Speckled with high-rise buildings along Lake Shore Drive and designer-label shopping on North Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s Gold Coast has long been where the wealthy reside. In this neighborhood, just north of the Loop and rimming Lake Michigan, there are quite a few ways to live the rich-and-famous lifestyle -- but on a budget. We'll show you how to do it.
With James Beard Award-winning chef Tony Mantuano at the helm, the Obamas have deemed the Italian-focused Spiaggia as one of their favorite Windy City restaurants. Its “tasting experience” dinner menu with five or eight courses runs $105-$165 (plus $85-$105 for wine pairings) in a glass-walled dining room overlooking Michigan Avenue. However, you can still get a taste of Spiaggia sans the high prices by snagging a table at its more casual and affordable sibling Café Spiaggia. Here, pasta dishes hover in the $16-$18 range, while mains are $28 and up.
For imbibing, drop by Sparrow , a new cocktail joint located in a restored Art Deco building. Inspired by the city's lobby bars of yesteryear, the venue touts $12 specialty drinks like a rum-and-lime-based Santiago Daisy and the Astoria with gin and vermouth.
In July, Chef Art Smith opened Blue Door Kitchen & Garden, named after Oprah’s former Indiana farm of the same name. Expect a casual farm-to-table vibe at this restaurant that's more in tune with Nantucket than it is Chicago. Brunch is a standout, for which we recommend dishes like the garden Benedict with tomato, kale pesto, and feta ($14), and the fried chicken and waffles with rosemary maple syrup ($22). Here, much of the produce is sourced from Blue Door and other Midwestern farms.
While it costs $25 to visit the Art Institute of Chicago -- one of the world’s best collections of fine art -- the Gold Coast's equally fascinating Museum of Contemporary Art only charges $12. There are currently several exhibits that end on select dates through the end of the year, including one that explores fugitives in American popular culture and another that examines various facets of our galaxy.
Oak Street Beach is the Gold Coast’s tony stretch of sand that's free to access. During the warmer months, find a mobile massage studio and the Oak Street Beach Food and Drink, a full-service restaurant open for lunch and dinner. The menu includes specialty cocktails, tacos, salads, burgers, and of course, Chicago-style hot dogs.
The Ritz-Carlton, Chicago recently unveiled the first phase of major renovations that introduced a new look to its 90 suites and fitness center, which hosts yoga and Zumba sessions. What's more, the hotel added a Club Lounge on the 15th floor, where those exclusive guests can experience 30-minute activities like local beer tastings and firehouse tours, in addition to grazing on food throughout the day. Nightly rates this winter are from $279.
Even more affordable is the Millennium Knickerbocker, where we found standard rooms priced from $104 in December. The property has seen its fair share of notable figures in its nearly 90 years, having hosted John F. Kennedy, the Rolling Stones, and Richard Nixon. On site there's a martini bar and eatery serving steak crostini, pizza, burgers, and paninis.