Tell me what you love about Chicago
April 13, 2013 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Might be moving to Chicago in near future; not crazy about the idea. Help me adjust my attitude about the Windy City.

Hi Metafite Chicagoans. I might be moving to your city in a few months for work. I'm not a city person. I'm not a cold-weather person. My naive impression of the Midwest is endless, flat cornfields.

So, tell me what you love about Chicago. I'm not really into bars or fancy restaurants, but I like museums, gardens, outdoorsy recreation, and bookstores. I'm hoping there's easy access to suburban-ish areas where I might happily live (or at least areas that aren't so much of an urban jungle). I need to know which parts of the city are safe, and which parts to avoid. I'm also curious about outlying areas that might be nice for short day trips or weekends -- I'm sure the Midwest isn't the void that I've imagined it to be. (Yes, I've spent my entire life in coastal areas, west and east.) I think with the right attitude, I should be able to embrace metropolitan life.

Thanks in advance for any advice/tips!
posted by phoenix_rising to Grab Bag (48 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
The longer I live in Chicago the better I like it.

There are many wonderful parks, especially near the lakefront. The lakefront path extends for 17 miles and is amazing for biking, walking, access to beaches, etc. You can also find sailing on the lake and canoeing on the river (which is urban but still an interesting place to canoe).

Regarding museums, I especially love the Museum of Contemporary Art, but all the museums are pretty much top-quality.

I enjoy the Garfield Park Conservatory, especially as a nice respite when the weather is cold. It is a historic glass conservatory with a fern garden, palm room, cactus garden, and lots of flowers. And it is free!

Chicago is also an amazing city for the cinema: check out University of Chicago Doc Films, the Siskel Film Center, the Music Box Theater, and many more.

Best of luck to you in your move here.
posted by mai at 10:50 AM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chicago is that very rare thing: a large, cosmopolitan, yet truly liveable city.

Housing is still somewhat affordable. Neighborhoods are real things; almost everyone I know belongs to a block club. You say you'd like a residential area more suburban in feel, but there are plenty of neighborhoods within the city proper that feel quiet, residential, and distinctly removed from the city. (Chicago is not NYC: you will never feel hemmed in by cement and skyscrapers.)

What else? People really are friendlier than in other major cities in which I've lived. The restaurant scene is, arguably, the most innovative and exciting in the world. There's a thriving variety of creative communities, from fine arts to poetry to writing, and you could spend every night of the week in a new crowd exploring a new aspect of these worlds. If lectures and readings are more your thing, we're bookended on the north and south by two world-class universities whose events will easily keep your calendar full. Museums: man, we've got tons. The Art Institute is a seriously world-class establishment; the Field Museum is a treat for the anthropologist in us all; the Museum of Science and Industry is just plain fun (and has the weirdest and most impressive dollhouse on the planet). Bookstores: there are several amazing ones to choose from, my faves being the Seminary Coop in Hyde Park and Myopic Books in Wicker Park. Nature: every neighborhood pretty much has several parks, but we've also got forest preserves, botanical gardens and conservatories (Garfield Park inside the city limits, and the Chicago Botanic Gardens, being two of the most impressive), and an entire lakefront that, thank goodness, never got gobbled up by private developers, and now exists solely for the public use.

My naive impression of the Midwest is endless, flat cornfields.

Look, I'll be honest with you - as someone who grew up between mountains and ocean, this - "endless, flat cornfields" - remains my impression of downstate and most of Indiana as well. But there are gorgeous points north of here in Wisconsin to explore.
posted by artemisia at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, until you've been here in the summer, you won't know what it means to live in a city seized by joy. This place in the summer often feels, to me, like one long carnival - a different neighborhood festival every weekend, free outdoor concerns and dancing lessons, movies in the public parks, you name it. But it's the enthusiasm people bring to these activities that sets Chicago summers apart, in my mind. No other city seem able to enjoy the summer like Chicago does.
posted by artemisia at 11:01 AM on April 13, 2013 [27 favorites]

Where would you be working (the Loop? In an outlying part of the city? A suburb?)? How long are you willing to commute by train and/or car? Do you want a car? As far as suburbs, do you want personality or convenient big-box areas right near by? Is it just you or you with kids? What do you view as safe?

The city has plenty of the things you like and the suburbs can get you everything except the museums (there are tons of books and even metafilter questions about awesome things to see/do in Chicago). There are tons of outlying areas nice for short day trips or weekends that aren't just endless cornfields; lots of forest preserves, parks, etc. in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan. It depends on how far you want to go. And welcome to the third coast - Sailing, swimming, hanging out by the lake, playing beach volleyball, holding hands under the stars listening to waves... all part of the Chicago experience. (Suburban lake-side experiences are vastly different, however.)
posted by adorap0621 at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'll let the long-term Chicagoans talk about why it's such a wonderful place to live. I was only there for a few years, while studying at the University of Chicago, but I fell in love and I still think on the city very fondly. Yes, the weather really is that bad - but the city is beautiful, walkable, diverse, easy to get around, and full of incredibly kind and friendly people.

But here is a map that gives a good idea of which neighborhoods are safe (it's the ones in the north). And yes, there are suburbs that are very nice too, many of them accessible by Metra commuer rail.
posted by capricorn at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like museums, gardens, outdoorsy recreation, and bookstores.

OMG, you're going to love it. I'm a coastal dweller and before I ever visited Chicago, my impressions were much like yours. I fell in love instantly. The museums are world-class and highly engaged with the community, there's lots of festivals, the parks are amazing, it's literate and artsy and yet friendly and relaxed. It's a great city that I'd be considering living in, if it weren't for my salt-water addiction.

Go have a visit. The MeFites there are amazing, too.
posted by Miko at 11:10 AM on April 13, 2013 [7 favorites]

When I visited, I instantly figured out the public transit system. My favorite memory was riding the subway/train back to my hotel from a conference and realizing there was a Cubs game (all the fans getting on in their gear). I followed them out of the train and spontaneously caught a game at Wrigley, effortlessly. The train goes right there and the field is beautiful! It also felt really safe walking around, even late at night!

It was great! People also seem to ride their bikes a lot when weather permits.
posted by dottiechang at 11:40 AM on April 13, 2013

The food. So, so much good food to be eaten in Chicago. The lake and beaches are fantastic in the summer. Biking/running/walking along the Lakefront Path is awesome. There's a lot of really interesting history here too. And the people are a little friendlier and more relaxed than some other cities.
posted by Fig at 11:41 AM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like museums, gardens, outdoorsy recreation, and bookstores.

You'll be fine, especially if you're living in-town as opposed to the suburbs. Some of my childhood was spent in the suburbs of Chicago and going downtown for class field trips always felt like a trip to the emerald city. The Museum of Science and Industry? Adler Planetarium? Shedd Aquarium? The Art Institute? They are all awesome.

I'm not a cold-weather person.

There's no getting around it: Chicago is colder then ten Hells at times. But, they know how to deal with it and it's not a total calamity like it is in other places. Spring, summer and fall are wonderful, though.

Day-trips and weekends? We used to pick apples in Wisconsin every year, and that was always a wonderful time for us kids. Fantastic food. It's a city with real, solid...character, I guess. It's a 100% different vibe than I've felt in Manhattan or Philadelphia. City of the big shoulders and all that.
posted by jquinby at 11:42 AM on April 13, 2013

I've lived in Chicago for 5 years, and it feels smaller and smaller every year. If your reference point for "big city" is NYC, Chicago is much different--much more breathing room, much less crowded. The first time I visited New York, a couple years ago, I felt immediately anxious and rushed, as if I had to hurry no matter what. Chicago doesn't make me feel like that at all.

The lakefront path is lengthy, lovely, not crowded and great for running and biking. There are some amazing parks offering plenty of green space (Humboldt Park!). For beaches, I'd recommend Promontory Point in Hyde Park--it used to be illegal to swim there, but they filled in the lake bottom with sand to make it safer. Tends to be far less crowded than the beaches closer to the North Side and downtown.

The Red Eye tracks homicides citywide and is a decent indicator of safe/unsafe neighborhoods. While you're unlikely to be in danger during the day in a neighborhood like North Lawndale due to your nonaffiliation with local gang terf/other disputes, it's worth knowing where the daily bullets are flying regardless. In general, the more north/east you are, the higher the income level and safer you are from bullets, but the more likely you are to be a target for crimes like theft and muggings. Not enough to worry--just enough to be aware of your surroundings. The South and West Sides of the city are generally where the poverty has been isolated, and given the lack of commercial activity, you're unlikely to find yourself there anyway (some neighborhoods barely have a single restaurant). If you're interested in Chicago history though, I wouldn't write them off as a place to visit--there's some fascinating architecture in places like Back of the Yards and Lawndale. Garfield Park (the actual park) is beautiful. There are exceptions to the South and West Sides as "dangerous places" rule, including Hyde Park and Pilsen (where I live).

For outbound trips, I recommend Southwest Michigan along the lake--soft, sandy, rolling dunes, charming ice cream shops, etc. There are the Indiana dunes as well, but I found them depressingly industrial when I went (they were a few miles from factories coughing up black smoke) so YMMV, depending on where you go.

If you want to pretend you're a billionnaire, go to Winnetka for a day (north of Evanston). It's a "charming village" with its own "bootery" and falls among the highest-income neighborhoods in the country. A little south of there is Evanston, which is a nice, diverse city, if likely a bit more expensive than most suburbs. You'd probably like Oak Park too, which mimics a small town feel and has a nice downtown and a slew of Frank Lloyd Wright houses.

You say you're not that into dining, but I recommend exploring Yelp for interesting food discoveries. Delicious, inexpensive cuisine in Chicago tends to huddle with like dining options in places like Devon Street (Indian/Pakistani), Argyle St./Uptown (Vietnamese), Mexican (Pilsen/Little Village) etc. Hip or up-and-coming neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Logan Square often have fascinating new, high-quality, reasonably affordable restaurants popping up; Pilsen has Pl Zen and Nightwood, both of which opened within the past five years.

Museum-wise, there is the standard (and very good!) Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art, Field Museum, Museum of Science and History. I recommend them all, but Chicago also has unique, bizarre, or historically relevant places like the Hull House and the Driehaus Museum (to name a couple). If you like history, I'd look into the Pocket Guide to Hell tours, Untouchable Tours (can't vouch for this one but it seems fun), and generally reading up on the history of the stockyards, Chicago's sordid past, the World's Columbian Exposition (I recommend Devil in the White City if you haven't read it yet--my friend and I made our own tour based on the characters and places in the book).

Chicago is a fun and fascinating city if you know where and how to look.
posted by aintthattheway at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

Weekend trips to beautiful, historic Galena, Illinois on the Mississippi River are fun. The terrain is quite hilly and you can even ski (Chestnut Mtn) in the winter. Nice long bike path along the River, too. We avoid the touristy Main Street area by prowling around up the hill where all the big homes and B & B's are located.

Door County in Wisconsin is the Cape Cod of the midwest. Its about a 5 hour nice drive from the north side of Chicago. Absolutely beautiful and restful with lots of houses you can rent and even bring your dog.

Oh, and don't forget Wrigley Field if you like baseball. I live in "Wrigleyville" and its a great area with lots of shops and restaurants and you are within walking distance to our wonderful running/biking/walking path along the lakefront.
Good luck.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 11:49 AM on April 13, 2013

Chicago. THE FOOD. Oh man, eat all the food. Doesn't have to be fancy. Within a mile of my house, I can get the following kinds of food: Thai, Mexican, Vietnamese, Persian, Japanese, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Kyrgyz, Afghan, Indian, Georgian, Korean, Italian, Chinese...I am sure there are others. Those are just, like, the places we frequent. Seriously.

Anyway on that note come live in Ravenswood! I also do not like the super-urban feeling that you get downtown or in the really close-in neighborhoods. Ravenswood is still extremely walkable, but has easy parking, little traffic, and lots of beautiful single-family houses alongside apartment buildings. It's affordable (not as much as when we moved here, but still not bad), has tons of green space and beautiful parks, and lots of great bars and restaurants. It's an easy bike (and probably a 30-minute walk) to the beach. It's like a 10 minute walk to three of the best bookstores in the city (Book Cellar, Women & Children First, and my personal favorite, that weird place on Lincoln Ave that's just stacked with piles of old books). We love it here. (Lincoln Square and Andersonville are also good and similar, but more expensive.)

Other people have told you how amazing the museums are. They are amazing. There are some gorgeous conservatories so you can see nice plants even in the winter. You can go see a concert in Millennium Park for free or at Ravinia for money. Both places let you BYO wine. (Oh man, BYO everything in Chicago, all the time. I save so much money bringing my own alcohol to restaurants.)

I am also a big weekend trip-taker. First of all, you may not even WANT to leave the city during the summer, because there is so much to do. But here are some good weekend trip places: Madison (and environs - House on the Rock, New Glarus); Door County; Southwest Michigan (beautiful clean beaches); the Upper Peninsula (a longish trip); Wisconsin Dells (for the kitsch!); Milwaukee (underrated, and has some cute towns nearby - Cedarburg, Sheboygan, Kohler); St. Louis (The City Museum!); Starved Rock State Park; the Indiana Dunes. Again, there are lots, those are just the ones that came to mind. (Mostly the good ones are in Wisconsin, which is of course the best place on earth.)

Metra makes the suburbs pretty easy, if you live near the Metra stop. (If you have to drive it can be tricky - my sister's been on the waiting list for her Metra stop's parking for like five years.) You might like Evanston - Northwestern's campus is beautiful and you're right on the lake. Downtown is pretty cute actually and has some good food. Housing ranges from reasonable to outrageous, depending on the neighborhood, but that's true everywhere.

Also if you bike, this is a pretty good place for it.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:59 AM on April 13, 2013 [9 favorites]

Oh--I forgot about bookstores. My favorite is Powell's (no, not the Portland version) which has three locations: University Village, Lakeview, and Hyde Park. It's my favorite because their overwhelming stock of fantastic, I've-been-wanting-to-read-this, $4-$5 remaindered books is downright ridiculous.
posted by aintthattheway at 12:01 PM on April 13, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, I'm feeling better already! Yeah, my reference city is NYC, which is close to where I live now. I've really tried to like NYC, but it just stresses me the hell out. Even Central Park is chock-full of people, and I feel hemmed in and anxious with all the bustle and noise.

@adorap: I'd be working at the Northwestern medical campus. I'll have a car, but would really like the option to commute by public transport; ideally I'd like to commute no more than 40-45 min to work. I'm hoping to find a living area that has a nice neighborly feel, yard space, relatively quiet, and near a metro stop. (I'd be renting an apartment, not buying.) It's just me, no kids. As far as safety goes, I'm looking for a low-crime area. I'm totally ok with homeless and low-income areas (in fact have lived in such places), I just want to be able to walk outside in the evenings without being mugged.
posted by phoenix_rising at 12:09 PM on April 13, 2013

Lifelong Chicagoan here.

Like others have said, it does get hellishly cold here. But here's the secret: it never stays that way for long. There's an old overtold joke here about if you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes. But it's kind of true.

This town gets extremely dreary from November to probably mid-March because of the cool and grey weather, but you everyone just powers through it. The reason you see such exuberance when the weather is nice is that it's never taken for granted. Since it's not San Diego where every day is 70 and sunny and very predictable, Chicagoans always have one eye on the weather forecast. It's usually how you open a conversation with someone. Tommy Skilling (the most well-known local weatherman) is a semi-major celebrity here.

So learn to plan ahead. For example, today it's a high of 42F outside but tomorrow will be 70. So I'm heading out now to buy propane and get the grill ready. It'll be a great day.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"City seized by joy" may well be the best way to describe Chicago in the summer. Thanks for that atemisia.

I've not lived in Chicago for going on thirteen years now and my friends and loved ones will tell you that I still compare every city to Chicago. It is, in my humble estimation, the best city in the country. I don't much care for suburbs in general, but if I were to be required to live in the suburbs I would choose the Chicago suburbs of Oak Park, Evanston, Niles, Norridge and Berwyn as all being close in, various levels of safe and various levels of affordability (Oak Park being on the upward edge of that).

Museums? More than you can shake a stick at. Food of every level - most not fancy, just damn good. Outdoor activities? Oh hells yes - off all varieties, including sailing, c'mon! Gardens - lots of them, in neighborhoods, in the city center, etc. Bookstores? You betcha. We're not talking Powell's, but there's still lots of great options all over the city.

Don't knock it til you've tried it. It's a world class city in the heartland of this country. If you give it a chance you'll probably fall in love with it.
posted by FlamingBore at 12:10 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's no better place in The World than Chicago in the summer. Artemis hit nail on the head.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

I grew up there. I no longer live there. I can count the things I hate on one hand. The things I love would take a multitude. It is far easier to list the things worth hating. Youre going to love it.
posted by davejay at 12:27 PM on April 13, 2013

I cannot believe this thread has gone on so long without anyone saying THE ARCHITECTURE! Chicago is an architectural gem! And one of the things that is kick-ass about Chicago is that you'll be on the Metra coming in from the suburbs and the super-wealthy lawyer or banker sitting next to you on the train will vociferously offer his opinion on the architectural merits of the new building going up in the Gold Coast, a critique of which is on the cover of the Trib that morning (the Trib has a full-time, Pulitzer-Prize-winning architecture critic), and then when you get off the train -- here's the great part -- the homeless guy panhandling outside Union Station will see your newspaper's turned back to show the picture of the new building, and he'll be like, "That building, man? That building is BULLSHIT. It needs a SPIRE." I have never, ever, ever been to a place where so many people all over the economic and social spectrum care SO PASSIONATELY about architecture. And what I love about it, and what I think is so Chicagoan and so Midwestern about it, is that people think this is a perfectly natural state of being. It's this totally democratic thing; there's a sense that the built environment and its beauty belong to EVERYONE in Chicago, so of course everyone has an opinion. It's not seen as snobby or elitist; it's seen as, "This is Chicago, it's ours, so obviously we're going to tell why your building is bullshit. Or awesome. And once it's built, providing it is awesome, we are going to spend 200 years telling people, 'The Rookery, man, you gotta go and see the Rookery, it kicks your city's buildings' asses.'"

It's less intense about other arts, but Chicagoans have a very lived-in, comfortable relationship with their art and music and architecture and dance and so on. People are incredibly enthusiastic about the city HAVING these arts, even if they themselves are not particularly interested in them, and they're very proud of Chicago's achievements in the arts. It's a city establishment culture that's surprisingly comfortable with modern movements in the arts and always has been (the Picasso, man! The Chicago School! Jazz!) so there's a surprising amount of institutional support for not just Grecian columns and Renaissance painters but Jackson Pollock and the Chicago Moving Company. People take it for granted that of course you're interested in art, or books, or the symphony, and people are comfortable with their high arts. I remember several years ago the Art Institute had a huge Monet exhibit and everyone was talking about it, and I was discussing it with a banker friend, both of us all suited up fancy and prim, in line at a fast food place at lunch and a slouchy young guy with his cap sideways and his pants hanging low overheard us and said excitedly, "Monet? That guy was the motherfucking bomb. That exhibit fucking kicks ass." And we were like, "RIGHT?" Because that is a totally normal conversation to have in line for fast food in Chicago.

My husband works for the state historic preservation agency in Illinois so I can tell you ALL THE THINGS to come visit downstate, because it is awesome here. But it will take you quite a while to run out of things to do in Chicago, even outdoorsy things. Its motto is "City in a Garden" because it has so many parks, and it's ringed around by the Cook County Forest Preserve, which is quite extensive. It is flat, but to me, the flatness is so beautiful -- it's so big, it makes the horizon so limitless and so large. The sky is so awe-inspiring with an ever-changing symphony of color and clouds. It makes my soul feel bigger.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:33 PM on April 13, 2013 [13 favorites]

I grew up in Chicago, moved away, came back for a job and was really worried about doing so. I'm extremely happy with it now. Having lived in New York and Boston in the meantime, I find Chicago is the most affordable and easy to get in/out of. (In New York, I felt trapped at times.) This is subjective, but I feel like Chicago is more convenient all round; you don't spend as much time waiting in long lines for everything. The pride Chicago takes in its intellectual, political and artistic history is kind of corny but also inspiring.

I had to laugh (but with love) at the description of Winnetka and its "bootery." The north shore suburbs really are quite a culture on their own. Often subject to ridicule but unbelievably idyllic, for being so reachable from town. A teacher of mine from U of C, a long-time south sider, finally discovered the north shore beaches and waxed rhapsodic about how wonderful it was to walk there on a warm night. Around September, the beaches are perfect for swimming and they stop charging admission, which for some reason makes everyone stop coming.

And of course, the U of C environs are nothing to sneeze at either.

There is no getting around the weather. I suggest making plans to get somewhere warm sometime in late January to break things up.
posted by BibiRose at 12:50 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Tullyogallaghan: "Oh, and don't forget Wrigley Field if you like baseball."

FTFY. The Cell is where it's at this summer, if you actually like baseball, not college kids puking on your shoes. That's after the Hawks win the Cup, of course. And the Bulls thrill us with another wild, over-their-skis ride in the playoffs. There's going to be a LOT of joy in Chicago this summer.

phoenix, if you want to live in the actual suburbs instead of the city, the Berwyn/Oak Park/Forest Park area is a relatively straightforward commute. Oak Park is pretty pricey, but rentals can be had if you're persistent.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:01 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Northwestern Medical campus? You'll be right by the Museum of Contemporary Art! It's free every Tuesday and in the summer there is free Jazz on the terrace on Tuesday evenings. The exhibitions are always changing, so always something new to see, and a medium-sized museum so it's not overwhelming.
posted by Sreiny at 1:08 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, my reference city is NYC, which is close to where I live now. I've really tried to like NYC, but it just stresses me the hell out. Even Central Park is chock-full of people, and I feel hemmed in and anxious with all the bustle and noise.

I live in NYC now and this is what I miss most about my brief time in Chicago. It's just so CHILL compared to NYC.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:10 PM on April 13, 2013

Chicago was an oasis when I was at the Writers Workshop.

Mefi's own me3dia runs the Gapers Block webpage.
posted by brujita at 1:14 PM on April 13, 2013

My naive impression of the Midwest is endless, flat cornfields.

That part of Illinois and Wisconsin is up near the Driftless, that area which the glaciers avoided, preserving the original rolling landscape of the prehistoric Midwest.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 1:17 PM on April 13, 2013

Yes, the weather can be oppressive. But it isn't all that worse than the NYC area. On average, fall comes a couple weeks earlier, and spring comes a couple weeks later. The hottest day in Chicago is on average hotter, and the coldest a bit colder. But compared to London or Juneau or Miami, the weather is basically the same between Chicago and NYC.

But compared to NYC, we have a lot of the same amenities and diversity, just not quite as much. And doing anything is an order of magnitude easier. You don't have to sit in bridge and tunnel traffic. You aren't trapped on an island. We are civilized; we don't throw our garbage on the street every day and the city rarely smells of hot garbage for three months a year.

Outside of Chicago, there aren't as many fun things to do. But there still are plenty enough that I've never done nearly all of them. They are just a little harder to find. AND, there is some beauty and solitude in the prairie scene. The endless wasteland of the midwest isn't exactly exciting, but it isn't the worst thing in the world either.

Remember, Chicago IS still the third largest city in the country. It's not like you are moving to Cheyenne, Wyoming. It's still one of the most prominent spots on this map.
posted by gjc at 1:24 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I just want to chime in that you really should get excited about the food. I haven't even been to many of the "fancy" restaurants, because the regular neighborhood places are just so good. A few examples to illustrate this point:

On many occasions, I've been (or seen other Chicagoans be) sucked into the typical tourist/out-of-towner conversation that goes: We're wondering where to go for lunch/dinner, what's good around here? Well, what kind of food do you like? Pretty much anything, whatever's good.

This may seem like a benign question, but it's frustrating as hell because there is no simple answer. Any local worth his salt should be able to point to half a dozen excellent restaurants in walking distance, so we have to proceed with rattling off a list of the most unique, or the closest, or the most popular restaurants we can think of. It's sort of like asking, "I want to get on a bus that doesn't have zombies, I don't much care where it goes, but what bus do you recommend?" There are buses frickin everywhere, and hardly any of them have zombies! And you can hardly throw a rock without hitting a good restaurant in Chicago.

I've also heard multiple visitors remark something to the effect of, "Man, it's a good thing I don't live here because I'd be 300 pounds with all these amazing restaurants." (But don't worry, public transit does a pretty good job keeping us slim.)

Lastly, my SO and I are huge nerds, so we made a spreadsheet when we first moved to our neighborhood to try to keep track of all the dining options, where we'd been recently, what was closest, what was BYOB, etc. It had over 40 restaurants, just within walking distance. Eventually we learned our favorites and mostly stopped consulting the spreadsheet, but we ended up having conversations like, "Let's have Mexican. How about the Cafe? Nah, we were just there last week. How about the Mexican place up by Addison? Nah, I'm still mad at them because the service was kind of slow last time. How about the Mexican place down on Clark? Nah, the weather's kind of crappy and I don't want to walk that far. Etc, etc..." Now that I'm temporarily relocated, I would kill to have ANY ONE of those restaurants in my new city. God I miss Chicago.
posted by gueneverey at 1:57 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a giant lake with a huge park next to the second best art museum in the country.

Downside: the Cubs.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:26 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Chicago kicks NYC's ass.

Honestly, you don't need to live in the burbs. Most neighborhoods are quiet and cozy. Living in the burbs will separate you from all that makes Chicago great.

Also, unrelated, you will be working pretty much next door to where I work.
posted by Windigo at 2:37 PM on April 13, 2013

I grew up in the Midwest. There are parts of Midwestern culture I've abandoned, but people are more open, hospitable, and genuinely nice. Nice is underrated, and I miss the openness and hospitable-ness, somehow not the same as hospitality. Sorry to neologize.

Chicago has easy air transport to lots of places, so if you want to visit NYC for theater, the coastal south for beaches and warmth, Maine for general awesomeness, etc., it's pretty do-able.
posted by theora55 at 3:04 PM on April 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I moved to Chicago from NYC. If that's your stress frame of reference, you can breathe a deep, deep sigh of relief right now, because NYC is by far the most unliveable city by stress standards (and I've lived in LA, London, and Boston, too).

Chicago is such a wonderfully liveable city. Yes, it is cold a lot of the year. There's no getting around that. But! It is still really affordable, a great place for young professionals. There's a thriving arts scene--theater, art, music, dance, comedy--and you can actually take advantage of it because you aren't working three jobs (or one at 90 hours per week) to afford it. There are dozens of neighborhoods within the city that will give you a pseudo-suburban/residential feel, but which are just a short drive from downtown.

From what you've described, you might want to consider Edgewater or Andersonville. Affordable, getting trendier, very near the lake, express buses downtown, multiple red line stops, diverse, sandwiched between a couple of great ethnic neighborhoods (Rogers Park to the north, high concentration of South Asian shopping and restaurants, Uptown and the Vietnamese/Thai populations to the south).

Everyone is spot on about the food and the summer joy. It's also a business hub, so flights to elsewhere are easy to get. And there are some great areas within driving distance of Chicago for getaways and relaxing: Milwaukee or Madison, WI, Indiana and Michigan wine country, little towns all around the lake with awesome B&Bs.

It's a great place to have a real life for a few years, at least :)
posted by OompaLoompa at 3:45 PM on April 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Quimby's! One of the best bookstores there is for finding things you'd never imagined.
posted by brianconn at 5:22 PM on April 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'll chime in with my standard response of the Theatre. There are over 200 active theatre companies in the city producing all kinds of work. At one point last month you could see 11 productions of 9 different Shakespeare plays. There is a theatre company dedicated to almost anything you can imagine from producing gay shows to European playrights. We have an all Latina theatre company and a Latino theatre company. The Backroom Shakespeare Project does Shakespeare in the back room of bars in the traditional style of one rehearsal and no director. The Neo-Futurists created a new form of theatre and are constantly making fresh new amazing shows. Our Broadway is home to Mary Archie, Oracle Productions, and Strawdog Theatre in a two block stretch. Anywhere you move there will be a theatre within a few block radius. It's great.
posted by Uncle at 6:47 PM on April 13, 2013

It's been almost twenty years since I lived in Chicago and I've been back only a couple of times, but I still miss Gino's East and Giordano's pizza. And I've always preferred Chicago over NYC.

I lived in Hyde Park and Rogers Park. The latter, at the time, was great: diverse, close to the shore and the El.

I'd mention music too. The Green Mill, for example, and blues the like of which you're unlikely to hear elsewhere.
posted by seemoreglass at 7:00 PM on April 13, 2013

As far as where to live with a 40-45 min commute: I think most of the bigger suburbs will be out unless you work off times (coming in before or after rush hour). Check out the Edgewater or Andersonville neighborhood up nearish Loyola. You can get on the red line to get to the NW med campus, it's safe, and generally it's easy enough to find on-street parking so you can hop in your car and either take Lake Shore Drive to work or drive to a big box or grocery store and not end up super frustrated with city life.

I lived near the corner of Clark and Greenwood and felt safe. A teacher friend at Senn HS (in that area) said the school is really gentrifying. The area wasn't some sort of gang war scene when I lived there but mostly the poorer residents were recent immigrants. The red line and several major bus lines will get you to other parts of the city easily. Check the area out, for sure.
posted by adorap0621 at 8:34 PM on April 13, 2013

Lived in Chicagoland about a decade ago. Sometimes still wish I lived there.

I loved the food, and definitely took it for granted. One thing that I miss terribly is the numbered street grid system. It just made it so much easier to navigate, and there was much less need to open a map or always look for landmarks. Most other cities have something like that, but not nearly as user friendly.

As to where to live, I agree with adorap0621. Otherwise, you're looking at long commutes. Plus, the city, especially the core, has a higher density of recreational and social options than the suburbs. I had friends with great jobs in the suburbs who chose to live in Chicago because of neighborhoods where everything fun was within walking distance.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:21 PM on April 13, 2013

I loved the food, and definitely took it for granted. One thing that I miss terribly is the numbered street grid system. It just made it so much easier to navigate, and there was much less need to open a map or always look for landmarks. Most other cities have something like that, but not nearly as user friendly.

Oh my goodness yes. The whole city is laid (lain?) out in the same system, and you have to go really far out to find an area that isn't on the grid somehow. It's a delightful X,Y grid system, where the addresses match the streets. I almost wept the first time I tried navigating Brooklyn...

One point of warning: if you are used to Manhattan streets and numbers and distances, Chicago's numbers are much more spread out. There are only 8 street numbers to the mile, where in Manhattan there are 20 (north / south).
posted by gjc at 10:34 PM on April 13, 2013

The architecture. The history of American urban architecture is all there in Chicago.

Grant Park in the summer. Looking through the scaffolding at Millennium Park back across Michigan Avenue.

Chicago is stunningly beautiful, full of art and culture and food. It's also totally underrated by those of us on the coasts. Almost all of that is borne of ignorance and/or snobbery.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:15 AM on April 14, 2013

Nthing living in the city. Burbs are mostly soulless. Some like Oak Park and Evanston are cool, but if you're that close, why not just live in the city?
posted by professor plum with a rope at 3:25 AM on April 14, 2013

About the cold: this is going to sound glib, but I'm being totally sincere. Get a really warm down coat. Knee-length, from Land's End or LL Bean in their warmest temperature rating. I resisted getting one for a long time (the first 10 years I lived in Chicago) and buying one gave me a completely different experience of the weather here. Now I walk for miles in the thick of winter and the cold doesn't bother me (the only trouble is when there's ice). I will be standing outside with people in wool coats who are shivering and complaining and I truly feel warm. It's not that exciting, but it's my number one tip for not just surviving winter, but enjoying being out in it instead of cooped up inside.
posted by payoto at 5:31 AM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I think people have covered the good stuff but just wanted to chime in that Chicago is way more chill than nyc. I loved living in Chicago, and while i like nyc it stresses me out in the same way it does you-probably wouldn't live there.
posted by geegollygosh at 8:49 AM on April 14, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks again everyone for all the great advice! @payoto, that was super-helpful since at this point I think I'm most worried about surviving the winter. I'm totally going to get one of those coats. I've managed a few Long Island winters by basically not going outside, and it really drives me nuts.

Chicago sounds awesome ... I feel way better now!
posted by phoenix_rising at 11:16 AM on April 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh my god, yes, get the Land's End or North Face or whatever coat. Unlike NYC, nobody here cares how you look (ever, really, but ESPECIALLY) when it's cold.

It's all kind of worth it for days like today, when it's not even 60 and everyone is like BRING ON THE SHORTS AND ICE CREAM HOORAY!
posted by like_a_friend at 1:43 PM on April 14, 2013

I moved from New York City to Chicago. Every single thing was easier and more fun in Chicago. There was a lot I liked about living in NYC. But I love Chicago. Renting an apartment was SO STINKIN' EASY after what I'd endured over a decade in New York. Going out to dinner was easier and you know what? As others have said, the food in Chicago rocks, really rocks. The lakefront is goes on and on and there's always something fun to do, always a good time. I used to feel smothered in New York sometimes, like I couldn't ever relax or take a deep breath or just have a moment of quiet. It's a great city and I miss some things about it but Chicago, for me, just offered a much better quality of daily life.

I don't think you'll notice a huge difference between the winters in New York and Chicago. Spring comes a bit later for sure and there's probably a little more snow but really, how much time do you spend outside anywhere when it's January and 25 degrees? Chicago isn't the Arctic. Get a warm coat and some decent boots and you'll be fine.

People are waiting to welcome you to Chicago. People you don't even know are excited to meet you and show you around. I knew nobody when I moved there, but had a lot of "call my friend, my cousin, my college roommate" notes and every single one of them was glad to hear from me, had me over for dinner, took me out to fun places and many are still my friends. If I still lived there I'd be first in line to welcome you to one of the friendliest most fun cities in the country (we moved away 2 years ago for family reasons).

Get excited. You're lucky! Great times are ahead for you!
posted by Kangaroo at 2:32 PM on April 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Long Island native here, longtime NYC resident, most recently Chicagoan by choice for 12.5 years. Haven't looked back yet - love this city more every day.

If you had to stay inside to survive winter on Long Island, Chicago winter will be tough on you. Here is what you need to know: It is ALLLLL about having the right gear. The down coat will help a lot. Visit REI or another sporting good store that caters to extreme climate sports and make sure you get good gloves, hat, and socks. Good boots will change your life. Sometimes you will wear more than one scarf, but that is allowed here. Sometimes you will look at yourself heading out the door on a January morning and wonder when the hell you lost your ability to look "winter cute" - don't sweat it, we ALL look like that and nobody judges. That said, once summer comes, you will know why we all stick around during the horrorshow that is winter. :) Summer in Chicago is the BEST.

Some things that rule about Chicago:
1. If you use one, you know who pays the broker's fee here when you rent an apartment? THE LANDLORD. Revolutionary, I know!
2. People are unbelievably Midwestern-friendly and it is probable that you will make good friends here that you will have for a long, long, long time.
3. If such things matter to you as they do to me, Chicago has an unbelievably cool history of social justice, and you can learn a lot. When I first moved here, Studs Terkel was still alive and I was lucky enough to hear him speak a few times...we still have his books but I will always treasure the memory of listening to him speak.
4. Favorite summer activities: Printer's Row Book Fest, Jazz Fest, Blues Fest, music in Millennium Park after work, movies in lots of the parks after sunset, swimming in the lake, picking dinner out of my backyard garden before heading upstairs to prepare it in my apartment, morning coffee on the porch outside.
5. Favorite winter activities: going to Puerto Rico, going to Mexico, going to Costa Rica....KIDDING! But for real, give it a shot, there's really a lot to love about this city.
posted by deliciae at 11:00 PM on April 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Now I want to move to Chicago!! Geez you guys.
posted by stompadour at 8:59 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

So one of the things I like about Chicago winters is that as a midwestern city, we don't give (as much) a fuck about being stylish out in the cold. We'll bundle up as much as is necessary to get where we need to go, and when we get there everyone shed's their layers together and enjoys the indoors. Or toughs it out in the outdoors with enough gear -- I've been inspired to exercise more outdoors this winter thanks to the other chicago Mefites who provide excellent examples like this.
posted by garlic at 5:00 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just moved here last August and one of the things that struck me was how friendly and helpful total strangers were. I was doing the craigslist furniture sherpa thing and lugging and an ikea tv stand for about a mile in 90+F temps and a shop owner offered me the use of his dolly to help (alas I was just one block from home so no real point then).

One time I sneezed while walking down the street and a man in an SUV on the other side of the street shouted "Bless You" with an urgency that suggested he felt my immortal soul was in danger and he was responsible for it.

After 7 years in England the food is damn near overwhelming for me. Then there is all the beers.

Get a really warm down coat. Knee-length, from Land's End or LL Bean in their warmest temperature rating.

I call these sleeping bags with sleeves. It is the winter plumage of the Chicago woman. Typically in black.
posted by srboisvert at 9:45 AM on April 19, 2013 [4 favorites]

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