The Magnificent Mile
There is just something about that northern stretch of Michigan Avenue. It is quintessentially Chicago. From the lake to the historic Water Tower to the Chicago River; it is not just a tourist attraction, it’s eight blocks of architecture, history, shopping, dining, and hotel luxury all rolled into one. To be exact, the Magnificent Mile has over 460 stores and boutiques, over 200 restaurants, and more than 50 hotels. That is one packed mile.
The idea for the Magnificent Mile was born around 1909, when a few Chicago residents with a great deal of foresight came up with the “Chicago Plan.” It is said they envisioned something like the Champs de Elysees in Paris, changing the current Indian trading post into a major commercial boulevard. The plan would also include widening the streets and adding a double-decker bridge connecting Michigan Avenue’s south and north branches, attracting former Loop-goers to the new commercial district closer to the lake. In 1912, the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association was formed to help plan and oversee what would be Michigan Avenue’s makeover. The first skyscraper in the area, the Chicago Tribune Building, was built quickly after, as well as the famous Drake Hotel and the Wrigley Building. In 1947, real estate developer Arthur Rubloff bestowed upon the mile its current moniker, and spurred the constant growth that makes the shopping thoroughfare the “can’t miss” destination it is today.
The old Water Tower sits at the beginning of the mile, reminding Chicagoans of their history and that great fire that spurred the building of today’s Chicago. With the emergence of Water Tower Place, 900 N. Michigan, 600 N. Michigan, and the John Hancock Center in the 1970s-1990s, the street was solidified as a symbol of Chicago’s prosperity and wealth in culture and architecture.
If you are unsure of where exactly the mile begins and ends, the official boundaires are Randolph Street to North Avenue, Lake Michigan to the North Branch canal. Today the avenue is adorned with well maintained flower beds and trees and every brand name store you can think of. Apple, Disney, Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue…they are all there, and just waiting to suck you in and rob you of all your hard-earned money. The mile also boasts more affordable chain stores such as The Gap, Banana Republic and ever Forever 21, and home stores like Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel. It is also home to a gigantic American Girl Store, making little girls all over the world beg their mothers for a trip to Chicago. The boulevard receives about 22 million visitors per year and is always crowded.
If shopping isn’t your thing — or you’re girlfriend/wife/sister dragged you along and then deserted you — hanging out at one of the 200 restaurants might be more your style. Try Grand Lux Cafe; it is a mix of fine dining with a Cheese Cake Factory feel, with unbeatable views over Michigan Avenue.
The Magnificent Mile also hosts seasonal events including The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival and Gardens of the Magnificent Mile. The mile is a great place to visit during the holiday season, adorned with glittering lights and decorations and the sound of horse-drawn carriages carrying happy shoppers down the block. Check out their website for more information.
Want more? Check out our guide to shopping downtown!