Downtown Chicago’s West Side neighborhoods have seen quite the transformation over the past 20 years. This just-west-of-downtown area has gone from rough around the edges to thee place to live, work and play.
There’s often a spotlight on popular West Loop (and for good reason – it’s a fantastic ‘hood), but if you wander west a few blocks you’ll land in the Fulton River District. With neighborhood development booming, this slice of downtown is carving out its own unique identity.
Get to Know the Fulton River District
The Fulton River District is located just northwest of the Loop and delightfully sandwiched in the middle of some of downtown’s very best neighborhoods – AND, it’s right next to the river and its awesome views (bonus!).
You could literally stand in the middle of Fulton River, walk ten minutes to the north, east, south or west and find yourself standing in River West, River North, The Loop or West Loop. How’s that for an ideal location?
Fulton River’s exact borders (like most of the neighborhood borders in Chicago), vary depending on who you ask.
We can all agree that the east and west borders are the Chicago River and Kennedy Expressway respectively. And, the consensus is that Madison Street is the southern border, dividing the Fulton River District from the West Loop Gate.
But the northern part of the neighborhood has some gray-area. The almighty internet will tell you that the Fulton River neighborhood extends all the way up to Ohio Street. But…in my book, the northern blocks between Hubbard and Ohio are definitively River West.
If you think it looks small, you’re right – the perimeter is a tiny two miles, but what’s inside packs a punch.
The Fulton River District gives its residents everything there is to love about living in downtown Chicago. Urban living, downtown views, conveniences within walking distance, and the city’s very best restaurants in every direction.
Fulton River History
The Fulton River District is a history-rich area of downtown Chicago. The neighborhood’s roots are in industry – including lumber, grain and rail – and it shows even 150 years later.
Simply take a look around and you’ll see remnants of what the neighborhood once was. Brick warehouses and rehabbed properties are the soul of this historic area and still stand throughout the neighborhood.
A Tale of Two Neighborhoods
The history of Fulton River is tangled up with the history of neighboring West Loop. Today, I-90, aka the Kennedy Expressway, divides the two neighborhoods. But prior to its construction in the 1950s, the border between West Loop and the Fulton River District was literally non-existent.
You can learn all about how Chicago’s west side evolved from the industrial epicenter of the city to one of the most sought-after neighborhoods to live in, over on the Ultimate Guide to West Loop. From meatpacking to skid row to fresh development; this part of downtown has quite the story to tell.
An Eye on Fulton River
Akin to other great downtown Chicago neighborhoods, Fulton River hit the radar of real-estate developers in the early 2000’s. What led them here? It was a few adventurous (and brilliant!) restaurateurs and club owners who saw something special in the neighborhood and set its modern renaissance into motion.
First, let’s step back a few years. In the late 1980s, a handful of restaurants opened their doors in what was then, a fairly desolate Fulton River. In 1988, the Chicago Tribune called the newly opened restaurant At The Tracks “the restaurant with the worst location in the city and one of the best views of it” and that “even seasoned cab drivers have trouble finding it”.
The owner of the restaurant, located where the Jefferson Tap & Grille now stands, saw the magic in Fulton River that others couldn’t – but shortly would. The Tribune goes on to say, “its quirky North Jefferson Street location next to a web of railroad tracks is not only its albatross but also its biggest asset. From the bar, one can watch commuters as they make their nightly treks to the suburbs via various Metra lines, as the trains slide under the glitter of Chicago’s magnificent skyline”.
How’s that for some foreshadowing?
By the early ’90s, Fulton River was the place to see and be seen for club-goers who had grown tired of the city’s more yuppie-laden hangouts. Old warehouses offered a gritty blank slate for dancing and drinking and Fulton River’s edgy reputation fit the 90’s grunge-meets-glam culture perfectly.
Gen Xers flocked to mega-clubs like Drink (now Latin-fusion restaurant Carnivale), Shelter (since demolished) and China Club (now condos appropriately named the China Club Lofts) for over a decade.
By the early 2000s, the clubs had been shuttered and the Fulton River District was primed to usher in an era of major development.
Over the past 20 years, Fulton River’s transformation has been remarkable. By the mid-2000s it wasn’t just a hotspot to grab a cocktail, it was the neighborhood that downtown Chicagoans wanted to live in.
Fulton River District Today
If you’re trying to decide which downtown neighborhood to live in, the Fulton River District definitely deserves a look. But, what’s it like to actually live in Fulton River?
The neighborhood is just that – an actual neighborhood. This might sound unexceptional, but if you’ve lived in a large city, you know that urban living doesn’t always come with a neighborhoody feel. But, since Fulton River is small and has distinct borders, its residents get downtown living without feeling swallowed up by the city.
Gonna Make You Work, Work, Work
Renters looking for a convenient downtown location haven’t been the only ones to flock to Fulton River. Businesses are relocating to the neighborhood, as well as nearby West Loop, so quickly that it’s hard to keep up!
First, I’ve gotta mention the OG – the Blommer Chocolate Company. Yes, it’s an operational chocolate factory, right in the middle of the city. Its presence in the neighborhood means cocoa-scented smells for residents of Fulton River and nearby River West.
And then, you’ve got the desk jobs…and there are plenty. Turns out, rehabbed warehouses make pretty cool office spaces! Corporate headquarters like Vivid Seats, Gogo and Potbelly are located along Canal Street, near the river. And, there are countless offices spread out through the neighborhood. Marketing consultants, design agencies, architects and about a bazillion law firms…the list goes on and on.
Now…look east to the river and look up! There’s a 36-story skyscraper right along the riverbank that belongs to Boeing. They moved their corporate headquarters to Fulton River in 2018. Their 500 corporate employees have enviable views of downtown and get to enjoy all that the neighborhood has to offer.
Things to Do in Fulton River
If work hard, play hard is your motto, Fulton River’s got you covered. There’s an abundance of things to do in and around the ‘hood.
One of the neighborhood’s best treasures is the Chicago French Market. This place flies under the radar and I like it that way; it’s never crazy-crowded, making it a perfect stop for quick breakfast, lunch or grocery run. Yes, you’ll find delectable French pastries (the crepes are other-worldly), but the food hall has international options that’ll make you feel like a kid in a candy shop.
Korean to Creole – you’ll find something to suit every palate. Parking can be a pain (meters are your best bet), but Fulton River District residents can walk to the market quicker than you can say voilà!
One of my favorite ways to spend a lazy weekend morning in the city is to take a stroll with coffee and dog leash in hand. Fulton River has lots of nooks and crannies to explore, but I always find myself gravitating toward the river. There’s just something about water, right?
Grab a coffee to go at Yolk on the southwest corner of Madison and Clinton and set out on my tried-and-true dog-walking route. Head across the bridge to the Loop, then zoom north along the river bank to Lake Street. Zip back over the water and once again, you’re in Fulton River. Take a seat near the park outside the massive new River Point tower and marvel at the fact that this fantastic slice of the city is all yours.
If location is the #1 reason to live in Fulton River District, the restaurants and neighborhood drinking holes are #2. The choices are abundant and delicious. Scroll down to read more about my top choices for everything from breakfast to late-night-haunts and everything in-between.
Living in Fulton River
I hear this sentence from apartment hunters all the time: “being close to downtown sounds awesome, but is it practical?”.
In a word: YES!
As more and more people moved to Fulton River, the conveniences that they needed to live from day-to-day moved in too.
Sandwiched right between K2 and Echelon luxury apartments, at the intersection of Kinzie and Des Plaines, you’ve got a handy Jewel-Osco for all your everyday grocery needs. There’s also a Mariano’s and Whole Foods just across 1-90 in West Loop that’s also super convenient for a quick grocery run or delivery.
A CVS sits on Madison Street near the river, and there are three Starbucks in the ‘hood which I will argue is the most important neighborhood convenience of them all. I can live without many things, but do not take away my chai tea latte.
Don’t be fooled by the high-rises and brand-new retail though; Fulton River has not lost any of its historical charms. Somehow, original brick warehouses mingle with new construction in a way that feels super authentic and entirely…well, Chicago!
Fulton River Rental Properties
Finding a place to call home in the neighborhood isn’t a problem, especially when you have the right people helping you narrow down your options. Luxury apartments have sprung up in Fulton River at a quick pace, giving renters lots of terrific options.
K2 apartments are located at the north end of Fulton River District, right on the edge of the River West neighborhood. The high-rise, which was built in 2013, has 33-floors of luxury apartments and awesome amenities.
All the standard luxury amenities you love are at K2 – a rooftop pool, great fitness center and a sizable outdoor dog run for your pup. But it’s the fun unique amenities that put this building over the top. How’s an indoor basketball court sound? Or, a private movie theater? And my very favorite – a private footbridge that connects K2 to neighboring Jewel-Osco grocery.
The view will get ya too – the southwest facing units have an unreal view of the downtown skyline. Snag yourself an apartment with a balcony and you may never want to leave.
It seems though, that what residents love the most is the staff and sense of community in the building. It’s a priceless feature you won’t find just anywhere and K2 delivers.
Echelon at K Station
Just a couple blocks from K2, you’ll find another beautiful high-rise – Echelon at K Station. This 37-floor luxury apartment building is also known for its incredible staff. The building is always clean and well-maintained and the staff treats residents like family…and vice versa.
K Station is known as being ultra dog-friendly. If you have a four-legged roommate, you’ll fit right in. Dog-owners love that Fulton River Park, and its fenced dog park, is right across the street.
Spend summer days on the sun deck, enjoying a perfect city view while you dip your toes in the outdoor pool. They even let resident dogs in for a swim before closing the pool down in late September. How’s that for a pet-friendly pad?
Alta at K Station
Alta at K Station is the third in the trio of great high-rises on the northside of the Fulton River District. Just a block further to the east, Alta practically borders the River North neighborhood. The location is one of my faves and I gotta say – I love the vibe in this building.
Built in 2010, the design vibe is light, bright and casual. The units themselves are beautiful with open-concept living and floor-to-ceiling windows that flood the apartments with light. This building is also incredibly dog-friendly and they always have dog treats for pooches in the lobby.
The amenities are plentiful, and make living here a social-butterfly’s dream. First, the rooftop pool deck is one of the best in the whole city and features a gas firepit and jacuzzi spa. There’s also a huge dining area with grills, prep stations and cabanas. The fitness center is top-notch and they have a sauna and steam room too – such a treat! You can also work up a sweat with a game of one-on-one in the indoor basketball court.
Less sweat-inducing amenities are yours too. There’s a great 24-seat movie theater room with huge leather chairs. The party room is super-cute, making it the perfect spot to host a celebration or casual get-together with friends. The adjoining kitchen makes entertaining in a space other than your apartment stress-free.
One feature Alta @ K Station has that you won’t find anywhere else is endless margaritas on its first floor. Is it heaven? Almost! Blue Agave is located on street level and slings the best cocktails and tacos. The convenience of having access to great Mexican food without stepping foot outside your apartment building is almost a little dangerous. A risk I’d be willing to take!
If you’re looking for a slightly smaller apartment community in Fulton River, Trio might be a great fit. With 100 units, this building has a coveted location that its residents gush over. Trio’s located in the northwest section of Fulton River, making it just a third of a mile to Fulton Market in West Loop. If you happen to work at Google’s Headquarters you only have an 8-minute walk from your front door to the office.
Trio has an eclectic, urban feel to its design and furnishings, which suits the neighborhood perfectly. You’ll find wood, brick, and exposed metal ceilings that come together in perfect west-side style.
They’ve got great amenities here too. The fitness center has a unique vibe and is stocked with all the necessities. They also have indoor bike storage for all you bike-to-workers. The shared lounge spaces, including a kitchen, are as funky and unique as the neighborhood outside its windows.
Another awesome high-rise in Fulton River! Left Bank is perched on the Chicago River split, giving you three great neighborhoods – Fulton River, River North and the Loop all within your sight…literally.
36 stories tall, this luxury apartment building was constructed in 2008 and underwent a remodel in 2019. The apartments are fresh and clean with bright white palettes, white and gray finishes, stainless steel appliances and wall-to-wall windows.
Left Bank is dog-friendly too and with direct access to the River Walk, you have the prettiest dog-walking route in the city steps from your front door.
The amenities at Left Bank on are on-point too. There’s plenty of shared places to spread out and entertain, and the very best spot to do it is the sky terrace. This space feels like a lovely suburban garden oasis that’s near impossible to find in the city. There’s shaded spots for dining, a fire pit and best of all – a real grass lawn. Left Bank holds outdoor yoga classes and happy hours here, complete with awesome views.
The Best Restaurants in Fulton River
Now that we’re settled in – let’s talk food. Fulton River is often overshadowed by nearby Randolph Street restaurant row, but don’t think for a second that the neighborhood doesn’t have equally incredible dining options.
Best Asian: Perilla
Perilla, located on the corner of Milwaukee, Kinzie and Des Plaines, is my favorite Korean restaurant in all of Chicago. This place is omg-delicious.
Grab a crew of friends, head to Perilla and order dishes to share. For traditionalists, you can’t go wrong with their bibimbop and bulgogi. But, my top picks are the chicken wings (go for the yum-yum sauce version), scallion pancakes, LA galbi. And whatever you do, don’t miss out on the brown-butter Brussels sprouts. Is your mouth watering? Yeah, mine too!
Best Shared Plates: Avec
Grab your beau and make it a date night at Avec. This small Mediterranean restaurant is on Randolph Street and it’s a local favorite for its inviting atmosphere and famous focaccia.
Avec is all about small, shared plates; a dining format I love! The focaccia is a must. If you’re expecting doughy bread, you’ll be surprised to instead be served two cracker-thin layers filled with ricotta and truffle oil. Yes, it’s as good as it sounds (maybe better!). The stuffed dates – one of their signature plates – are also to-die-for. The menu changes often, which is the reason to keep coming back again and again.
Hot tip: save room for dessert. Heck, even if you don’t have room, order the dessert!
Best Patio: Saint Lou’s Assembly
Located just across I-90 from West Loop (and just two blocks from the Clinton CTA stop), Saint Lou’s Assembly looks fairly nondescript from the outside but open the door and you’re in for a surprise. This place is Hipster (yes, with a capital H!) and every time I go, I feel like I’ve been transported south to Austin…the only thing missing is cowboy boots.
The ambiance feels like an old-school diner but in a modern-urban way. But let’s talk about that patio – it’s a dream! Colorful murals, bocce-ball, string-lights and red-and-white checkered tablecloths are spread all about. Order up one of their boozy slushies and enjoy the view.
Saint Lou’s covers everything from brunch to late-night snacks. The biscuits and honey butter are a staple and I won’t judge if you make a meal out of them alone. Favorite dishes include their Wisconsin hot chicken and caramelized banana French toast. The only dessert on their menu is soft-serve. Think it’s a bore? Think again. With flavors like blueberry and peach swirl, a cone is a must-have on a warm day.
Best Brunch: Wishbone
Wishbone is another north-meets-south hangout that specializes in comfort food and Cajun-style dishes. It’s a slam-dunk for lunch or dinner, but the brunch here is my jam. Pun intended.
The patio at Wishbone is dog-friendly, so leash your pup and stroll on over. The central location is on Jefferson a half-block north of Randolph, making it a quick walk no matter where you live in Fulton River.
Order a round of mimosas, then dive into the drool-inducing menu. They have your usual fare, including the hilariously named Millennial Omelette (spinach, avocado and goat cheese), but I think when you’re at a cajun-style diner, you’ve gotta go all in. From smoked brisket hash to shrimp and grits to corn cakes…mmm, mmm, mmmmmm! You simply can’t go wrong at Wishbone.
Best Quick Eat: Fast Track
The best spot to grab a bite on-the-go in Fulton River is Fast Track. This quintessentially Chicago restaurant serves tried-and-true standards including loaded hot dogs, beef sandwiches, double-cheeseburgers and hand-cut fries. They also serve breakfast all day (hello, hangover cure).
Don’t forget cash. Fast Track is an old-school hold out and doesn’t accept plastic. The hassle is worth it though, I promise.
Fulton River Bars
Gone are the days of packed nightclubs and early 90’s mile-high bangs (no one misses either!). Nowadays, Fulton River is known for laid-back bars that serve up cold brews and cocktails.
Best Beer and Burger: The Swill Inn
Every neighborhood needs a casual spot that serves a great burger and cold beer. In Fulton River, it’s The Swill Inn. Located on the north end of the neighborhood near the River West border, this joint is exactly what I like in my neighborhood bar.
You’ll get friendly staff, made-to-order burgers and lighting that’s so dim that you can wear your sweatpants to dinner and no one will judge you.
The Swill Inn’s burgers give nearby (and famous) Au Cheval a run for their money with double-patties, pickles and pimento cheese on a brioche bun. Pair it with fries and a cold IPA and you’ve got yourself a perfect meal.
Best Local Pub: Emmit’s
A classic Irish-pub, Emmit’s is on the border of River West and Fulton River. It’s close enough to the high-rise apartments in the north of the neighborhood to be just a two-minute walk.
This place is totally authentic and perfectly unpretentious. You’ll get good food, good drinks and good service all wrapped up in a historic location that just might feel rather familiar. Why? Emmit’s has been in a ton of movies and television shows including Backdraft, Ocean’s Eleven and my favorite – Uncle Buck. Belly up to the bar, order a cold one and enjoy the company.
Fulton River Parks and Green Space
Fulton River Park
A park set in the shadows of high-rise buildings, Fulton River Park is a little slice of tranquility. Nestled between Kinzie and Des Plaines in the north part of Fulton River District, this park measures in at just over an acre, but packs a lot in.
The park includes a lovely green lawn, playgrounds (one for toddlers, one for older kids), swings and yes – an awesome fenced play area for dogs.
The Chicago River & River Point Park
The green space along the Chicago River is so refreshing, and Fulton River’s residents can take in its view at the drop of a hat. The new River Point tower has a great little park that’s open to the public and a great spot to sit and relax.
The park is located at the river split and offers an awesome view of the river winding right downtown. It’s seriously one of the best and unique views of the city.
Fulton River District Demographics
Fulton River’s demographics have changed by leaps and bounds in the last decade and today, the neighborhood’s stats look like this:
- Population: 5,465
- Median Age of Population: 32
- Total Households: 3,324
- Average people per Household: 2
- Households with children: 8.6%
- Owner-Occupied: 36.9%
- Renter-Occupied: 63.1%
- Average Household Income: $152,890 annually
- Median Household Income: $109,972 annually
Fulton River Neighborhood Associations
Fulton River is more than just a neighborhood – it’s a community. This sort of community-minded spirit doesn’t happen by accident; it takes active neighbors and businesses coming together and taking action to create a ‘hood this great.
The neighbors and businesses that live, work and play in Fulton River benefit from community involvement through several neighborhood associations.
Neighbors of West Loop
The Neighbors of West Loop neighborhood association covers West Loop as well as Fulton River District and other communities like Greektown and West Loop Gate.
This nonprofit organization has created a Neighborhood Plan with recommendations for land-use, traffic, infrastructure, green space and more. Breakout committees are formed for a variety of things, including groups focused on neighborhood events and philanthropy.
If you want to get involved in the neighborhood, this is the ideal place to start.
West Central Business Chamber of Commerce
If you’re a business on Chicago’s west side, the WCA has your back. And they know what they’re doing – they’ve been around for over 100 years.
Their role in the neighborhood is to encourage healthy community development and they’re mega-involved in promoting and offering support to businesses in and around Fulton River. Membership is affordable and comes with awesome benefits like networking, advocacy and business training.
Fulton Market Association
Membership to the Fulton Market Association is open to residents, businesses and nonprofits in Fulton River and surrounding neighborhoods. They focus on public safety, economic development and community improvements.
How to Park in Fulton River
Thinking about visiting or living in Fulton River but nervous about parking? If you’ve circled block after block in downtown Chicago looking for parking, this is a fair worry.
If you’re renting in Fulton River, resident parking is available for a monthly charge at most high-rise apartment buildings.
Visitors to the neighborhood will have a harder time finding parking in the south-end than the north. Your best bet is to plan ahead and snag a spot at a parking garage using a site like Spot Angels. But if you head north near River West, you’ll have better luck finding street parking. Spy on available meter parking through this handy meter availability map.
Public Transit Options in Fulton River
If you’re thinking about moving to Fulton River District, but work outside of the neighborhood, getting there will be a breeze.
There are two CTA stations in Fulton River. The CTA pink/green line runs right through the middle of the neighborhood. Hop on at the Clinton station on Lake Street. Head east and you’re in downtown’s Loop in a nanosecond. Take the pink line west for easy access to the Illinois Medical District.
For residents in Fulton River’s high-rise apartments along Kinzie, catch the blue line at the Grand station. It’ll have you downtown in a snap and is also the easiest way to jet out to O’Hare.
The Metra Ogilvie station is centrally located in Fulton River. Three lines operate out of the station, each heading to west and northwest suburbs. Ready to cheer on Chicago’s Big 10 team? You’re just 23-minutes away from Evanston’s Northwestern University.
Highway Access From Fulton River
Hitting the wide-open road is oh-so-easy when you live in Fulton River. You can be on I-90 in minutes via the Randolph Street ramp. It simply doesn’t get any quicker!
Well – are you sold on living in the Fulton River District? Now’s the time to move to this awesome West Side neighborhood and have a front-row seat as it grows and welcomes in new development and neighbors.
My team and I know the neighborhood well and can help you find the best place to rent in Fulton River (and beyond!). Reach out to us to get the ball rolling on finding an awesome new place to call yours.