As Chicagoans, it's our civic duty to eat and drink outside as much as humanly possible from June to September. We relish the opportunity to hang out in the city's best beer gardens and lounge around our favorite rooftop bars. Of course, it goes without saying that alfresco dining digs are made infinitely better when they boast prime views of Lake Michigan or the Chicago River. You'll get an eyeful of these beautiful bodies of water at our favorite waterfront restaurants. Get out there and slurp oysters while gazing out at the river or dip your toes in the sand at our go-to beach haunts.
RECOMMENDED: Beer gardens, rooftop bars and outdoor dining spots in Chicago
Great waterfront dining in Chicago
One of Chicago's newest and shiniest waterfront restaurants, Gibsons Italia presents diners with three levels of breathtaking views. Grab lunch or dinner on east-facing patios on the second and third floors, where you can marvel at the skyline and river while twirling house-made pastas. The lesser-seen fourth floor has a retractable roof, but the space is currently only used for private events (should you be so lucky to get an invitation).
It's best to get a window seat in this tucked-away fine dining restaurant in Lincoln Park. It's just a few steps from the water with a stellar view of the city. North Pond offers upscale seafood and has an extensive wine list to sample, too.
Your filet mignon comes with a side of riverfront views when you opt to sit outside at Chicago Cut. The 60-seat patio hugs the water, offering front-seat views of some of Chicago's most beautiful architectural gems. If the sun's out, look to the menu's seafood bounty, where you'll find refreshing options like Alaskan king crab legs, a lobster salad and half-shell oysters.
We consider this Loop rooftop one of Chicago's most underrated summertime secrets. Situated just three stories above street level, it might not seem like this hotel bar has much to offer on the view front. So wrong: Guests can spot the Wrigley Building, Marina City, the Tribune Tower and Trump Tower. Gaze longingly at the river while you down steak frites, potato taquitos and cheesecake push-pops.
No matter the season, this sweet riverfront restaurant offers unparalleled views of the city. Come summer, a narrow patio along the water gives guests an eyeful of the Riverwalk and the surrounding skyscrapers. When fall rolls around, head inside and nab a seat near the massive industrial windows looking out over the water. The restaurant offers brunch, lunch and dinner; expect American fare and delicate cocktails.
Unsurprisingly, the menu here focuses on perfectly roasted meats: Choose from whole fish, roast beef, prime rib and a rack of pork. Whether you're here for brunch or dinner, grab a seat on the restaurant's large patio and watch the boats float by on the Chicago River.
This classic steakhouse is a big part of Chicago. The chain has been around for decades and serves up a mean, juicy steak. Take a seat by the river for a savory meal that may make your cholesterol spike, but it's worth it.
This Oak Street Beach restaurant’s motto says it all: “Sustenance on the sand.” The seasonal destination has a surprisingly robust menu with options like fried calamari, coconut shrimp, a cheeseburger, fish tacos and chocolate molten lava cake—everything you need to soak up a few margaritas in the sun.
Castaways recently got a classy, put-together big sister to compete with. The Shore Club at North Avenue Beach features three hangout spaces: the Patio, an open-air lounge with lunch and dinner service; the Restaurant, which offers an “elevated food menu”; and the Oasis, where guests can grab a daybed or cabana. It's not exactly for beach bums: shoes and shirts are required at all times.
Rivers, located on the lobby level of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building, is one of the Chicago Loop's most popular restaurants. During the summer months you can look forward to dining on the large, shaded outdoor deck. It's the perfect spot for happy hour.
Happy hour doesn't get much happier than sitting along the river with a long whiskey list. On weekdays from 3:30 to 5pm, post-work revelers can knock back $5 beers, $6 house cocktails $7 featured wines and half-price appetizers.
This casual beachside restaurant serves easy, no-fuss food like guacamole, cheese curds, quesadillas, tacos and sandwiches. But you're really here for the sand, sun, live music and cold drinks.
This beachfront restaurant at Kathy Osterman Beach (a.k.a. Hollywood Beach) is like a tropical paradise with rainbow lounge chairs, colorful decorations and an island vibe. Grab a half-priced margarita on Mondays and enjoy nachos, tacos, guacamole and chips. Your vegetarian friends won't go hungry either, with options like seitan chorizo tacos.
This seasonal café in Edgewater serves up comfort food like fish and chips and crab cakes along with a roster of simple cocktails. But you're really here for that view of the lake through the trees.