Culture / Travel

How to Spend 48 Hours in Chicago’s Historic Gold Coast Neighborhood

With the Waldorf Astoria as Our Windy City Home Away From Home

BY // 08.24.23

Spending a few summertime days in Chicago has long been a dream of mine. It’s no secret Texans are clamoring to escape this 100-degree run that feels unending. The Windy City’s breezy nights felt like an invitation I was gracious to receive. With just 48 hours in the city, I hit the ground running leaving little room for pause. I even got caught in a rainy downpour, but embraced it with open arms. It was the refresh I’d been craving all summer. From exploring iconic landmarks that have welcomed royalty and Hollywood Who’s Who to finding complete serenity and slowing down amidst a bustling city, this was one of the most treasured Chicago trips I’ve experienced. And the bedrock was my relaxation anchor point: Waldorf Astoria Chicago Hotel.

Luxury downtown Chicago hotel Waldorf Astoria Chicago is located in the prestigious Gold Coast neighborhood and holds a history of elegance and refinement. Opened in 2011, the architecture and interior design of the hotel were inspired by European influences, with an emphasis on classic elegance and modern comforts. 

Some luxuries that stood out included the hotel’s spacious rooms and suites, lavish amenities (like Aesop bath products), a renowned spa, and a dining establishment that quickly gained a reputation for its culinary excellence amongst hotel guests and locals alike.

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
The Waldorf Astoria Chicago beckons guests with an elegant, modern lobby. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

The Waldorf Astoria Chicago Aesthetic 

As soon as I journeyed into the grand lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Chicago by way of a charming courtyard, I felt a sense of tranquility. It seemed as though the hotel’s timeless and classic design aimed to provide a sanctuary of luxury, while still maintaining prime access to the heart of a busy, vibrant city.

Rich materials, such as marble and decadent fabrics, are generously used throughout the interior. The color palette was relatively neutral, which plays into the serene, calming vibe I got when I walked in. The furnishings were velvety smooth and almost absorbed when you sat down. It was evident that nearly every piece in the lobby, and other areas of the property, were custom-made. And the detail didn’t stop there. Although the design was clean, there were intricate moldings, carefully curated artwork, and ornate details that added a touch of grandeur to the guest experience, throughout the hotel.

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
The oversized rooms boasted a grand fireplace. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

The Guest Rooms

I was thrilled upon walking into my room, immediately noticing a grand fireplace and a terrace. Staying on the 22nd floor, I quickly envisioned sipping a morning oat milk latte al fresco — which I did both mornings I was there.

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Another perk of my room was the oversized, marble white bathrooms evoking a spa-like experience with luxurious fixtures (again, everything custom), a deep soaking tub, and the aforementioned Aesop products. Whenever venturing to a new hotel, I can’t wait to see what line of bath products they carry. Turndown service did not disappoint. Slippers were nestled with care by the nightstand, with a robe cloaked over the bed with tiny pillow chocolates. 

The Palm Court Chicago
Enjoy an afternoon tea service at the iconic Drake Hotel. (Courtesy of OpenTable)

Gold Coast Neighborhood Offerings

Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood offers a blend of historic charm, luxe living, and unmatched shopping — miles and miles of it. Although the Magnificent Mile is quintessential Chicago, in this specific neighborhood, Oak Street is another must. The iconic street is lined with high-end boutiques and designer stores with the most renowned brands in the world. Talk about pure indulgence. I strolled the street but only window-shopped amidst the decadence.

One activity I’ve had on my bucket list for two decades is afternoon tea at The Drake. This iconic hotel, which opened in the roaring ’20s, has witnessed decades of Chicago’s history and hosted countless prominent guests, celebrities, public figures, and royalty alike.

Upon walking into the afternoon tea room, The Palm Court, the whimsical notes of a harpist beckoned me. The waiter was welcoming and kind, even allowing me to order a Diet Coke in addition to my Jasmine tea. This was my favorite tea experience I’ve ever had. A buzz of merriment rang throughout the room as the art of afternoon tea is truly a refined ritual. From tiered trays to little girls accompanied by their dolls, the entire experience was charming and a delight. 

The Gold Coast neighborhood is also near Lake Michigan and the beach. Perhaps its name gives it away. What I loved most about the Waldorf Astoria Chicago was the location. I turned in one direction and I was amidst nature with Lake Michigan tickling my toes. When I turned in another direction, I was wrapped up in a booming metropolis. It was an ideal offering of two very different experiences, all within minutes of one another.

Margeaux Brasserie
Brass Tack is a Gold Coast favorite for dining. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

Waldorf Astoria Chicago Dining

Brass Tack

The hotel’s traditional American brasserie seamlessly blends classic ambiance with a Chicago twist. I was eager to sample the happy hour menu which included house-made soft pretzels with pimento cheese. If pimento is on the menu in any form or fashion, I’m going to order it. The asparagus ravioli was a welcomed twist to the classic Italian dish, and the Steak Frites hit the spot after a long day of travel. The cocktail menu was inventive, with The Garrett 1949 catching my eye, as I’m such a nut for the popcorn. This particular libation included a bourbon infused with caramel popcorn, maple syrup, and a variety of bitters.

The menu at Brass Tack offers traditional American fare, inspired by local flavors. (photo by Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

Bernard’s

Waldorf Astoria Chicago’s lounge, Bernard’s, is the perfect spot to slip off to for a nightcap after dinner. The landmark cocktail bar was built upon precise cocktails with a historical, nostalgic nod. The spot recently underwent a hiatus, but is now resurrected and remains popular for visitors and locals alike. Make sure to ask about the curated locker experience, as they have 30 available. Locker holders work with the hotel’s Cocktail and Couture Manager to create and procure a library of exclusive rare spirits and wines to enjoy during each visit.

Bernard’s also offers lockers for the ultimate curated cocktail experience. (photo by Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

Other Chicago Hotspots

I always anticipate the meals I will eat when venturing to Chicago. Let’s be honest. The day centers around where I’ll be dining and what I’ll be consuming. The city is known for its diverse and iconic local cuisine. Of course, some of the famous local fare include deep-dish pizza, Chicago-style hot dogs, and Garrett’s popcorn.

One spot I unexpectedly popped into during this visit was a relatively new coffee shop in the Gold Coast neighborhood: Ralph’s Coffee. Ralph’s of Ralph Lauren, that is. The coffee shop concept is located in the brand’s iconic Chicago space and offers a luxurious and stylish experience. The coffee shops often feature a blend of classic and contemporary design elements, mirroring the Ralph Lauren brand’s commitment to timeless elegance. The latte was one of the best I’ve had in a long time. 

Waldorf Astoria Chicago
Amenities were plentiful at the Waldorf Astoria Spa. (Courtesy of Waldorf Astoria Chicago)

The Waldorf Astoria Chicago Spa Experience

Spa time is always the part of my trips I crave the most and feel the most delighted reminiscing. And Waldorf Astoria Spa delivered. As a wellness product junkie, I’m always eager to discover which products are offered and what amenities can be enjoyed. Balmain products poured from every corner of the spa. I left feeling as if I was dripping in a decadent splurge.

I selected the Signature Massage to drift off into an hour of bliss. My only regret is that I didn’t book a longer massage. But the amenities were also calling my name including the steam room and a spread of treats that made the afternoon retreat sweet.

Although the trip was hustle and bustle for the most part, a relaxing stop at the spa punctuated the trip and recharged me after a 48-hour city jaunt. 

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