Downtown Chicago

Gold Coasting Through Chicago

Discover a unique neighborhood in an even more unique way. Image courtesy of: pgiam/iStock/Getty Images Plus Collection/Getty Images

A stay on Chicago’s upscale Gold Coast puts you in walking distance to the mansions and luxury shopping that gave the neighborhood its name, as well as the renowned Lincoln Park Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden.

A Colorful Kickoff

Chicago is built on a grid, so it’s a pedestrian’s dream — you have to try really hard to get lost. On the near north side, the Gold Coast boundaries are Lake Shore Drive to the east; Oak Street to the south; Clark Street to the west, and North Avenue to the north. In the heart of the Gold Coast, Hotel Indigo features colorful decor and artwork by Chicago impressionist Bill Olendorf. Kick off your day at its Gold Coast Spa to obtain equally colorful nails. Across the street is the stately 3 Arts Club Cafe in a furniture store. Fountains, chandeliers and atrium lighting help make your smoked salmon board Instagram-worthy

Mansion Hopping Before Shopping

Keep an eye on the architecture on your stroll through The Gold Coast, named for the fortunes of its early residents — 19th century industrial barons who fancied the Queen Anne-style townhouses of Astor Street or Gothic designs like Potter Palmer’s castle on Lake Shore Drive. The Charnley-Persky House, designed by Louis Sullivan and his young draftsman Frank Lloyd Wright, is open for tours and offers a close-up tour of Gold Coast design. Of note is the elegant atrium and the streamlined woodwork that helped American architects move away from Victorian trimmings.

Talk To Me, Harry Winston

You can shop like an Astor at Gold Coast designer boutiques on tree-lined Oak Street. From St. John to Madewell, stores offer special appearances and noshing to entice shoppers through the front door. Browse couture at Yves Saint Laurent, Armani, Prada, Versace and Dior, then scout silk scarves at Hermès and stilettos at Jimmy Choo. Flex a gold Rolex at Razny Jewelers, or make a sparkly best friend at Harry Winston, all on a street which would have had Holly Golightly breakfasting in every shop. Check the schedule for Oak Street Wine Strolls, during which select merchants serve wine to browsers, to sweeten the deal.

Sweet Coffee Whispers

For an energy boost, refuel at the Gold Coast’s Whispers Cafe in tree-dotted Mariano Park. Settle into a wrought iron chair by the fountain and refuel on the coffee (with gelato and pastries) that brought Whispers back by popular demand after the city briefly switched to another proprietor. The park’s namesake is a longtime Chicago Daily News reporter who held court across from the park digging for stories for his column, and still serves as a good spot for people-watching at 1031 N. State Street.

A Vacation for Your Wallet

You can work off your indulgences at Oak Street Beach, a sandy stretch of paradise for swimmers. Poet Carl Sandburg called Chicago the City of the Big Shoulders. Work on yours with beach volleyball, jogging, rollerblading or biking, all of which are popular along Lake Michigan — Chicago’s version of an outdoor gymnasium. An ideal winter activity is a stroll through the lush Chicago Botanic Garden’s semitropical greenhouse in Lincoln Park. Its tropical humidity, koi pond and foliage will help you forget the icy lake breezes that give the Windy City another of its names.

Lions and Tigers and Dinner – Oh My!

Lincoln Park Zoo, a favorite stop for locals and visitors with free admission, hosts exhibits from the massive new polar bear habitat complete with dive pool, to the Kovler Lion House including African lions and Amur tigers. Once feeding time spurs your appetite, check out hidden gem Cafe Brauer, whose patio overlooks the park’s nature lagoon, with Chicago’s soaring skyline in the distance. Sandburg, big on nicknaming, called Chicago, “Hog butcher for the world,” so go native and order the pressed pork and ham panini and locally brewed Goose Island beer. Wednesdays May through August, catch a sunset serenade with bands presented by Old Town School of Folk Music.