Most people know Chicago for its deep-dish pizza since it was created here (in 1943, at Pizzeria Uno, where it's still served today!), but the city can claim a number of other inventions, as well as nationwide firsts, some of which are lesser-known.
Many may not know, for example, that Chicago was where the first Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed, or that spray paint originated here, although its sale has been banned for decades.It's home to the only river in the world that flows backward thanks to engineering innovation and the world's first skyscraper was built in Chicago in 1885.
Depending on who you ask, Chicago is divided into approximately 77 official neighborhoods but even then, there are neighborhoods within neighborhoods. Each area is loaded with fun facts, some are well-known but others may surprise even those who live in the neighborhood.
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To help get to know our city better, we've identified 50 fun facts within 10 of Chicago's most popular neighborhoods.
Downtown Chicago used to be reserved for just businesses and come quitting time, there would be a mass exodus. Today, it's bustling with business, year-round cultural attractions, a new Chicago Riverwalk, high-rise apartments and condo living with easy access to daily necessities such as grocery shops.
Downtown Chicago remains a hot tourist attraction thanks to Millennium Park, the Art Institute of Chicago and the dozens of free festivals, musical performances and movie screenings scheduled throughout the busy summer months. There's no shortage of things to do downtown, for both visitors and locals alike.
Five fun facts about Downtown Chicago
You can see up to four states, depending on the weather, from the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower)
The reason its downtown area is called “The Loop" is that the elevated train tracks (also called the “L") encircle much of the downtown area
The starting point of Historic Route 66 is at Adams Street, just west of Michigan Avenue and the Art Institute of Chicago
The Chicago Cultural Center began as the city's first public library (it's now a cultural center which puts on various free events throughout the year, including art exhibits) but head upstairs to Preston Bradley Hall on the fifth floor to enjoy the world's largest stained Tiffany dome. It's a striking 38 feet in diameter and contains approximately 30,000 pieces of glass in 243 sections. The Tiffany Favrile glass is cut in the shape of fish scales.
Willis Tower is the third tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The Aqua Building is the tallest structure in the world to be designed by a female architect, Jeanne Gang. Once it's completed in 2020, her building within the same vicinity as Aqua, Vista Tower, will assume the title.
2. Gold Coast
Photo Credit: Adam Alexander Photography / Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago
The Gold Coast is filled with brownstones, mansions and high-rise condos. Potter Palmer, an American businessman who was largely responsible for building up State Street into the retail powerhouse it still is today, bought land and ended up having his own mansion built on some of those grounds.
The area is favored by the well-heeled and homes along Astor Street, named after one of the wealthiest men in the 1800s, still stand more than 100 years later.
Today, the Gold Coast is not only known for its historic architecture but for its high-end shopping and dining options.
Five fun facts about the Gold Coast
The Chicago Water Tower is often cited as the only building to remain standing after the Great Fire of 1871, but that's not true. While it is an iconic structure and it did survive the fire, much of the south and west parts of the city were never touched by the fire. Nonetheless, it represents the grit of the city and became a symbol for a city determined to recover from the devastating loss to lives and homes.
The John Hancock Center officially changed its name to 875 North Michigan Avenue on February 12, 2018. Ask anyone who lives in Chicago about this name change and you'll likely learn it's news to them, too.
Washington Square Park, across from Newberry Library, is not only registered as a historic landmark but it's also known as Bughouse Square since it was where free speech was welcome and the public forum allowed people to share and hear new ideas from the 1910s to the 1960s. The Newberry Library continues the tradition by hosting the annual Bughouse Square Debate during the summer when it also holds its popular book fair.
The Richard H. Driehaus Museum is a Gilded Age-lovers dream. The restored Nickerson Mansion was completed in 1883 and now hosts permanent collections, as well as temporary exhibits that explore art, architecture and designs from the late 19th century to present.
The Palmer Mansion, built for Potter and Bertha Palmer, was the largest home in Chicago at the time. Built near what is now considered Oak Street Beach, it was shaped like a castle and cost $1 million in 1882. Unfortunately, it didn't escape the wrecking ball and it was demolished in 1950. Its art collection, including works by Degas, Monet and Renoir, was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago and helped form the museum's Impressionist collection.
The University of Chicago dominates 217 acres of land in Hyde Park so it's no surprise that many of the people who live in or near Hyde Park are somehow connected to the university's academic or medical campus.
Beautiful Gothic Revival buildings still stand and Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, considered a masterpiece of 20th-century American architecture, attracts visitors far and wide for tours.
Five fun facts about Hyde Park
The Museum of Science and Industry is the largest museum of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and housed in the only remaining building that was originally constructed for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (it was originally built as the expo's Palace of Fine Arts). It's home to more than 2,000 exhibits.
Hyde Park received its name after Paul Cornell (who is related to the founder of Cornell University), bought 300 acres and named it Hyde Park after the location in London (he bought the land in 1853, but it wasn't annexed as part of the city until 1889)
Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle Obama have a home in Hyde Park. Don't try to drive by it, though. Security blocks the street (can you imagine having a house next to them? At least you won't have to worry about security!).
Famed Architect Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Photo Credit: Adam Alexander Photography / Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago
Lakeview is diverse because it's comprised of several neighborhoods within its border, from loud and busy Wrigleyville and Boystown to stroller-friendly Southport Avenue. Even when the Chicago Cubs aren't playing at Wrigley Field, the bars and restaurants are busy serving up a predominately young, post-college clientele.
Those starting families or who prefer quieter neighbors head toward west Lakeview where it's not unusual to see strollers parked outside restaurants and playdates planned around the parks.
In addition to having a Major League baseball park within walking distance, there are a ton of restaurants, bars and coffee shops throughout Lakeview. Other attractions include the Music Box Theatre, as well as arts and neighborhood festivals.
Five fun facts about Lakeview
Wrigley Field is not only home to the Chicago Cubs baseball team, but the field is also the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball (the first is Fenway Park in Boston)
Uncommon Ground, a restaurant known for its seasonal food, is also the home of the state's s first organic brewery
The Music Box Theatre opened in 1929 and still operates as a film venue, often showing independent and foreign films, as well as playing host to more than 200 special events annually. A theater organ sometimes plays before a show begins and during weekend intermissions or monthly silent film screenings. The old theater is said to have a ghost named “Whitey." As the story goes, Whitey was the nickname of the manager of The Music Box when it first opened until Thanksgiving Eve of 1977 when he returned to the theater to close it for the night, fell asleep on the couch in the lobby, never to wake again.
Boystown in West Lakeview is one of the most inclusive LGBTQ+ communities and gained official recognition as the city's gay district in 1997. It's also home of the Chicago Pride Parade (and celebration for a month), as well as Northalsted Market Days, two days filled with live music and celebrations that span six city blocks.
The Alley is one of the few independent shops that can say it might have dressed your parents and grandparents. A destination for generations of counter-culture, it's been around since 1971 and still markets itself as the Midwest's premier one-stop-shop for bikers, punks, goths and rockers, 365 days a year.
One of Chicago's most popular neighborhoods, Lincoln Park is named after the largest city park that bears the same name. It's family-friendly and filled with attractions including one of the oldest and free zoos in the country, Steppenwolf Theatre and the Lincoln Park Conservancy.
Five fun facts about Lincoln Park
Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the country and still offers free admission. The first animal to be acquired by the zoo was a bear cub.
The Chicago History Museum was founded in 1856. It borders the Old Town neighborhood, as well.
The neighborhood is named after President Abraham Lincoln and the actual public park is the city's largest park, stretching seven miles from Grand Avenue (500 N) on the south to near Ardmore Avenue (5800N) on the north
Steppenwolf Theatre might be located in Lincoln Park today but it first began in a northern suburb basement. It was founded in 1974 by high school and college friends Terry Kinney, Jeff Perry and Gary Sinise.
Alinea is the only restaurant in Chicago, and just one of 14 in the United States, to have earned a Michelin three-star rating
Once a hippie haven in the 1960s and 1970s, Old Town is now home to those who love its close proximity to Lake Michigan, the Gold Coast and The Loop, and appreciate the tree-lined streets filled with Victorian-era buildings.
St. Michael's Church is one of the few structures north to have survived the Chicago Fire of 1871, despite being heavily damaged. Second City Comedy Club is still the main draw for visitors outside the area.
Five fun facts about Old Town
Old Town is considered the oldest neighborhood in Chicago
The area was known as “the Cabbage Patch," thanks to the German immigrants who came to the area to farm
Second City has trained comedy alums including Bill Murray, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Steve Carell, among other household names
The Chicago History Museum borders Old Town and Lincoln Park. Its permanent and rotating exhibits help share the stories of Chicago and its residents. It's a popular research spot, whether it's students working on their history fair projects or filmmakers researching documentaries.
Although Chicago was rebuilt on a grid after the Chicago Fire of 1871, parts of Old Town survived the fire. Many of those streets pre-date the grid system.
Beginning in the 1890s, River North was busy with industry thanks to its close proximity to the Chicago River and railroad tracks that lined the north bank of the river. After falling into decay as factories began closing shop in the 1950s and 1960s, artists began moving in around the 1970s, thanks to low rent and large spaces.
Those former warehouses were converted into art galleries and more than 50 art sellers can be found throughout the neighborhood that borders The Loop and Gold Coast. Townhouses and condos are plentiful and many appreciate being within walking distance to The Loop and shopping destinations along Michigan Avenue and Oak Street.
Five fun facts about River North
When it opened in 1930, the Merchandise Mart was the largest building in the world and had its own ZIP code until 2008
For those who want to check out the many galleries throughout the neighborhood, free tours are available most Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. and begin at Fabcakes at 714 N. Franklin Street
Pizzeria Uno created what we now know as Chicago deep-dish pizza in 1943. It's still serving pizza at this popular River North restaurant.
The historic Medinah Temple was originally built in 1912 as a 4,200-seat auditorium. Today, it's home to Bloomingdale's Home and Furniture Store and much of the original plasterwork and glass remain.
The East Bank Club is a fitness club that spans two full city blocks. The building offers both locals and those who work nearby in The Loop and River North access to 450,000 square feet of space to work out, hang out and grab something to eat at one of its many dining options. A full salon and spa for both men and women are also available on-site for members.
8. South Side
Photo Credit: Adam Alexander Photography / Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago
The South Side is vast, just like the city's North Side. It's compromised of dozens of neighborhoods, each truly with its own unique personality. Whether it's Chinatown or Bronzeville or South Shore, each area has a beauty it can call its own.
To help connect the area, there are about 18 miles of paved paths along the city's lakefront, which are bike and pedestrian-friendly, too.
Five fun facts about South Side
The 1893 Columbian Exposition was held in what is now considered Jackson Park
House music originated on the city's South Side in 1977 at The Warehouse club
Stony Island Arts Bank first opened in 1923 as a community savings and loan bank. After it closed in the '80s, it remained vacant until it reopened in October 2015, as a community center, as well as a gallery, media archive and library. Among its collections are thousands of books and periodicals donated by Johnson Publishing Company, as well as a vinyl collection by Frankie Knuckles Records.
When the Great Migration began in 1916, many African Americans settled in the Bronzeville neighborhood
The site now known as Northerly Island was formerly Meigs Field, a single runway airport. It was in operation from 1948 until 2003.
9. West Loop
Photo Credit: Adam Alexander Photography/ Photo Courtesy of Choose Chicago
The West Loop has seen a major resurgence in the last decade as old warehouses and vacant lots have suddenly been replaced by towering condo buildings and trendy restaurants.
Early residents didn't find that neighborhood feel since there wasn't as much residential density (and there were still plenty of warehouses at the time) but all that has changed in the last decade as buildings seem to sprout every six months and more businesses, such as fitness centers, coffee shops and daycare centers, have moved in to accommodate growing demand.
Five fun facts about West Loop
Oprah Winfrey produced "The Oprah Winfrey Show" from 1986 to 2011. The site was demolished in 2016 and is now the home to the new global headquarters for McDonald's.
Randolph Street is also known as Restaurant Row and home to more Michelin award-winners than any other part of the city
Before it became one of the hottest and trendiest neighborhoods to call home, it was the city's industrial meatpacking district
The second oldest museum in the country dedicated to Greek-American culture, the National Hellenic Museum features both permanent and rotating exhibits that include artifacts and documents portraying the Hellenic immigrant experience and origins of Chicago's Greek community. The area used to be a vibrant Greektown, with restaurants along Halsted Street, but now just a handful are left. Those remaining still serve some of the best Greek food in town.
Field Notes HQ, those super fun little pocket notebooks, originate from the brand's warehouse in the West Loop. Visitors are always welcome to stop by their shop, warehouse and studio space to not only shop and talk about all things printing, but they can also request to take a tour of the space.
Wicker Park is a mix of old school and new. Immigrants first called it home in the 1850s. Artists began moving into the area in the 1980s thanks to low rent and loft space, especially in the Flatiron Arts Building, which became an artist's enclave.
Today, the eclectic neighborhood is still home to artists, as well as young professionals and families. Discount furniture stores and antique shops share space on busy Milwaukee Avenue with trendy and high-end apparel boutiques.
The Damen Blue Line stop in the heart of the area's “six corners" makes it convenient to get to and from The Loop and neighboring Logan Square.
Five fun facts about Wicker Park
Wicker Park is one of the city's smaller parks (at just under five acres) but gave its name to one of Chicago's most popular neighborhoods. It's named after two businessmen and developers named Charles G. Wicker and Joel H. Wicker, who donated the parcel of land to the city to be used as a park.
Author Nelson Algren, who wrote books including "Chicago: City on the Make and The Man with the Golden Arm," lived on the third floor of 1958 W. Evergreen Ave. for almost two decades. It's currently a private residence but a sidewalk marker shares information about his life and writings.
Artists with studios in the Flatiron Arts Building open their studio doors to the general public every first Friday of the month
Ever wonder why a big cannon is located in the front yard of 1558 N. Hoyne Ave.? That's because the Queen Anne-style home formerly served as the headquarters for the local American Legion.
It's not unusual for some people who pass by the North Avenue Baths, located at 2014 W. North Ave., to think there might be a pool inside the building. After all, the beautifully ornate terra cotta exterior is still visible. Alas, it's the only thing that remains from its time when public baths were popular. Today, it's been transformed into apartment units.
As a Chicago-based freelance writer, Megy Karydes has covered everything from space-aged tomato seeds grown in a Chicago Public School to Chicago Blues musician Lurrie Bell. Her work has been featured in USA Today, Travel + Leisure, Midwest Living magazine and other national and regional media outlets. When she's not out exploring the city with her two children and husband, she's perfecting her air hockey technique.