Where’s the Best Place to Rent an Apartment in Downtown Chicago?

There are a lot of options for a city pied-à-terre. Here’s where to rent right now.

The Chicago skyline, as seen from Ohio Street Beach   Photo: Dennis Rodkin

Q: Dennis, this couple in Arlington Heights woke up one morning and realized we’re in an in-between time of life. Our nest is empty but we’re not retired.

In all the years raising children and building careers, we never had the opportunity to live in the city. Both of us work in the suburbs, but we’ve spent much family time and weekend time downtown. We have some funds put away for an indulgence, and we want to use it to rent a weekend apartment in the city. (We’re not going to buy, because this is for a few years before we retire.) It would probably be a one-bedroom. We’ll eat at the restaurants, shop on Michigan Avenue, and go to some of the beaches along Lake Shore Drive.

Where do you think we should go to find an apartment to get the experience of downtown Chicago living that we never had?

—Deanne
 

A: You have so many great options, Deanne. You could do very well in Lincoln Park, Old Town, River North, the Gold Coast, Lakeshore East, or Printers Row. Last spring, I recommended several of those in a story on where to buy a pied-à-terre. But I’m going to point you toward Streeterville. There’s one key reason: You could get to your restaurants and shopping and have a true downtown experience, but you wouldn’t have to get on the Drive to go to the beach.

Streeterville has an easily-reached beach on Ohio Street. It’s one of my favorite beaches in the city, for its relative smallness and stellar views up the lakefront’s miles-long string of beaches and residential buildings. From Ohio Street Beach, which has a warm-season cafe, you can watch boats on the lake, distance swimmers training in the water, and bicyclists and joggers zipping along the lakefront path. You can also walk over to Milton Olive Park, for stunning views of the Gold Coast lakefront, or walk or bike a few minutes north on the lakefront path to the larger, lovely Oak Street Beach.

Of course, you won’t be staying downtown only for the beach. (Winter takes up a big chunk of the year, after all.) Streeterville would put you a short walk or cab ride from Michigan Avenue and from countless restaurants. If you’re weekending in the city, you might enjoy waking up and heading over to Yolk for breakfast or Dollop for coffee, both of which are right in the neighborhood. You’d also be well situated for one of the prettiest evening walks in the city, along the esplanade on the north side of the Chicago River, which stretches from Michigan Avenue nearly to Lake Shore Drive, about half a mile. Year round, it’s a great stroll looking up at the lights of the city, and in warm-weather months the river is alive with tour boats, pleasure boats, and kayakers (there’s a rental site on the south bank of the river).

According to Domu, one-bedrooms in Streeterville start at $1,700 and top out at $2,438. That’s steep, no question, but you did say you were looking to indulge. You can use Domu to compare general prices in other downtown neighborhoods. If you focus on the core downtown neighborhoods, you won’t find rents going a lot lower.

Here’s a sign that Streeterville is a desirable place for renters to live: although there are already lots of apartments, developers are building many more in the neighborhood. More than 1300 apartments have been completed in the past several years at buildings like Streeter Place and 500 Lake Shore Drive, and about 1900 are on the way, at Optima, Loews, and others.

Now, what you’ll find in Streeterville is most likely to be in a highrise, either one of the new crop of luxury buildings or something that is several years older and less expensive. One advantage of that is that you’ll get a lit-up nighttime view—a real city sight. If you’re looking for something more ground-level, check out Printers Row. What you give up in quick access to Michigan Avenue and the lake, you’ll gain in historical charm.

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