. This is a theater where concerts and movies are held. It boasts the largest theater screen in Chicago. (Well, it’s probably bigger than Navy Pier’s IMAX theater, that in addition to regular IMAX movies, shows blockbusters like Terminator 2 late at night). Inside Navy Pier are a number of restaurants ranging in price and ambiance. These are from the likes of McDonald’s to Charlie’s Ale House to Widow Newton’s to Riva’s where you can get the very best in seafood. Also inside are a variety of shops and stands to look over as well as a large exhibit hall for trade shows and other public events. Outside, in good weather, you will come across a number of large tour boats, such as the Odyessy and Spirit of Chicago, a beer garden with live music and weekly fireworks performances. (I can see them from my apartment window. I don’t know how they can afford to shoot off so many, so often!) At the far end of the pier is a ballroom reserved for special occasions. Oh, and I mustn’t forget the Children’s Museum. What a great place to go play!
Along the Eastern edge of Streeterville is the lakefront, featuring a lovely(?) concrete beach and bike path that encounters Oak Street Beach at it North end. The beach can be accessed from Ohio Street or tunnels located at Ontario Street, Chicago Avenue and Oak Street. return to index – next item
River North – River North is pretty much devoted to great restaurants and bars. And they come in all shapes, sizes and kinds. Something for absolutely everyone. Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood, Ed Debevics, Michael Jordan’s and the Rock and Roll McDonalds (world’s busiest McDonalds) for tourists. Excalibur, Club 720 and Polly Esthers for gen-X / youth culture / college-minded drinkers and dancers. Magnums, Lawry’s, Shaw’s and The Butcher Shop for the steak and seafood crowd. Havana, Harry’s Velvet Room, Lola’s and the Husdon Club for stylish, cigar-smoking professionals. Andy’s, Jazz Showcase and Blue Chicago for the musically inclined. Scoozi, Brasserie Jo and Frontera Grill for those who just like good food. The Baton and Hooters for individuals with other things on their minds. Narcisse, Zinfandel and Cyrano’s Wine Bar for those fond of drink. Celtic Crossings, Papagus, Hat Dance, Redfish, Maggianno’s, Bukara, German American Restaurant, Suntory and Cafe Iberico for those with international palette’s. And my deepest apologies to the many other equally fine establishments I did not get mention here.
The Northwest section of River North contains the art gallery district. Typically, once a month, on a Thursday night I believe, they have openings where you can go look at the art and sip wine with your friends and other gallery patrons. return to index – next item
Rush Street / Wells Street – Now you are leaving the central city core and are starting down the Northern street corridors. Rush Street and Wells Streets, like River North, are primarily restaurants, bars and boutique shops. But before we go down Rush Street, let’s start with Oak Street at it’s base. The section of Oak Street we are concerned with is the one between the Northern end of Michigan Avenue and Rush Street. It is along this area that you will find some of Chicago’s most prestigious boutique clothing stores. Also, you will notice the Esquire movie theater.
Now, let’s head up Rush. Rush Street definitely has a different mood than River North. Rush Street is more animated, rougher, livelier. This area draws more of the younger “let’s party” crowd, especially to the concentrated block of bars on Division Street between State and Dearborn. It is here that well-known bars like Mothers and Butch McQuire’s have become mainstays for college students looking for a good time on the weekends. Immediately South of State and Division, you will find bars and restaurants that get a little bit tamer, but no less fun or enjoyable. Cactus, The Hunt Club, Carmines, Jilly’s Retro Club and El Colonial are just a few of the places available to those seeking a long evening of food, drink or dancing. Oddly enough, just to the North of Division on State Street, the age difference jets up. In places like P.J. Clarks, Yvette and the Zebra Lounge you will gradually find a more mature(?) crowd, ending finally at the Pump Room in the Ambassador East Hotel, which has a very formal atmosphere indeed (coat and tie required).
Now we’ll shift a few blocks West to Wells Street. I spent roughly 3 1/2 years living on Wells Street in a place called Cobbler Square. During that time, I found Wells Street to be an area lined with comfortable restaurants you could go hang out in. This is a neighborhood kind place… but be sure NOT to wander West into the Cabrini Green area. (I can’t stress this enough. It’s dangerous! Chicago has these invisible lines that seem to separate rough and tumble areas from nice respectable ones, even though they bump right up next to each other.) Wells Street has plenty to keep you occupied, especially the comedy clubs. The most famous of these is Second City, where a lot of well-known comics got their training. However, Zanies is an extremely great place to go to as well. And don’t forget to check out Tony and Tina’s Wedding, an audience participation event. Also, there are two movie theaters in the area: Pipers Alley and the Village. But mostly, this street has a lot of restaurants such as Orso’s, the Kamehachi sushi bar, Jerusalem Cafe, Fireplace Inn, O’Briens and Trattoria Roma.
At this spot, it is easy to veer off in many different directions. You can head up Clark or Lincoln, or jog West to Clybourn and Halsted. Or you may simply wish to stroll over to Lincoln Park and visit the zoo. return to index – next item
Lincoln Park / Beaches and Harbors – Lincoln Park is the other major park near downtown Chicago. It is roughly sandwiched between the lakefront beaches / Lake Shore Drive (the primary lakefront highway) and a number of short streets just West of Clark Street. It’s Southern edge begins at North Avenue and it’s Northern edge falls somewhere near Belmont Avenue, although the park system continues to extend North from there for a number of miles. Lincoln Park has considerably more trees than Grant Park as well as a more rolling landscape. It is an ideal place to have a cookout, lay out on a blanket with a book, or play frisbee with your dog. During the Summer, lots of Chicagoans run, bike and roller-skate up and down the sidewalks of this friendly area.
Other than the open landscape itself and the sports fields, the main reason people find their way to the park is the Lincoln Park Zoo. This zoo is free to visit and contains a large and varied assortment of animals. The polar bears and penguins, which probably delight in the chilly Chicago Winters, are some of my personal favorites. The zoo has an enjoyable landscape to wander about in and also features a nearby Conservatory of interesting plant life. One aspect of this zoo is the Farm In The Zoo, where urban children can be exposed to animals found in rural American, in addition to the more exotic varieties from far away places.
When you tire of the park or the zoo, you have two possible directions to head in. One is Clark Street and the other is the nearby beaches and harbors. At the South end of Lincoln Park is an overhead walkway that empties out on to North Avenue Beach. This beach generally has a lot of activity in the Summer and provides a wonderful view of downtown Chicago and it’s skyscrapers. Volleyball nets are frequently in use here, especially when a professional tournament is being broadcast by ESPN. I have gone down to watch Gabriel Reese play on a few occasions. If you decide to walk in a Northerly direction, you will pass Fullerton Beach and Belmont Harbor. return to index – next item
Clark Street / Lincoln Avenue Clark Street and Lincoln Avenue are two of the most highly traveled streets in the area immediately North of downtown Chicago. They are diagonally oriented and similar in nature, except for the buildings of special interest they each take you past. For the most part, these two thoroughfares are lined with miles of small restaurants, bars and shops. Each street in itself makes for a nice afternoon or evening walk, especially if shopping or people-watching is your aim. Major points along Lincoln Avenue include Oz Park, Children’s Memorial Hospital, De Paul University, the Biograph and Three Penny movie theaters, and three live performance theaters. Mainly, however, Lincoln Avenue is a source of nightly barroom entertainment. Major points along Clark Street include the Century Mall, several live theaters where it intersects with Halsted, and of course Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Ordinary activity on Clark Street is more focused on small boutiques of one kind or another. This is punctuated with the occasional interesting bar or restaurant. Side streets you may want to go down include Broadway and Belmont. return to index – next item
Halsted Street / Broadway Street Halsted Street is a long and diverse corridor filled with great places to eat and entertaining things to do. One of many reoccurring themes associated with Halsted Street is live performance. Chicago is full of wonderful theater companies and if that is your cup of tea then Halsted is the place for you. Nearby theaters include the Royal George, Steppenwolf, Touchstone, Ivanhoe, Briar Street and Organic theaters. And if you are a diehard blues fan, be sure to check out Kingston Mines and B.L.U.E.S. Second on the Halsted list is food. Some of my favorite restaurants are on Halsted, such as Blue Mesa, King Crab and Cafe Ba-Ba-Re-Ba. Along with that, Halsted has some very interesting shops to browse through, especially if you are into vintage clothing. As you go farther North on Halsted, you will eventually observe the third major theme of Halsted: alternative lifestyles. A large number of gay and lesbian people live in the North Halsted area, and there are a wide variety of bars, restaurants and shops that in the area that reflect their preferences. Broadway, which is a street that turns off of Clark, parallels and eventually intersects with Northern Halsted. It contains many interesting clothing, book and novelty shops that appeal to both gay and straight individuals. return to index – next item
Clyborn Street – The Clyborn Street area is sparsely peppered with an odd assortment of pretty neat things. It’s very eclectic! For example, at it’s Southern end, you can visit the Crazy Horse (formerly Thee Dollhouse, an upscale gentlemen’s club), Uncle Julio’s Hacienda (a great Mexican restaurant), Crobar (a hip dance club), North Beach (a sports bar with indoor basketball, sand volleyball and bowling), Bub City (a large Texas-style eatery with fantastic crab), Whole Foods (a truly great natural food grocery store and cafe), Erehwon (a camping and backpacking store of significant merit), The Goose Island Brewery (a local micro brewery of note), and Vinyl (a popular night spot). Farther up Clyborn, after passing Armitage and the Bossa Nova night club, there are a number of strip malls with interesting places to visit such as the Lands’ End Outlet, Great Ace hardware store and Webster movie theaters. return to index – next item
Armitage Street / Sheffield Street / Belmont Avenue / Southport Avenue / Bucktown – descriptions to come. return to index – next item
Other Points of Interest – Museum of Science and Industry, Comisky Park (White Sox), the Rock and Bowl, Brookfield Zoo, Green Mill (jazz), Heartland Cafe (health food that tastes good), Bahai Temple (awesome architecture), Ravinia (concerts). And be sure to catch “Wild Chicago” and “Ben Loves Chicago” on local TV stations for plenty of other fascinating Chicago places to visit. return to index