The section of Michigan Avenue that runs between the Chicago River and Oak Street is known far and wide as the Magnificent Mile. That name might have originated as a post WWII real estate marketing gimmick, but today, it really is magnificent. In fact, the Mag Mile is among the most prestigious commercial avenues on earth, but you don’t have to take our word for it. No less an authority than National Geographic ranks the Magnificent Mile portion of Michigan Avenue as one of the top 10 avenues in its book, The 10 Best of Everything: An Ultimate Guide for Travelers. It’s a select group, including the Ginza in Tokyo, Bond Street in London, Avenue Montaigne in Paris and the Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich. New York’s Fifth Avenue and Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills are the only other Great Avenues in the US.
Designed to be Magnificent
If you know your Chicago history, you’ll know the name Daniel Burnham. He was the progressive city planner whose vision for Chicago’s development is contained in the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Burnham was so taken and inspired by the grand boulevards of Europe, he wanted to recreate and outdo them in Chicago. He’d like what this avenue has become.
The Magnificent Mile brims with impressive architecture — several of the tallest buildings in the city, augmented by beautiful seasonal gardens and mature trees, and magnificent commercial and hospitality outlets. In addition to more than 3 million square feet of retail options, the Mile is also home to theaters, hotels and hundreds of excellent restaurants.
Michigan Avenue Shopping
The Magnificent Mile is lined with upscale boutiques like Armani, Bulgari, Cartier, Channel, Givenchy, Gucci, Harry Winston, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, and Vera Wang. It’s also home to the grand dame department stores: Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, and Barneys New York.
Magnificent Dining and Accommodations
When all of that shopping makes you hungry, there are restaurants like Lawry’s, The Prime Rib, The Pump Room, Spago, Spiaggia and Tru, to name a few of the more renowned. Add to that ultra-luxury hotels like The Peninsula, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Intercontinental and the Drake, and you have a combination that makes people watching on the Mile an attraction in itself.
Planning Your Visit
The Magnificent Mile draws more than 20 million visitors a years—made up of tourists and locals alike. Its very popularity might give some people — especially those who want to drive in for a day of shopping and dining — pause. Will it be too crowded? Can I find a place to park?
The good news for anyone planning a drive in to the Mile is that parking will not be a problem. Even on the busiest shopping days of the year, you can find convenient parking up and down Michigan. Take a spot like Water Tower Place —50 of 52 Saturdays a year, parking will be simple. But even if that garage is busy, you’ll find spots at 900 N. Michigan Avenue or the Hancock Building.
True, the retail oriented lots will be busier on the weekends—this makes weekends a good time to park in the commercial garages, which tend to be busier on business days. There’s parking a block or two east and west off the Mile too. It tends to be less expensive, but it’s more of a hike.
If you know when to arrive, you can save a bit on parking in the prime areas too. For example, Water Tower Place has special evening parking rates to attract restaurant diners. Many garages also have early bird parking, which enables you to take advantage of lower parking rates if you arrive before a certain hour — usually 10 AM.
If you’re planning to be out all day, park early and save.
After you park, be sure to take your parking stub with you. Several of the larger retailers will validate parking at a shopping discount rate if you spend a certain amount of money there.
Don’t let misconceptions about parking keep you away from this remarkable stretch of Michigan Avenue.