Here's What its Like to Live in Chicago
Chicago's vibrant metropolitan atmosphere, buzzing arts scene, and diverse economic and cultural climates make this Illinois city a popular choice for many Americans. As the state's most populous city and the third most populous city in the nation, it is a dynamic place to call home. Discover more about what it's like to live, work, and play in Chicago.
Chicago is nestled on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois. It is roughly 90 miles south of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and 200 miles northeast of Springfield, the state capital of Illinois.
The city of Chicago is made up of many small neighborhoods. Residents are fiercely loyal to their communities, so expect your neighborhood to define you once you move in.
Chicago's bustling downtown has big corporate offices, arts precincts, parks, and other business and leisure attractions. The Loop, Near North, Near South, and Near West are key neighborhoods in the downtown area.
North Side is a collection of high-end neighborhoods that are near theaters, bars, and nightclubs. Lakeview, Boystown, Lincoln Park, and Old Town are all found on the North Side.
South Side has large African-American and Asian populations. In this part of the city, you'll find superb soul food restaurants, the University of Chicago, Hyde Park, and the Barack Obama Presidential Center. Hyde Park, Bronzeville, Bridgeport-Chinatown, and Chatham-South Shore are neighborhoods in the South Side.
West Side has a diverse ethnic population and a hip bohemian atmosphere. It's known for its counterculture ethos, dive bars, and conservatory. Wicker Park, Logan Square, Near West Side, and Pilsen are popular West Side suburbs.
Far North Side
Far North Side is a very cool Chicago area with laid-back locals and miles of pristine beaches. You'll find Uptown, Lincoln Square, and Rogers Park in the Far North Side.
Far West Side
Far West Side is a long way from Chicago's tourist track, but this is why locals love it. Though you may face a lengthy commute, you'll appreciate its blues clubs, lush parks, and superb restaurants. Little Village, Garfield Park, Humboldt Park, and Austin are in the Far West Side.
The Southwest Side used to be home to Chicago's meatpacking district. Now, many Polish and Mexican immigrants live here. Back of the Yards, Marquette Park, and Midway are all in Chicago's Southwest.
Far Northwest Side
The historic homes of the Far Northwest Side are very appealing to architecture buffs. Residents in this area live near O'Hare International Airport and several theaters. You'll find Avondale, Irving Park, Portage Park, and Jefferson Park in the Far Northwest Side.
Far Southeast Side
The homes in the Far Southeast Side, especially the rowhouses of Pullman, are also historically appealing. In addition to this popular heritage area, the Far Southeast Side is home to East Side, South Chicago, and Hegewisch.
Far Southwest Side
The Far Southwest Side may be one of Chicago's prettiest areas. It is popular among families who are looking for a friendly suburban place to call home. Beverly and Mount Greenwood are two of the most popular neighborhoods in the Far Southwest Side.
Living in Chicago
With an average age of 35 years old, Chicago's population is younger than the populations of most American cities. Its residents like to work hard and play hard. Their strong work ethic helped Chicago thrive when other manufacturing cities such as Detroit and Cleveland faltered. When the manufacturing industry experienced a downturn, Chicago refocused on culture and finance to boost its economy.
Chicago's downtown area is vibrant and exciting. However, unlike many cities, it's not the only place to enjoy your free time. Many locals enjoy staying close to home and taking advantage of the great restaurants and attractions in their own neighborhoods. The city's robust public transit system makes it easy to have fun anywhere in Chicago.
Expect to start rooting for the home teams after moving to Chicago. The city is so passionate about its sports, it has been named the country's "Best Sports City" by Sporting News three times. The city invented softball and is represented in every major sports competition. Chicago has recently enjoyed the successes of the Chicago Blackhawks and the Chicago Cubs, who shook off the Curse of the Billy Goat to break their 108-year title drought in 2016. But no one's forgotten the way Michael Jordan helped the Chicago Bulls dominate the NBA in the 1990s.
Working in Chicago
Chicago has one of the country's most diverse economies. While its unemployment level is a little higher than the national average, the local job market is expected to grow by 36 percent over the next decade. These are some of Chicago's key industries.
Chicago is one of the world's key finance centers. It's home to leading financial and futures exchanges, including the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and the Chicago Board Options Exchange. The commercial and retail headquarters of Chase Bank is also located in Chicago, as well as the headquarters for Northern Trust, PrivateBancorp, and Corus Bancshares.
In addition to traditional finance, Chicago is a pioneering fintech area. Local startups combining finance and technology attracted $450 million in investments from venture capitalists in 2016, surpassing more established sectors such as health technology and business services.
Science and Engineering
Chicago has the nation's third-largest science and engineering sector. Technology is the nation's fastest-growing industry. Biotechnology is especially strong, attracting $65 million in venture capital in 2016 and producing 1,423 new jobs between 2015 and 2016. Local research facilities such as Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago are key players in biotechnology.
Renewable energy is another one of the city's focuses. Chicago has 23 wind energy companies, more than any other city in the country. The city is also a leader in biofuel research and ethanol production.
The number of IT workers in Chicago increased by 3,538 between 2015 and 2016, and innovation in this sector is expected to continue; the local entrepreneurial hub 1871 was recently rated the best in the nation for digital startups. This vital resource has nurtured many new companies and generated hundreds of IT jobs in Chicago.
Chicago was built on the strength of its manufacturing industry. While it's not nearly as dominant as it used to be, manufacturing is still a vital part of the local economy, employing nearly a half million residents. Chicago's central location and reliable and efficient transport system have attracted companies such as Atlantic Packaging, Bombardier, Whirlpool Corporation, and Wrigley. Local incubators such as DMDII and mHUB help Chicago-based manufacturers experiment with new ideas. Food, metal, and plastics are among the many products made in Chicago.
Chicago's central location is also good for its freight industry. Freight companies enjoy easy access to local rail lines, major roads, and two international airports: O'Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. Freight is a vital industry in Chicago; many other sectors, such as manufacturing and retail, rely on its services. Local freight companies such as Tax Air Freight and Old Dominion Freight Lines have expanded their distribution and warehouse space in recent years to meet increased demand.
Education in Chicago
Parents appreciate the diverse range of educational opportunities that Chicago's public schools offer. The public school district is the third largest in the nation, comprising more than 600 elementary and high schools. The city's 11 selective enrollment high schools offer honors and Advanced Placement courses that challenge the city's brightest minds. Chicago High School for the Arts, also a public school, educates children who have aptitudes for visual arts, music, dance, and theater. The city's leading public schools include:
- Jones College Prep.
- Lane Technical College Prep High School.
- Northside College Preparatory High School.
- Walter Payton College Prep High School.
- White M. Young Magnet High School.
Chicago also has a Lutheran school network and several secular and religious private schools.
Students who are seeking advanced education can choose from several top-tier universities in the city or its surroundings. Some of the most highly regarded local universities include:
- University of Chicago.
- University of Illinois at Chicago.
- Columbia College Chicago.
- DePaul University.
- Loyola University Chicago.
- Northwestern University.
- Illinois Institute of Technology.
Chicago also has several community colleges, including seven City Colleges of Chicago, as well as many graduate schools, post-baccalaureate institutions, seminaries, and theological schools.
Chicago experiences four distinct seasons, so prepare to experience all kinds of weather. Summer days are warm and humid. The average temperatures in July are usually in the mid-80s, but they can easily reach the 100s during heat waves. When the temperature soars, head to Lake Michigan, where it's usually several degrees cooler.
The temperature drops significantly during the winter, and highs are typically in the mid-30s. Snow usually falls during January and February. However, the city doesn't get as much snow as the East Coast. Invest in some warm outerwear because the temperature frequently drops below freezing overnight.
Chicago's nickname, "the Windy City," actually refers to its political climate, but it could just as easily describe its weather. Rainy days frequently bring gusts, so invest in a vented umbrella. Otherwise, your umbrella could join the other mangled umbrellas that can be seen in trash cans throughout the city. Thunderstorms are most common in the spring. Chicago occasionally experiences tornadoes during the spring and early summer.
How to Get Around Chicago
Chicago's clever design makes it easy to navigate the city. The block numbers are consistent, and each block is usually an eighth of a mile. The numbering of a street is based on how far it is from the intersection of Madison and State Streets. Streets with W or E run from north to south; they're either west or east of State Street. Streets with N or S run east to west; they're either north or south of Madison Street.
Look for numbers written under the street names on the signs at intersections. There are major roads every mile and secondary arteries at every half-mile.
These are some of the best ways to get around Chicago.
Chicago is a very pedestrian-friendly city. Stroll down the wide sidewalks and admire the architecture and parks. During the winter, use the Chicago Pedway System. This is a series of underground, aboveground, and ground-level passages that connect downtown buildings and shield you from the elements.
Chicago has many bike lanes and routes that were designed to keep cyclists safe. The bicycling layer on Google Maps can help you find them and plan the best route for your commute or leisure cycle. The Lakefront Trail is one of the city's most popular bike paths. Cars aren't allowed here, but the trail often gets crowded during the weekends with runners, skaters, pedestrians, and even people on hoverboards.
If you don't own a bike, take advantage of the city's Divvy bike share kiosks. These offer a low fixed rate that applies to trips 30 minutes or less. If you ride for longer, you'll pay a surcharge. At the end of your journey, look for the green light that shows that your bike is properly docked to make sure you're not charged extra. If you think the 30-minute limit is too restrictive, you can try one of Chicago's many bike rental businesses.
Chicago's heavy traffic and multi-layer streets make driving in the city unpleasant, especially in the congested downtown area. Since parking is very expensive in the city and limited outside the downtown area, many locals leave their cars at home.
However, if you want to drive, you'll appreciate Chicago's grid system. Make sure to use Bluetooth or another hands-free system for phone calls because the police will fine motorists who use cell phones while driving.
Don't get too smug if you spot a parking space. Check the street signs to make sure that parking is permitted without a residential permit at that time. Local officers won't hesitate to fine you and tow your vehicle. Get a parking slip for on-street parking from a local kiosk. There's one on every block, but you'll need quarters or a credit card to redeem your slip. Once you do, display it in your front window to show that you've paid.
Taxis and Ride Share
Since driving a vehicle in the city can be stressful, many residents use taxis and ride share services instead. Chicago's cabs are some of the most affordable in the nation's major metro areas. To remain competitive, ride share prices are similarly low.
You'll find most of the city's ride share services and taxis in downtown Chicago and the North Side. Since there are fewer cabs beyond these areas, it's usually easier to call a taxi company than trying to hail one on the street. It usually takes taxis and ride shares between 10 and 15 minutes to reach Chicago's suburbs.
CTA Trains and Buses
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates all trains and buses in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. You'll need a Ventra card, which you can get online or from a CTA station kiosk. If you register your card online, you'll get its cost refunded as a travel credit. You can add credit to your card online or in person at a CTA station kiosk. If you are expecting to do a lot of traveling, purchasing an unlimited pass may be the most economical option. These passes let you ride as often as you want on any CTA transport for a set duration.
Chicago's train system is known as the "L" because most of the lines are on elevated tracks. Train lines start at The Loop and go to every corner of Chicago. Each line is color-coded; the red and blue lines, which are the most popular, operate 24/7. The L trains have fixed prices. At many stations, you can get off and transfer to a different train line for no extra charge. In other cases, the cost of the extra leg is greatly reduced.
Buses travel most of Chicago's primary streets. You'll rarely wait longer than 15 minutes during peak time and 20 minutes in the evenings. OWL services, which run 24/7, arrive every 30 minutes late at night and early in the morning. Like train fares, CTA bus fares are fixed. The blue and white bus stop signs show which routes the buses are taking. If you're still familiarizing yourself with the city, keep an eye on the red LED display at the front of the bus. This displays the names of streets as the bus passes them to help passengers know when they're approaching their stop.
The Metra trains travel from Chicago to Illinois' suburbs, Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the South Shore railroad. These trains are fast and clean, but they can get crowded during peak times. Services become infrequent outside peak hours, so you should familiarize yourself with the schedule. You can buy your ticket from the ticket window or the machine at the Metra station. You can also buy tickets on the train, but these are more expensive. Ten-ride, weekend, weekly, and monthly passes are often more economical than single-ride tickets for regular travelers.
In most cases, Pace buses travel around the suburbs. However, certain services visit some locations in the city, including Rogers Park at the Howard CTA station and the Far Northwest Side at the Jefferson Park CTA station. Pace buses' paratransit services are a convenient way for people with disabilities to get to Chicago's suburbs.
Chicago Water Taxi and Shoreline Sightseeing operate water taxis in the city. These vessels are a convenient and scenic way to get around the outskirts of Chicago's downtown area. They run frequently during the summer and on a more limited timetable during the spring and fall.
Chicago Water Taxi stops at Michigan Avenue, LaSalle/Clark, and Madison Street during the week and Chinatown during the weekends.
Shoreline Sightseeing's blue water taxis are a little more expensive; however, since they make seven stops, they're often more convenient. These water taxis stop at the following locations:
- Union Station/Sears Tower.
- Wells & Wacker.
- Michigan Avenue Bridge.
- The Navy Pier-Ogden Slip.
- The Navy Pier-Dock Street.
- Buckingham Fountain.
- Museum Campus.
Chicago's Food Scene
Chicago has one of the United States' most exciting and diverse food scenes, offering everything from satisfying cheap eats to creative upscale dining.
Many of the country's leading chefs live in Chicago. Taste Stephanie Izard's culinary creations at Girl and the Goat, then enjoy the flavors of Mexico at Rick Bayless' acclaimed Frontera Grill and Topolobampo. Art Smith, Oprah Winfrey's former personal chef, sits at the helm of Blue Door Kitchen. Grant Achatz presides over Alinea, an innovative restaurant that is regularly voted as one of the best in the country.
Chicago does comfort food well. It's famous for its deep-dish pizzas. Others may try to replicate them, but Chicagoans know that no one can make deep-dish pizza like Giordano's Pizza, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, and Gino's East.
Chicago Dogs are Chicago's own style of hot dog: a tasty wiener served on a poppyseed bun and enhanced with yellow mustard, pickle relish, white onions, tomato wedges, a dill pickle spear, hot peppers, and just a sprinkle of celery salt. Don't even think about asking for ketchup! Make your own at a Cubs game or let the pros handle it at Superdawg or The Wiener's Circle.
With its diverse ethnic population, Chicago is a culinary melting pot. Take a stroll around the city and you'll find Mediterranean in Greektown, excellent Asian fare in Chinatown, hearty pastas in Little Italy, and vibrant Mexican meals at Pilsen. Chicago is also home to excellent Polish, Japanese, French, and Middle Eastern restaurants. Why travel when there are so many delicious exotic flavors at your doorstep?
Best Things to Do in Chicago
With the city's wealth of experiences, leisure time is never boring in Chicago.
Play Tourist at the Most Popular Attractions
Chicago's attractions are tourist magnets, but why should visitors have all the fun? Make sure you go out and play tourist in your new city. Check out these popular tourist attractions:
- Willis Tower: The Western Hemisphere's tallest building. Its Skydeck, which is on the 107th floor, provides an exhilarating way to see the city.
- Navy Pier: An all-seasons fun fair with a carousel, funhouse maze, and 200-foot Centennial Wheel.
- The Chicago Theater: A historic French Baroque theater that hosts performances by some of the world's best musicians and comedians.
- Auditorium Theater: A historic theater, home to the acclaimed Joffrey Ballet.
- Shedd Aquarium: Home to more than 32,000 sea creatures, including penguins, otters, dolphins, and fish from around the world.
Spend Time Outdoors
With nearly 600 parks, dozens of gardens, and 26 free public beaches that balance out the urban jungle, Chicago is a playground for nature lovers.
Chicago's Park District is the oldest and most expansive in the country, comprising more than 8,000 acres of green space. In the parks, residents play sports, jog, picnic, and reconnect with nature. During the summer, Chicago's parks often host festivals, concerts, and movie screenings. Some of the best Chicago parks include:
- Grant Park: Home to the Art Institute of Chicago, Buckingham Fountain, and some of the city's best outdoor festivals.
- Millennium Park: Hosts films, music performances, and public art installations, including Cloud Gate, during the summer.
- Maggie Daley Park: A favorite among children for its 3-acre Play Garden.
- Lincoln Park: A nature lover's paradise, home to a conservatory and a zoo.
Chicago's beaches don't have waves, but they're the perfect place to catch some sun on warm days. Families love visiting North Avenue Beach, Oak Street Beach, and 12th Street Beach during the summer.
Browse the Museums
Chicago's museums celebrate the city's history and cultural spirit. Some of the best museums include:
- The Art Institute of Chicago: Home to one of the world's largest collections of late 19th-century art from France.
- The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: A gallery featuring vibrant modern artwork.
- The Museum of Science & Industry: The Western Hemisphere's biggest science museum.
- Field Museum of Natural History: A must-see for dinosaur lovers.
Most local museums offer free admission on certain days for residents. Check out their websites before you go to take advantage of these great deals.
Go on a Shopping Spree
Chicago's shopping districts cater to all tastes and budgets. The city's definitive shopping destination is the Magnificent Mile, a retail strip that boasts popular department stores and several malls that sell luxury brands.
If you want designer labels without the high price tags, travel to one of the many outlet malls. The most convenient is the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, 15 miles northwest of downtown. Simply catch the blue L train to Rosemont and shop among the 130 luxury stores selling their goods for a fraction of retail prices. Chicago Premium Outlets in Aurora, Gurnee Mills in Gurnee, and Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets in Pleasant Prairie are also close enough for day trips.
Chicago's Best Annual Events
Chicago's jam-packed event calendar means that there's always something going on. While most local events occur during the warmer months, there are several exciting festivals during the winter.
- Chicago Cubs Convention: A three-day event that has autograph sessions with the players and panel discussions.
- SoxFest Chicago: Former and current players sign autographs and answer questions during fan sessions.
- Chinese New Year: Chicago celebrates the Chinese New Year with the Argyle Street Luna New Year Parade and the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade.
- Chicago Theater Week: Local theaters stage more than 100 productions during the 10-day festival.
- Chicago Auto Show: North America's oldest and largest car show.
- St. Patrick's Day: On March 17, events are held throughout the city, including parades and the dyeing of the Chicago River.
- Chicagoland Flower & Garden Show: Showcases Chicago's gardening talents and seeks to inspire the next generation.
- Good Food Festival: The Midwest's largest festival celebrating sustainable local produce.
- WhiskyFest Chicago: Gives whisky lovers the chance to try whiskies from around the world.
- Chicago Chef Week: A celebration of Chicago's culinary excellence.
- Chicago Latino Film Festival: A celebration of films that promote Latino culture.
- Chicago Kids & Kites Festival: A family-friendly event at Montrose Harbor.
- Maifest: German celebrations at Lincoln Square.
- Memorial Day: Features a wreath-laying ceremony and parade.
- Chicago Blues Fest: The world's largest free blues festival.
- Chicago Gospel Music Festival: The world's largest free gospel music event.
- Pivot Arts Festival: A contemporary celebration of dance, music, and theater.
- Taste of Chicago: The world's largest food festival.
- Fourth of July: Involves celebrations across the city, including fireworks at Navy Pier.
- Chosen Few Picnic & Music Festival: A house music event on the South Side.
- Pitchfork Music Festival: A taste-making magazine curates this event, which showcases the hottest up-and-coming musical talents.
- Lollapalooza: A world-famous music event that showcases leading performers from every genre.
- Ravinia Festival: The country's oldest outdoor music festival.
- Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic: An event that recognizes African-American history and culture.
- Chicago Jazz Fest: Held every Labor Day weekend, this event showcases jazz performers from Chicago and around the world.
- African Festival of the Arts: Sample African food, music, and art at Washington Park.
- Riot Fest: An alternative music festival at Douglas Park.
- Chicago Marathon: A race that attracts runners from around the world.
- Columbus Day: A parade runs through downtown Chicago.
- Chicago International Film Festival: The city's largest cinematic event.
- Thanksgiving Day Parade: This event rivals New York's celebrations.
- Magnificent Mile Lights Festival: A day-long event that features a tree-lighting parade and fireworks.
- Christkindlmarket: Inspired by Germany's Christmas markets, Chicago's largest open-air market is open daily throughout December until Christmas Eve.
- Winter WonderFest: This winter carnival offers fun activities such as ice skating and tobogganing to Navy Pier.
Final Thoughts: Moving to Chicago
Chicago has all the excitement of a large city and the friendly charm associated with the Midwest. Though it can take some time to get used to the weather, and though the cost of living is high, the city's wide variety of jobs and vibrant attractions more than compensate for these shortcomings. Whether you're relocating for employment or simply for a change of pace, Allied Van Lines will help you start your new life in Chicago.