From Skydeck Chicago’s awe-inspiring views across four states to the trendy cocktail bars and restaurants energizing the rooftops above the Magnificent Mile, it’s clear Chicago loves to live vertically. But it’s not a place with its head in the clouds; the city is known for its serious commitment to green living. In fact, Business Facilities magazine has named Chicago the greenest city in America more than once. With over 500 green rooftops and 13 rooftop farms, Chicago’s sustainability efforts are a boon to many local chefs, who cultivate and then harvest the produce for their restaurants. Located in the heart of downtown, the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago is the perfect home base for exploring the city’s most impressive rooftop gardens and the restaurants that take full advantage of this hyper-local “rooftop-to-fork” dining scene.
Top garden picks
Chicago’s most famous rooftop garden is located atop the 11-story City Hall building, which overlooks the Loop and is just a 15-minute walk from the Radisson Blu hotel. The verdant rooftop features 20,000 plants representing more than 150 species, along with beehives that produce about 200 pounds of honey each year. Although the garden is not open to the public, you can easily view it from one of the taller buildings in the area.
Just five miles from City Hall, you’ll find the McCormick Place convention center’s 20,000-square-foot rooftop garden, the largest of its kind in the Midwest. The garden’s seasonal harvests generate more than 8,000 pounds of organic produce—including kale, peppers, tomatoes and various herbs—which is used to prepare “Windy City Harvest” dishes in the center’s on-site restaurant, 23rd Street Café & Market.
If you want to check out Chicago’s green roofs without the vertiginous views, head to Millennium Park, just a five-minute stroll from the Radisson Blu Aqua. Spreading across the top of the Millennium Garages, the park happens to be the largest green roof in the world. Catch a concert at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion or wander through the four-season Lurie Garden, which bursts with colorful coneflowers in the summer.
After exploring Millennium Park, head over to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, just four miles away in Lincoln Park. The museum not only provides a great opportunity to get close to nature—the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven is particularly renowned—but it’s also home to one of the city’s finest rooftop gardens. The center offers tours of its green roof, the showcase for an expansive collection of savannah and meadow plants. As an added bonus, a walk along the rooftop rewards you with an epic view of the Windy City skyline.
Once you’ve visited some of Chicago’s rooftop gardens, sample their bounty at local restaurants like Homestead on the Roof. This farm-to-table favorite offers a modern New American menu of handcrafted cocktails, small-batch wines and seasonal dishes crafted with on-site ingredients. The restaurant’s 80-seat rooftop terrace is tucked away above Roots pizzeria in Ukrainian Village and looks onto an organic garden flush with fruits, vegetables and herbs. It’s been named one of the best alfresco restaurants in the country, and when you’re enjoying Egyptian-spiced mussels or cauliflower steak amid the fragrant gardens, it’s easy to see why. If you’re visiting in winter, grab a spot in the rustic-chic dining room with a living birch wall.
Uncommon Ground, with locations in both the historic Edgewater neighborhood and the Wrigleyville area, is a local favorite that features the first certified-organic rooftop farm in the U.S. Considered one of the greenest restaurants in the world, Uncommon Ground serves a fantastic selection of house-infused cocktails, beers from an on-site organic brewery, and New American dishes that incorporate fresh ingredients from the garden. Stop by in the morning for blueberry pancakes and ancho-pepper Bloody Marys, or in the evening for Baja fish tacos paired with mixed-berry mojitos and eclectic live music from some of the region’s best up-and-coming artists.
If you’re looking for an unforgettable customized dining experience, head to Arbor in Logan Square. The restaurant’s rooftop farm produces more than 60 varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs, which chef Leonard Hollander incorporates into seriously creative cuisine. The Midwestern omakase tasting menu is tailored to your preferences and might include dishes like wild-caught hamachi (yellowtail) with black lentils, kale and black currant-rhubarb chow chow.
Top image: © iStock.com/Jani Bryson