Chicago’s Second Shoreline

With restaurants, recreation and more than a mile of uninterrupted walking path, the city’s Riverwalk project has transformed the once-blighted Chicago River into a ribbon of urban bliss.

With its stately bridges, historic architecture cruises and requisite greenness at 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. 

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.

 

Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza
Honor those who served by stopping to reflect at 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. 

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.

Lillie’s Park Grill & Cafe
During warm months, get a classic Chicago-style hot dog or Polish sausage.  

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

Frost Gelato
Pick from a rotating menu of flavors (think piña colada or sea salt caramel) at this seasonal dockside cart.

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, also serving 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.

 

Planners divided the Riverwalk into distinctive block-long “rooms,” each designed with specific uses in mind. It’s part of a larger trend of turning urban waterways into multiuse areas that engage residents and visitors in new ways.

Boardwalk Room
Enjoy views of the confluence of the Chicago river’s three branches.

Jetty Room
See floating gardens and learn river ecology. 

Water Plaza Room
Splash in a zero-depth fountain in the riverwalk’s sunniest spot.

River Theatre Room
Find shade and people-watch from the sculptural staircase. 

Cove Room
Float up in your human-powered craft (Kayaks and the like).  

Marina Room
Dock your personal boat to come ashore and hang out.

Related Reads:

From North to South: The Best in Illinois BBQ

From North to South: The Best in Illinois BBQ
in Eat & Drink

A rundown of the smokiest ribs and more you can find in Illinois, from the tip o...

Illinois' 2017 James Beard Award Nominees

Illinois' 2017 James Beard Award Nominees
in Eat & DrinkChicago

Illinois extends a hearty congratulations to all 10 of our nominees for the 2017...

Set Sail

Set Sail
in Family FunOutdoors

From urban kayaking to a paddle though an old-growth forest, find astonishing wa...

Travel Illinois Magazine

Travel Illinois Magazine

Find unexpected ways to enjoy Illinois in this biannual magazine that explores every corner of the state. Each issue offers a mix of travel stories, stunning photography and timely trip ideas that make the most of each season.

Order a Copy

Order a copy of Travel Illinois and also receive the Illinois State Park Guide and an Official Highway Map.

Order Print Version
Grab a Digital Copy

Read Travel Illinois magazine online or download the PDF and start exploring trip ideas around Illinois.

View it Online Download PDF

Send me Travel Illinois Magazine

Get inspired by top travel stories, and discover even more reasons to #EnjoyIllinois.

Order a Copy!