On a recent trip to Chicago for work, I found myself in the River North neighborhood. I have visited Chicago many times, but hadn’t focused my visit on a single area. And because this trip was pretty short and work oriented, I wanted to make my exploring easier on myself. That, and it just so happens that River North is pretty dope, especially for health and wellness oriented people. Like me!
The hotel our conference had booked us at was The Freehand, located right on Ohio St. It’s right next door to Eataly, and around the corner from some of Chicago’s top fitness studios. There’s delicious food in every direction, and even a grocery store at the end of the block in case you need to grab some apples and RX Bars to stash in your room!
The Freehand is a hip and trendy hotel, it kind of reminded me of one of my favorite hotels in Austin, Native Hostels. Part hotel, part hostel, and nestled in the back is one of the hippest bars, The Broken Shaker. The Freehand was a great home base for exploring River North, and I found most places I wanted to get to were a quick walk away from it.
When it came to meals, I tried to focus on healthier options. I definitely knew I wanted to avoid the pizza and pasta that Chicago is traditionally known for. Instead I opted for mediterranean at Emá. They had the most delicious rotisserie chicken, and house made hummus. Another favorite was the avocado and grapefruit salat, it’s a must order!
I came across The Little Beet Table, a restaurant with a location in Chicago and New York City. They focus on a menu free of gluten, with an emphasis on vegetables and healthy whole foods. I had the Sesame Chile Chicken salad, and the sesame chile sauce was to die for! My friend had the scallops in a beet risotto and raved about them as well!
A must visit is Beatrix, an American cafe that has locations all around Chicago. I came here for the krispy kale salad and was tempted by the dessert bar, while they offered vegan options, I had to politely pass because I had my eye on some Jeni’s vegan ice cream!
Speaking of desserts, I visited Ohio favorite Jeni’s twice this trip, not technically in River North, but close enough and because they offer Vegan ice cream, I had to oblige. First night I had the salted caramel, it was good, but not as great as the almond milk affagato. Heaven!
But my favorite sweet treat in Chicago was at Real Good Juice Co. I believe in simple ingredients and RGJC offers #noyofroyo made with almond milk + a juice mix. Plus they make paleo granola, almond butter, and vegan cookies in house and let you add those as toppers to your delicious bowl of goodness.
For Smoothie bowls you HAVE TO VISIT Hi Vibe, I’m obsessed with their pitaya bowl. Their toppings are some of the most premium, which I guess is why these bowls are double digits, BUT still totally worth it. And visit the The Mart location and walk your bowl out to the river for an epic backdrop to enjoy your breakfast or an afternoon snack!
One of my favorite meals of any trip to Chicago is a stop at Ramen San for their late night fried rice. And Ramen San is located RIGHT IN THE HEART OF RIVER NORTH. So of course one night we made reservations for 10pm (when the fried rice becomes available) and it was just the perfect night with my friends. And no trip to Ramen San is complete without late night donuts 🙂 Across the street is Firecakes donuts, and it is not to be missed.
Honorable mentions for food in the area: Sweetgreen, this LA based salad bar brand has popped up all over Chicago. I can’t wait for them to open up in TX, so take advantage when you see one! Bandera: When you’re shopping on Michigan Avenue, they have one of the best salads in town, and also I heard their burger is pretty good if that’s more your speed! Goddess and the baker: While they offer some vegan things on the menu they are more known for their baked goods. I had one of their smoothie bowls after Soul Cycle but also got one of their strawberry cheesecake bars, because balance.
River North is home to a lot of fitness studios, but for the purpose of this trip I only had 3 days so I chose to workout at Studio Three, a local Chicago only studio. They are 3 stories, and offer 3 types of classes. Yoga, Cycle, and Interval training, I took the interval class and it was a mix of treadmill, rowing, and floor work with weights. I burned over 650 calories, and after class grabbed a smoothie from Juice shop Graze, which has one of two locations inside of Studio Three!
My second day workout was a Soul Cycle ride with Anthony McClain, it was a 5:45am class on a Thursday and it was jam packed. With people and with Athony’s energy, I’m a sucker for a Soul class, and feel that it’s not just a workout for the body, but it’s a great release for the mind too. I always walk away feeling refreshed, and Anthony said something in class that really resonated. He said, “you have two options, you can bitch and groan, or you can bitch and grow”. So simple, but so true and powerful, I really believe it’s mind over matter, and Soul hits the spot for me for that cardio love mix!
The final workout I did in Chicago was from another LA Favorite, Barry’s Bootcamp. We don’t have one of these in Austin yet, but I hear we’re getting one. It’s a mix of treadmill and floor work with weights. I think these classes are super popular in Chicago because it’s a huge running city and I feel these types of workouts help condition you while also helping burn a ton of calories. I took Trista’s class, she’s one of the OG Chicago Barry’s instructors so it was great to take her class. She recommended going to Hi Vibe at The Mart location, so go take her class then grab you a smoothie bowl!
A few free fitness suggestions, Chicago is a super accessible city meaning you can walk, run, bike, most of the city pretty easily thanks to all the trails that run along Lake Michigan. While I didn’t take advantage of it this trip, I’ve rented bikes before through Divvy Bikes which have stands across the city allowing you to grab and go explore at a whim. Those same trails are perfect for running and I’ve enjoyed exploring Chicago’s many parks, especially Millennial Park, and taking a nice run by Cloud Gate (the bean) all the way to Soldier Field. My two cents with fitness is, take advantage of what’s around you and what makes you feel the best. If walking is more your speed, try these same trails but don’t feel like you need to bike or run to get active!
I went to the most magical Turkish bath in Sevilla, Spain and upon further research found out they had a Chicago location. While it’s in River West, it’s close enough and relaxing enough to be mentioned. Like you don’t want to pass up on this. It’s in an old factory and features exposed brick, which is very much true to Chicago’s industrial history and gives the Chicago experience a unique twist. There are over 7 baths ranging from steamy hot to icy cold and everything in between. I bounced from baths but my favorites were the outdoor waterfall, which felt amazing on my back. The floatatarium which essentially is like a float pod where you can just relax and let your body go. They had steam rooms, smelling like lavender and eucalyptus. And my aching body enjoyed the muscle relax of the hot tubs, and the flushing by jumping in the icy baths too. At $75 for 90 min of access, it is one of the best gems of Chicago.
Chicago Architecture River Tour , if you do one touristy thing, do the architecture tour by boat. Do not do it by anyone other than the Chicago Architecture Foundation. They’re the most knowledgable and provide you with a 90 min tour of Chicago’s rich history by boat and if I can make a suggestion, take the sunset cruise because you’ll get to watch the city transition from day to night and it’s spectacular! The experience is actually pretty relaxing and enjoyable considering you get to see one of the prettiest cities by boat and soaking up all the glorious sights and sounds of the city.