A guide to renting in the Gold Coast, Near North and Old Town neighborhoods

The Gold Coast, Near North and Old Town neighborhoods have a decidedly more residential feel than other downtown Chicago neighborhoods, with great, pedestrian-scale vintage architecture side-by-side with the newer buildings and high-rises.

The location

The near north neighborhoods outlined in this Guide (Gold Coast, Near North, Old Town) are between one and two miles due north of the center of Chicago’s Loop.

Vintage car on Dearborn, Chicago, IL

Adjacent neighborhoods include Lincoln Park to the north, River North to the South, and Streeterville on the east.

Gold Coast

Astor Street Home, Chicago, IL. Joeff Davis photo

Lots of locations lay claim to the Gold Coast’s cachet, and many of the apartments that boast of being in the “heart of the Gold Coast” are nowhere near it.

If you’re a purist, you adopt the boundaries set by the Gold Coast Neighbors group. YoChicago’s boundaries for the Gold Coast are a bit more expansive, spanning the area from Oak St (1000 N) to North Ave (1600 N), and from Lake Shore Dr west to Clark St (100 W).

Old Town

Joeff Davis photo, Wells St, Old Town, Chicago, IL

The Old Town neighborhood is bounded by Division St (1200 N), North Ave (1600 N), Clark St (100 W), Clybourn Ave and Larrabee St (600 W). It’s often confused with the Old Town Triangle, a very different area north of North Ave in Lincoln Park.

Near North

Chicago’s official Near North Side Community Area is bounded by Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and North Ave (1600 N). Streeterville and River North, which we’ve covered in separate Guides, are part of the Near North Side, as are the Gold Coast and Old Town.

Kardas Photography, Washington Square Park, Chicago, IL

The Near North area, for purposes of this Guide, is the area east of the Chicago River and west of Michigan Ave (100 E), from Chicago Ave (800 N) to North Ave (1600 N) that is not included in the Gold Coast and Old Town areas.

Who lives here?

Nearly two-thirds of area residents are renters. Singles predominate, and it’s a slightly older, slightly less affluent, slightly more female crowd than you’ll find in most of Chicago’s downtown neighborhoods. Families with children are less than 5% of area households.

Kardas Photography, Washington Square Park, Chicago, IL

College students and the post-collegiate group typically shun the area.

Why people move here

Joeff Davis photo, Benetton shopper, Chicago, IL

The area has great shopping, dining, nightlife and bars. The shops along Michigan Avenue, Rush Street, Oak Street and State Street, and several full-service grocery stores, are within easy walking distance of most of the area.

Joeff Davis photo, Ralph Lauren restaurant, Chicago, IL

Access to Lake Michigan beaches is far better than from other downtown neighborhoods. Public transportation to the Loop is excellent, with CTA Red Line stops at Clark and Division and Chicago and State, and a continual stream of buses and cabs.

Washington Square landmark district, Chicago, IL

The area has a decidedly more residential feel than other downtown Chicago neighborhoods, with great, pedestrian-scale vintage architecture side-by-side with the newer buildings and high-rises.

Rents are typically lower here than in other downtown neighborhoods (River North, Streeterville, the Loop / New East Side, Near West and South Loop). In large part, however, that’s due to the quality of the housing stock (see below).

Why people don’t move here

The eastern part of the area’s high density, and the sometimes hectic bar and nightlife scene along Division Street and in the so-called Viagra Triangle are a deterrent for some.

Joeff Davis photo, Old Town, Zanies, Chicago, IL

Shops, restaurants, bars and nightlife venues typically cater to an older and more touristy crowd.

Parking is unavailable at most of the older buildings, and pricey when available. Expressway access is inconvenient.

Housing stock

The typical rental housing unit is a studio or one-bedroom in an older (1920s vintage) building. Joeff Davis photo, Oak Street beach, Chicago, IL A third of the area’s housing stock is in units with two or fewer rooms, and two-thirds of it has four or fewer rooms. Many of the older buildings offer only studio and one-bedroom apartments.

New apartments with all the latest amenities are in short supply. Family-sized rentals are extremely scarce, and pricey when available.

The older buildings typically have small kitchens or kitchenettes with limited cabinet and counter space, radiator heat and window (if any) air-conditioning. Common-area amenities tend to be limited, but may include a sundeck and a small fitness room. Bedrooms tend to be small, but 1-bedroom apartments may include a separate dining area.

Sandburg Village pool, Chicago, IL

Almost all of the new construction in the area within the past 20 years has been condominiums, and a number of the newer rental buildings converted to condo during that time span. The most recent rental tower in the area opened in 2000.

Joeff Davis Photo, Gold Coast yuppie puppies, Chicago, IL

Almost none of the rental buildings in the area feature private outdoor spaces in the form of balconies and terraces. In-unit washers / dryers, which are now common in new rental construction, are virtually non-existent in the area.

On the plus side, the area does have a good selection of condo units available for rent. Rents tend to be higher in the condo buildings, generally due to a higher level of services and amenities.

Joeff Davis photo, Topo Gigio, Chicago, IL

The area also has a larger selection of walk-up rentals than any of the other downtown neighborhoods.

What it costs to live here

Studio apartments can occasionally be found below $800, but typically start at $1,000, heat included, in the older buildings. One-bedrooms in the older buildings start at $1,250.

You should generally expect to pay at least $1,200 for a studio, $1,400 for a one-bedroom and $1,900 for a two-bedroom in one of the newer buildings.

Chicago Ave streetscape, Chicago, IL

You might also consider

River North and the South Loop are preferred by the younger crowd looking for newer, high-amenity rentals. A slightly older group opts for Streeterville, the Loop / New East Side, and the Near West neighborhoods.

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