Navigate the New Normal in Downtown Chicago
The “new normal” has been described as unprecedented, surreal, and supremely challenging. Our day-to-day plans and routines have been uprooted. Making time for fun is challenging and subject to new safety guidelines. So, how can we enjoy what’s most familiar in a new way?
As a Chicago local, going downtown is a pretty routine activity- whether you’re going to grab some new clothes, sip some coffee and see the sights by Lake Michigan, or grab dinner with friends. Downtown is where we Chicagoans spend a lot of our time, so how do we do it safely? Below you’ll find a guide to enjoying The Mag Mile as a longtime resident or even as a new visitor, while appropriate restrictions are in place.
The best start to any hot Chicago summer day includes breakfast to get you energized and ready to go. For me, coffee is a necessity and there are plenty of spots to get my fix, including a Minted Cold Brew from Starbucks Reserve Roastery and a Toffee Cake Stan’s Donuts on North Michigan Avenue. I was exploring after all, and I couldn't choose!
Once caffeinated, I walked to Lake Shore Park by the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is open Friday through Saturday from 11am-6pm. I sat outdoors and admired the surrounding architecture. Fresh air, greenery, and skyscrapers all set the scene for my morning meal. Whether you sit on the benches alongside the park for a lake view or you sit on the steps of the MCA for a bustling city view, you’re sure to feel inspired and energized to further explore the popular spots and hidden gems in our city.
My favorite way to learn more about familiar neighborhoods is by utilizing MetroWalkz Self-Guided Walking Tours, which are part of eVisitor Guide, a free, all-digital, mobile-first platform that offers curated content on things to see and do in Chicago. Lucky for us locals, they have a specific tour tailored to The Magnificent Mile that goes beyond the typical tourist spots.
A lot of what draws me back downtown to The Magnificent Mile even as a local is the dichotomy of the city’s architecture. One moment you are standing under sleek, contemporary skyscrapers and the next you are staring at a classic, weathered clock on the side of the street with thick greenery as its backdrop.
One of my favorite stops and photo opps along the walking tour is the historic Old Chicago Water Tower. Not only is the Gothic Revival architecture mesmerizing to look at, but it is also a reminder of the city’s resilience after the Great Chicago Fire. As one of the few surviving structures still standing downtown in 1871, the historic Water Tower and surrounding park is a quaint pocket along North Michigan Avenue that features seating and a fountain, making it the perfect spot to finish up your morning drink.
As my walk wound down, I reached The Wrigley Building and the DuSable Bridge, two of the original landmarks on The Magnificent Mile that are each about 100 years old. I snapped a few photos and took in the detailed design of the first double-leaf, double-deck, bascule-style bridge before heading to lunch.
(Read more on the history of the bridge, named after Chicago's founder!)
After a long day in the Chicago sun, I was looking for something light yet filling and something I could get quickly. Just a couple blocks north of the Chicago River sits Labriola, an Italian Emporium. Famous for their delicious artisan bread, Labriola is the perfect stop for a midday pick me up. I wanted to enjoy the breeze in the shade, so I ordered to-go and waited outside the restaurant. I made my way over to Milton Lee Olive Park, nestled right next to Navy Pier near Ohio Street Beach.
Again, the dichotomy I described was on full display in this tranquil park where skyline views peeked through the green, full trees.
I took a moment to take in the beauty of the city as I enjoyed my Salumi Tasting featuring Prosciutto Di Parma, Gorgonzola Dolce, and Thyme Roasted Cauliflower. This delicious meal came at an affordable price and was perfect for two. In my mind, a picnic by the lake is the perfect way to socially distance. If you are up to it, the restaurant also features a large, covered patio and floor-to-ceiling windows, making it perfect to dine distantly in any weather.
Even with restrictions and safety guidelines in place, The Mag Mile was still a versatile and lively getaway with an array of places to shop, dine, and explore. Remember to wear a mask, take a bunch of photos, and most importantly- have fun!