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Discover South Loop, Chicago’s fastest-growing lakefront neighborhood, like a local. Photo by Chloe Dake.

An Insider Guide to Chicago’s South Loop

BY HEIDI MITCHELL
Not even city officials can find consensus on the official borders of the South Loop, Chicago’s fastest-growing lakefront neighborhood, known for its museums, green spaces, ethnic restaurants, and influx of young professionals. But everyone can agree that the once-industrial zone, once
home to the Midwest’s printing industry
, is now a magnet for young urbanites seeking stylish places to live, a
killer walk score
(92, among the highest in the city), landmarked streets, and grandfathered-in parks. Residents and guests of
Sentral Michigan Avenue
can step onto a safe, wide avenue and settle inside a warm coffee shop, indie boutique, or an amazing noodle shop in minutes. Here are some of our go-to South Loop restaurants and other neighborhood hotspots.
Explore Chicago South Loop Area Map

EAT LIKE A LOCAL AT SOUTH LOOP RESTAURANTS

For one of our fave South Loop restaurants, head to Grant Park Bistro for brunch, bubbles, and more.
Chicago is renowned for its vibrant food scene, but also for its surgically precise segregation. Not so in the South Loop, where every possible cuisine can be eaten in or ordered out. Check out some of our favorite restaurants in South Loop, Chicago, from Jewish delis to Himalayan culinary finds.

THE CHICAGO FIREHOUSE RESTAURANT

The former home of Engine Company 104 is a longtime anchor of the South Loop, welcoming date-night couples, neighborhood regulars, and post-museum diners to its Romanesque Revival structure. Grab a cocktail and a burger at the circular bar beneath soaring glass ceilings or reserve a table on the patio (the former stables) and linger over lamb lollipops, prime steaks, and the creamiest potatoes au gratin this side of town.
chicagofirehouse.com
, 1401 S. Michigan Ave.

ELEVEN CITY DINER

Scant few Jewish delis remain in Chicago, which is why Eleven City remains beloved for mile-high pastrami sandwiches, soothe-the-soul matzo ball soup, and Friday-night brisket. Grab a stool at the old-fashioned soda fountain or a cherry-red booth surrounded by 1950’s memorabilia. Vegetarians take note: The vegan menu includes a finger-licking-good portobello Reuben.
elevencitydiner.com
, 1112 S. Wabash Ave.

GRANT PARK BISTRO 

Throw on your fanciest loungewear and head right next door to Grant Park Bistro (it’s attached to Sentral Michigan Avenue!) for its renowned Mimosa Brunch ($32 for a main course and 90 minutes of bottomless bubbles make it one the place to go for brunch in South Loop, Chicago). The bistro is a mainstay for weekends, but the comfort food staples (grilled cheese, pasta Bolognese) and killer location make it a reliably good dinner destination any night of the week.
grantparkbistro.com
, 800 S. Michigan Ave.

HALF SOUR

Not quite a deli, but a close cousin, Half Sour specializes in fully-loaded bagels and hard-to-find beers, making it an essential for South Loop residents in need of a hangover cure — plus the hair of the dog. The outdoor dining area gets loads of sun in warmer months, but the industrial interior is a great place to pound out that presentation or watch the big game.
halfsourchicago.com
, 755 S. Clark St.

NEPAL HOUSE

Gain an education in Himalayan cuisine at this bright and airy corner restaurant that offers authentic renditions of Nepali thalis and momos as well as regional favorites like tandoori chicken, lamb vindaloo, and garlic naan. The dining room ambience is fine, but most South Loop denizens keep this place in their iPhone favorites to order hot and speedy takeout on those long winter nights.
nepalhouseonline.com
, 1301 S. Michigan Ave. 

SHANG NOODLE

Come for the house-made noodles, stay for the Peking duck. The third location of this Chicago-only chainlet hand-stretches each noodle to perfection and seals deliciousness into every dumpling. The menu of small plates stretches across Asia — don’t be surprised if you enjoy the sushi as much as the Taiwanese beef noodle soup — and offers loads of options for vegetarians.
shangnoodleandchinese.com
, 1101 S. Wabash Ave.

TAPAS VALENCIA

Happy hour is a must at this tapas bar adorned with Miro-inspired paintings. From 5 to 6:30pm, sit at the bar, order a sangria, and tapas will set you back just $3 a pop — be they bacon-wrapped dates or spicy meatballs. At the tables, platters brim with jamón, artichoke hearts, beef tenderloin, and paella.
tapasvalencia.com
, 1530 S. State St.

VICTORY TAP CHICAGO

The tavern vibe of this South Loop Italian, all wood details and low-light chandeliers, makes for a cozy date night — so long as you and your partner have no problem with sausage and Italian beef pizzas and garlicky chicken parm. Settle in for an evening of pomegranate cosmos and carbs, and bring Scope.
victorytapchicago.com
, 1416 S. Michigan Ave.

SNACK AND SIP

Moody Tongue Brewing might be the sleekest brewery you’ve ever been to…and offers just a taste of what South Loop’s bar scene has to offer. Photo by Jordano Studio courtesy of Moody Tongue Brewing.
The best bars and coffee shops were built to last. Along with South Loop restaurants, these enticing stalwarts always deliver on inventive beverages, inviting settings, and all around good vibes — all within walking distance of
Sentral Michigan Avenue
.

CINDY’S ROOFTOP 

Set atop the Chicago Athletic Association — a century-old men’s club turned uber-stylish hotel — Cindy’s glassy rooftop retracts when the weather allows, but the terrace welcomes locals and guests all year for drinks and selfies (the background combo of lake, Millennium Park, and Frank Gehry’s undulating Jay Pritzker Pavilion is really that scenic). Firepits make winter bearable out there, while chatty waitstaff and communal tables enliven the space.
cindysrooftop.com
, 12 S. Michigan Ave.

HERO COFFEE

The community-minded owners of this self-roasting coffee shop tucked into an alley off Dearborn have committed to donating $1 for every bag of beans sold. For regulars in need of a caffeine fix, Hero offers cortados, flat whites, and a range of teas, plus bagel-based sandwiches so tempting they’re practically criminal. (Seriously: Try the Smooth Criminal or the Usual Suspect — you won’t be disappointed.)
herocoffeebars.com
, 439 S. Dearborn St.

M LOUNGE

Live music and martinis — what could be better? From behind a blue backlit bar, expert bartenders craft cocktails as inventive as they are addictive, while a jazz combo plays (DJ’s spin on weekends). A narrow space awash in art, good conversation, and music, it’s been the site of more than one first encounter that has led to a lifetime partnership.
mloungechicago.com
, 1520 S. Wabash Ave. 

MOODY TONGUE BREWING

Only in Chicago can you find a brewery with a culinary focus. Moody Tongue’s brewmaster creates limited-edition offerings and always has 16 draft beers on tap at the Midcentury Modern bar, while the chef has earned two Michelin stars for his elevated cuisine. If the bourbon barrel–aged gingerbread imperial stout impresses, stick around for the 12-course tasting menu, paired with house-made beers.
moodytongue.com
, 2515 S. Wabash Ave. 

SPOKE & BIRD

The South Loop coffee shop has garnered a loyal fanbase not just for its perfectly frothy cappuccinos but for the outdoor patio that stays open well into November. Strong Wi-Fi attracts the WFH crowd, but step away from the laptop for a freshly made bowl of soup or a squash-melt sandwich, all sourced from local farms. Bread subscriptions deliver those ethereal baguettes straight to your door.
spokeandbird.com
, 205 E. 18th St.

VU ROOFTOP

Shame it doesn’t open until 4pm, because the aptly named VU would make a fantastic vantage point for Chicago’s glorious sunrises. Still, the 22nd-floor lounge offers 13,000 square feet of drinking space, so it’s rare to wait for a table (though reservations are encouraged). Hand-crafted and draft cocktails flow freely and guests dress to impress, so there’s never a dull moment. And if there is, there are always the karaoke rooms to rent.
vurooftop.com
, 133 E. Cermak.

SHOP LOCAL

Independent shops add to South Loop’s sense of community and local flair.
Homegrown boutiques in the South Loop have earned a cult-like following. Folks from the North Side and South Side and the West Side — and even the ‘burbs — make their way to the South Loop for retail experiences you won’t find anywhere else.

BARBARA BATES

Bates has been quietly building a fashion empire since 1988, and now draws A-list celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan to her sprawling showroom for loud-and-proud looks incorporating bold patterns, sartorial designs, and every material under the sun. This season’s big seller was a reflective nylon poncho with graffiti by local artist Post ($1,300). 
barbarabatesdesigns.com
, 2031 S. Indiana.

PRINTER’S ROW WINE SHOP

You can pick up a bottle of Gamay at the quaint brick-wrapped boutique on historic Printer’s Row, but there’s a lot more going on here, from free tastings to live music to a bar dispensing interesting pours and unusual beers, plus snacks (ballpark pretzel bites, charcuterie boards).
printersrowwine.com
, 719 S. Dearborn St. 

SANDMEYER'S BOOKSTORE

One of the last remaining independent bookstores in Chicago, Sandmeyer’s is a true temple of wisdom. Family-run since 1982, it retains an invitingly dusty air, and the owners are happy to make recommendations for the ideal novel or just-dense-enough nonfiction selection.
sandmeyersbookstore.com
, 714 S. Dearborn St.

SUCCEZZ 

Sneakerheads and streetwear collectors make haste to this South Loop shop hidden in plain sight across from the Wintrust Arena and co-owned by former NBA forward Bobby Simmons. Their quarry: rare retro Jordans, logo hoodies, and classic basketball jerseys. Check out the online raffles to score Yeezy slides or women’s Air Jordans.
succezzthestore.com
, 2214 S. Michigan Ave.

TOTTO’S MARKET

Totto’s is so much more than a corner store. The Midwestern-focused food purveyor sells fresh fruit and pastries, but also plants, flowers, soap, meat, bread, coffee, and more — all sourced locally. At lunchtime, enjoy soup, sandwiches, and other grab-and-go meals at the counters that line the windows.
tottosmarket.com
, 751 S. Dearborn Ave.

TAKE IT OUTSIDE (AND BRING A FURRY FRIEND)

While many Chicago neighborhoods are popular with street artists, the Wabash Arts Corridor is the city’s official art destination. Photo by Sandra Steinbrecher courtesy of Wabash Arts Corridor.
They say Chicagoans suffer from “winter amnesia” when the snow thaws. These world-class South Loop parks near Sentral Michigan Avenue will help you understand why here, when the sun’s out, the fun’s out.

12TH STREET BEACH

This horseshoe-shaped crescent of sand is open all year, though swimming is only officially sanctioned when lifeguards are on duty (May–October). Grills, a Mexican cantina, and other services beckon summer crowds, who have city planner Daniel Burnham to thank for creating such accessible waterfront spaces.
chicagoparkdistrict.com
, 1200 S. Linn White Dr. 

CHICAGO'S WOMEN'S PARK AND GARDENS

This jewel box of a park, tucked behind the Spoke & Bird coffee shop, honors the women who made Chicago what it is today with a community garden, indoor playspace, Louise Bourgeois sculpture, and fieldhouse offering fitness classes, science programming, and summer camp for all. The
Clarke House Museum
(Chicago’s oldest home) and historic
Glessner House
bookend the park.
chicagoparkdistrict.com
, 1801 S. Indiana Ave. 

GRANT PARK & MILLENNIUM PARK 

It’s hard to discern where Grant ends and Millennium begins, but does it really matter? The two (plus adjacent Maggie Daley Park) are the jewels of the city, incorporating the Buckingham Fountain, Anish Kapoor’s much-photographed Cloud Gate sculpture (aka "The Bean"), the Pritzker Pavilion, the skating ribbon, the Crown Fountain, and so much more. Referred to as Chicago’s Front Yard, the 300-plus-acre playpen is the best place for a South Loop resident to while away the day.
chicagoparkdistrict.com
, 331 E. Randolph St.

MCCORMICK BIRD SANCTUARY

Part of the 100-acre Burnham Wildlife Corridor, this surprisingly wild nine-acre strip of preserved prairie and woodland actually sits atop a parking garage (only in Chicago, right?). It’s a stopping point for migratory birds like warblers, thrushes, and hawks en route to Canada or South America, and a great spot for lakeside walks, runs, or outdoor meetings.
chicagoparkdistrict.com
, Lakefront Trail.

MUSEUM CAMPUS

The 57-acre park just below Grant Park extends out into Lake Michigan and collects five of the city’s major cultural institutions onto one lushly planted strip: the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, Soldier Field (home of the Chicago Bears), McCormick Place (the convention center), and the Adler Planetarium. Keep walking and you’ll hit Northerly Island, where outdoor concerts (and camping!) are held each summer.
museumsinthepark.org
.

WABASH ARTS CORRIDOR

Many neighborhoods in Chicago
are renowned for their ad-hoc murals
, but the Wabash Arts Corridor is the city’s official art destination. It includes murals, yes, but also performances, art installations, large-scale projections on buildings, interactive experiences, galleries, and even docent-led tours. It has been called “one of the most expansive, diverse, and accessible public art programs in the country,” and it’s right in Sentral Michigan Avenue’s backyard.
wabashartscorridor.org

SOAK UP SOME CULTURE

Take in the views – both up in the cosmos and out across Lake Michigan – at Adler Planetarium. Photo courtesy of Adler Planetarium.
Few international cities can compete with Chicago when it comes to cultural institutions, both highly endowed and grassroots. Some of the city’s best are right in the South Loop, within striking distance of Sentral Michigan Avenue.

ADLER PLANETARIUM

The Western Hemisphere’s first planetarium opened in 1930, and still puts on magical shows that seemingly place the cosmos within arms reach. On a winter’s afternoon, escape these short earthly days with a trip to the sun (“Destination Solar System”) or Pluto (“Planet Nine”). The Cosmic Café offers decent lunches and excellent views of the skyline.
adlerplanetarium.org
, 1300 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr. 

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

A must-visit for anyone who steps foot in town. If you live nearby, consider yourself lucky: membership is inexpensive (and tax-deductible) and encourages quick visits to, say, just see the Impressionists (remember
that scene
from Ferris Bueller's Day Off?) or marvel at the scale “miniatures” downstairs or consider, at length, Grant Wood’s American Gothic or the world’s greatest collection of Pop Art.
artic.edu
, 111 S. Michigan Ave.

BUDDY GUY’S LEGENDS

The king of Chicago’s electric blues scene opened his own venue back in 1989 and it still hosts the biggest names in blues and rock, including the Rolling Stones, Lou Rawls, John Mayer, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Mr. Guy himself typically takes up residence in January, but pretty much any evening you’ll catch world-class performers in the dark and moody space. Po’ boys and Buddy Guy Brew are always on the menu.
buddyguy.com
, 700 S. Wabash Ave. 

FIELD MUSEUM

Opened for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the natural history museum later relocated to Grant Park and now contains 40 million objects, including the beloved Sue, the world’s largest and best-preserved T. rex fossil. It’s the sort of place where you can lose yourself for days, whether in the Griffin Halls of Evolving Planets, the Inside Ancient Egypt exhibit, or at any number of traveling shows.
fieldmuseum.org
, 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.

PRAIRIE DISTRICT

Some homes were built to last. What was once called “Millionaire’s Row” for the dozens of mansions erected along Prairie Avenue after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 remains a gorgeous residential district where architecture nerds can imagine the lives of retailer Marshall Field, industrialist George Pullman, and meatpacking powerhouse Philip Armour. Eleven of the original houses remain, including the
John J. Glessner House
and the
Clarke House Museum
, both of which are open for tours.

SHEDD AQUARIUM

Set right on the water — supplying runners with an Instagram-worthy view of frolicking beluga whales, sea otters, dolphins, and sea lions — the Shedd supplies all the major encounters you’d expect of a world-class aquarium. Stroke a penguin’s feathers, feed a stingray, tickle some starfish, and act like a kid again (or just watch the little ones having the best time ever).
sheddaquarium.org
, 1200 S. DuSable Lake Shore Dr.
Explore Chicago South Loop Area Map

WANT TO REALLY GET TO KNOW CHICAGO’S SOUTH LOOP? BECOME A LOCAL BY LIVING AT SENTRAL MICHIGAN AVENUE
Explore Sentral Michigan Avenue

ABOUT THE WRITER A lifelong New Yorker who has traveled to more countries than states — often on assignment for publications such as the Wall Street Journal, Travel + Leisure, and Town & Country — Heidi Mitchell moved to the Third Coast, aka Chicago, five years ago. She has spent a ridiculous amount of her time in the Windy City attempting to explore (and dine in) each of the city's 77 distinct neighborhoods. Next up: Little Italy to try Kong Dog's Korean version of a hot dog on a stick (dipped in Flamin' Hot Cheetos).

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