A guide of what to do in River North. This Chicago neighborhood is located directly across the river from downtown/The Loop and is a hub of restaurants and nightlife.
Charles and I lived in River North for four years – it’s the type of neighborhood that you live in when you are in your 20s. This neighborhood is rapidly changing and it one of the most popular places to go for a night out.
Where is River North
River North is just north of The Loop… directly north of the river. The neighborhood is bordered by the Chicago River to the south and west, Streeterville to the east, and Old Town and Gold Coast to the north.
Getting to River North
You can take the Brown Line to the Chicago or Merchandise Mart stops on the el, or you can take the Red Line to Chicago or Grand. Note that these are two different Chicago stops.
What to do in River North
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum
This museum located in a restored mansion built in 1883 explores the art, architecture and design of the Gilded Age and the 19th century. The museum features not only the interior design, furnishing, decorative art, and architecture of the mansion itself, it also hosts special exhibitions.
AIRE Ancient Baths
AIRE isn’t really in River North, it’s just across the river from River North making it so close that I really wanted to include it. AIRE is a luxurious spa and bath house featuring a variety of pools, steam rooms, and saunas. I love the lavender scented steam room and the floating pool which has super salty water so that you can float. AIRE is the ultimate date night experience.
Kayaking in the Chicago River
Wateriders offers kayak rentals from their 500 North Kingsbury Street shop. They offer hourly kayak rentals plus a variety of tours including an architecture tour, a ghosts and gangsters tour, and a fireworks paddle.
The Chicago Electric Boat Company has a fleet of easy to drive electric boats that you can rent to cruise the Chicago River. They have boats to fit 10-16 people and they are BYOB.
The House of Blues
A mid-sized concert venue that hosts concerts and a gospel brunch on Sundays.
Visit the Art Galleries
River North is home to several fine art galleries. Many are located on Superior Street between North Orleans Street and Wells Street including ECHT Gallery, Addington Gallery, Andrew Bae Gallery, Zg Gallery, Jean Albano Gallery, Carl Hammer Gallery, Vale Craft Gallery, and Stephen Daiter Gallery.
Museum of Broadcast Communications
The mission of the museum is to collect, preserve, and present historic and contemporary radio and television. Their collection includes the Radio Hall of Fame and a Chicago Television Gallery. There are also special exhibits.
This theatre founded by Northwestern University graduates in 1988 won a Tony Award for regional theater in 2011. This is a place to see new theater and many new plays have premiered here.
The Comedy Bar
A stand-up comedy venue with two stages, affordable prices, a full dinner menu, and no drink minimums. They host stand up comedians, open mics, and ensemble shows.
Magnificent Mile Shopping
Located on the line between River North and Streeterville, the Magnificent Mile is a mile-long stretch of Michigan Avenue running from the Chicago River to Oak Street in the Gold Coast. This area is known for its upscale shopping and architecture. Both the Shops at North Bridge and the 900 North Michigan Shops are located on the Mag Mile, as are shops including Neiman Marcus, Saks, Burberry, Tiffany & Co., and Gucci. Chicago’s Starbucks Reserve, the largest Starbucks in the world, is also along the Mag Mile. Many of Chicago’s finest hotels including the Peninsula, the Park Hyatt, and The Drake are on this stretch of Michigan Avenue.
The Shops at North Bridge
This urban shopping mall is home to Nordstrom plus shops including Stuart Weitzman, Kiehl’s, EQ3, and Untuckit.
Where to Eat in River North
A casual barbecue joint with live music and great food. The menu features slow cooked meats like brisket, baby back ribs, and pork shoulder plus sides like tater tots, mac and cheese, beans, and cole slaw. Live band karaoke on Tuesday nights is always a blast, but they have live music most nights.
Co-owned by Giuliana and Bill Rancic and Lettuce Entertain You, this chic Italian restaurant has a mix of Italian classics and more modern creations. Try pastas like the carbonara, squid ink spaghetti with spicy king crab, or opt for a meat or seafood main.
An upscale steakhouse that serves nearly two dozen different cuts of beef including luxury cuts like Wagyu and Kobe.
The newest addition to the RPM family is RPM Seafood, a multi-level restaurant with views of the Chicago River. The menu has a big selection of raw and cooked seafood plus some pastas and meaty mains.
A rustic farm to table gastropub with a wonderful beer list and the best fried cheese curds in the city, Farmhouse is one of our favorite low-key date night spots.
Ask a Chicagoan about Quartino and it is bound to bring a smile to their face. This restaurant specializes in small plate Italian cuisine. Everything on the menu is great, it’s affordable, and it’s fun for groups.
Chicagoans love Eataly so much that after opening weekend it had to unexpectedly close because there wasn’t enough food on the shelves to open. Eataly is an Italian market with several restaurants. Restaurants include La Pizza & La Pasta, Osteria del Mercato, and a counter that serves street food snacks. Downstairs there is a pasta bar, a dessert bar, and a sandwich bar.
It’s hard to get a reservation, but I’ve had luck showing up just after they open and getting a spot at the bar where they serve the full menu. This French steakhouse is romantic and chic and the food is exceptional. We love the steaks and the short rib stroganoff – and always be sure to save room for the chocolate pie.
This little doughnut shop kicked off a big doughnut trend in Chicago. Located in what was an unused coat closet that was turned into a small to-go doughnut shop, the Doughnut Vault is known for serving cake style doughnuts and has been named one of the best doughnut shops in the country. Be warned – they tend to sell out so get there early.
This steakhouse takes the steakhouse experience and elevates it. The menu has items like caviar, bone marrow, tartare, and foie gras in addition to raw and chilled seafood, and a wide selection of cuts of beef. This is a great special occasion restaurant. I know that no one goes to a steakhouse for the vegetable sides, but their corn and shishito peppers is a personal favorite.
The Hampton Social
This is the original location of the eatery that has grown to include more locations in Chicago and beyond. It’s known for it’s Instagram-ready decor and East Coast inspired cuisine. The menu features lots of seafood including shrimp, salmon, tuna, swordfish, and oysters, plus a lobster roll.
3 Greens Market
Located in West River North, 3 Greens Market is mini food hall with a coffee shop, salad bar, Small Cheval location, and sandwich station. There is a good amount of seating and you will find people working away on laptops at the communal tables.
Beatrix specializes in making healthier cuisine appealing. The menu is filled with uncomplicated meals with fresh ingredients. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner and it has a nice relaxed vibe. Note: Beatrix has locations in both River North and Streeterville so if you are meeting a friend there, be very clear!
The Purple Pig
A small plates Mediterranean restaurant known for serving wine, cheese, and pork. This is the type of restaurant that everyone loves and it’s great for a group.
Helmed by Top Chef Winner Fabio Viviani, Siena Tavern is part market and part restaurant. They sell from-scratch pastas and sauces and well as at-home pasta and pizza kits. The restaurant serves a mix of Italian classics like pizza, from-scratch pastas, and meat mains.
Big & Littles
This fast casual restaurant has a very eclectic menu including everything from tacos and burgers to fried soft shell crab. The thing is, they do it all well.
Frontera Grill is owned by Rick Bayless, one of Chicago’s most acclaimed chefs. This restaurant serves authentic Mexican food (not Tex-Mex) made with locally sourced ingredients. Going here is always a treat and the food is wonderful.
Bayless’s fast-casual sandwich spot beside Frontera Grill is the perfect place for a quick meal. They serve a sandwiches (I love the Milanesa) plus tacos, salads, and sides. Note: the menu at Xoco is similar to the menu at Tortas Frontera at the O’Hare airport, which I also love.
Where to Drink in River North
Green Door Tavern and The Drifter
The Green Door Tavern is one of the oldest bars in Chicago, it first opened in 1872 – right after the Great Fire of Chicago. The building shows its age as it leans a bit. The Green Door tavern is a neighborhood bar/restaurant decorated to the max with memorabilia. Downstairs, you will find The Drifter, a speakeasy that have live entertainment.
Tao is one of Chicago’s newest hotspots. The massive space is part restaurant and part nightclub and is known for being the place for a night out.
A three-level cocktail bar with a cocktail lounge and restaurant on the first level, a second floor Disco for dancing, and a rooftop. It’s considered one of the best places for a cocktail in the city.
Three Dots and a Dash
A tiki bar located in the basement below Bub City, the entrance to this bar can be found in hidden in an alleyway. Both the cocktails and the overall experience of Three Dots and a Dash are great.
Untitled Supper Club
This large basement-level bar/restaurant recreates a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Untitled has a full menu and a lively bar with live music and burlesque shows.
Want to have a great drink at a spot that isn’t slow loud that you can’t hear your friends? Broken Shaker is the place.
This street in River North is densely populated with bars and restaurants and it is a very popular destination for those looking to bar-hop.
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What to do in the Gold Coast
What to do in River North
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What to do in Streeterville
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