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Wacker Drive in Chicago
The city’s planners in 1906 came up with an idea for a double-decker street that would help alleviate some of downtown’s Chicago traffic problems.
In 1926, Wacker Drive was completed. In the next few decades, it was expanded and re-designed. The upper level of Wacker Drive is meant for local traffic, and the lower level is for through-traffic and trucks delivering to hotels, residences, and businesses in downtown Chicago.
The Wacky in Wacker Drive
Wacker Drive is a multi-level street that follows the curve of the Chicago River in downtown Chicago. Just like the Chicago River, it begins at Lakeshore Drive, runs from east to west then makes a sharp turn at about Franklin Street and heads south.
So, if someone gives you an address on Wacker Drive, make sure you pay attention to whether it’s north, south, east, or west.
Zoom in the map below and follow the path of Wacker Drive as it starts from US 41 (Lakeshore Drive) to the east.
And to make it just a little more confusing, there is an Upper Wacker Drive and a Lower Wacker Drive (and a Lower Lower Wacker Drive)!
But the confusion is what makes Wacker Drive all that more fascinating. Wacker Drive is the perfect location to stay while visiting downtown Chicago.
Wacker Drive is the dividing line between the city that works and the city that knows how to play and entertain. A tale of two cities.
And if you get a chance to drive down it at night with the city lights twinkling, you will see how beautiful Wacker Drive is.
Scary Lower Wacker Drive
When I first moved to Chicago back in the 1980s, driving on lower Wacker was dark, creepy and other-world-like – almost like a terrifying amusement ride. I was convinced zombies and vampires lived down there.
The street was narrow, curvy with traffic in the opposite direction appearing to come at you head-on. Just like my fears of roller coasters, I pretty much stayed away from lower Wacker Drive over the years.
Nowadays, it’s not as bad. The city made improvements to Lower Wacker. The street is wider, and it’s well lit (unlike before) with actual signs telling you what direction you’re driving in. And it’s a great way to get around downtown Chicago when traffic up top is horrible.
Where to stay on Wacker Drive Chicago
Frankly, there’s not going to be a bad angle if you decide to stay at any of the many hotels on Wacker Drive Chicago. No matter what direction your hotel is facing you will be getting a great view of downtown Chicago.
On a clear day with a pair of powerful binoculars, you might be able to see to Indiana or Wisconsin.
My hotel pick for your adventure on Wacker Drive is the Hyatt Regency Chicago (151 East Wacker). This hotel is a city within a city with lots of cool things to do without even leaving the hotel (perfect for a winter stay in Chicago).
Why should you stay on Wacker Drive?
Wacker Drive gives you options. You can cover a lot of downtown Chicago by staying on Wacker Drive. You will be able to walk to most things conveniently:
- head north, and you’ll run into the Magnificent Mile and neighborhood of Streeterville
- head south, and you’ll run into Millennium Park and the Loop neighborhood (read my article about the Loop neighborhood by clicking here)
- walk east down the Riverwalk, and you’ll arrive at Navy Pier
- follow Wacker Drive westward, and you’ll end up in the West Loop neighborhood
Things to do on and near Wacker Drive
What’s so great about staying on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago is that you don’t have to venture far for a good time. And there’s plenty of attractions to keep you entertained.
The Riverwalk is a 1.25-mile path along the main branch of the Chicago River. Here’s where you want to start your love affair with Wacker Drive. The Riverwalk is more than some random walking path. It is an excellent source for entertainment, eating and culture.
Here are some things you can look forward to:
- You can grab a bite to eat at the Northman Beer & Cider Garden
- sip on wine at the City Winery (heated domes available once it starts getting chilly).
- listen to music at the Island Party Hut
- go kayaking
- take a Water Taxi to several Chicago neighborhoods
- Take a walking tour. You can purchase a ticket through Viator.com (a TripAdvisor company) to Chicago River Walking Tour. The tour starts at Navy Pier and follows along the Riverwalk. It’s an excellent introduction to the history of Chicago and the river that runs through it. Click here for more information.
Go to the Opera
Lyric Opera was founded in 1954 and is internationally renowned for its production of the classics, lesser-known opera pieces, and world-premier productions. For more information on the Lyric Opera and how to get tickets for the current season, click here.
See a show at the House of Blues
McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum
Chicago is a city of bridges. The Bridgehouse Museum is a great way to learn about Chicago’s fascination with bridges and how it shaped Chicago. The museum is open from Friday – Monday, 10 AM – 5 PM and Thursdays 12 PM – 7 PM.
For information on where to stay and what to do in the Loop, read my article, What you wanna know about where to stay in Chicago Downtown Loop by clicking here.