Local My Life Photography

The View from the Chicago River

This post is sponsored by Chase – a strong supporter of the Global Cities Initiative, a program that helps foster local economic development. Learn more here.

I’ve lived in the Chicago area my entire life, and Oak Park is just fifteen minutes West of downtown by car or train (the ‘L’). I know the city pretty well, but sometimes it’s nice to see it from a different perspective. Like a scary open body of water perspective.

In all fairness, it’s only scary because I can’t swim and I’m afraid of water. Adding “Take the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s River Cruise to my Lovely Life List was really in large part to get me on a big boat.

The tour was fantastic and thankfully the boat ride itself was uneventful, save for a passing barge blasting its horn at us (presumably having some fun with the tourists). I jumped in my seat.

The view from the river isn’t the most beautiful way to sightsee, but if you’re at least passingly familiar with Chicago, it’s an interesting new view of the city. Many buildings along the river, especially the older ones, completely turned their back to it. Our tour docent explained that “the river was toxic, whereas now it’s merely polluted.” Brandon succinctly said “no one wants to overlook a toilet.”

The city cleaned up its river eventually (magic, I assume, or maybe magic green dye), and people began to view it as a desirable location a few decades ago. Couple a newfound interest in riverfront living with the go-go eighties economic boom, and you have a recipe for city growth. Chicago holds itself to following a larger plan as it grows (a blessing to come out of the rebuilding following The Great Chicago Fire), and city plans call for all new structures to include a riverwalk. There is some access today, but the Chicago River will someday have public walkways all along its bank.

Chicago is still seeing new buildings go up too, with Trump Tower and Aqua being two of the most notable recent additions to the river. The Spire would be noteworthy too, but it’s on hold after having only the foundation built. Its drill bit design isn’t my favorite, but it is admittedly interesting and I hope to see it completed.

There are still plenty of new buildings going up all around the city, including along the Chicago River. New buildings bring new residents, they stimulate the local economy, new money begets new growth, and so on. We have an ever-changing skyline.

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  • Julia
    May 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    What a beautiful city you have to enjoy!

  • Callie
    May 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Your pictures are beautiful!

  • Jules
    May 31, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    This was really interesting. I liked learning about new cities, especially one I haven’t yet visited.

  • Debora
    May 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    I liked your photos a lot. Chicago is beautiful!
    And the architecture is just amazing.



  • Giulia
    May 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    When I first looked at the post above the fold it looked like rolls of cool wallpaper.
    I have a friend that went on a sailboat cruise for a week and doesn’t know how to swim! I have another friend, 35, who is learning to swim in adult classes. Are your children learning to swim?

    I like boat tours, they take you away from the cars and buses which can make for a pleasant trip.

    • Making it Lovely
      May 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm

      I hope to learn, and my kids will take lessons so that they’ll know how.

  • bethany
    May 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm

    I took the boat tour last August with the hubs as an anniversary outing. It was fascinating to see the city from a new perspective, as you said, although our trip was rained out halfway through. :-/

  • nikki
    May 31, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    although i am disappointed that you would take up sponsorship from chase, your photos are beautiful! i grew up in michigan and regularly visited chicago with my family. i will always have a soft spot in my heart for that city. just watch for dave matthews’ bus overhead ;)

    • Sarah
      June 1, 2012 at 10:29 am

      Hey, girl’s got a family to feed! :)

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

      Nikki, thanks for letting me know. And I couldn’t help but think about the tour bus incident too!

  • Sandra
    May 31, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    When I lived in Toronto we did two road trips to Chi-town. Did the architectural walking tour (learned SOOO much about skyscrapers that I bore my friends with facts about them). Love seeing in other cities how their skyscrapers of a similar era were inspired by Chicago.

    Also did the Wright Plus tour in Oak Park. That was worth it too – his home seems so modern yet is turn of the century.

    Love great architecture!

  • LaTrelle
    May 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I love living in Chicago and taking time to experience it from a tourist’s perspective. We plan to take that tour in the next couple of weekends.

  • Cassidy
    May 31, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    One prolonged horn blast means “I intend to pass you on my port (left) side” in boat-talk :)

    • Making it Lovely
      May 31, 2012 at 8:04 pm

      Ah, that’s what they were ‘saying’ then! Still, the guy had a smirk on his face as he did it. ;)

  • kelly
    May 31, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    Ha!! I thought I would be funny with the Dave Matthews’ tour bus quip. Nikki beat me to it.


  • KimT
    May 31, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    I’m so glad you did a post on this. Your photos are so much better than mine were!

  • Jessika
    May 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    Please learn how to swim. Swimming is one of life’s greatest joys and stress relievers.

  • Lydia
    May 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    You should try the Architectural Kayak tour, the evening session. It was incredible. Chicago is beautiful. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

  • Sarah ATD
    May 31, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    Beautiful pictures!

  • kcorbeau
    May 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I love these pictures.

    But please learn to swim! Add it to your list!!

  • alison at refurnished living
    May 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    i love chicago! great architecture, nice people, clean, great neighborhoods, great food (my sister is a chef there)…can’t wait to visit again. great photos.

  • Life with Kaishon
    May 31, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    What an awesome way to tour the city! I have visited once and it was love at first sight for me : )

  • Lucy Kite
    May 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm

    Beautiful pictures! I love your blog Nicole! P.s. I can’t swim and am afraid of the water as well. May we both learn one day. : )

  • Shosh
    June 1, 2012 at 2:03 am

    Add “learn to swim” to your life list!!! : )

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

      It was already on there from the beginning!

  • Shawna Greenway
    June 1, 2012 at 7:43 am

    I have lived in two wonderful cities – New York & San Francisco – but Chicago is still my favorite big city. My husband grew up there – lucky enough to call the Museum of Science and Industry his playground since his mother worked there in the ’70’s – and we try to go back at least once a year. The architecture is fantastic but what I love most about it are the people. Everyone is so unbelievably nice there! We would move to Chicago in a heartbeat if not for the winters. The SF Bay Area has spoiled me – not sure what I could handle real weather!

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2012 at 10:35 am

      I love San Francisco. New York too, but I’d move to San Francisco if not for our family being Chicago-based.

  • Gretchen
    June 1, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Love your photos!! We just took the same tour about a month ago. It was fabulous.

  • Ash @ HumberHome Project
    June 1, 2012 at 8:14 am

    I’ve lived in the Chicago ‘burbs for most of my life (and went to college in the city), but I still love to act like a tourist when I go into the city. :) We have such a beautiful city!
    Loved all your pictures, thanks for sharing them!

  • Molly
    June 1, 2012 at 8:36 am

    This is one of my favorite things to do in Chicago! One year we took the tour in late summer or early fall and it happened to be one of the weekends when all the sailboats from Lake Michigan were heading south for the winter. They open up the locks on the river and the sailboats all go together en masse through the river, some all the way to the Gulf of Mexico! Fascinating!

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Wow, I love that they just continue straight on.

  • Kate
    June 1, 2012 at 9:11 am

    I’d love to take this tour! My husband doesn’t like boats though, so I might have to find someone else to go with me…

    Milwaukee has a river walk, and though it is much smaller than what Chicago would likely put in, it is a really nice way to walk the city, plus many restaurants and bars back up to the riverwalk so you can park wherever and walk to your favorite spot to eat or even come by boat as they have many places to tie up a canoe or motor boat. Fingers crossed that Chicago goes for the riverwalk! :)

    • Making it Lovely
      June 1, 2012 at 10:37 am

      I don’t know the degree to which your husband doesn’t like boats, but I found this one to be OK (and I was nervous beforehand).

      • Kate
        June 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

        He suffers from motion sickness in boats to my understanding…was it a bumpy ride? If not, I might be able to convince him….


  • Ali
    June 1, 2012 at 9:30 am

    My husband and I took that same tour last fall while visiting Chicago for our anniversary! It was one of our favorite activities while we were there…so lovely!

  • kelly
    June 1, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Lovely shots of the river. I love their tour. There is also another tour that goes out on the lake- which I think I preferred, since you get to see the skyline in its entirety. Happy weekend!

  • Sarah
    June 1, 2012 at 10:29 am

    I have always lived about 2 hours south in Champaign, and I love going to the city whenever I can, it’s gorgeous!

  • Sangeetha
    June 1, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Gorgeous pics! I love the architectural tour! Do you know that you can take the city ferry for only $2 from Union Station to Chicna town? We do that often and love it!
    Btw, I do not know how to swim either and am going to take swimming clases at the West Cook Y. Maybe you should join me! ;) ;)

  • Jeff
    June 3, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    The Chicago River tour has been on my to do list for several years…maybe soon.

    P.S. My Darling Bride forwarded this link to me because of this thing for Chicago…

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  • Marisa
    June 4, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I did this tour with my family last year when they were visiting me in the summer. I loved it! Great new perspective on the city, I agree. Props to you for conquering your fear!

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  • Melissa
    June 27, 2012 at 10:44 pm

    What is the first picture of? I recognized it from the album cover of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but I never realized they were real buildings. I’ve never been to Chicago.

    • Making it Lovely
      June 27, 2012 at 10:47 pm

      Yep, Wilco is from Chicago. That’s Marina City.

  • Carlo Cabitac
    July 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    My girlfriend and I visited Chicago last November and it seemed the city has grown up quite a lot since I lived there in the late 80s. Our friends drove us all over the city and I have hundreds of pictures of the beautiful buildings alone. Then, as if the buildings were not enough, you also have the sculptures. My favorite is “The Bean” (I know that’s not the official name :-) )

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