Things To Do In The South Loop

Where to visit in the South Loop? It might be easier to suggest where not to visit.

There are so many things to do in the South Loop, stretching from the gargantuan convention center that is McCormick Place north to Buckingham Fountain, that South Loop residents may have easy access to more fun per square foot than any other Chicagoans.

If it’s sports you’re after, the Bears call Soldier Field home. DePaul’s storied men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, play at Wintrust Arena next to McCormick Place.

Music? All summer long, Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island offers breathtaking skyline views along with a terrific outdoor concert venue, and Soldier Field hosts the shows that are too big for its lakefront neighbor’s 30,000 capacity. If it’s something more intimate you’re after, Buddy Guy’s Legends is a South Wabash institution for blues and jazz, while brings gritty attitude and national acts to State Street.

The Museum Campus

Among the most obvious South Loop attractions is the Museum Campus. Frankly, even if you never enter the Adler Planetarium, John G. Shedd Aquarium or The Field Museum of Natural History, the architectural heft of the buildings plus the natural beauty of the lakefront and Grant Park would be reason enough to tour the area. Speaking of which, wise beachgoers eschew the more crowded sands of North Avenue, Montrose and Oak Street to bask at the 12th Street Beach, a less-well-known-than-it-should-be gem south of the Planetarium on Northerly Island.

Still, star-gazing at the Adler, the first planetarium in the western hemisphere, is a bucket-list experience. The Shedd houses beluga whales. And The Field recently debuted Maximo, a cast skeleton of the largest dinosaur ever discovered.

Public Art

Many favorite South Loop attractions cost nothing but a little shoe leather. Statues, sculptures and monuments dot the lakefront across Grant Park and beyond, and it’s an easy walk to enjoy much of it from the museum campus north to the Bean (aka “Cloud Gate”) just beyond the generally accepted Congress Parkway border of the South Loop. These favorites are not to be missed:

  • Agora: Eerie and impressive, 106 headless, armless iron figures, each 9 feet tall, seem headed in every direction from their gathering spot at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road near the southern tip of Grant Park. Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz donated the work.
  • Seated Lincoln: Officially titled “Abraham Lincoln, Head of State,” this 9-foot-tall bronze of the 16thS. president has been perched at its Grant Park spot north of Congress Parkway and west of Columbus Drive since 1926. The 150-foot exedra that surrounds the work, and the steps leading to it, are a favorite spot for lunchers and lovers.
  • Buckingham Fountain: One of the finest ornamental fountains in America, it measures 280 feet across and 25 feet high. Installed in 1927, the fountain’s elaborate water and light shows last for 20 minutes, every hour on the hour, from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. from May through mid-October.

Did We Mention Restaurants?

Given that Chicago is one of the great restaurant towns in the world, of course one of the things to do in the South Loop is eat. The Chicago Firehouse Restaurant on Michigan Avenue began its life in 1905 as a fire station and is now an old-school, fine-dining fixture; Cafecito on Congress Parkway has great coffee, an award-winning Cuban sandwich and a steady stream of students from nearby Columbia College and Roosevelt University; and while Chicago’s deep dish pizza gets most of the ink, Aurelio’s (which has a great spot on Michigan Avenue) has been doing an unbelievable thin crust for more than 50 years.