Chicago’s Michigan Avenue is one of the great streets in America. Until the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the road was mainly residential and bordered Lake Michigan. Debris from the fire was used to fill in the lake immediately east of Michigan Avenue creating the space for the parkland we see today.
The stretch of the road covered in this entry is the original Michigan Avenue which ended at the Chicago River. It’s lined with many historic buildings, offices, hotels, parks, and some museums. I’ll start from the south at Roosevelt Road and work my way north to the Chicago River. I’ll only cover the buildings on the west side of the street in this entry and not Grant Park or Millennium Park. You can find the Hilton Chicago in my post about historic hotels on Michigan Avenue. There is also another post about the Art Institute.
Breakfast at Yolk
First, if you want to start off with a hearty breakfast before your tour of Michigan Avenue, you’ll get one of the best in Chicago at Yolk just north of Roosevelt Road. It’s the original location of an upscale breakfast restaurant that has grown quickly and opened several other branches since first opening in 2006.
A few blocks north of Yolk are two museums. The first is the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, housed in a gorgeous contemporary glass building. Unfortunately, the museum was closed for a private event when I tried to visit. It’s closed Saturdays and Jewish and secular holidays.
Museum of Contemporary Photography
The other, next door to the Spertus, is the Museum of Contemporary Photography hosted by Columbia College. It was closed during my visit, but is generally open when the college is open, from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free.
The Auditorium Building, a couple blocks north at the corner of Congress Parkway, was built in 1889 by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. A young Frank Lloyd Wright also played a small part. It was the largest building in the world when it was built and the first building of its size with electric lighting and air conditioning. The building’s centerpiece, the Auditorium Theatre, was once home to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra until 1904. It’s currently owned by Roosevelt University. Theatre tours are available Mondays at 10:30 and noon and Thursdays at 10:30 for US$12. Tickets can be purchased from the theatre box office 30 minutes before the tour times. Click here to read about my tour of the theatre.
Fine Arts Building
Next door sits the Fine Arts Building, built in 1885 for Studebaker and later used as offices and studios for mainly architects and artists, including Frank Lloyd Wright. The building is open daily for visitors to explore. Visit the official website to learn more.
Santa Fe Building
On Jackson Street is the Santa Fe Building. It was built in the 1904 for the Santa Fe Railway and has a beautiful lobby made of marble. The lobby also has a scale model of Chicago’s downtown area that is updated annually with architectural changes. The building is currently owned by the University of Notre Dame and is the home of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, which offers guided architecture tours and has a gift shop.
Turning left on Adams Street, you’ll find the sign that indicates the beginning of historic Route 66. The iconic American highway began in Chicago and ended in Santa Monica, California, winding through eight states and several cities along the way. It covered 2,448 miles and lasted from 1926 until its decertification in 1985.
Between Adams & Monroe
On the next block between Adams and Monroe Streets is the People’s Gas Building (1910), the School of the Art Institute of Chicago MacLean Center (1908), and the Monroe Building (1912). The Monroe Building has a gorgeous lobby that’s worth popping in to see.
Pritzker Military Museum
On the second floor of the Monroe Building is the Pritzker Military Museum. A US$5 admission charge lets visitors see special exhibits about military history, photos, medals, and oral histories recorded by veterans. An interactive Medal of Honor display has a computer allowing for searches of medal recipients. The library contains rare books and can perform genealogical research for anyone seeking more information on relatives who have served in the military. The museum is open from Tuesday to Saturday.
Chicago Cultural Center
The Chicago Cultural Center, sitting between Washington and Randolph Streets, was built in 1897 and used as the city library until 1991. A marble staircase leads to the Preston Bradley Hall inside the Washington Street entrance, which contains the largest stained glass Tiffany dome in the world.
The GAR Rotunda is located inside the Randolph Street entrance and also has an impressive stained glass dome.
Crain Communications Building
Across the street is the Crain Communications Building, formerly the Smurfit-Stone Building. It was built in 1984 and has a unique slanted façade. It was featured in the 1987 movie Adventures in Babysitting.
Carbide and Carbon Building
Two blocks north on the corner of Wacker Place, the Carbide and Carbon Building, built in 1929, is an Art Deco building covered in green terra cotta. It now houses the Hard Rock Hotel. Popular myth says that the building was built in the shape of a champagne bottle with the gold leaf top representing its cork.
A couple blocks east is Aqua, a modern skyscraper completed in 2009. Its innovative design was the brainchild of Jeanne Gang, and it’s currently the tallest building in the world designed by a woman. It’s an 87-story mixed-use building that also hosts the first Radisson Blu hotel to be opened in the United States.
Finally, hockey fans will love the Blackhawks Store, located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. This store has anything and everything Chicago Blackhawks. It sits on top of a branch of chocolatier Fannie May, which was founded in Chicago in 1920.
Last update: June 2, 2016