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Welcome to the Neighborhood: Near North Side

Published:
December 20, 2023
November 20, 2023
Get to know Near North Side, a Chicago neighborhood, by reading this local's guide.

"The Near North Side is a heady mix of high-end luxury, energetic nightlife, and scene-making restaurants."

Roughly bound by the Chicago River to the south, North Avenue to the north, LaSalle Street and the North Branch of the river to the west, and Lake Michigan to the east, the Near North Side is a heady mix of high-end luxury, energetic nightlife, and scene-making restaurants. The trio of neighborhoods of River North, Streeterville, and the Gold Coast are like siblings that closely resemble one another with overlapping interests, but have distinct elements that give each area its own flavor. Whether strolling amongst the tourists along the Magnificent Mile, popping through the boutiques of the Gold Coast, or club-hopping in River North, the Near North Side has plenty to see and do. 

Basics

The Near North Side is the oldest section of Chicago. Jean Baptiste Point du Sable built the first known permanent settlement in the 1780s at the corner of the Chicago River and what is now the Michigan Avenue Bridge. The wealthiest and most prosperous early Chicago families migrated their mansions from the Near South Side to the Gold Cast area, building fairy-tale castles and stately mansions that define the wealth of the area.

The CTA’s Red line runs under the center of the Near North Side, while the Brown line skirts the western edge on the El. You can catch any crosstown bus on the main avenues to reach every section of the Near North Side, but its densely packed streets amid the towering buildings make for a delightful city walk. 

Where to Live

For many years, the Gold Coast and neighboring area Streeterville were the second most affluent areas in the United States, behind Manhattan, and high-end luxury retailers soon set up shop: find Cartier, Dolce & Gabbana, and more status-symbol shops in the Astor Street shopping area. High-rise condominiums, two- or three flat walk-ups, and converted industrial space make up the bulk of rentable housing options, though price is skewed higher than market value. 

According to the Chicago Metropolitan Association for Planning (CMAP), the population of Near North Side was recorded at 105,481 in 2020. Of those residents, 69% were recorded as white, nearly 14% recorded as Asian, and 7% of each were recorded as Hispanic or Black. 

The median age of Near North Side residents is 34 years old, with the highest demographic of 20-34 year olds at 42%. CMAP reports that Near North Side residents that the densely populated urban areas are mostly post-college, affluent, and predominately white. 

Keep in mind… 

The Streeterville/Gold Coast/River North areas are among the most densely populated and high-traffic areas in the city. Parking is at a premium because of minimal street parking options. Many condominiums have parking either included or for an additional fee, however being car-free is ideal. The area is very walkable, though crowded with daily commuters and visiting tourists. 

Nightlife: Bars & Restaurants

The beautiful architecture and old-world feel to the streets mean many restaurants and bars keep their windows, rooftops, and sidewalks open for ample people-watching while enjoying a tasty meal.

  • There is no shortage of upscale eateries and fine dining options, with notable stops including The M Room, Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo, Sunda, and the Omakase Room at Sushi-San.  
  • Chicago built its reputation as the home of the classic steakhouse. Check out both the time-honored (Gibson’s, Erie Cafe, Gene & Georgetti) and the modern takes (Maple & Ash, Chicago Cut).
  • River North is the club scene mecca with touring DJs, cocktail lounges, and dancing into the early morning. Any night at Spybar, DISCO, Sound-Bar, Underground, or Tao Chicago will be unforgettable.
  • Rooftop fans rejoice! Find some of the best views in the city — river, lake, and skyline — in this area, specifically at the Godfrey, NoMi, Tanta Chicago, and Bar Avec.
  • Hotel bars and lounges are far from cookie-cutter in the River North area — check out options like the IO Godfrey, Broken Shaker at Freehand Hotel, or Upstairs at the Gwen Hotel. Also try a classic hotel lounge like high tea at the Langham Hotel or Z Bar in the Peninsula Hotel.
Entertainment

Hands down, one of the biggest and best attractions in Chicago is the lake. The Near North Side takes advantage of this with Navy Pier, a WWII-era naval station and pier repurposed into a downtown carnival, with the towering Centennial Wheel as the glittering centerpiece. There are so many things to see at Navy Pier: the Chicago Shakespeare Company, the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theater, dining cruises, the tall ship “Windy,” water taxi and sightseeing cruises, carnival rides, rotating art gallery exhibits, and plenty of shops and eateries. 

Away from Navy Pier, plenty of culture is found in the Near North. The Porchlight Music Theater showcases classic favorites as well as indie shows. The Broadway Playhouse inside the Water Tower Place is a small, intimate theater for touring Broadway shows. The Newberry Library is open for tours of rare and special collections of historical materials.

For a fun date night, enjoy the close proximity of good food and entertainment in River North, such as live music at the Bassment, a lively game of ping pong at SPIN, a show at the Comedy Bar, or a movie night at the AMC River East.

If the weather is nice, head to the Oak Street Beach for pristine swimming, energetic volleyball, outdoor workout space, and breath-taking skyline views. 

Faith Communities

Making a move to a big city after college life can be a big adjustment and finding a place that fills your cup spiritually can be comforting at such a period of transition. A good place to start would be with the following churches, which are known in Lincoln Park for their welcoming attitudes and neighborhood connectivity.

Catholic Churches in the Near North Side

The symbolic heart of Catholicism in Chicago, Holy Name Cathedral, is perched just a few steps from the Magnificent Mile. The towering structure, with jewel-toned stained glass and a 245-foot steeple, represents Chicago’s history as a beacon for immigrant Catholics and the leader in modern Catholicism. Also worth checking out: St. James Chapel, which is a beautiful space in the Quigley Center, the office headquarters for the archdiocese.

Assumption Catholic Church in River North was founded in 1881 for the wave of Italian immigrants moving into the area after the Great Fire. Fun fact: the attached Catholic school was founded by religious nun Mother Cabrini, later known as St. Frances Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be a canonized saint.

Looking for other denominations or faith communities? Check out these neighborhood options.

Shopping

What makes a neighborhood feel, well, neighborhoody is how convenient your area is to your own life and needs. Here are some of the main hubs of action: 

  • The Magnificent Mile is an iconic destination — start at the Shops of North Bridge for a city-mall experience, then walk north toward the high-end and luxury retailers. 
  • Smaller luxury boutiques line the leafy streets of Gold Coast, especially along Oak Street and Rush Street.
  • Many brands have their flagship stores in the Near North area. For coffee enthusiasts, check out Starbucks Roastery, a multi-level coffeehouse/museum. Pasta lovers can visit Eataly for one-stop-shop for shopping, dining, drinking, and gelato-sampling. Swing by the world's largest Polo by Ralph Lauren store, then eat at RL, the store’s namesake restaurant.  

Whether you enjoy walking amongst stunning homes and iconic architecture, or soaking up the energy of urban nightlife, the Near North Side packs every experience into a compact area that’s bursting with life, culture, and true Chicago ethos. 

Learn more about the Near North Side by visiting the 42nd ward office, the 27th ward office, or the 2nd ward office (depending on your area) and the River North Residents Association, Gold Coast Neighbors, or Streeterville Organization for Active Residents.

Click here to download our free Near North Side Neighborhood Guide.

Creators:
Jennon Bell Hoffmann
Published:
December 20, 2023
November 20, 2023
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