Pros:Lots of variety in stores and restaurants, great atmosphere, seasonal changes
Cons:Some stores are too expensive for me, long waits at restaurants
The Bottom Line: This is a must-do for everyone, at least once!
The Magnificent Mile, appropriately named, is a mile-long chunk of North Michigan Avenue in the heart of downtown Chicago. This area features many of Chicagos most well known shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. When I walk this mile I usually start from my parents place by Randolph Street station and either hop on a trolley or walk along the mile while making many stops along the way. Whether you are shopping, dining, or just browsing the mile is truly a magnificent experience. A helpful brochure including a map is available at http://www.themagnificentmile.com/EventsCommunityNews/AreaGuide8-11Print.swf.
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Shop Til You Drop!
Shopping is certainly the most popular activity along the Magnificent Mile and both bargain hunters and the wealthy will find something. There are several department stores along the mile. My personal favorite is the huge and beautiful Marshall Fields, which tragically will soon be converted to a Macys. There is also Nordstrum, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, and Saks Fifth Avenue. If you are like me and from a smaller town or city, you will probably be very impressed with these stores. The merchandise tends to be trendier and have a greater variety than my local branches of some of these department stores, although the prices are a bit higher. I like shopping in these department stores particularly at Christmas when many feature beautiful displays and special savings on gifts.
There are many specialty shops as well for those who have time or energy to venture beyond the big department stores. The delightful American Girl Place is worth a look in even if you dont have children just to see the happiness on so many kids faces. There is also a massively huge Crate and Barrel that I love to browse in. Unlike many local stores and outlets, this branch has several floors devoted to stylish and interesting furniture. If you have some money to burn and a special occasion coming up, you can always stop by at Tiffany & Co. for something in a little blue box. We can never leave our day of shopping until my dad gets to stop by Orvis for all his manly fly fishing and hunting needs. If you have not been to Chicago before do NOT leave town without visiting one of Garrett Popcorn Shops for your choice of scrumptious fresh butter, cheese, or caramel corn. These stores are operated like a well-oiled machine by some wonderful young kids who keep the huge lines moving in and out all times of the year.
I tend to spend most of my time on the mile at the clothing stores scattered throughout. On one end of the spectrum we have Gucci and Louis Vuitton while on my end we have H&M and Filenes Basement. Also available are Banana Republic, Burberry, Hugo Boss, Finish Line, Niketown, Gap, and Levis among many others. Ive bought my winter scarves at this downtown Gap for several years and they always have a great selection.
Of course, all of these are only the shops right on the street as I have not even discussed most of the stores in the mini malls you will pass along the way such as 900 North Michigan Shops and Westfield. You could spend an entire day at most of these places, so if I only have time for one I like Water Tower Place for its variety and quantity of shops. Two of my favorites, Express and Rampage, are located there.
Ready for a Snack?
All this walking and shopping is sure to make you hungry, and you are in the right place. Magnificent Mile has a huge variety of dining options. Of course you can get yourself some fast food if you dont have a lot of time. There are the usual suspects such as McDonalds, Subway, Corner Bakery Café, and Starbucks.
If you want to get off your feet, try one of the many sit-down restaurants. Giordanos offers a great Chicago-style pizza with friendly service and reasonable prices. Maggianos Little Italy is another good pick although lines can be very long. Mike Ditkas is a little bit off the main drag and you can usually walk right in for lunch. They serve really great salads and sandwiches. The Cheesecake Factory in the basement of the John Hancock Building is phenomenally popular and, in my opinion, very overrated. If you must go, expect lines of up to three hours and pager that wont let you go very far. For something a little more upscale, Ruths Chris Steak House is one of my favorites and the mashed potatoes are to die for.
A Year on the Mile
I go back and forth on my favorite time of year to visit Chicago and walk the Mile. Whatever time it is, I usually think thats my favorite because Chicago has so much to offer! The following are some seasonal attractions to help you plan your visit.
In November, the whole Mile lights to signal the beginning of the Holiday season. This year November 19th will be the day, followed by a special fireworks show. Ive not gotten to attend the fireworks before but am planning on going and staying over this year. Of course, you dont need to be there on that day to enjoy the lights as December is a wonderful time full of decorated windows and Christmas music blaring out of all the stores. January through March is the time for discounted prices at many shops and restaurants as well as weekly firework shows on Saturday nights. April through May is a beautiful time to visit because you can see planters full of thousands and thousands of tulips. I have some wonderful pictures from my visits this May, but unfortunately tulips cant last forever. Im looking forward to seeing them again next year. Finally, Summer is a time for lots of free entertainment and a special emphasis on the Magnificent Miles gardens. And you wont have to wear a coat.
Helpful Tips For Your Visit
1. The best way to experience the Magnificent Mile is to walk. However, if you have mobility problems or are running late for a train like I usually am, there is a free trolley service of the area. Look for the Free Trolley signs which list the stops.
2. Many of the restaurants along the strip will get very crowded, particularly in the holiday season. Either try to call ahead for a reservation (some do take them) or eat at an off hour like 10:30 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. and grab some popcorn to keep you going between meals.
3. If you get a headache, need an umbrella, or suddenly develop the sniffles during your journey there are many Walgreens branches along your route, so dont feel like you have to pack the kitchen sink in your purse before your trip.
4. Dress appropriately! Wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers, particularly in winter. It will be cold outside and very hot in the stores as you go in and out.
5. Hotels in this area are plentiful, but pricey. A list of options and contact information is available at http://www.themagnificentmile.com/hotels/default.cfm.
6. Plan ahead and figure out which stores are top priority to make sure you dont miss them as you go by or run out of time.
7. Dont forget to stop and enjoy the beautiful buildings and the view as you shop!
I love Chicago and I love the Magnificent Mile. This is a great place to shop, dine, or even just people watch. Sometimes I buy a lot and sometimes I just enjoy the atmosphere but its always a fun experience. Well, OK, I pretty much always buy something! Whether you are planning a first or hundredth visit to Chicago, the Magnificent Mile is a not-to-be missed shopping and dining experience.
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