When you think of Chicago you probably think of the Hancock Building, Navy Pier, and the Magnificent Mile. What you may not know is that they are located in an area of the city called Streeterville.
Containing some of the highest priced real estate in the city, this neighborhood is home to some of the city’s most well-known and visited attractions, and it all began as a sandbar.
Where is Streeterville?
Streeterville is a tiny area of land with a big footprint. Its southern border is the Chicago River and its western is Michigan Avenue. Because of the curve of the lake both its eastern and northern borders are Lake Michigan.
A Brief History of Streeterville
Although the land east of Michigan Avenue seems solid now, up until the late 1800s the shoreline of Lake Michigan fluctuated. At times Michigan Avenue, originally called Pine Street, was nearly lakefront property. In 1834, three years before the city was incorporated, a 1,500 foot pier was built at the mouth of the Chicago River. Over the years salt and silt built up at the base of the pier, creating a literal landfill. Called “The Sands”, this area quickly became home to squatters and prostitutes.
In 1857 they cleared out the criminal element, but almost thirty years later George Wellington Streeter was stranded on the sandbar while trying to run guns to Honduras. “Cap” Streeter claimed the sandbar was separate from Chicago and declared it the “District of Lake Michigan.” He invited contractors who were rebuilding the city after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 to dump their trash in his District. The land grew, as did the number of residents who lived in the shantytown that popped up.
After several years of gun fights and court battles, Cap finally lost in 1918. He died three years later from pneumonia, but his legacy lives on in the neighborhood that bears his name.
The Magnificent Mile
The Magnificent Mile is one of the world’s most famous avenues. It begins at the Chicago River and runs north on Michigan Avenue to Oak Street. Along its length are scores of shops from national chains, and within its three shopping malls – 900 North Michigan Shops, Water Tower Place, and The Shops at North Bridge – you can also find some local stores.
In the spring the wide boulevard is festooned with thousands of tulips. As the seasons change so do the flowers, and during the holiday season the trees are decorated for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.
It’s much more than shopping, though. At its base are two of the city’s most recognizable skyscrapers, the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower. At the north end is the John Hancock Building. Just south of that is the historic Water Tower, one of the few buildings to survive the Great Fire.
Places To Stay in Streeterville
Streeterville claims some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. The Peninsula, The Drake, and the Ritz Carlton are all steps from the Magnificent Mile. The Allerton, with its iconic “Tip Top Tap” sign near the tip of its skyscraper, has undergone a $60-million renovation. The Intercontinental, the only hotel with an entrance on Michigan Avenue, opened in 2000 after a $250-million renovation that hearkened back to its days at the Medinah Athletic Club.
There are also more affordable accommodations in Streeterville. Red Roof Inn, Courtyard by Marriott, and Doubletree are all in the area.
Museums and Attractions
Probably the most famous attractions in Streeterville are the previously mentioned Water Tower and 875 North Michigan, formerly the Hancock Building.
The Water Tower itself is on the west side of Michigan Avenue and houses a free photography museum. On the east side of the street is the pumping station. Located inside is a Visitor’s Center as well as the Lookingglass Theatre Company.
1,000 feet up at 875 North Michigan is the 360 Chicago. From its 94th Floor windows you can see four states and even step outside on its sky walk. Inside the observatory is a cafe and bar, or you can go up a floor to The Signature Room for dinner and drinks.
Art fans can explore the Museum of Contemporary Art. In addition to its exhibitions the museum features frequent performances. During the summer months there are free jazz concerts on the terrace as well as a farmers market. The Loyola Museum Of Art, or LUMA, presents art that represents Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Both are free for Illinois residents on Tuesdays.
Streeterville’s most popular landmark is Navy Pier. Over 25 million people visit every year. There are dining options for every budget, from McDonald’s to Harry Caray’s Tavern to Riva. Connie’s Pizza, Ryba’s Fudge, and Garrett’s Popcorn all have outposts in the pier.
One of the city’s few IMAX theaters is at Navy Pier. The Chicago Children’s Museum is also a prominent feature.
Other attractions within this attraction include the Crystal Gardens and the landmark Centennial Wheel. The most popular attractions during the summer are the many boats that dock at the pier.
Navy Pier is also the site of fireworks on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Streeterville is Chicago’s top destination spot for tourists, but it’s filled with attractions and history that entice visitors and residents alike. While many of the shops are now chains, there are plenty of local shops and attractions that truly say Chicago and it’s worth a visit whether it’s your first time or you’ve lived here all your life.
Callout: At the northeast junction of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago River is Pioneer Plaza. This is also the site of Jean Baptiste Point du Sable’s home. The first non-native permanent residence of Chicago, du Sable is known as the Founder Of Chicago.