Things to do Near the Magnificent Mile

There are a number of places that can be described as definitively Chicago — the sky scrapers that reach high into the clouds, Lake Michigan lapping against the shoreline and Michigan Avenue, affectionately known as the Magnificent Mile, that runs straight through the heart of the city’s downtown.

In fact, the Magnificent Mile has become one of the most important cultural and commercial areas within the entire city. It’s no wonder the Magnificent Mile Association reports that 68% of all Chicago hotels are located there. For those coming to visit the city, they want to be right where the action is!Chicago Hotels

Here at Giordano’s, we know a thing or two about being definitively Chicago, so we decided to put together a guide to the essential Magnificent Mile experience. Included is a brief history of this centuries-old thoroughfare, some thoughts on the best things to do on the Magnificent Mile and some of the best restaurants in the area.

If you find yourself visiting Chicago for the first time or are a local looking to get more familiar with the city’s premier shopping and cultural district, look no further than this exploration of Magnificent Mile attractions.

A Brief History of the Magnificent Mile

Before we explore such things as what stores are on the Magnificent Mile or the best places to get something to eat in the area, we want to offer a crash course on the storied history of the cultural hub of the Midwest.

One of the oldest and defining structures of Chicago is the Historic Water Tower and Pumping Station, located right in the heart of the district. It is one of the only structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire and has become symbolic of the city’s return to glory after such destruction. In fact, despite some pressure from developers to replace the water tower with more lucrative commercial real estate, the citizens of the city have consistently rallied to save the structure, elevating it as a monument of Midwestern industrial tenacity.

However, it was not until the formation of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association (GNMAA) in 1912 that Michigan Avenue began to transform into the Magnificent Mile that Chicagoans have come to know today. The GNMAA and other commercial investors began to develop a vision for the street, which eventually led to the construction of the Michigan Avenue Bridge (now known as DuSable Bridge) in the 1920s, which helped to unify the North and South sides of the Chicago River.

Although the stock market crash of 1929 put a temporary hold on commercial development, the GNMAA survived and recommitted to their vision shortly after the conclusion of World War II. It was then, in 1947, that developer Arthur Rubloff first began referring to the commercial section of Michigan Avenue as the “Magnificent Mile.”

Over the course of the 20th century, further development firmly established Michigan Avenue as the economic heart of an already economically crucial American city. Buildings like the iconic John Hancock Center rose above the avenue, signaling that the sky was the limit for Chicago, the greatest Midwestern metropolis.

As the century turned, the Magnificent Mile continued to define the culture of the city. Hugely popular events like Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, attended by 800,000 people according to the Magnificent Mile Association, bring the city together every year. The over one million lights hung on more than 200 trees serve as proof that the future is bright for Michigan Avenue.Lights Festival

Essential Magnificent Mile Attractions

With so much history, it’s not much of a surprise that there is a lot to do along the Magnificent Mile. This is definitely an area that knows how to commemorate its own history. Museums, such as the Chicago History Museum and the Chicago Sports Museum document the ways the city has grown over the years. Art lovers must include a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art along with the Art Institute of Chicago. Book lovers can get lost for days in the independent Newberry Library. Those interested in the Gilded Age history of the city should check out the Richard H. Driehaus Museum. Families should definitely explore the John G. Shedd Aquarium the Museum of Science and Industry. Plus, there are countless opportunities to catch live music and theater in the area, so make sure to search out specific cultural events whenever you are planning your visit.

 Magnificent Mile Shopping

 There isn’t enough space to write about every shopping opportunity along the Magnificent Mile. In fact, according to the Magnificent Mile Association, North Michigan Avenue is the 8th most high-end retail shopping street in the country, up there with the likes of Times Square and Rodeo Drive.High End Retail

We’d also be remiss, though, if we didn’t at least try to scratch the surface of this peerless Midwestern shopping district. With that in mind, here are some of the highlights of Magnificent Mile shopping:

  • Apparel.

Of course, there are plenty of store fronts boasting some of the best known quality clothing brands in the country. Levi’s, Gap, Brooks Brothers, Hugo Boss, Ann Taylor and Under Armour all have a presence along Michigan Avenue. However, there are also more “in-the-know” brands that are definitely worth investigating, especially if you are the type of fashionista who doesn’t want to be caught at a party wearing the same top as someone else.

Boutiques like Alice + Olivia cater to the whimsical and daring tastes of the fashion forward. Max Mara focuses on extremely high-end Italian fashion. There’s also OSKA, a German design company that focuses on casual yet stylish clothes for women. Regardless of your tastes in fashion, you are sure to find a clothier that caters to your personal look.

  • Shoes.

Any shoe lover will tell you that shopping for footwear is entirely different than shopping for apparel. Thankfully, the Magnificent Mile takes shoes just as seriously as they take fashion. Stores like Cole Haan take leatherwork to the next level.

Perhaps most impressive, though, is Hanig’s Footwear, a boutique that for over 70 years has defined Chicago’s footwear scene. They curate their selection, featuring brands such as Ecco, Arche, Mephisto, Thierry Rabotin and Alden. Located within the iconic John Hancock Center, this is a store that will make any shoe lover, male of female, feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven.

  • Department stores.

What is a downtown shopping trip without a visit to an iconic department store? In Chicago, department store shopping both begins and ends with Bloomingdale’s. This six-story store has defined Chicago shopping culture since it opened. Not only does it provide shoppers with an unrivaled selection, but the third floor visitor’s center is a great first stop for anyone looking to explore the city for the first time. In addition to Bloomingdale’s, shoppers should also make sure to explore the fashion-forward Nordstrom, along with the service-minded Saks Fifth Avenue — both of which help to round out the Chicago department store experience.

  • Housewares/Furnishings.

Although these items may be harder to carry down the road during your shopping spree, those looking for premier housewares and furnishings will find plenty to fall in love with along the Magnificent Mile. The elite home and lifestyle brand, Crate and Barrel, has a flagship store along Michigan Avenue. For the shopper who loves to cook, Le Creuset, the French purveyor of cast iron cookware, also has a Magnificent Mile boutique, and Bloomingdale’s has a dedicated home and furniture store located at Medinah Temple.

While many boutiques and clothiers also offer fragrance and cosmetic lines, there are a number of shops dedicated to personal care. First founded as a New York apothecary, Kiehl’s has earned a reputation for finding their customers the perfect products for all of their cosmetic needs. MAC cosmetics also has a storefront along Michigan Avenue. So those looking for beauty tips or just the latest beauty products are sure to find whatever they need here along the Magnificent Mile.

  • Luxury brands.

Urban shopping is synonymous with up-scale luxury brands. You don’t have to look hard to find some of the most iconic global brands along Michigan Avenue. Burberry’s retail store, architecturally rendered with its distinctive plaid trademark, is a must visit — so is the Coach store. Both Gucci and Armani have a presence along the Magnificent Mile as well, and of course any bag lover will have to make a stop at Louis Vuitton.

  • Jewelry.

Are you traveling to Chicago on business, and you know you need to make sure to bring something special home for the missus? Or are you are traveling with a man who needs a little encouragement in picking out a symbol of his lifelong commitment to you? Either way, Michigan Avenue is also home to premier jewelers that can help you pick out a one-of-a-kind item.

Cartier, Inc., is an elite Paris jewelry design house. Marshall Pierce and Company has been serving Chicagoans since the 1920s. Tiffany and Company is a jewelry brand so recognizable that it warrants little introduction. Finally, Lester Lampert Inc., with its reputation for finest craftsmanship, has a long famed storefront in the district.

Needless to say, shopping is a defining feature of the Magnificent Mile. Since its inception, the street has been characterized by its commitment to fine retail and culture. So don’t be afraid to wander and get lost. While we are happy to point out some commercial highlights, you never know what you’ll discover if you just walk into a curious storefront.

Restaurants Near the Magnificent Mile

While we definitely love to shop, it is the food that we take most seriously. In addition to the best places to shop, we also want to share our favorite eateries along the Magnificent Mile. We realize that there are as many tastes among customers as there are restaurants, so we’ve broken our guide down according to culinary style.

With that said, here are our favorite Magnificent Mile restaurants! Bon appétit:

  • Best Vietnamese Food: Le Colonial

This isn’t your typical Vietnamese street food. This is a high-end French/Vietnamese restaurant that is seeking to elevate Vietnamese dining for an elite crowd. Elegant settings are punctuated by nods to Vietnamese style and architecture, such as woven chairs and palm trees. However, Vietnamese cuisine, with its aggressive spices and flavors, can never be described as stuffy.

We recommend trying the Bun Thit Nuong, which is a pork dish served with angel hair noodles. The Banh Uot — a sesame flavored beef roll — is also excellent. However, even though this is high-end dining, don’t be afraid to stick with the basics. Like any Vietnamese restaurant, they serve excellent Pho, albeit with a more elegant presentation. With a wide variety of proteins available, this is certainly a restaurant that shows off everything Vietnamese cuisine can be.

  • Best Steak: Tavern on Rush

If there is something that Chicago understands, its how to prepare meat. And when it comes to elite steakhouses, Tavern on Rush knows how to let the classics shine while also being innovative. Of course, their menu both begins and ends with an excellent presentation of the best cuts of beef, perfectly prepared.

Kansas City strips, New York strips and Veal chops all shine. They also obviously know how to present a filet mignon, the most sought after cut of beef on any steakhouse menu. However, they also offer a number of excellent seafood options, including Hawaiian tuna, cold water lobster tails and king crab legs. Plus, they feature some great burgers and brick oven pizzas if you would rather go without a knife and fork for the evening. Add to that an excellent selection of beer, cocktails and wine, and you have a well-rounded steakhouse dining experience.

  • Best Italian: Nico Osteria

If you are in the mood for high-end Italian food, Nico Osteria is the way to go. It’s a beautiful restaurant, complete with gorgeous windows that give you a glimpse of the city. Their most impressive dishes are their crudos, with specific options shifting regularly with the market. They also offer excellent stuffed pappardelle, with features such as succulent milk braised pork.

If you really want to go over the top, though, check out their decadent whole fish presentations, including the farm raised salt-crusted Branzino. Also, don’t forget to order some oysters and cocktails, all of which are served and designed to separate this elite dining experience from the rest of the culinary crowd.

  • Best Pancakes: The Original Pancake House

To be honest, the name says it all. This is a place that knows how to do pancakes, and they have been doing so for generations. They are most famous for their Apple pancake, which features Granny Smith apples and a pure Sinkiang cinnamon glaze. However, there’s also an excellent Dutch baby pancake, which is served with whipped butter, lemon and powdered sugar. Plus, they have a wide variety of waffles, like their delicious strawberry waffle, as well as omelets, crepes and breakfast meats.

If you are traveling along the Magnificent Mile during the morning or early afternoon, this is a great place to pick up brunch! An added bonus is that families with picky eaters probably won’t have to work hard convincing young ones to take a bite.

  • Best Cupcakes: Sprinkles Cupcakes

Just imagine — you have an extreme sweet craving, but the bakery is closed. In most towns, you’d simply be out of luck. However, along the Magnificent Mile, you’ll find Sprinkles Cupcakes with their world-famous cupcake ATM. The process is simple: You walk up to the ATM, pick your cupcake, swipe your card, and a fresh cupcake arrives. It doesn’t matter what time of day or year — the ATM transforms Sprinkles into a 24/7 business.

Their success isn’t built on convenience alone, however. Their flavors, such as Cuban coffee, take gourmet cupcake making to the next level. If you do happen to get there when the store is open, though, be sure to go in — the smells alone are worth the visit.

  • Best Bar Food: 25 Degrees

Just because you’re on Michigan Avenue doesn’t mean you only have high-end food options available. 25 Degrees is a bar food lover’s dream come true. Their menu centers on one thing: superbly prepared burgers. Built on a “build your own” model, diners pick their preferred burger protein — beef, turkey or veggie — and then top their burger to the specific tastes. The result is a burger that never disappoints. They do have a couple special burger options, such as a yellowfin tuna burger, which are worth exploring if you are more adventurous, and of course, fried sides, such as onion rings, French fries or sweet potato fries, round out the meal.

If you just want a burger without the pretension, this is the place to go. The friendly staff make it an easy-going experience that never skimps on quality.

  • Best Cocktails: Drumbar

If you’re going to specialize in cocktails, you are going to have to work hard to standout. That’s exactly what Drumbar does. This elegant rooftop bar puts their spirits first. The indoor lounge harkens back to the old-school drinking establishments, complete with luxurious leather seating, that look like they were taken straight out of an episode of Mad Men. Then, when the weather is agreeable, their outdoor terrace seating gives you an unrivaled view of the Chicago sky line.

However, their most important features are their liquors. Their menu includes a long list of the most sought after libations, including many that cannot be found elsewhere in the city. When you are more interested in sipping than eating, this is the best place to take in all the luxury the Magnificent Mile has to offer.

  • Best Deep Dish: Giordano’s

In the end, no trip to Chicago is complete without some deep dish pizza. The thick, buttery crust topped with rich sauce and toppings galore is quintessentially Chicago. If you are traveling through the Magnificent Mile, don’t forget to block off some time for a trip to Giordano’s, Chicago’s best purveyor of deep dish pizza.

We offer a number of pie options, whether you are in the mood for veggies — such as olives, broccoli, mushrooms, spinach or green peppers — or you prefer meats like pepperoni, sausage or bacon. You can design your own pie complete with your most favorite toppings, or you can try one of our signature pies, like our Bacon BBQ Chicken, Super Veggie, Chicago Classic or Meat & More Meat.Best Deep Dish

We also offer a wide variety of Italian classics and specialty desserts. Plus, you can also order an Italian beef sandwich, Chicago’s other signature food.

If you want to take this wonderful taste of Chicago back home, we even offer mail order pizzas through our “Ship a Pizza” program. If you have family you want to include in your Chicago experience or you just realize you can’t live without authentic deep dish pizza in your life, you can have a taste of Chicago where ever you happen to call home.

What better way to fully experience Chicago’s iconic business district than with a trip to Chicago’s iconic pizza place?

As you can see, there are many reasons why Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is truly magnificent. Its history, attractions, shopping and food offerings all combine to make it one of the most important cultural centers in the Midwest. We hope this guide will help make your explorations of Michigan Avenue and its surrounding districts a little easier. All of us at Giordano’s know what it means to be a Chicagoan, and we’re confident you will fall in love with all that this wonderful city has to offer, too!