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Blog · Chicago · Chicago’s Magnificent Mile: 10 Things You Didn’t Know It Has

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile: 10 Things You Didn’t Know It Has

By Marcia Frost
Chicago Magnificent Mile

Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, also known as the Magnificent Mile, is considered one of the most popular shopping spots in the country. It’s a must when you’re visiting the city, especially if it’s your first time here.

But you’ll find plenty of things to see and do beyond shopping on this popular urban street — some of which may surprise you.

Ready to explore? Here’s everything you should try when you visit Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

1. 360 Chicago Observatory

360 Chicago Observatory

When it was completed in 1968, the John Hancock Center was the second tallest building in the world (the Empire State Building was the first). It’s now called simply 875 North Michigan Avenue and has since been surpassed by many other higher buildings around the world. 

You’ll still feel like you are on top of the world when you visit 360 Chicago Observatory. This attraction on the top is 1,000 feet up from street level of the Magnificent Mile. 

The TILT, which safely leads you out into the air space, is a lot of fun. They also offer yoga in the sky. If you aren’t feeling so adventurous, visit the Cloud Bar at 360 Chicago for cocktails with one of the best views in the city.

2. Museum of Ice Cream

Museum of Ice Cream

Imagine sampling ice cream in a variety of flavors and forms, without a limit to how much you have. This is just one reason to visit the Museum of Ice Cream in Chicago. Your tastebuds will be on overdrive here.

At the Museum of Ice Cream, you aren’t just entering a buffet — the rooms and installations feature ice-cream-themed art, activities, and more to enhance the experience. Don’t forget to snap a photo in their famous sprinkle pool.

You must make reservations on their website. It’s fun for the whole family and kids under 2 get in free.

FYI: They offer dairy free options too.

3. Mobsters and Haunted Mysteries Walking Tour

Chicago Theater

For some unusual fun, take our Mobsters and Haunted Mysteries Walking Tour. This guided tour includes six Chicago spots where you can experience how the city’s gangsters lived their lives. You’ll hear about the ghosts believed to still be haunting these areas, including stories from the Great Chicago Fire.

Among the historical stops along the way is the Congress Plaza Hotel on Michigan Avenue aka the Magnificent Mile. This hotel is considered by some to be the most haunted hotel in the country.

4. Pop-ups galore

Central Perk Chicago
Credit: Marcia Frost

Michigan Avenue often has pop-ups, especially during the holiday season. It’s a good way for businesses to promote something without signing a long term lease. For example, you’ll sometimes see pop-ups when a blockbuster movie comes out.

A pop-up can be a store, restaurant, cocktail lounge, or even a themed event, and they often let you experience something you wouldn’t normally get to do. I went to the “Friends” pop-up on Michigan Avenue. Not only was it a blast — it was free. Right now, there’s a pop-up about Ukrainian culture. They really do run the gamut, and that’s part of the fun.

Check the events page on the Magnificent Mile website to look for current and upcoming pop-ups. They can last a day, a week, a month, or even a few months.

5. Undercurrent murals

You’ll find some of the best original local art in Chicago under Michigan Avenue. It’s called Undercurrent and it features works by a selection of local artists. This isn’t graffiti but intentional street art. The murals were planned by the city to add color to the bare walls of lower Michigan Avenue. Emerging artists Andy Bellomo, James Jankowiak, and Brandin Hurley were the three chosen to complete them.

The art is best seen if you take the stairs at 430 North Michigan Avenue down to lower Michigan Avenue. The murals are directly below the Intercontinental Magnificent Mile, Grand Avenue, and the Realtor Building. 

6. Chocolate shops

Ghirardelli ice cream

If you love chocolate like I do, you are going to find plenty of it on Michigan Avenue. The area is filled with a selection of any type of the treat you want.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Fanny May: This is a true Chicago chocolatier since the first Fanny May store was opened in 1920 on LaSalle Street. They pride themselves in the fact that their recipes have remained so good that they’ve never changed them.
  • Teuscher Chocolates: Teuscher Chocolates originated in Switzerland, but they’ve become popular with Chicago natives. This chocolatier is known for their champagne truffles. They are flown in from Zurich weekly.
  • Vosges Haut Chocolate: This brand is a hometown supplier. Vosges Haut Chocolate began in Chicago and is touted for its unusual offerings, such as Blood Orange Hibiscus Caramels and Chocolate Bacon Bars.
  • Kilwins: This chain originally started in Michigan, but the shop on the avenue of the same name is very popular. Kilwins is most known for their fudge — for which they give out free samples.
  • Ghirardelli: San Francisco’s beloved Ghirardelli brand has an ice cream and chocolate shop on Michigan Avenue. If you haven’t tried their hot fudge before, I recommend having a sundae.

In winter, all of these shops usually offer their takes on gourmet hot chocolate. Make sure you try one — or two.

7. Largest Starbucks in the world

Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago

Seattle may be home to the first Starbucks, but Chicago has the largest. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery is four floors of a coffee lover’s dream.

Inside this Magnificent Mile Starbucks, you’ll find some things you’ve probably never seen in one of the chain’s other properties. You can experience microblends, as well as take a tour to taste samples and find out more about roasting. You’ll also find cocktails and expanded food menus at this location.

Don’t worry — there’s still plenty of pumpkin spice and peppermint mocha at this Starbucks.

8. American Writers Museum

You don’t need to be a writer to appreciate The American Writers Museum. It was built for readers as well, with exhibits, a book club, author talks, and more.

This museum doesn’t play favorites when it comes to genres, showcasing everything from poetry to playwriting. Many of the interactive exhibits are kid-friendly and they encourage school field trips. Their mission? To help people discover or rediscover a love for both reading and writing.

You can purchase tickets on the museum’s website. There are discounts for seniors, students, and children under 12.

9. Seasonal happenings on the Magnificent Mile

Magnificent Mile

Along with pop-ups, the Magnificent Mile is always showing off its season splendor.

Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the most festive time, though it’s also when Michigan Avenue gets the most traffic. Shopping is on everyone’s mind, and between every store, you’ll see holiday lights and displays. The Magnificent Mile Lights Festival typically kicks it all off the weekend before Thanksgiving.

But if you’re not here for Christmas, there’s more throughout the year. Look for the Haunted Hotel Halloween Ball in October and tulips blooming around Michigan Avenue in the spring. In the summer, enjoy free outdoor concerts right on the Magnificent Mile.

10. Chicago Sports Museum

It’s no secret that Chicago natives love their sports, but they have many teams and players that are so popular you don’t need to be a native to enjoy the Chicago Sports Museum.

Here you’ll find interactive exhibits, World Series tributes, and a Hall of Legends that includes Chicago sports stars such as Scottie Pippen, Patrick Kane, and Richard Dent. Also look for exhibits with Michael Jordan and Kris Bryant.

The museum has a Harry Caray’s Restaurant, named for the sportscaster who called games for five baseball teams, including 11 years with the Chicago White Sox and 16 years with the Chicago Cubs.

Beyond the Magnificent Mile

While Michigan Avenue is often considered as just a place to go shopping, I hope you’ll take the time to explore all these other options too.

It’s easily enough to fill a day, but to wind down the evening, why not head over to Lake Michigan? Read our guide to Navy Pier for tips on where to eat, what to do, and how to get there.