Chicago has always been a city of two waterfronts — Lake Michigan, with 26 miles of sandy beachfront, and the Chicago River, which flows through the heart of the city. While the lake has always been a popular spot for tourists and locals alike, the riverfront has become its own hotspot in the last few years.

While the Chicago Riverwalk has been around since the ‘70s, the city began a major revitalization effort starting in 2011. This summer, the city completed a $12 million revamp of the eastern stretch of the Riverwalk, extending the scenic, pedestrian-only pathway to 1.25 miles from Lake Street to Lake Shore Drive.

Here’s what to expect on the newly expanded section, and a few more new additions coming to the Chicago Riverwalk this summer:

Family fun in a revitalized space

Walkers on Riverwalk East

The section between Lake Shore Drive and Michigan Avenue put the finishing touches on the Chicago Riverwalk. This revitalized stretch includes 10,000 square feet of play space, about 150 new trees, and more than 500 public seats along the calm waters of the river.

Plus, check out a little bit of history at the submarine memorial designed and funded by a group of Navy volunteers. The memorial commemorates the 28 submarines manufactured in Wisconsin that were transported to the Gulf of Mexico via the Chicago River after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

New food vendors from around the city

Savory pies from Chiya Chai
Chiya Chai

In addition to now-staple restaurant outposts such as City Winery, Chicago Brewhouse, Tiny Tapp and more, the Riverwalk will welcome a new Community Marketplace between Michigan and Wabash Avenues. This space is designed to highlight local vendors from Chicago’s culturally diverse communities, with an emphasis on women- and minority-owned businesses. Here are the nine new vendors to check out this summer:

Beat Kitchen on the Riverwalk specializes in tacos, pizzas, and salads, including vegan options.
Batter and Berries provides soul food, with an emphasis on breakfast.
Chiya Chai has Nepalese chais and interesting curry pies.
Gordo’s Homemade Ice Cream offers ice cream bars dipped in a variety of toppings.
Justice of the Pies offers a variety of quiches and pies.
Luxury Cake has sweets and desserts, and you can special order for birthdays from this location.
Neighborlysells wares from artists and local makers.
Shop Small Chicago also provides items from a variety of artists and local makers.
Twisted Eggroll specializes in interpretations of the traditional egg roll.

Art for everyone to enjoy

art on themart

In addition to great food, the Chicago Riverwalk is a beautiful place to check out new art — for free. Art on theMART, which debuted in September 2018, is the world’s largest digital art projection, featuring different artists and programming that changes every season. This year is dedicated to the Year of Chicago Theatre, including work and performances from the local theatre community. Check it out every night at sunset through September 29.

Also honoring the Year of Chicago Theatre is the Riverwalk’s Second Tuesdays program throughout the summer. The glowing, main event is LUMA8’s Arts in the Darklantern procession along the Riverwalk featuring local Chicago theatre companies. Processions begin at 8:30 p.m. Plus, you can expect live music, free and special discounts at nearby restaurants and shops.

Another landmark artwork will hit the Riverwalk in the fall of 2020. Weather Station is more than just art; it’s science in motion. Seven stainless steel towers hold weathervanes and anemometers (instruments that measure wind speed) at the top. The towers reach up from the river bank 117 feet into the air.

Ready to explore? Learn more about the Chicago Riverwalk, including how to get there and what to do once you’re there.