Once you tie up

A Two-Hour Tour: Tying up at Chicago's Bustling Downtown Docks

In a town like Chicago, the world is your oyster. Whether you're born and raised or just becoming acquainted with The Windy City, there's plenty to discover and love even with a few hours to explore. 

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Approaching Downtown Docks

I – and what seemed like half the city – stopped by Downtown Docks Tuesday just before quitting time. Located smack-dab in the center of town on the Chicago River, less than a mile from the river entrance, the starboard tie-up here is easy once you're out of boat traffic. It's getting a reservation that can be a bit harder. 

As easy as docking here is, the attentive dockhands are quick to jump to your aid from their perch 40 feet away. The operations are run out of the Jefferson Beach Yacht Sales office on the opposite side of the river, but the team maintains a satellite office just feet from the docks near the Frosty Ice Cream.

For the uninitiated (read: a Bostonian), seeing the Chicago River's heavy weekend traffic on a beautiful day is a little mind-boggling. A somewhat recent development in the past 5-10 years is the influx of boat-rental businesses on the river, which has brought with it unlicensed or at least inexperienced captains – not to mention simply more congestion to navigate. For visitors: you'll do fine, but be sure to boat safe and keep an eye out for kayakers and newbs. 

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Dining & Provisions

Run by the same group that runs Downtown Docks, City Winery is a spot to write home about. Mixing class with home-town pride, this is a perfect place to relax with a glass of locally-made vino – the grapes used may be from out of town, but the magic happens at City Winery's Randolph location. 

For a change of scenery, head just a few hundred feet down the Riverwalk is Tiny Tapp, or across the river to the House of Blues, Dick's Last Resort and Smith & Wollensky. Or, hang out on your boat and quietly judge the girls wearing the hats from Dick's Last Resort – to each his (or her) own. 

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For those looking to tie-up and stock-up, head across the bridge toward the somewhat corporate-looking building named Marina City. You'll find the clean little North Loop Market with fresh produce, Boar's Head meats, wine, beer, snacks, etc. If you have any trouble finding the place, security is happy to help. 

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When to Visit

There's no bad time to visit Chicago in the summer, even with summer storms lighting up the evening skyline. So to focus back up on what you'll find in your backyard when you tie up at Downtown Docks: City Winery hosts and showcases local artists on-site throughout the summer, and it's pretty spectacular to relax and watch someone at their craft for a spell.

During my stop, I watched several artists painting barrels as part of a summer-long art project to raise money for local charities. Each month from June to September they host three local Chicago artists. Each one creates a barrel which is then put on display in venues around the city (including the Merchandise Market Building and the Bridge Museum), then are auctioned off at the end of the month in support of local charities such as Project Fierce, Friends of the River, and Arts Education in Chicago. 

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What to Do

You can go to any other travel blog to learn about the typical tourist destinations in Chicago: Wrigley Field, museums, the aquarium – but for something distinctly maritime, hit up the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum. Opened in 2006 by the aforementioned Friends of the Chicago River, the museum sheds light on the history of the river's physical expansion, the city's construction of wharves, piers, and the development and intricacies of the world-famous movable bridges.

Hooked on Chi-Town? Head to the heart of it all with a slip at Downtown Docks!

RESERVE AT DOWNTOWN DOCKS

Becky Pineo

By: Becky Pineo

Published on 7/12/17 10:00 PM