The Chicago Riverwalk: Then & Now


Yes, Chicago is famous for its lake. But there’s plenty to love about the city’s second lakefront, too. Here’s why you should visit the Chicago Riverwalk on your next trip.

If you have visited Chicago in the last 10 years, and had a chance to take in some of the Riverwalk, you may have noticed its ever-changing landscape — walking paths, continuously growing food and beverage scene and overall increase in tourist’s interest to this area of town.  That’s because in recent years Mayor Rahm Emanuel presented plans to not only expand but beautify the riverwalk, extending it six blocks from State St. to Lake St.  A majority of this new expansion has opened to the public and there are great plans in store for the future, too.

In order to provide some context to how far we have come with the river expansion, I am going to take you back to 2001 when the official construction of the riverwalk began. The initial city plans called for a total of four sections or “districts,” all of which were to have a certain theme and specific locations.

Arcade: Spanning from Franklin Street to State Streets. This area was named the Arcade because of the distinctive architectural details that divide the riverfront from the rest of Wacker Drive.

Confluence: Beginning where the North, South and Main branches of the river interest, also known as “Goose Island”.

Civic: This area begins at Dearborn Street to the famous Michigan Ave. It is home to some pretty neat things to check out, like the Bridge House Museum, where many boats are launched from the rive, including the sightseeing tours and water taxis. Not to mention two of the most iconic and historic buildings, the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower.

Market: This area spans from Columbus Dr. to Lake Shore Drive and is one of the more picturesque parts of the riverwalk (up until this year). It features heavier foliage, in contrast to the concrete jungle that surrounds the area. This is also the area where many kayaking tours are launched and where you can find fun spots like a beach-type vibe restaurant.

The Chicago River hasn’t had the most ideal history. Some of you may have heard of the now infamous Eastland Disaster of 1915, when an excursion boat was docked at the Clark St. Bridge and toppled over, killing hundreds of people and trapping many others. This is one of the many stories that lead to the idea that this particular section of the river has been haunted ever since. I’ve taken a kayaking architectural tour along this section. Personally, I’m not sure that I believe in ghosts, but there indeed was a “vibe” about this section of the river that had me thinking, could it really be haunted? Since this disaster, the Chicago River has gone through many stages of evolution.

Now let’s flash forward to 2012, when Mayor Emanuel proposed the expansion of the riverwalk from Stare St. to Lake St, which included three stages, all of which have been completed as of today. These new areas include six new districts called The Marina Plaza, The Cove, The Water Plaza, The Jetty, The Boardwalk and The River Theater, all which opened to the public in October of 2016, and make ideal spots for amateur or professional photographers alike.

One of the newest additions includes sections of walking paths that jet out into the river, allowing for the public to congregate and see a more 360-view. As of the summer of  2017, Mayor Emanuel has also commissioned the first ever floating art gallery!

As a Chicagoan, it’s great to see how far the Chicago River has come in the last 100 years. I’m excited to see where this expansion project goes in the coming years so that I can enjoy this beautiful space alongside my neighbors and our visitors.

Here are some of the unique activities to do along the Chicago Riverwalk. Just click on the link for more information on each activity.

Floating Art Gallery

Kayak the Chicago River 

Chicago’s Original Architectural Boat Tour – Wendella 

Take a ride on the famous Yellow Chicago Water Taxis

Grab a drink or catch a show at City Winery on the River

Get festive at the Island Party Hut and Tiki Bar

Feelin’ lucky? Channel your inner Irishman at O’Brien’s 

St. Patrick’s Dyeing of the River (only in March)

We can’t wait to welcome you to Chicago!

Until then …


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