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Moving to Chicago? Things to know when planning a move

by Team NextBurb 12 August 2020

Moving Guides By City

As the third largest city in the United States, Chicago sprawls for 234 square miles along the southwestern corner of Lake Michigan.

Home to nearly 8.9 million people, this metro area is an incredibly diverse and busy place that has something to offer for everyone.

While cold winters and fast-paced city life give Chicago a tough reputation, you will find entertainment, food, and a love of fun along with incredible public parks and resources in every corner of this energetic metropolis.

Whether you’re relocating to the Chicago area by yourself or are considering it as a potential place to move as a family, there’s a lot to learn about this massive city.

This all-inclusive guide provides an overview of the ins-and-outs of Chicagoland and a breakdown of the best-known neighborhoods and growing suburbs that make up this mecca of the Midwest.

Culture

Chicago is a city of business and fun: people who live there know how to work hard and play hard. Chicagoans have a reputation for being fast-paced and blunt, but they are also loyal, hard-working, and love to celebrate.

While you might encounter some aggressive drivers during rush hour downtown, expect Chicago residents to be fun, passionate people who love their city.

Since the city’s founding in 1833, Chicago has been a center for transportation, manufacturing, and commerce.

While the top industries today include information technology, finance, and healthcare, the city first rose to power in the meatpacking business and is built on a strong tradition of working class values and practicality.

Because of this, the culture looks a bit less flashy than in places like New York or Los Angeles. Instead, Chicago prides itself on its cleanliness, effective public transportation, and economic success.

Weather

Moving to Chicago will give you the opportunity to experience all four seasons, which means that while each part of the year brings unique beauty to the outdoors, you’ll want to plan for some intense changes in weather.

By January, the average temperature will drop to 32/22 ℉. With regular wind from off the lake, the air will feel even colder. Your house or apartment will need central heating in the winter and by summer, when temperatures average between 78 ℉ and 92 ℉, you’ll find yourself in need of air conditioning as well.

This means that you’ll want to break out those puffy down coats for the winter—and that while the city is as busy as ever during the winter months, outdoor activities might not seem as appealing.

In the spring and summer, however, Chicago’s public parks and miles of trails are the perfect way to spend a weekend outdoors, and beaches by the lake are popular places to catch a break from the notorious Midwest humidity.

Things to do

No matter what the weather, Chicagoans know how to have a good time. Holiday traditions run deep and are celebrated city-wide, whether it’s by attending the Christkind market in December to sip glühwein and shop from local artists and vendors, or by waking up at 8 AM to watch the Plumber’s Union dye the Chicago River green for St. Patrick’s Day (don’t worry—it’s environmentally friendly).

During the summer, downtown streets come to life as food and music festivals attract millions of visitors.

There’s a festival for everyone: from the Chicago Jazz festival, which honors the city’s rich history of blues and jazz musicians, to the Windy City Smokeout, complete with live music, beer, and smoked meat.

Food & Drink

Even when it’s not festival season, food in Chicago is good.

The city is best known for its deep-dish pizzas and Chicago-style hot dogs, but it is also home to restaurants of all kinds, from Kai Zan for Japanese food to award-winning spot Girl and the Goat, a local favorite.

Head to Fulton Market for the latest exciting meal or up to Streeterville for packed nightclubs on weekend nights.

If you’re looking for a more intimate bar atmosphere, neighborhoods like Wicker Park or Logan Square have dozens of small, ambient lounges and speakeasies with carefully crafted cocktails.

If you like a good dive experience or comfort food, you’ll be in luck no matter where you go—simple local joints and cash-only bars are a Chicago specialty and can be found in almost any neighborhood for late-night food and cheap beer.

Beware Malort, a liquor distilled from wormwood that is native to Chicago. It’s about bad as it sounds, and it’s a regular surprise order for any Chicago newbie who doesn’t know what they’re getting themselves into.

Sports & Entertainment

The love of sports runs deep in the veins of Chicago culture. Baseball fans can attend either Cubs games north of the city at Wrigley Field or go south of the Loop to see the White Sox (and yes, you will be asked to choose a team to side with).

Watch the Bears at Soldier Field or head to the United Center for a hockey game with the Blackhawks.

One of the benefits of Chicago’s big-city status is that it attracts musicians from around the world.

Chicago is home to dozens of unique concert venues, from the United Center for stadium tours to the House of Blues and the Riviera for smaller crowds and indie artists.

During the summer, the sprawling Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park offers concerts on the lawn, where you can listen to your favorite band or jazz ensemble while enjoying a picnic and watching the sunset over the glorious skyline.

Although it’s not known first and foremost as an artistic city, Chicago has museums and city-wide public art have been ranked among the highest in the country.

Head to the Tony Award-winning Steppenwolf Theater in the Lincoln Park neighborhood or to Broadway shows in theaters all across the city.

Chicago is also a hotspot for comedian talent, and you can grab cheap tickets for a show at Second City, which was the birthplace of many actors including Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

Chicago During COVID-19

Unsurprisingly, many of the events that define Chicago have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Fortunately, the city’s outdoor spaces offer accessible fun while social events are on hold.

Bike or walk on the Lakefront Trail, a popular paved path that runs for 18.5 miles (29.77 km) along the water, or take food to enjoy on the lawn in Lincoln Park.

During the winter, families can go ice skating in Millennium Park and take in the city streets decorated for the holidays.

If you want to learn more about Chicago, open-air architecture tours by boat take you through downtown via water to check out the city’s incredible architectural history.

Transportation

Airports

There are two airports that serve Chicago: O’Hare (ORD) and Midway (MDW). Located 14 miles (ca. 23 km) from the Loop in the northwest suburbs, O’Hare sees more air traffic than any other airport in the world, according to a 2019 survey.

Despite being so busy, it is clean and easy to navigate and is a major hub for both United and American Airlines.

Midway is a smaller airport eight miles south of the city center that serves as the Midwest hub for Southwest airlines.

Public Transportation

Chicago’s public transportation system is one of the best and most efficient in the country.

The CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) consists of trains and buses that run regularly from downtown (also called The Loop) to every part of the city.

The “El” train system is easy to understand and provides access to almost every Chicago neighborhood, as well as O’Hare International Airport and suburbs nearby. Expect to spend just 20 minutes downtown from any corner of the city.

If you plan to live in the suburbs, Metra trains run on hourly schedules from the north, west, and south into the heart of the city.

It’s a great, safe way to visit or commute downtown without worrying about parking.

You can even buy cheaper weekend passes to make the most of your trips on Saturdays and Sundays.

Will I need a car to live in the city?

If you live and work downtown, CTA transportation is accessible enough that you probably won’t need a car to get around comfortably.

If you live in the suburbs outside Chicago, you will want a vehicle for shopping and everyday commute within the suburbs, although public transit will still offer access to the city.

Where to Live in Chicago

Because the city is so big, the process of finding a neighborhood that fits your financial goals and lifestyle can be intimidating.

Paying attention to an area’s housing prices, safety, and the kind of lifestyle it provides are great ways to narrow down your choices.

Affordability

While it’s one of the largest cities in the country, Chicago actually isn’t as expensive as you might expect.

In 2019, it ranked below the top ten as the fifteenth most costly city to live in.

Monthly expenses average $2,495 according to one study (although that number only accounts for a rented one-bedroom apartment and excludes property tax, so adjust accordingly).

Your cost of living will differ based on what kind of housing you’re looking for and where in the city you want to live.

One downside to living in Chicago is property tax: the statewide average tax is 2.31%.

That’s nearly twice as much as the national average, so it’s worth noting that this will be one significant expense unique to Illinois.

Should I buy a house in Chicago?

With a median home value of $283,000, Chicago is one of the more affordable cities in America and is a great place to consider buying a house.

Whether you’re looking for a condo or single-family home, the city and surrounding suburbs offer a good range of real estate prices to fit your budget.

Crime

Chicago comes with some notoriety when it comes to crime, since gang-related violence makes constant headlines throughout the year.

To understand violence in Chicago, it’s important to note that the high crime rate comes primarily from violence in certain neighborhoods and is not representative of every part of the city.

While some neighborhoods on the south and western sides of the city have reputations of higher crime, judge the safety of an area by looking at data from that specific neighborhood.

While Chicago’s crime rates are much higher than the national average, many neighborhoods pride themselves on their safety and strong supportive sense of community and are wonderful, safe places to live.

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/takeaways-2019-crime-data-major-american-cities

The Best Neighborhoods in Chicago

Chicago’s neighborhoods offer a variety of lifestyles and price ranges.

Choosing one depends on what kind of home you want to live in and what you want to do with your free time.

Since we couldn’t include details of every single Chicago neighborhood, we’ve highlighted a variety of the most popular and up-and-coming areas.

Gold Coast

Median Home Value: $535,000

The Gold Coast is the glittering gem of Chicago residential neighborhoods, and it’s priced accordingly: median prices for a 3-bedroom home fall around $1.02 million.

The most popular types of housing in the area are high rises that overlook downtown or the lake.

It’s not a cheap place to live, but it comes with the luxury of city lifestyle and immediate access to the lakefront.

Lincoln Park

Median Home Value: $605,000

Of all Chicago neighborhoods, Lincoln Park has the broadest appeal: it’s full of good food, shopping, and beautiful historic houses.

Its residential areas are home to a diverse mix of young people and families, and a drive downtown only takes 10 minutes.

Chicagoans flock to Lincoln Park on the weekends for brunch at cozy spots like Ann Sather or to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo (where admission is free) and conservatory along the lake.

Wicker Park

Median Home Value: $549,205

Wicker Park is Chicago’s signature “weird” neighborhood, although housing prices have soared since its height in popularity.

While the area might be pricey, it’s a great place for everyone to explore quirky coffee shops and sort through vintage clothing at one of the many thrift stores along Damen Avenue.

Logan Square

Median Home Value: $386, 372

Logan Square is arguably the most popular Chicago neighborhood of 2020.

It’s packed with eclectic bars and restaurants and attracts crowds of young couples and professionals, both on the weekends and as residents.

While Logan Square isn’t as flashy as more affluent parts of the city, it’s a safe neighborhood with enviable social energy.

Ukrainian Village

Median Home Value: $450,506

Just south of Wicker Park is the quaint, quiet neighborhood of Ukrainian Village. Like other up-and-coming areas of the West Town, Ukrainian Village features old, beautiful buildings and local restaurants.

This is a great place to live for those who want a relaxed neighborhood with quick access downtown and to the hotspots in the city, like Chicago’s Randolph Restaurant Row.

Irving Park

Median Home Value: $301,239

In the northwest corner of Chicago's city limits, the Irving Park neighborhood offers a calmer lifestyle than areas closer to downtown. I

t’s not as well-known as the other neighborhoods on this list, but the area is considered “up and coming,” and property values are expected to appreciate in value for the foreseeable future.

Irving Park community is friendly and tight-knit, and you will find accessible shopping, unique breweries, and top-rated restaurants nearby.

While getting downtown from Irving Park is a longer ride than from other areas of the city (a 16-minute drive), houses here are more affordable while offering larger backyards and access to nearby parks.

Best Suburbs Near Chicago

City living isn’t for everyone. Chicago has vibrant suburbs that have their own unique culture and community while remaining accessible downtown via public transportation, whether it’s for weekend trips or a daily commute.

Here are a few worth noting.

Oak Park

Median Home Value: $344,610

Right on the western border of Chicago, Oak Park has the close-knit atmosphere of the city while retaining the charm of a smaller community.

Real estate prices are lower than those in the city but higher than in some other suburbs.

Oak Park homes are known for their distinctive prairie-style architecture that was championed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright’s studio and several of his more iconic homes can be found tucked away in Oak Park’s forested residential streets.

While you probably need a car for trips to the grocery store or out of town, Oak Park’s two CTA stops and bus lines can get you downtown in only 20 minutes.

The Metra line will also take you downtown or further west into the suburbs.

Forest Park

Median Home Value: $205,344

Think of Forest Park as the more affordable, laid-back version of neighboring Oak Park. Forest Park’s busy downtown strip is full of bars and restaurants and its residential areas are more affordable while still remaining safe.

Forest Park is still connected to the city’s public transit via train, which will take you downtown in about 30 minutes.

Naperville

Median Home Value: $328, 547

Naperville is less a suburb than it is its own growing metropolis. 45 minutes by car from the city, it has its own busy downtown, thriving business district, and beautiful lakes and parks.

Naperville ranked as the wealthiest town in the Midwest in 2016, although you can still find affordable housing with access to stylish restaurants and excellent schools.

Moving to Chicago?

Chicago’s hardworking, fun-loving ethos makes it a wonderful city to live in.

Whether it’s in a high rise north of the Loop or a quiet neighborhood in a nearby suburb, you can live affordablly while enjoying the world-class parks, year-round events and excellent food that the city has to offer.

Winters might be cold, but ask any Chicagoan and they’ll tell you that a little bad weather is nothing compared to the city’s big energy and fun spirit.

Here at Nextburb, we’re committed to providing you with the facts you need to know about any area you’re considering as a future home.

Discover the best places to live& in the United States to find out more about neighborhoods to live in, school ratings, crime data, and real estate options.

We’ll provide you with recommendations based on your lifestyle and budget preferences to help you discover where you want to go.

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