Streeterville, a Chicago Neighborhood Guide

Streeterville is a neighborhood that caters to both locals and visitors; it is a family-oriented neighborhood as well as a major tourist destination. With its colorful history and its something-for-everyone attractions, Streeterville is one of Chicago’s most interesting neighborhoods.

Streeterville Attractions

Streeterville is a popular neighborhood among visitors to Chicago, in that it has museums, theater, shopping, dining, and entertainment all in one place.

The Streeterville neighborhood includes one of the best-known museums in Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MCA holds over 6,000 objects of art in all media and genres, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, videos, film and performance pieces. The building itself is impressive, with a view of Lake Michigan and a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden. The Museum hosts several events throughout the year, including Free Tuesdays, 8-Minute Dating, a Book Fair and The Literary Gangs of Chicago.

Another major Streeterville attraction is The Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which was founded in 1986 and moved to Navy Pier in 1999. This theater is dedicated to bringing to life the works of William Shakespeare and holds 510 seats on three levels that curve around the stage. The theater, although it seats hundreds of people, retains a very intimate air; there are only nine rows of seats, so audience members in the most distant seats are still very close to the stage.

The theater offers visitors a variety of ways to spend time before the show begins. There are lobbies with views of Lake Michigan, as well as a bookstore, a pub, and even a pre-show with a member of the cast or with a Shakespeare scholar. The theater also sponsors Team Shakespeare, one of the country’s largest arts-in-education programs that offer a collection of on-site teaching and reference materials, affordable tickets to students, and free teacher workshops.

Streeterville is also home to Navy Pier, one of Chicago’s best-known destinations. The Pier draws over 8 million visitors each year. Built in 1909, Navy Pier has undergone many changes, resulting in the family-oriented, fun-filled entertainment spot it is today. The list of things-to-do is long: there is a Ferris wheel, a carousel, an old-fashioned swing ride, a miniature golf course, a cliff climb, a maze, a children’s museum, and an IMAX theater to keep the kids entertained for hours. There is also a convention hall for large groups.

In addition, there are shops, boat cruises, two performance stages, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows. Clearly, Navy Pier is a microcosm that offers hours of entertainment for every member of the family.

Of course, all this activity can lead to a big appetite. For this reason, Navy Pier boasts a number of restaurants. Apart from street vendors selling everything from Italian ice to elephant ears, there are establishments such as Billy Goat’s Tavern, Bubba Gump, Capi’s Italian Kitchen, the Dock Street Café and Haagen Dazs.

A few steps away from Navy Pier is Ohio St. Beach, a cozy little beach that is frequented by inhabitants of Streeterville. There is a lifeguard on duty, making this beach child-friendly. The landscape around the beach is surreal; it is interesting to enjoy a day at the beach while being gazed down upon by some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers.

For those interested in the history of the Citizen Soldier, Streeterville’s Pritzker Military Library is a good place to visit. The library contains over 9000 volumes focusing on 20th century modern warfare and the American Civil War and is dedicated to portraying the soldier as essential to the preservation of democracy.

Streeterville Community

The inhabitants of Streeterville are business people as well as families, professionals as well as the working class. There are several hospitals in the area, as part of Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, and thus there are several members of the medical community living in and near Streeterville as well.

The neighborhood is tightly-knit and involved. The Streeterville Organization of Active Residents, or SOAR, is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1975. The organization is dedicated to “Working to Keep Streeterville a Neighborhood” by promoting a sense of community and safety in the area. SOAR is run entirely on a volunteer basis.

Streeterville is one of Chicago’s gems; this tiny neighborhood is full of people with a lot of heart and is a constant draw for those who want to have a lot of fun.

Streeterville Neighborhood Map of Chicago

Chicago's Streeterville Neighborhood Map

Where Streeterville gets its name

Streeterville owes its name to an interesting and quirky tale.

George Wellington “Cap” Streeter was a jack-of-all-trades who, in 1886, purchased a boat, named it the Reutan, and took it for a test run on Lake Michigan during a storm. Cap and his wife, who was also aboard, ended up on a sandbar 450 feet east of Michigan Avenue. Instead of digging themselves out once the storm had passed, they decided to live on the sandbar, aboard their boat.
At this time, only 15 years after the Great Chicago Fire, the city of Chicago was in the midst of rebuilding. Cap Streeter told several contractors that they could use his sandbar as a dump for a small fee, and soon the sandbar extended the shoreline by 186 acres!

Cap found that Chicago (and Illinois) ended at the original shoreline, and thus his sandbar was not considered to be a part of either. He named it the “District of Lake Michigan” and claimed full rights to this land.

At this point, Cap began selling small parts of his land and thus a shantytown was born on the sandbar. Cap built a house on the land amidst the squalor. Before long, some of Chicago’s wealthier businessmen petitioned to have Cap and the shantytown residents booted off the land since the land could be better used, in their opinion, as a highway connecting the Loop to the Gold Coast.

After several ensuing battles over ownership of the land, Cap was arrested for an unrelated, minor offense. During this time, his home was burned down and he finally lost control of the land. He died in 1921.

The land where the sandbar originated is now some of Chicago’s most expensive real estate.