Michigan Avenue History, Architecture, and Shopping

In 1909, plans were put in place to transform Chicago’s Michigan Avenue into a major commercial boulevard.

Developers initially envisioned a thoroughfare much like the famous Champs-Èlysèes, which has often been coined ‘the most beautiful avenue in the world’. Aspiring to adjoin the ‘old’ south with the ‘new’ north of the city, the Michigan Avenue Bridge (DuSable) was built, leading to a construction boom. Both the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower took to the skies on Michigan Ave, with completion by 1925.

This 13-block stretch has since become a center of commercial excitement, affectionately being referred to as ‘the Magnificent Mile’, ‘Mag Mile’ for short. It feels effortless to spend an entire day shopping, dining and sightseeing right here on Michigan Avenue.

The historic Water Tower and Pumping Station sit at the northernmost end of the Mile, and are two of the only architectural structures in the entire city to endure the great Chicago fire of 1817. Across the street is Water Tower Place, our landmark shopping center. A mixed-use building for retail, business, and real estate, this 8-level structure was the first urban vertical shopping mall in the world.

Shopping on the Magnificent Mile

From Nordstrom to Burberry, Zara to Chanel, hours upon hours of retail therapy are available to you on the Mag Mile. For our fine jewelry lovers: you’ll find both Cartier and Tiffany & Co locations. For families: the iconic American Girl Place is housed within Water Tower. Aside from shopping for upscale dolls and their darling accessories, this beloved storefront also offers a café and a vast programming schedule for both young and old.

The largest Starbucks on earth is also located right here on Michigan Avenue. Once a Crate & Barrel, this building is now home to a 35,000 square foot, 5-story Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Take the one-of-a-kind spiral escalator up to any floor you like; each is tailored to a specific coffee-lover’s delight. With caffeine-forward cocktails, whiskey-barrel-aged cold brew tastings and more, a trip to the roastery is a sensory excursion for the palate.

Image by @sungshin_yoon on Instagram.

Drinks and Dining near Michigan Ave

Plenty of restaurants surround Michigan Ave to fuel you along your way. Purple Pig is charcuterie heaven, LaBriola boasts divine Italian provisions, and Wildberry offers all things brunch. Fancy a libation or two? Reviver inside the Marriott Hotel serves up American fare with signature cocktails on the side.

At the southern end of the Mag Mile, the famous Chicago River will greet you and all the bags you accrued along the way. Head towards the river path below Michigan Ave for a stroll along the water, or take a break at City Winery Riverwalk for a glass of red or white. While you’re down there, you might as well walk the extra few blocks to Beatnik on the River, a delightfully bohemian landing spot for Mediterranean inspired eats – the perfect spot to dream up your next trip to the Mile.

Visit The Magnificent Mile in the Gold Coast neighborhood of Chicago.