Chicago's 10 Best Neighborhoods
From River North and the Gold Coast to Wicker Park and the South Loop, discover some of the most diverse, trendy and unique neighborhoods in Chicago.
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Bucktown / Wicker Park
It was in the 1980s that Bucktown began to evolve into the artistic community that it is known as today. The lower rents in the undiscovered area and its proximity to downtown made it a natural choice for musicians and artists looking to stretch their bucks a little further. As the area became more popular, rents began to climb, pushing people south to Wicker Park. The dividing line between the two is North Avenue, with Bucktown to the north and Wicker Park to the south. A very diverse economic neighborhood, you’ve now got $2 million homes scattered throughout the neighborhoods with condos, lofts and townhomes.
Gold Coast / Old Town
Old money and stunning lake views characterize this hot neighborhood that runs contrary to the Chicago phrase: "cooler by the lake." Homebuyers here can pay upwards of a million dollars for just a two-bedroom condo. And if you're into "intentional living," or sharing humongous spaces commune style, this area has some of Chicago's largest old homes that could fit the bill. The main commercial center for this neighborhood is Oak Street, the Rodeo Drive of the Midwest. Hermes, Versace and Gucci clothing stores mingle with four-and five-star restaurants offering outdoor seating in the summer. Also during the summer, Rush Street Concerts at the landmark St. James Cathedral showcase live performances for an hour.
Seven miles from the Loop on the South Side of Chicago, you'll find several of the country's more prestigious institutions. The University of Chicago, renown for producing over 87 Nobel Prize laureates, including two 2013 award recipients for economics, is here. Also in Hyde Park, Chicago Blues legend Muddy Waters played the standing-room-only gig with the Rolling Stones at the Checkerboard Lounge in 1981 and Frank Lloyd Wright designed his historic masterpiece, the Robie House.
Lincoln Park / Lakeview
In the 1800s, the area that is now one of the most fashionable places to live in Chicago was mostly swampland and forest. Now, it’s a magnet for singles in their 20s and 30s, many of whom stay to start families here. The neighborhood is home to two private schools with great reputations for the education they offer kids from junior kindergarten through 12th grade. The community is very much like a college town within the big city, with a large variety of shopping, restaurants and nightspots all in close proximity. Named for Chicago’s largest park (with more than 1,200 acres), the neighborhood offers an abundance of outdoor activities, including bike trails, jogging paths, athletic fields and its beautiful conservatory (pictured above).
This area of Chicago was uncharitably called a slum until real estate developer Albert Friedman began leasing out buildings to art galleries, photographers and agencies, all looking for economical office and display space. The transformation has been exceptional. Today, River North has the greatest concentration of art galleries in the country -- over 100 clustered in the gallery district on Superior and Huron -- trailing only New York. The world's largest commercial building, the Merchandise Mart, at 4.2 million square feet, is also here.
Like a village within the city, this quaint community is very popular with young families. Parents are often seen pushing strollers past the shops with colorful awnings, small restaurants and trees that line Roscoe Street, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. Vintage brick walkups and well-maintained frame houses with front porches help maintain the atmosphere of this family-oriented community. Along with the newer designer boutiques that have sprung up in the area, residents of Roscoe Village can enjoy the largest concentration of antiques stores in the Midwest, located along the neighborhood’s Southern border.
In the early 1900s, the area that is home to some of Chicago’s top tourist attractions and the country’s largest media and arts college was filled with brothels, saloons and pawnbrokers. Now a thriving community where visitors flock to tourist spots like the Shedd Aquarium (pictured above), Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum, the South Loop is an area that draws executives who enjoy its proximity to Lake Michigan and the downtown business district, where luxury high-rises and modern townhomes are being built everywhere.
The most spectacular apartment space in the country debuted here, located at 500 N. Lakeshore Drive. The people who live in Streeterville are moving up, literally, with taller highrises being built every year. Nicknamed the “platinum coast” by some Realtors, apartment buildings and condos in this area come with more than the usual amenities. Some come attached to banks, athletic clubs, convenience stores, hotels and in one case -- the Residences at River East Center -- a 21-screen movie theater and bowling alley.
With larger units, two parks in the area, including the Adams-Sangamon (pictured above) and more parking available than other neighborhoods near the Loop, the West Loop is a draw for young families. Within its borders is the prestigious Whitney M. Young Magnet High School, alma mater of first lady Michelle Obama, and the . Enrollment for this public school, which consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in Illinois, is highly selective and determined through test scores and academic standing. Not to be missed is the SoHo of the Midwest, the monthly Randolph Street Market, a one-of-its-kind outdoor and indoor arena for the collector, antique shopper and flea market connoisseur.
Chic boutiques and trendy nightspots continue to pop up in this west town village south of Wicker Park. Decorated with beautiful, ornate churches, the neighborhood has preserved the cultural heritage brought to it by German, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Although most of its residents are not of Ukrainian descent, the Ukrainian food here is some of the best in the city, and visitors can still hear the language spoken on backyard stoops and in neighborhood businesses. Division Street and Damen Avenue are the community's commercial centers with a variety of shops and restaurants that are transforming this quiet village into a hot neighborhood for homebuyers.