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Shedd Aquarium

Chicago’s Second Shoreline

Mar 01, 2018 Chicago

People posing for a photo by river under bridge

With its stately bridges, historic architecture cruises and requisite greenness on St. Patrick’s Day, Chicago’s namesake river is a linchpin in city lore.

But for decades, the river existed as a sort of utilitarian afterthought, rather than a downtown destination in itself. 

That is, until now. The expansion of the Chicago Riverwalk has transformed the river into a civic gem. Opened in 2016 as an early phase of the city’s multi-decade river revitalization plan (with a goal of making it swimmable by 2040!), the pedestrian-friendly park runs 1¼ miles along the river from Lake Michigan west to Lake Street. Visitors can stroll freely, no longer needing to climb staircases and cross busy streets to follow the flow. And they’re drawn by new restaurants’ waterfront tables, outfitters’ easy rentals and some of the best people-watching in the city. 

Flower floating on water

Get Relaxing

Floating Gardens 
Find out about the river’s ecology and identify native plants in the interactive floating islands lining the walkway. There are even piers perfect for fishing (assuming you have an Illinois Department of Natural Resources license). 

Wheel fun rentals
Rent single and tandem bikes, kid trailers, family surreys and more by the hour, with helmets, included for everyone.

A bridge with big city buildings around it

Get a Lesson

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza
Honor those who served by stopping to reflect on the name wall, water feature and sculptures.  

McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum 
Study the city’s famous movable bridges (they’re engineering marvels), learn how the river was key to Chicago’s development and reserve a spot to watch massive gears lift the Michigan Avenue deck. During museum hours, visit the top of the building for 360-degree city views.

Boat on a river

Get on the Water

Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise
Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises, docents share the stories behind buildings and the people who designed them. 

Shoreline Sightseeing
Hear about the birthplace of the skyscraper during an architecture cruise, or grab a water taxi. 

Mercury Cruises
Choose a cruise to fit your group—go out during the day or at night, ride along with your pup, watch fireworks, or see the famous skyline from Lake Michigan. 

Wendella Boats
Explore the city in a water taxi, relax and learn with an architecture tour, or reserve a spot on curated foodie outings.

Chicago Riverwalk Art at the Mart
In 2018, see projected public art illuminating the vast riverfront facade of the Merchandise Mart building.

A bar with a man making a drink

Get a Bite

Chicago Brewhouse
Enjoy pub eats & local beer while enjoying the view on a big waterfront terrace. 

Tiny Tapp & Cafe 
Note Tiny’s big menu: coffee and fresh pastries, sandwiches and snacks, cocktails and craft beers. 

City Winery
Try wines, beer and small plates (including the heavenly Italian burrata) at outdoor tables.  

O’Briens Riverwalk Cafe
Order burgers and salads, or try the house-favorite corned beef and cabbage rolls. 

Cyrano’s Cafe on the Riverwalk
Say oui to quiche and frites at this French place, which also serves a decadent weekend brunch.

Island Party Hut 
In season, sip colorful tropical drinks and enjoy games and music by the water, or book an outing aboard a tiki boat.

Beat Kitchen on the Riverwalk 
Homemade comfort foods & cocktails under the Michigan Ave bridge. 

A fountain with lights

Get Distracted

Now that you’ve grabbed a bite and enjoyed some much-needed R&R, it’s the perfect time to immerse yourself into the city’s best attractions and distractions near the Riverwalk.

Navy Pier
Absorb the pride of Chicago’s lakefront with thrilling entertainment and cultural attractions that are fun for the whole family.

The Chicago Theatre
Take in a show at this breathtaking, seven-story National Landmark that’s become an iconic symbol of State Street and Chicago.

Magnificent Mile
A little retail therapy might be in order and what better place than a literal mile of world-class shopping at fine boutiques and designer stores.

Buckingham Fountain
Public art aficionados and architecture fans will relish the sight of Grant Park’s watery masterpiece — one of the largest fountains in the world.

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