Chicago/Near South

The Near South is the home of several of Chicago's main attractions: the splendid Museum Campus, with three world-class (and fun!) natural science museums on the lakefront; Soldier Field, home of the NFL's Chicago Bears; and McCormick Place, the city's massive convention center.

There's more to be found at the street level, though, which includes the fascinating and eerie Prairie Avenue, the eclectic Printer's Row, and the condo towers of the South Loop. Also, there are a couple of major jazz and blues landmarks in the area, which is bounded by Harrison St to the north, the Chicago River and Clark St/Federal St to the west, 26th St to the south, and Lake Michigan to the east.


Shedd Aquarium on Lake Michigan

The neighborhoods of the Near South are among the oldest settlements in Chicago. They were once the most prestigious — and notorious — in the entire city. After being forgotten for several decades, they have recently been re-discovered and are buzzing with new activity.

Prairie Avenue, in particular, was the prestige address of Gilded Age Chicago, when the city was building fortunes at a rate unlike any the world had ever seen. At the time of the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, held a few miles to the south, 75 of the world's richest men lived on "Millionaire's Row," in mansions with gas-lit grand ballrooms, golden chandeliers, and no pretense of modesty. Eventually, the city's elite moved to the Gold Coast, and the area fell into rapid decline; soon, it was all but abandoned. Today, of the eleven surviving residences on Prairie Avenue, nine are protected as Chicago landmarks. This is the Gilded Age as if the millionaires simply got up and left, leaving their mansions to weather the elements for over a hundred years.

The Museum Campus was born shortly before the 1933 World's Fair, as Chicago's business community set about to recapture the energy of the landmark 1893 Exposition. The Field Museum had opened in the building that now houses the Museum of Science and Industry, and moved to this choice location by the lake in 1921, soon to be joined by the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium, each of which boasts world-class collections within their respective fields. They are housed in beautiful, historic buildings along the lakefront, making a stroll through the area worth your time even if your budget won't let you through the front gates.

Printer's Row is a small and surprisingly tight-knit neighborhood just south of the Loop, centered around Harrison and Dearborn. In its early days, as an off-shoot of the infamous Levee District a few blocks south, it was the yin to Prairie Avenue's yang. In time, crusaders managed to force the closure of the bordellos and gambling houses, and Printer's Row earned its current, more respectable name, from its role as the center of Chicago's publishing industry. The area fell into disuse, but then fortunes changed again; those warehouses and publishing houses became perfect stock for conversion to trendy loft residences. It has a reputation as an eclectic home to artists and writers, who moved in to enjoy the cheap downtown real estate along Dearborn. To be sure, the outrageous boom in downtown Chicago property values is bringing in a more white-collar crowd of lawyers and traders, but the neighborhood retains some of its eclectic, book-loving feel. It's a pleasant evening alternative to the Near North if you are looking for a helping of Chicago blues or an interesting restaurant.

Similarly, the South Loop was once as busy as the rest of the Loop, and then, as development shifted northward, it became known as the place where the hustle and bustle of the Loop trailed off, a quiet zone between Bronzeville and the central business district. Today, however, it's something else entirely — a mad rush of new construction has overtaken the place, with historic stone edifices interspersed among new steel-and-glass towers in varying stages of readiness, and trendy restaurants to exercise the wallets of the people who live there.

Get in

Near South street map

By train

The CTA Red Line stops near Printer's Row (Harrison) and in the South Loop (Roosevelt/State, Cermak-Chinatown). Printer's Row is within reach of the Blue Line (LaSalle/Congress), too. The South Loop is also served by the Orange Line (Roosevelt/Wabash) and the Green Line (Roosevelt/Wabash, Cermak-McCormick Place).

Both stations on Roosevelt are within walking distance of the Museum Campus, although buses and free trolleys also run the route.

By bus

The CTA runs a few convenient buses through the area:

By car

Don't drive to the Near South without a good reason; parking is scarce and often expensive, especially around Soldier Field, the Museum Campus, and McCormick Center.

If you choose to drive, Lake Shore Drive is the key artery from the north or south, passing Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and the Museum Campus. Exits are clearly marked with lists of attractions. For the Museum Campus and Soldier Field, exit at 18th Street/McFetridge Drive. Coming from the Loop to the north and Bronzeville to the south, Michigan Avenue runs through the commercial and residential center of the area. Coming along the Stevenson Expressway, there are exits on to State Street, King Drive, and Lake Shore Drive.

In Printer's Row and the South Loop, parking is more or less what you would expect in the Loop — look for a multi-story garage and expect to pay over $10 for a couple of hours. For the museums and McCormick Place, parking is available at public lots for $15 on days without special events, and totally unavailable on Sunday home games for the Bears; in that case, you'd be much better advised to come back another day.

By boat

For those coming to the Near South from the Loop, specifically Navy Pier, the water taxi operated by Shoreline Sightseeing is an attractive option. Good views, rarely crowded and a lake breeze; plus it drops off right at Museum Campus. Only runs during warmer weather months (April-October), but departures are frequent while it is in service (every 20 or so minutes). $7 Adults $4 kids, also connects to a few stops on the Chicago River.


Museum Campus

The ever popular dolphin show at Shedd Aquarium

All three museums are within a short, pleasant walk from each other, even with toddlers and strollers in tow, so it's worth setting aside an entire day for your visit. Try to get your tickets in advance, though, as lines can be hellacious. Both the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium sell tickets by phone and on-line, eliminating the wait; sadly, the Adler Planetarium is still walk-up only. The two major discount packages, CityPass and Go Chicago Card, may come in handy if you're planning to visit all three, but they do not necessarily cover admission to special exhibits. If you're staying with family and you can pass for Aunt Millie or Uncle Chuck, borrow their ID; Chicago residents receive a discount with proof of residency (usually $2 or so). Mondays and Tuesday are sometimes discounted, depending on the season.

Sue, Field Museum of Natural History

Prairie Avenue

Dearborn Station

The Prairie Avenue Historic District includes the 1800 and 1900 blocks of South Prairie, the 1800 block of South Indiana and 211 through 217 East Cullerton. Neighborhood tours are led by the Glessner House Museum a few times each year. If you happen to be in the area on Halloween, move heaven and earth to join the evening ghost tour, which roams through the Glessner House, meeting a magician a few times along the way, and then heads out to the wonderfully spooky street for a walking tour.

Printer's Row

Printer's Row

As the Loop trails off into Printer's Row, there are still a few impressive buildings to be seen, especially on Dearborn and Plymouth. The Pontiac Building at 542 S Dearborn is one of Chicago's oldest skyscrapers (Holabird & Roche, 1891), and the buildings at 731 S Plymouth and 718 S Dearborn have intriguing details that call back to their publishing past.

Today, the major draws of Printer's Row are the bookstores — see below.



A nice view of the Chicago skyline from the Museum Campus


The Near South is not a shopping destination; there is no need really, given that some of the world's most intense shopping experiences may be had in the two miles to the north. But a trip to Printer's Row can be a refreshing change of pace for downtown visitors who would prefer to browse independent bookstores.


There are restaurants in each of the museums on the Museum Campus; the prices will replace the wonder of science with the wince of cold, hard economics. (It's odd enough that the Shedd Aquarium has a seafood restaurant, but no, you are not allowed to make selections from the aquarium floor.) If the weather's nice, take advantage of the beautiful scenery and bring a picnic lunch.





Blues and jazz fans staying downtown have a real reason to come to the Near South at night in the form of two legendary clubs: Buddy Guy's Legends for the blues and the Velvet Lounge for jazz.


Since there are so many hotels in the Loop and the Near North, there has never been much demand for them here. Any Loop hotels that are close to Grant Park will also be within pretty reasonable distance of the Museum Campus and McCormick Place.


For internet access, the closest public libraries are the Chinatown Branch, just west of the Velvet Lounge, and the Harold Washington Center just north of Printer's Row in the Loop.

Go next

Routes through Near South

Forest Park The Loop  N  S  Bronzeville Southwest Side/Hyde Park
Southwest Side Bridgeport-Chinatown  SW  NE  The Loop END
Rogers Park The Loop  N  S  Bridgeport-Chinatown Far Southeast Side

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, January 21, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.