Updated 6/20/2017 from an article originally published 10/16/2015.
From towering skyscrapers to the rich cultural landscape, it’s easy to fall in love with every aspect of the Windy City — even the wind — but relocating from your current home to the concrete jungle of Chicago requires more than just a trip down the expressway.
Whether you’re moving to Chicago with your family or venturing to a new city for a job, here’s some basic knowledge to nail you down so you don’t walk into the Windy City completely unprepared.
1. Your neighborhood in Chicago will actually define you.
The backbone of Chicago is in its 77 well-defined neighborhoods — each with their own mix of attractions, culture, history and personality. From Lincoln Square to Hyde Park, residents settle in and stay loyal to their own areas.
- North: Chicago’s North Side neighborhoods offer an eclectic atmosphere — from catching a Cubs game in Wrigleyville to boutique shopping in Bucktown and live jazz in Uptown, you’ll always have something to do.
- West: The West Side offers a truly authentic cultural experience. Dine at ethnic restaurants, enjoy the Mexican flavor of Little Village and take in the stunning murals, monuments and churches within the area.
- Downtown: Downtown Chicago has all of your top attractions: The “Bean” at Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Historic Theatre District as well as art galleries, cocktail lounges and shopping on Michigan Avenue.
- South: Chicago’s South Side boasts an array of cultural and social offerings. From monuments in Bronzeville to the Museum Campus in South Loop to Chinatown’s authentic cultural cuisine, diversity runs deep.
New resident tip: Chicago has a street numbering system which has evolved into one of the world’s simplest street patterns. Here’s what you need to know.
In Chicago, there are eight standard city blocks per mile, with 100 address numbers on each block. That equals out to be 800 numbers per mile. As a tip, it’s helpful to know that the center of the city’s street grid is Madison Street (0 north and south) and State Street (0 east and west). The major streets a mile apart have address numbers in multiples of 800. As long as you have this in mind, you’ll always know how far you are from the center of town.
2. Renting and home buying when you’re moving to Chicago is easier than you think.
Whether you’re looking for a single, temporary apartment or moving your family into a new home, now is a good time to rent and buy.
“Compared to the East Coast and the West Coast, Chicago’s housing market is probably the best bargain in North America,” says Geoffrey J.D. Hewings, director of University of Illinois’ Real Economics Applications Laboratory.
When it comes to entry-level housing, Chicago offers the second-largest supply of starter homes. Zillow analyzed America’s 50 most populous metro areas to see which offer first-time buyers the best combination of affordability, a good supply of entry-level homes and rising median incomes.
The median home value in Chicago is $222,000 and the median price of homes is currently $295,000. Plan on renting in Chicago? The median price for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,970—much less than cities like Los Angeles ($3,500) and New York ($3,280).
“If your goal is to slow down, buy a home and stay there for a while, this is a metro area where places are still affordable,” says Zillow economist Skylar Olsen. “Chicago offers first-time home buyers great inventory and good income growth and is still very affordable.”
3. Your transportation will probably consist of anything but a personal vehicle.
Chicago is a challenging city for work commuters with some aggravatingly long rush hours (6:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.), but there’s good news: the Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, will take you around every corner of the city. You have plenty of options to get you where you need to be:
- Take the L. The CTA offers a convenient system of buses and elevated trains known as the “L.” Trains are $2.25 per ride and buses are $2.00. For complete convenience, use the Ventra card: simply tap the card on the turnstile at the entrance to the trains and the fare will be taken from your account.
- Choose the Pedway. The downtown pedestrian walkway system, or Pedway, is a system of underground tunnels and overhead bridges that links more than 40 blocks in the Central Business District. It’s a safe, quick and convenient way to travel downtown (especially in the winter) and is used by thousands of pedestrians each day.
- Opt to bike. Biking around town offers more flexibility (and definitely beats walking). Biking has become so popular in Chicago that a new bike-sharing company, Divvy, launched rental stations throughout the city.
- Call a cab. Chicago taxis are plentiful and accept credit and debit cards. In poor weather, try downloading Hailo or Uber to have a cab pick you up with the simple touch of a screen!
- Share a ride. Smartphone apps like UberX and Lyft hook you up with citizen drivers who pick you up and drive you to your destination for a fraction of a taxi cost. Note: availability can be limited.
4. If you plan on bringing a car, be ready to call “dibs.”
If you’re planning on moving to Chicago, owning a car is mostly unnecessary for navigating your everyday life. If you happen to bring one, be prepared for No Parking signs, tow zones, and impossible parallel parking missions. Not only is parking fairly expensive in the city, but you may also need a parking permit depending on where you live.
Since the city is blessed with nearly 40 inches of snow each year, Chicagoans depend on street parking in neighborhoods where driveway space is limited. If you shovel a public parking space, you’re entitled to that space — as long as you properly mark it. For those of you moving to Chicago, this means exactly what it sounds like.
“Herein lies the controversy of ‘parking dibs,’” notes Sara Boboltz, associate editor of the Huffington Post. “Some feel the inconvenience of clearing a spot on the curb grants them a license to call dibs, holding the space open with chairs and assorted debris while they’re not using it. Others feel this is downright selfish, but the polarized debate is a fun, yearly tradition.”
5. Chicago weather will heavily influence your wardrobe, commute and life.
There’s nothing like the bone-chilling cold after it whips off a nearby lake and bounces off a few skyscrapers. It gets cold in Chicago — very, very cold. Here are a few ways to prepare for those harsh, subzero winters:
Dress appropriately. A heavy coat and winter hat won’t be enough to prepare you for the lake effect snow (or the -10 degree windchill). Make sure you have several layers of clothing and waterproof boots. Roads and sidewalks get slick and icy during Chicago winters, so always beware of the sneaky black ice.
Always have the emergency essentials on hand. If you have a vehicle, make sure you’re always prepared. Keep jumper cables, a snow brush, shovels and extra boots on hand at all times. Don’t forget your umbrella with wind vents, which will be necessary more often than not.
Don’t be a newbie. If you’re moving to Chicago, you’ll have to adapt to winters fast. Most weather complainers have recently moved to Chicago in the last few years, and Chicago natives are sick of the far-too-familiar monolog. Be prepared for the cold and embrace it!
Read Also: How to Survive Winter in Chicago
6. …But winter isn’t the only season Chicago is known for.
Chicago may be known for its frigid winters and concrete jungle structure, but its beaches are one of the most popular places to hang with your friends and family. While many out-of-towners probably don’t think of Chicago as a prime beach destination, the city offers 26 miles of sand along Lake Michigan and an impressive summer beach scene. Here are some must-see beaches in Chicago:
31st Street Beach. Free of charge, you can’t compete with the beach’s painted trees to climb, a sprayground, and climbing spider-web rope structures for the kids. Grab some food from Pier 31 and listen to live music every evening.
Montrose Beach. For every dog mom out there, Montrose Beach is one of the only beaches in the city to offer a designated dog-friendly zone. Elsewhere along the shore offers volleyball nets, kayaks, and cabana rentals.
North Avenue Beach. Just a short walk from Lincoln Park and home to the popular restaurant and bar Castaways, this beach offers volleyball courts, impressive views of the skyline and great seating areas for Chicago’s Air and Water Show.
7. You’ll need to get out and meet new people, and it’s extremely easy.
Whether you’re looking for a new pair of boots, an authentic dinner with the family or a quick excuse for a night out, your options are cut out for you when you’re moving to Chicago.
For the foodies:
If you’re moving to the food-centric Windy City, you’ll soon grow accustomed to the three signature staples: the hot beef sandwich, the deep-dish pizza and the Chicago-style hot dog. Prepare for beloved beef sandwiches at Al’s Beef, the best deep-dish you’ve ever had at Pequod’s and a traditional dog served at Hot Doug’s. And remember: in Chicago, ketchup on your hot dog is considered a sin.
For the shoppers:
The Second City has serious style and is arguably a first-rate shopping destination. Michigan Avenue features a mile-long stretch of tucked away boutiques, restaurants and high-rise malls. For the ultimate “Magnificent Mile” shopping experience, begin at one end of North Michigan Avenue and try to make your way to the other.
Looking for something different? Here are a few other shopping destinations you’ll want to check out in Chicago:
Wrigleyville. For the best sports shopping in the city, head to Wrigleyville—where you can find a Cubs jersey, a Blackhawks hat or Bulls and Bears gear.
Oak Street. When it comes to shopping in Chicago, Oak Street has long been a symbol of designer-label shopping. Enjoy high-end shops and local boutiques located in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast. But you may have to keep your eyes peeled–many of the shops are quaintly tucked away into converted townhouses.
State Street. State Street was Chicago’s first-ever shopping district. While Michigan Avenue is now the most populated area, State Street is still well worth the visit. You’ll find discount stores, hot lunch destinations and Macy’s at State Street–a city landmark and one of the largest department stores in the world. It even features the largest Tiffany’s glass mosaic dome in the U.S.
For the family:
If you’re looking for things to do with your family in Chicago, you don’t have to look far. Here are some adventures to add to your list:
Navy Pier. Known as the most popular attraction in Cleveland, the 3,300-foot long pier offers a 50-acre playground, 150-foot Ferris wheel and excellent views of the city right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. The Pier was established to oversee redevelopment of one of the most civic landmarks in the U.S. and is now one of the top-visited destinations of the world.
Millennium Park. Construction of Millennium Park began less than 20 years ago, but it’s already becoming a huge part of the Chicago experience. Today, the 25-acre park contains some of the greatest public art pieces in the world in addition to the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Cloud Gate, Crown Fountain and Lurie Garden.
Willis Tower. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, the 110-story building is the second tallest building in the U.S. While it’s one of Chicago’s most popular tourist destinations, you’ll want to check this one out. The Skydeck offers spectacular views at 1,353 in the air!
Looking to meet new people or make connections? Meetup groups offer something for everyone in Chicago — whether you’re a dog lover, political junkie, student athlete or more. With hundreds of groups in the city, it’s likely that your crew is waiting for you to meet them.
8. Chicago has some pretty weird-but-wonderful traditions.
If you’re moving to Chicago, you should keep the important traditions in mind.
St. Patrick’s Day
Every year on St. Patrick’s Day, 400,000 spectators crowd the banks of the Chicago River to “ooh” and “aah” over its emerald green color. The dyeing of the Chicago River dates to 1962, when Mayor Richard J. Daley and Stephen M. Bailey, a childhood friend and then St. Patrick’s Day parade chairman, started the tradition. The event has become a huge attraction for both tourists and Chicago natives.
Chicago’s Musical History
In Chicago, music and dance are a long-lasting tradition.
“Chicago has this huge, rich musical history which, yes, blues, but also stepping, house music, which was born here in the 80’s, and now juking music is popular with young South Side Chicagoans, and that’s made its way across the globe as well,” says Chicago Tribune writer and lifelong resident Brittany Julious.
Chicago has the most dance music festivals in the entire country, due to its house music origin many decades ago, including the largest outdoor dancing series in the U.S., the nation’s premier free outdoor food festival, and the largest free blues festival in the world. Be sure to check out some of the upcoming events for this year.
9. You should learn to love your sports.
From the major sporting franchises to its die-hard fans, Chicago loves its sports teams. It’s in your best interest to become a loyal and passionate fan (or at least pretend to be), rooting for one of Chicago’s many professional teams.
Chicago Cubs vs. Chicago White Sox. So what if the Cubs haven’t won the World Series in over 100 years? They’re one of the most beloved teams in the country and fans can’t wait for opening day at Wrigley. Beware of “The Crosstown Classic” — an affiliation split between the north and south side of Chicago.
Chicago Bears. It’s also been a while since da Bears went to the Super Bowl, but Chicago fans love showing their football fandom at Soldier Field (and keeping the spirit of former head coach Mike Ditka, now a national TV personality, local legend and successful restauranteur, alive).
Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks have dominated the Chicago sports scene over the last few years, winning three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons. And to think, it wasn’t that long ago when their home games weren’t even on television!
Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan. Need we say more? Today, Derrick Rose is the hometown hero for Chicago’s NBA fans…when he’s healthy.
No matter which team you’re rooting for, sports teams are a fun and competitive event for the whole family!
Are you ready to make your move?
Whether you’re moving for business, relocating with your family or looking for an adventure in a brand new city, it’s easy to fall in love with Chicago. Submerse in the culture, explore the diversity and figure out your favorite authentic Chicago spots in no time.
No matter where you’re moving from, chances are you could use some help storing your bigger, bulkier items. Life Storage offers self-storage options for anything you may not have room for in your home. An added bonus: receive a free truck rental with any storage unit.