Get to Know Chicago’s 8 Downtown Neighborhoods 

In any large city, living downtown is appealing for several reasons. Living near work to avoid a long commute and/or being car-free is a biggie. A bustling urban environment with a wide variety of cultural attractions, restaurants, professional sports teams, and employment options are all major draws too.

The City of Chicago expanded the official boundaries of the “downtown zoning district” in 2016 to foster neighborhood development and central area growth. Indeed there have been a lot of exciting changes since then, and the city continues to create new and exciting residential, recreational and commercial areas for downtown dwellers to enjoy.

A map identifying Chicago's 8 downtown neighborhoods
The official boundaries of the “downtown zoning district” as of 2016 is highlighted in pink, along with the noted 8 neighborhoods that make up downtown Chicago. 

Chicago is a city made up of over 200 unique neighborhoods. That might seem overwhelming when you’re trying to decide where to live. But, if you want to stick super close to downtown, then you just successfully narrowed down your options to EIGHT. 

Let’s explore the unique characteristics, landmarks and some great apartments in each of downtown Chicago’s eight great neighborhoods. 

A view of the famous Chicago Theatre sign
Highlights of The Loop: Willis Tower, Chicago Theatre, MILA Apartments, Chicago Board of Trade

1. THE LOOP

This neighborhood is in the heart of downtown Chicago. It’s called “The Loop” because of the Chicago Transit Authority’s (CTA) elevated train tracks that encircle the neighborhood. It’s filled with sky-high buildings that are internationally known for their historic and modern architectural achievements. And they’re filled with the city’s most powerful people in business and government. 

The elevated train tracks around Chicago’s central business district forms a “Loop” that also gives downtown its famous nickname.  Image: Chicago Transit Authority.

However, The Loop isn’t all business. It’s also packed with world-class cultural attractions, entertainment and sprawling city parks along our beloved public lake shore. The theater district, art museum, opera house, skyscraper observation decks, architecture, outdoor public art, and iconic restaurants draw visitors from all over the world. 

Living in The Loop means you’re in the center of it all! It’s home to incredible luxury apartments that have views that’ll make your eyes pop and top-notch amenities. Having a quick walk to work is an incredible bonus too!  

What The Loop is Known For:

  • Central business district offices
  • City Hall and government offices
  • Willis Tower (formerly know as the Sears Tower)
  • Chicago Board of Trade

Famous Landmarks in The Loop:

  • Millennium and Grant Parks
  • Buckingham Fountain and The Bean
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Chicago Cultural Center
  • Lake Michigan 

Awesome Luxury Apartments in The Loop:

  • Parkline
  • Randolph Tower 
  • Millennium On LaSalle
  • The Alfred

2. SOUTH LOOP

Take a peek at the downtown map, and you’ll see historic Buckingham Fountain is smack dab in the middle of Grant Park. This is a great way to eyeball where The Loop ends and South Loop begins. Looking west from there, you’ll see Ida B. Wells Drive creates a dividing line between the two areas. 

In a way, you can think of the South Loop as The Loop’s little sister. Where The Loop has the big shots in business and seats of power, little sister South Loop is filled with students preparing to be the next big shots at several prominent schools. 

The schools in South Loop include Columbia College, Roosevelt University, Robert Morris University, Jones College Prep and the British International School of Chicago. For lifelong learners, the South Loop has great attractions including Harold Washington Library, The Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium

If you want to live close to, but not actually in The Loop, South Loop is an awesome choice. The neighborhood has been transformed over the last decade into an incredible place to call home. Development continues at a fast pace, with some of the city’s coolest new apartment developments being constructed right now. Out of the downtown 8 neighborhoods, South Loop gets you the “best bang for your buck” on an apartment. 

What The South Loop is Known For:

  • Colleges and prep schools
  • Large shopping centers on Roosevelt Road
  • McCormick Place Convention Center
  • Chicago River’s South Branch
  • Printer’s Row Historic District

South Loop’s Landmarks:

  • Grant Park
  • Field Museum of Natural History
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Shedd Aquarium 
  • Soldier Field
  • Northerly Island

Notable Luxury Apartments in South Loop:

3. WEST LOOP

So, if we continue with our anthropomorphic comparisons, then West Loop is the industrial-chic trendy younger sibling of brainy bookworm South Loop. In an astonishing transformation from its industrial past, West Loop is one of the hottest development markets in Chicago. 

Located on the west side of the river, between I-290 and Fulton Street, West Loop has a mix of modern businesses, converted giant warehouse offices and loads of trendy popular restaurants, bars and boutique shops. 

West Loop is one of Chicago’s coolest neighborhoods, making it an awesome neighborhood to rent an apartment in. From brand-new rises to vintage warehouse conversions, you’ve got to check out West Loop’s apartments for rent. 

What West Loop is Known For

  • Randolph Street – Restaurant Row
  • Google’s massive Chicago office
  • McDonald’s HQ
  • Emerging hub for tech, logistics and life-science start-ups
  • Fulton Market historic district

West Loop’s Landmarks:

  • Union Station 
  • Ogilvie Transportation Center
  • Greektown
  • Union Park
  • Skinner Park
  • Whitney Young High School

Favorite Luxury Apartments in West Loop:

4. RIVER WEST and FULTON RIVER DISTRICT

Well, these are technically two neighborhoods. But, they are both closely related, yet distinct from the rest of the others, so I’m going to take some liberties here. 

These two pocket neighborhoods are directly north from West Loop. First is Fulton River District, which essentially runs along Kinzie Street, west of the Chicago River to Halsted. Some people might even argue this is part of West Loop. Then, heading north on Milwaukee Avenue, you’ll hit River West as you cross Grand Avenue and continue up to Chicago Avenue. 

What these little buddies lack in size, they make up for as commuting and connecting powerhouses. River West and Fulton River District are on the northwest edge of the downtown zone and are loaded with public transit options that get you to The Loop in ten minutes or less. 

They’re rapidly expanding living options too. Several new construction luxury apartments have sprung up in just the last five years, and more are on the way. Live in Fulton River or River West, and you’re just ten minutes from downtown, without living right on top of the hustle and bustle. Plus, if you like to explore lots of different areas throughout the city, River West and Fulton River are great “in-between” ‘hoods that make it easy to go anywhere around town.

River West and Fulton River are Best Known For:

  • The quieter residential area of downtown
  • Instant access to CTA and I-94 expressway
  • mHUB hard tech and manufacturing innovation center
  • Prairie Material massive cement manufacturing silos

Landmarks in River West and Fulton River:

  • Several buildings from the late 1800s
  • Converted industrial lofts and warehouses
  • North Branch of the Chicago River
  • Fulton River Park
  • Kinzie Street old raised iron bridge

Notable Luxury Apartments in River West and Fulton River District:

  • Left Bank at K Station
  • K2
  • Spoke
  • The Westerly

5. RIVER NORTH

Heading east, and crossing over the river by Kingsbury Street, is the River North neighborhood. It has tons of waterfront properties because it’s bound on the south end by the main branch of the Chicago River, and on the west end by the North Branch of the river.

River North has a similar transformational history as West Loop, but it started earlier in the late 1980s and 90s. It’s known for having a mix of art galleries, antique shops, luxury furniture stores, and a vibrant nightlife scene. 

There are also several high-end restaurants that attract locals and tourists alike. One of my customers once told me this joke that best nails the scene: “we treat our parents to dinner in West Loop, and our parents treat us to dinner in River North.”

Rent an apartment in River North, and you’ll have your choice from several luxury buildings. From high-rises built on the banks of the river to amenity-packed mid-rise apartments, I promise that falling in love with an apartment in River North is an easy task! 

What River North is Known For:

  • Upscale fine dining restaurants
  • Lively nightlife
  • Art galleries and antique shops
  • Chicago Riverwalk

Landmarks in River North:

  • Merchandise Mart
  • Moody Bible Institute campus
  • Historic iron bridges over the river
  • The Wrigley Building

The Best Luxury Apartments in River North:

6. GOLD COAST

This is Chicago’s premiere luxury lover’s neighborhood. In addition to fantastic apartments near Lake Michigan, the Gold Coast is filled with historic 19th-century mansions, designer luxury boutiques, big brand shopping towers, famous fancy restaurants, and iconic hotels. 

Oak Street Beach is just across Lake Shore Drive for tons of fun in the sun. At night, locals and tourists hit the Rush Street bars and restaurants to see and be seen. When you need some fresh air and nature, hang out at the beautiful tree-filled Washington Square Park. There you can often take in the best free dog show in Chicago, where you’ll see so many trendy breeds out playing with their furry friends and pet parents. 

Living in Gold Coast is a dream, with access to the neighborhood’s charm right outside your door. The neighborhood has everything from new luxury apartments to super cool vintage buildings to posh mid-rises along the lakeshore. 

The Gold Coast is Best Known For:

  • Oak Street and Michigan Avenue “Mag Mile” luxury shopping
  • Steakhouses and classic fine dining
  • Rush Street social scene
  • Astor Street District historic mansions
  • Loyola University Water Tower campus

Landmarks in Gold Coast:

  • Oak Street Beach
  • Historic Chicago Water Tower
  • John Hancock Center 
  • Newberry Library 
  • Washington Square Park

Favorite Luxury Apartments in Gold Coast:

7. STREETERVILLE

Streeterville is home to Chicago’s biggest tourist attraction, Navy Pier. The prestigious downtown campus of Northwestern University, as well as its top-ranked Northwestern Memorial Hospital, are also two of Streeterville’s more famous residents. 

Locals and tourists enjoy an abundance of waterfront recreation in Streeterville, as it sits along Lake Michigan and the Chicago River. Several popular sightseeing and cruise boats launch from here. Plus there are museums, bowling alleys, a movie theater, eclectic restaurants, cozy pubs, and sprawling public parks.

The walkable nature of the neighborhood makes living in Streeterville a popular choice for renters who work downtown. Whether you want to live along the banks of the Chicago River, or in a high-rise with a view of Navy Pier’s famous Ferris wheel, Streeterville’s apartments deliver in style. 

Streeterville is Best Known For:

  • Attractions that draw tourists and local visitors 
  • Waterfront on the east and south boundaries
  • Fireworks on the lake
  • Diverse eateries, from street food to fine dining

Streeterville’s Landmarks:

  • Navy Pier and Centennial Ferris Wheel
  • Ohio Street Beach and Lakefront Trail
  • Milton Lee Olive Park
  • Lake Shore Park
  • Museum of Contemporary Art

Notable Luxury Apartments in Streeterville:

  • One Bennett Park
  • Lofts at River East
  • Atwater
  • North Water

8. LAKESHORE EAST

Crossing the river, south from Streeterville, you’ll find one of Chicago’s newest neighborhoods  – Lakeshore East. It’s amazing to think that this small neighborhood – which is home to several stunning skyscraper residential towers – was a 9-hole golf course in the 1990s, and a rail yard for decades before that.

Lakeshore East is like a velvet-roped residential enclave that is bound by the mouth of the Chicago River to the north, Lake Michigan to the east, Maggie Daley Park to the south, and Columbus Drive to the west. It’s simultaneously quiet and secluded, but also right in the middle of bustling downtown.  

A peaceful landscaped park is at the heart of the neighborhood, with retail and restaurants scattered about as well. Renters love living in this posh and quiet pocket of Chicago. 

Lakeshore East is Best Known For:

  • Modern architectural marvels 
  • Residential high-rises
  • Waterfront living

Landmarks in Lakeshore East:

  • The St. Regis Chicago hotel and condos tower
  • Radisson Blue / Aqua hotel and apartments tower
  • Lakeshore East Park
  • Gems Academy

Notable Luxury Apartments in Lakeshore East:

  • Cascade
  • Coast
  • Tides/Shoreham
  • North Harbor Tower

Ready to find an amazing downtown Chicago apartment? Our experts at Hotspot Rentals would love to help! Give us a shout today, and we’ll help you find the perfect place. 

A signature of blog writer Sarah

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