The stretch of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue north of the Chicago River is nicknamed the Magnificent Mile, or the Mag Mile to locals. Known as a shopping mecca, it’s the Rodeo Drive of the Midwest. Attention shoppers— although there are plenty of pricey options… your Burberry and Bulgari, Coach and Cartier… there are also affordable alternatives in store. Places where you can find the perfect dress or souvenir without busting the bank. Here’s what you need to know to plan a perfect shopping weekend in Chicago.
For many Midwesterners, a girls shopping weekend in Chicago is an annual tradition. But it’s also a fun choice for families. Here’s what’s first rate about a weekend shopping trip to the so-called Second City.
There’s plenty of high-end shopping along Michigan Avenue. It’s fun to be dazzled by jewelry, shoes and designer dresses that cost thousands. Van Cleef & Arpels and David Yurman top my list for jewelry gawking. Italian shoe & bag designer Salvatore Ferragamo always has a lot of eye candy, as does Stuart Weitzman. Men will get their thrills at Allen Edmonds and Marc Jacobs. On the north end of Michigan Avenue, make sure and walk down Oak Street to check out some of the high-end Gold Coast stores like Barney’s and Dior.
When you’re ready to come back down to reality, here are a few affordable must-see stops. H & M is a massive department store filled with trendy affordable clothes for all ages. It’s beloved by visitors and locals alike.
Canada Goose just opened its second store in the U.S. on the ground floor of the Park Hyatt. If you can’t afford one of their $1,500 winter coats, head over to Michigan Avenue’s multi-level Columbia Sportswear for down jackets and outer wear that are stylish, but won’t bust your wallet. It’s a pretty store and offers great athleisure wear for the entire family.
A block off Michigan Avenue, Eataly is celebrity chef Mario Batali’s 63,000-square-foot Italian shopping and eating emporium. This is a foodie’s fantasy. Purchase some unique ingredients, grab a crepe at the Nutella Cafe or sign up for a cooking class. That’s right… adults and kids can pull up a stool to the stylish open kitchen for classes that range from pasta-making to professional tips on that perennial kid favorite — pizza.
Another must-see in Chicago? Apple’s new modern marvel, which opened in 2017. Overlooking the Chicago RIver, it’s as much architectural masterpiece as a store.
For many families, a shopping trip to Chicago is a pilgrimage to one place in particular…American Girl Place. The first retail store for the brand, this multi-level extravaganza is sure to thrill. Prepare to open up your heart (and wallet) to the charms of American Girl Place. Not only can you buy dolls, but you can also enjoy afternoon tea, lunch or dinner in the cafe, have your doll dolled up at the hair salon or attend one of their other daily events. There are also more budget-friendly purchases available, including “The Care and Keeping of You” collection of books that deal with the social and physical changes faced by tweens and younger girls.
If your young traveling partner has no interest in getting dolled up, there’s no need to worry. Next to American Girl Place is a LEGO store, with equally magnificent models on display, including Chicago skyscrapers made entirely out of LEGO bricks.
Savvy Souvenir Shopping
Don’t want to buy another Windy City t-shirt or sports jersey? Chicago’s cultural institutions offer some of the best souvenirs.
Combine a shopping trip with a visit to one of the country’s world-class art museums. The Art Institute of Chicago has two world-class gift shops, one featuring more modern gift items. They’re both filled with unique treasures, be it games, clothing, posters, cards, jewelry.
If you’re with kids, make sure to stop by one of the Art Institute’s most popular exhibits, the Thorne Miniature Rooms. Imagine the dollhouses of your dreams – 68 painstakingly replicated interiors ranging from 13th Century Europe up to 1930’s America. An English drawing room, a French Provincial bedroom and a southwestern American kitchen are just a few of the rooms on display.
Another must-see souvenir stop during a Chicago visit is the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s gift shop, 224 S. Michigan Ave. Choose from Chicago themed jewelry, scarves and t-shirts. There are also plenty of architectural toys, games and gifts, including Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass. Appropriately housed in architect Daniel Burnham’s historic Santa Fe Building, another highlight is the model of Chicago. The model contains more than 1,100 scale buildings in the downtown Chicago area.
Another unique souvenir are pointe shoes from Joffrey Ballet dancers ($30), which can be purchased during intermission at performances. If you’re in town during the holidays, consider attending a Nutcracker performance and picking out a pair for your ballet lover.
Where to Eat
Chicago was once the country’s meat-packing capital, as immortalized in Upton Sinclair’s best-selling novel, The Jungle. Although it’s no longer the hog butcher to the world, the city of big shoulders, as poet Carl Sandburg nicknamed it, still has plenty of great steak restaurants. One long-time favorite is Lawry’s. Located in an opulent 1890’s mansion just off Michigan Avenue, they do things exactly the way they have since it opened in 1974. Chefs in white starched uniforms wheel their massive silver carts to your table, carving prime rib right in front of you. During the holidays they offer a not-to-be-missed Santa lunch with caroling, an elaborate gingerbread house display and over-the-top holiday decorations.
Where to Stay
If you love history, choose to stay in one of Chicago’s historic hotels. The Palmer House Hilton is the grand dame of Chicago’s gilded age. Hallways are lined with glamour shots of the stars of Hollywood’s golden age, who all performed in Palmer’s famed Empire Room. Judy Garland, Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Phyllis Diller, Frank Sinatra, to name a few. The guestrooms also honor Chicago history with elegant vintage black-and-white photos.
The ornate hotel lobby is also magnificent. Consider having afternoon tea there to really step back in time. It’s a perfect way to take a break from your shopping adventure.