Chicago Weekender: South Loop

The South Loop is one of Chicago’s fastest-growing residential neighborhoods.

Many of the large, light-filled warehouses and factory lofts of the area’s industrial past have been reborn as stylish condos, and the presence of Columbia College Chicago has bolstered the area’s reputation as a cool, cultural enclave. The South Loop Lakefront is also home to glass condo towers that boast what many believe are the best views of the city.

Grant Park | Monroe Harbor

Start your weekend with a Friday-evening stroll along Lakefront Trail in “Chicago’s Front Yard,” the exquisitely landscaped and expansive 319-acre Grant Park. An active public space, Grant Park plays host to musical and theatrical performances as well as festivals of all sorts throughout the year. This fall, as part of the multi-venue World Music Festival Chicago that will run September 11-22, Grant Park will help launch festivities on Friday, September 11, with the assistance of Passistas Samba Dance Troupe & Planeta Azul Band, a Brazilian music-and-dance ensemble. The Passistas are Chicago’s best-known Brazilian dance company. True to form, the group’s performance will begin with dance lessons from 6-7 p.m. followed by music from 7:30-9:30. All ages are welcome.

Mercat a la Planxa | 638 South Michigan Avenue, Renaissance Blackstone Hotel

If your Samba session in Grant Park has you eager for a hearty meal that’s rich in flavor and variety, head to Mercat a la Planxa, where you can sample chef Jose Garces’s original take on traditional Catalonian tapas. Inventive tastes of Barcelona include the chef’s signature espinaca a la Catalana (Catalan-style spinach), Marcona almond gazpacho with smoked sturgeon and pickled gooseberries, butternut squash dumplings, rabbit agnolotti with brandied cherries and truffle-chestnut purée, and tocino con cidra, or cider-braised pork belly. Desserts such as sweet potato cake with cardamom cream cheese and candied pecans or horchata ice cream with dark chocolate, cinnamon, puffed rice, coconut cream, and Marcona almond brittle are unlike anything you’ve had elsewhere, and the extensive wine list hails almost exclusively from Spain.

Art Institute of Chicago | 111 South Michigan Avenue

What better way to spend a Saturday in Chicago than by visiting the standout attraction in South Loop, the Museum Campus, an array of institutions including the Field Museum of Natural History, the Adler Planetarium, and the Shedd Aquarium. Nearby, the Art Institute of Chicago houses one of the finest collections of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts in the world. The AIC is the second-largest museum in the United States after New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one the nation’s most visited, attracting more than 1.5 million visitors each year. The permanent collections span the millennia of art itself, featuring over 260,000 works of art, some dating back as far as 5,000 years.

Antiquities aside, the AIC is renowned for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection. Its galleries are home to iconic paintings like Paul Cézanne’s “The Basket of Apples,” six of Claude Monet’s “Haystacks” and several of his “Water Lilies,” plus George Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece (and subject of the broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George) “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” American painters are well represented, too: the Institute is home to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Bath,” and Edward Hopper’s atmospheric “Nighthawks.” You could spend all day taking in the permanent collections, but don’t miss the temporary exhibitions focused on special topics and single artists. This fall, check out Kesa: Japanese Buddhist Monks’ Vestments, which includes breathtaking examples of the traditional rectangular garments worn by Buddhist monks and priests in Japan. A Voyage to South America: Andean Art in the Spanish Empire focuses on works produced during the viceregal, or colonial, period (i.e., when Spain ruled the Andes) including devotional paintings, portraits, and maps.

Dining options near the Museum Campus include Zapatista (Mexican) and Gioco (Italian) on South Wabash Avenue, with plenty of other choices on surrounding streets.

Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation | 2120 South Michigan Avenue

Another great choice for a Saturday afternoon is Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation, where the legacy of the blues legend is alive and well. Located on the former site of Chess Records, which has been called one of the greatest American blues labels, Blues Heaven Foundation hosts guided tours that feature vintage memorabilia and historic artifacts such as the original Ampex reel-to-reel recorder used in the studio. Guides also share stories of the great musicians who recorded here including Bo Diddley, Etta James, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, and Aretha Franklin.

Chicago Weekender: Luxury Shopping

As famously stylish first lady Michelle Obama would likely attest, Chicago has a fashion sense all its own: cosmopolitan, decidedly American, and particularly keen on fashionable outerwear for the winter months. Chicago was at the forefront of the department store boom in the U.S. in the middle of the 20th century, and for generations well-accessorized women shopped at Marshall Field’s year-round for everything from shoes to hats. Today, department stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Saks still line the elegant streets of the Magnificent Mile shopping district, while small boutiques make Chicago’s fashion scene especially unique and vibrant.

Best Shopping Boutiques in Chicago

Magnificent Mile | North Michigan Avenue

No shopping expedition in Chicago would be complete without a lengthy visit to the famous 13-block section of North Michigan Avenue that stretches from the Chicago River up to East Oak Street. The Magnificent Mile includes all sorts of must-visit attractions, from historic hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants to performing arts venues and spectacular architecture. It’s also here that you’ll find fashion’s biggest international names, making this part of town Chicago’s luxury mecca. Check out the clothing and accessories in stores bearing the names of Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry, and other famous brands.

East Oak Street

The stretch of East Oak Street just west of Lake Shore Drive is dotted with luxury boutiques catering to just about every occasion and style. This is the place to search for the bridal gown of your dreams at Belle Vie Bridal Couture or Vera Wang. Nearby, Buccellati’s silk-upholstered interior and champagne for patrons make browsing investment-quality jewelry a sensual pleasure. And French fashion outposts Lanvin with its sleek accessories and Christian Louboutin with its legendary red-soled shoes represent equally irresistible additions to any tour of East Oak Street.

ikram | 15 East Huron Street

The decidedly unique shop known as ikram rose to fame in 2008, when Americans wanted to know who was dressing Michelle Obama in fresh, eye-catching ensembles by the likes of Thakoon, Tadashi Shoji, Duro Olowu, and Missoni. Ikram Goldman is the charismatic proprietess of this destination boutique on East Huron Street, and if you’ve never been here, you can’t miss it: the store is cherry red with big round windows and looks as though it was transplanted from an avant garde international design fair. The glamorous interior, illuminated by hand-blown glass lighting, features a cafe, gallery, and home goods shop on the second floor. Goldman is known for her uncanny ability to sniff out big talent before other people do, and her choices have made the careers of a number of rising stars. Her boutique stocks the creations of American, European, and Japanese designers who are revered by fashion folks in the know but might not be household names to the typical shopper, making every visit an education. Collections on display include shoes by Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, and Robert Clergerie and clothes by Alexander McQueen, Junya Watanabe, Azzedine Alaïa, Comme des Garçons, Proenza Schouler, and Jean Paul Gaultier. With each piece hand-picked by Goldman herself, you won’t find an A-to-Z encyclopedia of fashion labels here, but you will find sophistication, superb quality, and a point of view that will ensure your style is flattering as well as fashionable.

Robin Richman | 2108 North Damen Avenue

Robin Richman’s Bucktown boutique is a bit like a minimalist version of ikram: instead of red lacquer, here you’ll find a serene color palette and an array of clothing and accessories in neutral, subtle colors. And it makes sense: shortly after Richman graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a degree in textiles, she launched her first venture, Robin Richman HandKnits, which was a line of highly textured accessories. At its height, her company employed nearly thirty knitters and her wares were sold at Neiman Marcus, Barneys Japan, and other upscale retailers. Her second act has been every bit as successful due to her shop’s fiercely loyal following, in part because some of the designers she carries are harder to find than the usual suspects. Richman has exclusive deals with Marc Le Bihan, Gary Graham, and Isaac Sellam and also carries Guidi shoes and Jean-François Mimilla’s bold, multi-tiered necklaces. She recently began carrying the creations of M.&Kyoko, a Japanese designer who creates dresses and tops in subtle plaids and stripes. Richman’s aesthetic is faintly New Romantics inspired, but artsy rather than frilly, and her collection of antiques makes the interior of her boutique an experience worth savoring as you browse.