Gold Coast Chicago: 20+ Reasons Why You Should Visit
Whether you’re visiting the Windy City for a couple of days or you’ve lived in Chicago your entire life, you don’t want to miss out on one of the city’s most exciting neighborhoods — the Gold Coast! Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, the Gold Coast is one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city with gorgeous stately homes and restaurants that make foodies stand in line for hours. Still not convinced? Here are a few reasons to head over to the Gold Coast neighborhood and begin exploring today!
1. Lou Malnati’s
Source: Chicago Food Planet
You can’t even think about Chicago without dreaming of its world-famous Chicago-style pizza. With their deep-dishes, buttery crusts, layers of gooey cheese, and rich sauces on top, Lou Malnati’s is considered one the best bakers of this iconic pizza.
Lou Malnati helped to develop this cheesy delicacy when he started working in the industry in the 1940s, eventually opening his own restaurant in the early 1970s, right in the heart of the Viagara Triangle (we’ll explain this in #12). For more than 40 years, the recipe for the pizza place’s buttery crust has passed from hand-to-hand while the business stayed in the family. Arrive hungry and expect to undo the top button on your jeans!
Pro Tip: This is one of the stops on the Second City Food Tour listed below at #2
2. Second City Classic Food Tour
Source: Chicago Food Planet
Eat your way through the Gold Coast restaurants on this classic food tour offered by Chicago Food Planet. The tour stops by six of the best restaurants and eateries in the Gold Coast area for a sampling of what each location built its reputation on.
You’ll get to explore historic Mom & Pop specialty food shops like Old Jerusalem, Tea Gschwendner, and The Fudge Pot to indulge in some of Chicago’s classic and iconic dishes at Lou Malnati’s, Corcoran’s Grill & Pub, and more!
You may even get a chance to meet some of the best chefs in the area (and nation) while learning more about their craft. While at Tea Gschwendner, they’ll help you spice up your life with its samplings of tea from around the world.
Designed by foodies for both beginners and gourmands, this culinary experience is ideal for anybody interested in experiencing the life of a local Chicagoan as you stroll the bustling tree-lined streets of the celebrated Near North neighborhoods and learn about Chicago’s storied past and eccentric contemporary culture.
3. Old Chicago Water Tower Building
Source: Loyola Phoenix
Located in the heart of the neighborhood, right on the Magnificent Mile, the Old Chicago Water Tower is a stunning and historic Gold Coast sight. Put into use in 1896, this is the second oldest water tower in the United States.
Today, you can tour the gallery inside that houses the work of local artists and photographers. This historic Gold Coast building is also home to the Lookingglass Theatre. This playhouse is an ensemble-based theater company that’s won many awards over the years. Check out their schedule and book seats for their next play.
4. The Magnificent Mile
Source: Omni Hotels
Bring your credit card and comfortable walking shoes for a day of the finest shopping in the world, all on the Magnificent Mile. Some of its first-class stores include:
- Louis Vuitton
- American Girl Place
- Tiffany & Co.
If you need a break from shopping, enjoy a gourmet meal or just grab a quick bite along the way. In addition to shopping, this area also has some of the best Gold Coast hotels and architecture for you to discover.
5. Best in Chow Food Tour
Source: Chicago Food Planet
There isn’t a better way to get a feel for a neighborhood than by stopping by its most popular restaurants. This tour by Chicago Food Planet acquaints you with the best signature dishes that Gold Coast, Streeterville, and River North restaurants have to offer over the course of just three hours.
Don’t worry about standing in long lines! This tour gets you VIP access to the best pizza, dogs, and Italian beef in town. The tour doesn’t leave those with a sweet tooth behind either — along the way, make sure to grab samples of the best brownies in the area.
6. Newberry Library
Get off the beaten path and enjoy some quiet time at the Newberry Library. Historical and world-renowned, this research library has an extensive collection that researchers and academics have flocked to since 1887. This library is free to the public (although visitors must be 14 or older) and sits inside another gorgeous Gold Coast building.
The staff offers teacher education classes and other events for the general public. It also houses extensive genealogy and local history resources. You can grab a book or magazine for a little relaxation time before heading out for more exploring the rest of the Gold Coast neighborhood.
7. Washington Square Park
Source: Chicago Park District
If the weather is nice, grab some take out from a Gold Coast restaurant and enjoy an impromptu picnic in Washington Square Park. Listed as a historic landmark in Chicago, the park was founded in 1842 and had a lovely Victorian fountain added in the late 1870s.
This park features large, shady trees to help you beat the summer heat, picket fences, flower beds with unique designs, and a great view of the Willis Tower (aka the Sears Tower). The park is a quiet respite from the bustling shopping streets and crowds at the hotels on the Magnificent Mile.
8. 900 North Michigan Shops
Source: Enjoy Illinois
Watch out Mall of America! 900 North Michigan Shops has all the upscale shopping you could want under one roof, and there are enough shops to visit that you could spend an entire day seeing if you can reach your credit limit (your accountant does not recommend!).
Upscale stores include Kate Spade, Karen Millen, Macy’s, Gucci, Max Mara, J.Crew, and many others. This collection of Gold Coast stores sits in the city’s eighth tallest skyscraper, meaning there’s plenty of shopping space. In case you need a break, you can grab everything from sushi to food-truck tacos at Aster Hall on the first and fifth levels.
9. The Richard H. Driehaus Museum
Step back in time and see how the other half lived during America’s Gilded Age. You can take a tour of this Gold Coast museum to learn more about the furnishings and interior decor of the early 20th century.
The tour even features pieces from the collection of Louis Comfort Tiffany, a famous designer of the era. It also has period exhibits, such as Changing Fashion for Changing Times”. It also has more than 35 outfits from the popular television series Downton Abbey on display.
10. Tea Gschwendner
Source: Chicago Food Planet
In Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, you’ll find the city’s best loose-leaf tea store. It’s well-known for its Green, Black, Oolong, and White teas. Before arriving in the Gold Coast neighborhood, Tea Gschwendner opened its first shop in the 1970s in a small town in Germany.
You can browse the shelves of prepackaged teas or talk to their knowledgeable staff of tea enthusiasts about your tastes and preferences. They can recommend a loose tea that you’re sure to love. If you need to relax, you can also purchase a freshly made cup of hot or iced tea.
11. American Girl Place
Source: American Girl
If you’re traveling with an American Girl doll fan, then this Gold Coast shop and cafe is a must. You can stop in and pick up a gift for the doll-enthusiast in your life or treat them to a whole afternoon in the store.
You can schedule an appointment for your child and their American girl doll to get their hair done or their ears pierced in the salon. After getting a makeover, enjoy a meal or an afternoon tea at the cafe. And don’t worry about your doll feeling left out — they get their own seat at the table!
12. The “Viagra Triangle”
I’m sorry, the what?
Perhaps just a bit less kid-friendly is Chicago’s infamous nightlife scene in the sub-neighborhood known as the Viagra Triangle. Located where Rush Street and Division meet in the Gold Coast, this area is known as a favorite hangout for wealthy, “older gentlemen” who like to throw their money around. And no wonder — it’s also the home of Hef’s original Playboy Mansion.
So, if people-watching and glamor are your things, this area won’t disappoint.
It’s beautiful. It’s swanky. It’s the home to some of Chicago’s most famous bars and restaurants. Think old-school martini bars like Gold Coast mainstay, Gibson’s — one of the most popular steakhouses in the city. If you want to be a part of the scene, try popular spots like Tavern on Rush, Carmines, or Hugo’s Frog Bar.
Did you know?
The Gold Coast is said to be the nation’s second wealthiest neighborhood, trailed only by Central Park East in Manhattan. You can find luxury hotels like the Drake, Peninsula Chicago, the Four Seasons Chicago, the Ambassador, the Waldorf Astoria, and the newer Viceroy Chicago.
13. Charnley-Persky House
Source: Chicago Architecture Center
Take a tour of one of the first homes designed by famed architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. He was only 19 at the time, but this 11-room home turned popular architecture on its head with its use of clean lines and plain forms in place of the intricately detailed Victorian styles that came before.
Stop by and take a 45-minute tour of the home, and the headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians. It’s a peek into the opulent lifestyle of the wealthy that peaked at the end of the 19th century.
14. International Museum of Surgical Science
Source: The International Museum of Surgical Science
For a quieter stop along your bustling Gold Coast adventure, take a tour of the beautiful International Museum of Surgical Science.
Founded in 1935 as the International College of Surgeons, this museum showcases life-size statues of some of the most prominent surgeons and physicians from the past, as well as a curious (and sometimes bizarre) mix of surgical equipment and medical displays.
15. Oak Street Beach
Source: Oak Street Beach Wikipedia
Cool down in the waters of Lake Michigan and rest your feet on the sand at Oak Street Beach.
Stretching along the shore between the Gold Coast and Streeterville neighborhoods, this lakeside escape provides all the amenities a beachgoer could need — bikes, lawn chairs, volleyball equipment, and more are all available to rent. Grab a drink and a bite to eat at Oak Street Beach Café, and snap some amazing pictures in front of the Chicago skyline.
16. Le Colonial Restaurant
Renowned for its ambiance, Le Colonial is an upscale Vietnamese institution beloved by Chicago locals for over 20 years. During your Gold Coast visit, get a taste of the finer things from their newly-revamped, 1920’s inspired Southeast Asian menu. Don’t want to tear yourself away from the views outside? Check out their all-season balcony and watch the bustling shoppers on Oak Street while you dine.
Located on the site of the famous 1920’s Cedar Hotel, Somerset pays homage to American country club culture with its swanky interiors and high-end, seasonal American cuisine. During your visit to the Gold Coast, relax in true style with a classic cocktail and, as their own Chef Wolen puts it, “food people like to eat.”
18. Nico Osteria
Source: Nico Osteria
With ample seating at the chef’s counter and a great view of the open kitchen, Nico Osteria is the perfect Gold Coast stop for those of us who always want to eat the finished dishes we see on cooking shows.
Located in the heart of the Gold Coast, Nico Osteria is an all-day Italian seafood staple. If house-made pasta and a comprehensive drink menu sound like an absolute dream to you, you’re in luck.
Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse has been a Chicago steakhouse mainstay since it opened its doors in 1989.
Housed in the space first made legendary by the famous Mr. Kelly’s nightclub (Ella Fitzgerald, Barbara Streisand, and Lenny Bruce performed here), Gibson’s remains a must-visit Chicago dining destination for celebrities and locals alike.
20. John Hancock Building and the Signature Room
Source: The Magnificent Mile
875 North Michigan Avenue (the icon formerly known as the John Hancock Center) just might be Chicago’s biggest and best kept secret. Why else would we put it last on our list?
While the 360 degree view from the observation deck on the roof is certainly worth its ticket price, the Signature Room and Signature Lounge, located on the 95th and 96th floors respectively, are free to visit and give you the chance to reinvest that money you saved into an adult beverage. This cool hangout and its unbeatable views of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago are a secret that locals hold near and dear — don’t make us regret telling you!