Chicago is the largest populated city in the Midwest, and 3rd largest in the United States. Lovingly referred to as The Windy City, Chicago is home to more than 26 miles of lakefronts, 15 miles of bathing beaches, and 19 miles of lakefront bicycle paths. Chicago has more than 400 theaters and museums, historical sites and noteworthy institutions; making it a culturally and artistically diverse place to live.
Top Neighborhoods for Recent Graduates
Lincoln Park is located between Old Town and Lakeview neighborhoods along the lake. The park itself is huge–stretching from North Avenue to Diversey. Lincoln Park is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo (free 365 days a year!), DePaul University, Steppenwolf Theater, amazing running/biking/walking paths through the park and along the lake and tons of shops, bars and restaurants.
All of that attracts a lot of young people, which makes it a very fun neighborhood for your first years out of college. I live right on the park and am steps away from an express bus downtown. I love going the Green City Market, a HUGE farmers’ market open every Wednesday and Saturday morning. Lincoln Park can be a little pricey (though it still less expensive than Old Town, Gold Coast, Streeterville, and others), even if you don’t move to the area you will probably end up in the neighborhood to shop, eat, and such at some point.
Lakeview/Wrigleyville is just north of Lincoln Park is home to Wrigley Field. Typically this area draws even more recent graduates than Lincoln Park since it has all the amenities without the high prices. If you aren’t interested in living right next to Wrigley, check out the Southport Corridor which is on the Western side of the neighborhood along Southport Ave. There are a number of great restaurants and boutique shops.
Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhoods are hip, young along the Blue Line, located close to Lincoln Park, Ukrainian Village and Humboldt Park. It is a vibrant area, full of fantastic restaurants, shops and bars. There’s a new restaurant to try almost every month! The two main areas of neighborhood are located at the intersection of North Ave/Milwaukee Ave/Damen Ave (Damen Blue Line stop) and between Division/Damen and Division/Milwaukee (Division Blue Line stop). It is a super fun area to live in, with lots of young people, babies and dogs, but it still has some old world (Ukrainian) charm to make it hip, yet down to earth.
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is the name for public transportation in the city. This includes the trains (‘L’) and buses.
Ventra Cards can be purchased from the vending machines at any rail station. You will need to purchase a card if you’re looking to get around the city via public transport. You can put a certain amount on these cards, or select a single ride or daily pass. These cards will allow you to touch your card to the turnstile rather than inserting the temporary cards you buy from the vending machines as in other cities. If you want a 30 day pass, you should buy these online or at certain grocery stores. Check with your employer first! Some employers have a program set up where they can order these for you and add money from your paycheck before taxes.
The ‘L’ also goes to some of the suburbs (ie. Purple line goes north to Evanston and Blue will take you northwest towards O’Hare Airport or Southwest to Oak Park, etc.). Additionally, some of the CTA buses run in the suburbs, and so do Pace buses. All of these can be tracked on the Chicago Transit Tracker mobile sites and apps.
It can be tricky figuring out how to get around the city. Most people in Chicago refer to cardinal directions (North, South, East and West) instead of left and right. This can be extremely confusing to someone who isn’t familiar with this practice.
Now, this may seem lame but, trust us, it helps; get a mini compass for your keychain or, if you’re lucky, get the compass application on your phone. This will help until you realize that Lake Michigan is always east and how to tell where you are, in relation to the lake.
Use this method until you’re familiar with streets because, believe us, it is very hard to know where the lake is, especially when you’re surrounded by skyscrapers.
If you need to commute to and from the suburbs on a regular basis, or even every once in a while, http://metrarail.com/metra/en/home.html will be your life source. The website has all of the times and will help you determine which train best suits your needs. The timetables on the website or at the stations show whether a train is local and stops at each station or is express and skips stations in the middle.
There are several options for paying for the Metra. You can buy a ticket at the station or on the train but keep in mind, the tickets on the train will cost more if the station is open and you could have purchased your ticket there. There are also 10-ride passes or monthly passes. If you think that you are going to ride the Metra at least 10 times in a year, the 10-ride pass is the best. Monthly passes are the most convenient for commuters. There are programs that will combine your Metra and CTA passes for discounts and efficiency.
If you are going to have a car in the city, you need a Chicago vehicle sticker (city sticker) to register it with the city. Some streets only allow parking with special permits which will be taken care of when you purchase your first sticker. Even if your street doesn’t have any parking restrictions, you need a city sticker if you have an Illinois plate. When you get your city sticker you should also buy a few guest passes so friends and family can park on your street too.
Highway driving can be made easier if you invest in an I-Pass. This mounts to your windshield and allows you to automatically pay tolls. You never have to worry about having cash or slowing down to pay the toll. Plus, tolls are cheaper when you use the I-Pass. If you do ever find yourself at a toll without any cash, don’t stress! You can drive thorough the I-Pass lane and then pay online when you get home. Just make sure you do it within seven days.
Chicago Apartment Search Tools
Apartment Finders & Apartment People
This is a free service for renters and can be a great way to find an apartment if you don’t have a lot of time. Basically you head to their office, talk a bit about what you are looking for and then you head out with one of the agents to walk through three-five apartments. The great thing about this is the agents know the neighborhood well and typically know the units too so they can help narrow down your list a bit.
Online (Domu, Padmapper, and Zillow)
With many of these, you can narrow your search by a number of factors–neighborhood, price, # of bedrooms, # of bathrooms, AC, dishwasher, etc. It’s free to use and you can contact landlords directly. Padmapper and Zillow pull together all the listings of apartments from apartments.com, Craigslist, etc. so you only have to head to one site.
When you first move to Chicago you should pretend to be a tourist, in a way. Take advantage of your city and the fun things to do. For example:
- Want to see the best views of the city but don’t want to spend $20+ on a tour of Willis (formally Sears) Tower? Go to The Signature Room at the Hancock building and enjoy a drink with practically the same views, except better because you won’t have to fight the crowds with people pushing to “get the best view.” Instead of feeling claustrophobic or that someone is secretly planning to push you straight through the glass; you can relax and enjoy a drink while taking in amazing views of the city for half the price.
- Free concerts at Millennium Park and free movies around the city are always worth going to. Maybe you won’t like the band or movie but that doesn’t even matter. It’s the experience that is the most fun!
- On the weekends, the Chicago Park District hosts Summer Dance Chicago. They will teach you a style of dance (swing, African, tango, etc.), and then they host an open floor with a live band. Its lots of fun–and best of all, it’s free!
- Get yourself to a festival this summer! Some cost money but most don’t. Festivals are a fun way to check out other neighborhoods and learn about cultures or traditions, which might be different from your own, throughout the city.
- Free museum days. Now, this can get super packed so you want to be sure to go early to avoid the crowds and then you’ll have plenty of time to see everything you want to see.
- Join a recreational sports league. This is a great way to stay active and meet new people. There are a number of different organizations that cover all sorts of sports (everything from softball to dodgeball) at all levels.
- A great way to experience some of the best-known restaurants in the city is during Restaurant Week, which happens annually during February. You pay a fixed price (typically $30ish) for a three course meal at some of the most expensive, “hottest” restaurants in town.
- Some good websites for finding restaurants are metromix.com and opentable.com.
If you are looking for more ideas, subscribe to TimeOut Chicago, a weekly magazine with all the restaurant openings, museums exhibits, concerts and comedy shows available that week.
Surviving the Seasons
Chicago weather can be finicky, which makes it hard to know how to dress in order to stay comfortable, but here’s the secret to surviving Chicago weather: layers.
This is when Chicago is truly at its best so soak up every minute of the warm weather. That said, it may be hot outside but keep in mind every restaurant and store will have their AC on full blast. Wear light layers so you can stay comfortable throughout the day. Also, just because it is hot during the day does not mean it is going to be hot at night. The lake effect is no urban myth.
Spring and Fall
Buy a small umbrella and have it in your purse AT ALL TIMES. The weather man isn’t always right, I know…you’re shocked, so be prepared. No one likes being caught in the rain waiting for a bus for 20 minutes.
Rain boots are wonderful. Get a comfortable pair that are tall and large enough to tuck your pants into. Again, have a nice pair of “work shoes” hidden in your office. Are you starting to see a trend here?
Wear layers! It’s hard to say if it will be cold or warm that day. It may start off one temperature and then drop or rise by the end of the day. Layers help keep you warm/cool enough to be comfortable.
A long down waterproof coat is pretty standard. The longer your coat the better, it will protect you from wind blowing up your coat. Also, you can sit on it, so you won’t freeze when you are waiting on the bench outside. Be sure to get your coat a little bigger than you may actually need to allow for layering underneath.
Invest in a ton of scarves, hats/ear warmers and mittens/gloves. Trust us, by the end of the winter you will be so sick of your coat that anything you can do to spice up your winter looks helps.
A great pair of boots. I’m not talking about “cute” boots. I’m talking about sturdy, tall, well built, non-slip (you will be running to catch transit), waterproof boots. Honestly, no one judges what your boots look like during the winter. In fact, more people will make comments about people who are wearing inappropriate-for-the-weather boots than if someone is wearing a pair of snow boots. Just be sure to have a nice pair of work shoes hidden in your desk to change into when you get to the office.
Long-johns and wool socks seem like something your grandpa may wear but, I’ll tell you this much for free, he’s doing something right! Owning these items just makes staying warm easier. Slip those long-johns underneath your clothes and you’re set to go out with friends, play in the snow, ice-skate or participate in any other winter activity you can think of – without being miserable.
Being safe in Chicago means being prepared. Knowing the possible scary situations you can get yourself into, helps you avoid them.
Carry pepper spray and note the best lit routes around the city BEFORE going out with your friends. Heading home at night, especially if you’re alone, can be a little dangerous. So, know the best routes to and from your apartment and be overly cautious. It is a great idea to start texting the friends you were out with when you get home at night. It might sound silly, but big cities aren’t like college towns where everyone is friendly. Everyone will be able to sleep better knowing that their friends are home safe and sound.
Ultimately, you need to be aware of your surroundings AT ALL TIMES. Don’t listen to your music while walking down the street at night, and don’t text right by the ‘L’ doors. That is the perfect opportunity for someone to snag your phone from and run out the door. Don’t give them the chance.
If you’ve been lucky enough to experience Erin Weed’s (Zeta Alpha-Eastern Illnois) program, Girls Fight Back (if not, get her book or visit girlsfightback.com), you know how important it is to be aware of your surroundings and how it really doesn’t matter if you come off rude. Your safety is priority number one, not a stranger’s feelings.
With that in mind, don’t be naive. Chicago is amazing and there are a lot of great people in this city. But, there are also people who can pinpoint someone who might be easier to take advantage of than others. Sadly, a lot of scammers take advantage of the fact that you “look like a nice person.”
Special thanks to Transitions contributors! –
Catie Foster (Epsilon Xi-Southern Illinois)
Mara Tsudis (Eta Epsilon-Villanova)
Julie Karaba (Beta-Northwestern)
Kaitlyn Jeanneret (Iota Eta-DePaul)