Rent a paddle boat, dine on the Riverwalk: Day and night, there's always something fun to do in River North
Things to do in River North
Bordering on the Magnificent Mile to the south and Streeterville to the east, River North is surrounded by miles of upscale urban things to do. It’s the all-around entertainment epicenter of downtown Chicago, boasting the highest concentration of restaurants and art galleries in the city as well as a busy night life scene. And with celebrity chefs and mixologists come celebrity sightings: famous people from all disciplines have been spotted wining and dining in River North’s world-class restaurants and night clubs.
Between the Design District surrounding the Merchandise Mart, the picturesque Cathedral District and the brand-new Riverwalk, architecture lovers will feel right at home. Residents choose from trendy lofts, mini-mansions, and luxury condos in towering high rise buildings with spectacular views. River North is the location of choice for dining, boating, shopping, and year-round entertainment.
Chicagoans and tourists alike are just beginning to enjoy the urban planning masterpiece that is the award-winning Chicago Riverwalk, a 1.25-mile pedestrian oasis running along the south bank of the Chicago River from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street. Made up of six distinct outdoor “rooms,” everyone can find their individual slice of paradise on the Riverwalk. The Marina is the place for dining and drinking: City Winery’s patio is a popular spot to lounge, covered by heated domes in the fall, and locals can take a staycation at the Island Party Hut or barbecue-inspired Tiny Tapp.
The children’s play area featuring a zero-depth fountain in the Water Plaza and the River Theater seating area dotted with shade trees to enjoy a box lunch.. Nature lovers can flock to floating gardens in the Jetty area and enjoy kayaking, fishing and learning about the natural ecology of the Chicago River at the historic landmark McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
Parallel to the Riverwalk proper is a linear extension of Chicago’s park system, with a pedestrian trail for walking, jogging and biking. There are lots of different ways to get out on the water too, from paddle boats and water taxis to party boats and luxury dinner cruises. Wendella Tours & Cruises and First Lady Cruises both offer architecture tours, unique sightseeing experiences and private events.
River North is the best place to be in Chicago when it comes to dining, boasting over 50 Michelin rated restaurants: legendary Chicago culinary traditions to complement a trendy, ever-changing scene. Known for its steakhouses, Chicago Cut, Bavette’s Bar and Boeuf and GT Prime among many others, River North also abounds with traditional Italian, upscale Mexican and seafood. Chef Rick Bayless clustered his three Mexican hot-spots here, Topolobampo the notable standout for tasting. Siena Tavern has a great reputation for from-scratch pizza and pasta in a modern industrial setting, and Quartino is a standby for group gatherings, with regional Italian small plates. Beatrix is the go-to cafè with new healthy cuisine and a robust cocktail and wine program, and RPM Group has both Italian and Steak-focused locations to choose. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. If you want something a little different, you can easily find upscale cuisine from all over the world in River North. Brindille offers classic French dishes in a pristine atmosphere, Tanta Chicago serves up Peruvian fare with a few surprises and Sunda features super-modern Asian fusion creations.
The River North Gallery District has the greatest concentration of art galleries in the United States, outside of Manhattan. Once a thriving industrial zone, the economic downturn of the 1970s caused most of its factories and warehouses to close their doors. However, artists quickly began adapting the buildings into studio spaces and galleries, forming a creative community that grew into the premier art scene that remains today.
Walking tours take art lovers through multiple galleries in one afternoon, or one might take their time and see a different collection every weekend. Colorful encaustic wax is on display at Melanee Cooper Gallery, and Andrew Bae Gallery showcases contemporary Asian art.Jean Albano and Hilton | Asmus Contemporary combine a mix of contemporary mediums and styles, and Richard Norton Gallery specializes in early-20th Century American art.
More to Do
It would be remiss to skip over River North’s swanky night life. Enolo Wine Cafè is great for happy hour or a deep conversation while sipping wines from small vineyards, but more adventurous folk can head to The Underground to dance the night away. Three Dots and a Dash goes the extra nautical mile with over-the-top tiki bar decor. Untitled Supper Club is an expansive underground speakeasy with an unmarked entrance and over 500 whiskeys to choose from while enjoying nightly entertainment and a Michelin-starred menu. The Berkshire Room in the Acme Hotel is a favorite for craft cocktails in an eclectic but modern setting.
While River North is a destination for dining and art, it also serves as a charcuterie board of Chicago’s very best of almost everything else. The Godfrey Hotel has things to do at all hours of the day and night, from the IO Urban Roofscape with a fire pit and brunch all week to the day spa and bar, all housed inside an uber-modern Cubist-inspired facade with an elliptical floor-to-ceiling marble lobby. The Poetry Foundation hosts readings with world-class writers and art exhibits in its gorgeous glass building, and there’s always an A-list act at the House of Blues. Both men and women can stay dressed to impress with high fashion from Ikram and the Trunk Club Chicago Clubhouse. Executives, innovators and intellectuals alike find no shortage of stimulation in this exciting corner of the Windy City