Relocating from LA to Chicago. What to expect?
May 10, 2018 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Moving from Los Angeles to Chicago. What are some of the non-obvious things to know?

I'm relocating from Los Angeles to Chicago. What are the important things to keep in mind?

After 4 wonderful years in Los Angeles, my partner and I (who are originally from the east coast) are relocating to Chicago because of work stuff. We're in our mid-thirties and will more than likely be moving to the Logan Square area.

I have limited experience with Chicago - visited a few times for the weekend but don't know much besides. Apart from obvious things like the much improved mass transit, the cold winters and swapping the Dodgers for the Cubs, what are some other things to know about relocating to Chicago?
posted by huskerdont to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Very generally, people tend to hang out around where they live vs work. (This moderates a little with thirties crowd.)

Museums here are awesome and worth exploring. Botanical garden members also get into Morteum Arboretum and vice versa.

Mass transit works very well into/out of city during rush hour but some neighborhoods are a pain to get between. Many but not all Chicagoans have cars (I lived in East Lakeview without a car and it was possible).

Chicago green space is wonderful but not distributed equally across neighborhoods - if parks are important to you check what is nearby.

Logan Square has changed so much in the last few years -- make sure who you talk to has lived there recently.

You can get crime reports on Chicago Every block. Nextdoor is more active for conversation for my particular address.
posted by typecloud at 3:20 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

Logan Square is off the CTA Blue Line, which runs 24 hours and gets you to the airport or downtown/Loop with ease. (Also Wicker Park, Bucktown, and Ukrainian Village, which are similar hot neighborhoods 1-3 stops away.) However, the capacity on the Blue Line has not kept up with the population explosion along that stretch. I live a few stops past Logan and I work early hours so I can avoid the crush between 7:30-9am or so.

People identify with their neighborhoods in a big way. Though in the north half of the city, Logan is far enough west that you can root for the White Sox if you prefer.

There are a lot of great places to go out around there, and the 606 Trail is bliss, but there’s also considerable tension around gentrification as older residents get pushed out and developers rush up new apartment towers along Milwaukee or wherever.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:20 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

The most unexpected thing to get accustomed to in Chicago is the truly remarkable and depressing degree of segregation. Most neighborhoods are monocultures and people keep to themselves, which means you can spend years of your life there barely exposed to the incredible poverty that millions of Chicagoans live in.

Many Chicagoans do have cars and for those living in the well-serviced by transit north-side neighborhoods it's a continual bafflement to me. So you might find yourself in a position to sell your car. It certainly will spare you the headache of finding parking.

You should swap the Dodgers for the White Sox :)
posted by dis_integration at 6:35 PM on May 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Public transportation is so much better than in LA.

Originally from Louisana, but moved from Long Beach to Chicago. People dress way more modestly in Chicago, even in the summer time. I noticed this alot when I first moved here.

If you drive, you'll likely have to adjust to driving in weather aside from sunny, and remember to check your weather forecast every day. I was so not in the habit after living in Long Beach.

In my perception traffic and better, but when I lived in Long Beach I was commuting to Westwood on the 405 which is a hellish commute.

All interstates have nicknames, no one calls them by the numbers. Try and learn them ahead of time because traffic reports commonly refer to them by their nickname. Downtown seperates 90/94. North is the Kennedy, south is the Dan Ryan. Loop is downtown.

The beach is the lakefront. People are not leaving town to go to the beach usually. You will scoff until you become deprived of oceanic sceanery and then submit to local nomiclature.

I love it here. Good luck!
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:33 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Assorted thoughts after moving here a few years back:
  • The food and drink in Chicago is spectacular. There are so, so many good options for basically everything. You're going to hear a bunch about the usual suspects, most of which are excellent. For a change-of-pace after you fall in love with Lou Malnati's, check out Nick and Vito's. Also UB Dogs in the Loop for hot dogs (which are a thing in Chicago unlike anywhere else, just lean into it). Also, never wait in line for food or drinks here. There's always somewhere around the corner that's at least as good and that won't make you wait.
  • The Chicago Athletic Association, downtown in the Loop, is a former private club and hotel that's been converted to a number of bars, with a Shake Shack on the ground floor. The bar on the roof, Cindy's, has one of my favorite views in the city.
  • Good call on the Dodgers-to-Cubs conversion.
  • Lots of the train stops, when you leave them, will have a compass rose set in the ground as you walk out. Makes it easy to reorient yourself once you get off the train.
  • West Loop and South Loop are actually west of the Loop and south of the Loop. I don't know why. (I live in South Loop, it's pretty great. A lot of the trendy restaurants in the city are in West Loop.)

posted by protocoach at 7:59 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

To echo dis_integration, Chicago is incredibly segregated.

Please make it a point to visit the south and west sides of Chicago beyond going to Hyde Park or the small bastions of whiteness in otherwise communities of color (mostly thinking of The Plant and Whiner Beer at the moment.) Chicago has so much more to offer if people would bother to step out their comfort zones every once in a while.

Chicago is pretty great for bike commuting and biking in general. The lakefront path is incredibly accessible. I used to do bike year round (maybe had one or two weeks total in winter where there was just too much snow/ice on the ground to make biking not a good Idea. ). It's really easy to bike up to Evanston and beyond along the lakefront path. (Riding all the way up to Milwaukee was also surprisingly easy. ) It's also incredibly easy to bike down to Indiana. You could bike down to the Dunes, hang out there for the day, then catch the Metra back up into the city.

There are also a couple sweet spots along the lake which are acoustic phenomenons that will let you hear the big concerts at Soldier Field, Northerly Island, and Millennium Park really clearly for free.

If you like beer, you'll be in heaven (highly recommend a bike beer tour in the city).

If you want to swim in the lake, get to Promontory Point. The beaches usually are well lifeguarded so you can't go past chest high in the water. The little stretch just north of Oak Street Beach is swimmable but completely full of triathlon training people.

Oh and pretty sure no one likes Rahm.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:20 PM on May 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

The grid system! Learn it, love it.
posted by kickingtheground at 8:39 PM on May 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Funny that people are commenting on car ownership here. It's true that more people than need to have cars, but many of us are car-free by choice and walk or take public transit and cabs.

Most neighborhoods have at least one great dive bar that's been around for ages.

Logan Square is amazing. If you're commuting to the Loop from Logan Square, know that the train is generally packed by the time it reaches the California stop during morning rush hour. At the Logan Square stop, you can usually get on the train at morning rush, but getting a seat is difficult to impossible (though sometimes you'll get lucky).

If you're working in the Loop, learn the Pedway system. It'll save you when the weather is too shitty to be outside. And you can take it from the Washington Blue Line stop to the Prudential building, for instance.
posted by smich at 8:58 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

-- Get a city sticker for your car straight away, or you'll learn to the hard way: with a $200 ticket. It's also worth getting a permit to park on a side street, because parking on the boulevards in Logan (if you live on/near one) can be difficult.

-- Not sure how old you are, but we're non-corporate-job people in our 30s and we feel too old AND too young for Logan Square, at this point. Plus, too poor. It's either 20-somethings in first apartments with 2+ roommates, rich yuppies, or families who bought in the area 30 years ago. We've seriously considered moving from Logan to areas like Irving Park/Old Irving Park, Uptown, Ravenswood, North Park, Albany Park, Beverly, parts of Niles. People also love living in Andersonville. But if you want to be near excellent restaurants, entertainment, and an easy commute to the Loop (and you can afford it) you can't do much better than Logan Square.

-- This is a pinball city. If there ever was a time and place to learn to play pinball (if you don't already), it's now. Chicago is the epicenter of pinball, and there are lots of great arcades everywhere.

- White Sox tickets are way more affordable than Cubs tickets (and the fans are better *ducks for cover*)

-- Nthing developing an understanding of the systemic inequality here.

-- To that end, please don't buy one of the new Lathrop Homes condos.

-- Go to the museums on Chicago residents days. It's free!

-- Chicago has wonderful graveyards. Graceland and Rosehill are must-do experiences.

-- If you drive, look out for potholes.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 10:32 PM on May 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

-- Go to the museums on Chicago residents days. It's free!
I don't know that it's for Chicago residents only that The Art Institute is free on Thursday -- if so, that's fairly recent, like within the past 3 years.

The Art Institute is absolutely world class. A spectacular collection. And of course lots of shows that travel through. And with the huge addition -- has that been 15 years now? -- there is so. much. more. of the collection permanently on display.

I lived in Chicago in 1981, almost a full year, a hard year in my life but this was a bright spot. I spent many Thursday nights in The Art Institute -- it was open til 9 PM on Thursdays, and that is a wonderful thing as it comes on winter and the daylight is going come 4:30, maybe 4:45 PM, and especially on wet afternoons/evening there is this gray/violet tint in the air, and due to the fact that there are skylights in the galleries the light in those rooms is as perfect as light can be, and more beautiful by far than any church. Probably it is my church, truth to be told. It was there that I began to learn, it blew my heart open, and my eyes. I've since been in museums all over the world but my favorite painting is in The Art Institute, it might even be my favorite room, anywhere -- so. many. great. paintings. in that room which fill my heart with so much joy. I don't want to tell you the painting (though I will if you send me sixty dollars :) So I don't want to tell you the painting; what I hope for you is that you'll spend enough soft Thursday evenings in those galleries that you'll find your own favorite, or favorites.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:26 PM on May 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Chicago is in Illinois. By which I mean -- corn. Knee-high by the fourth of July, that's what the farmers say, and it's what they are expecting, and what they'll get, too, if they get enough rain.

Corn figures large. The supermarket chain in the Chicago area is named Jewel, and they're pretty darn good. And likely Trader Joe and Whole Paychecks has moved in, forcing Jewel's hand, forcing Jewel to be even better. So. Along about the middle of August maybe, start looking for corn. And I'm not talking about the garbage that's foisted upon us anywhere else I've lived, I'm talking about real corn, Illinois corn, that was in the field day before yesterday. The ears of corn are *huge*, big as your forearm (not as big as mine but hey) these things are huge, they're 12 inches long if they're an inch, drop them in boiling water but not for too long, just long enough. Put butter on them, regardless what your cardiologist might think, or say -- I can see my cardiologists face as I write this, all frowny and finger-wavey. Tough shit. I promise you this -- if I was up there, I'd put butter on the damn thing(s). And salt. You should too.

And. Cucumbers. Fresh. And onions. Fresh. Run a potato peeler down the length of the cucumber a few times, make it striped looking, put the peel in the bowl. Put vinegar in the bowl, for sure, and salt and water but not much water really. Cucumber slices maybe 1/4 inch, maybe 3/8 inch thick, drop them in the water/vinegar/salt. Cut the onions, maybe 1/4 inch thick, drop them in the mix also. Let it sit in that bowl, let the vinegar and salt work on it. I've lost my sense of smell -- long story -- but cucumbers smell good, when they're fresh, and ripe; run that potato peeler down them you'll know it. My sister-in-law puts something else in the mix -- parsley? I'm not sure. Hers is prime, so damn good.

Myself, I recommend chicken, fried, but go with whatever. Hamburgers maybe, esp if you're in the back yard. Hot dogs. But don't miss the corn. And don't miss the cucumbers. Be alert, the season is only about 3 weeks long, maybe 4. It's one of the best things about Illinois in the summer, it's something I really miss. If you live there you won't know this until you leave, and then come back, and sit at a picnic table on a summer evening and eat with people you care about. After that you'll never forget it.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:01 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Echoing the grid system, everything is amazingly logical. It's like longitude and latitude. The intersection of state and Madison is 0/ East, west, north and south. Every full block is 100 in the addressing system. 8 blocks is one mile.

Each city address can tell you exactly where you are in the city. 1600 W 45Th steet is 2 miles west of state st and 45 blocks (or about 5.5 miles) south of Madison. It's tricker on the north due as streets are named, (streets north of Madison running east West are named, streets south of Madison running east West are named as numbers as a loose rule outside of downtown) but with practice you can figure out how far things are from another without Google. All street signs have their associated number. Streets that run north south are always named.

Addressing is consistent throughout the entire area. It's not like LA where things change if your not in LA Proper. It is all Chicago.
posted by AlexiaSky at 3:10 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The grid system is great, but you level up when you figure out how to use the diagonals (Milwaukee/Elston/Lincoln) to your advantage.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 6:52 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Make a point of catching or at least seeing the CTA Holiday Train. It's at the top of my (short) list of favorite things about winter in Chicago!
posted by treefort at 8:22 AM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Apartments come with refrigerators, unlike Los Angeles, month-to-month renting is very rare, unlike Los Angeles, and there is a rental season (coinciding with good weather) where most people change apartments in that narrow window of time, because nobody wants to move in lousy weather. Finding vacancies outside of that window can be challenging.
posted by davejay at 8:35 AM on May 11, 2018

I made the same move a few years ago. Welcome! Chicago is fantastic, especially compared to LA. It feels a lot more like an East Coast city. The only exception is the creepy and annoying friendliness of store staff. I have to keep reminding myself that nice midwesterners are basically indistinguishable from scam artists on the coast. I'm sure I come off as an aloof weirdo to them, but the line between ordinary business transaction and smarmy used-car-salesman patter is a lot finer here than anywhere else I've lived. I have to keep reminding myself to assume the best on the part of weirdly friendly strangers.

My constant, repetitive advice to colleagues who move here is to ignore all the paranoid warnings about danger that you'll hear. The racial and economic segregation in Chicago is astonishing, but there are a lot of fantastic things to see and do in the poor and non-white parts of the city. If you're an African American high school kid or involved in the drug or gun trade, there are parts of the city in which you genuinely won't be safe. For the rest of us, walking around in the highest-crime neighborhoods in Chicago is still safer than driving on a highway. (And there's no such thing as an unsafe L or CTA line, no matter what you hear.) Not exploring the whole city is a waste. There's a lot of great art, food, and people in the south and the west parts of town.
posted by eotvos at 11:11 AM on May 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of the great benefits over L.A. is the relative proximity of things. Look for a place that's walking distance from whatever is most important to you: grocery store, park, bars/cafes.

Find a place with a nice backyard; Chicago is a barbecue/lawn party town. Logan Square is great for trendy nightlife and has some beautiful tree-covered areas. You'll pay more to be near Logan boulevard, but it's one of the prettiest stretches in town, with a top-notch farmers market.

As others have said, get to know the neighborhoods. Generally speaking, south and west sides are black, southwest and northwest sides are Latino, and north side is white/mixed with many ethnic enclaves in varying degrees of intactness. All of them have something worth seeking out.

Take the bus! It's often more comfortable and direct than the "L." And get a Divvy membership.

Food websites: Fooditor, LTHForum

Best local publication: Chicago Reader
posted by ism at 2:20 PM on May 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: These are all awesome. Thank you so much!
posted by huskerdont at 2:36 PM on May 11, 2018

If you're driving or walking watch out for bikes. Milwaukee Ave. (and Elston to a lesser extent) are "bike highways" where a large amount of the commuters are on bikes. If you don't ride, give it a shot! Maybe start off on side roads first. The 606 Trail is a fun alternative to a regular park (if you can zig zag around all the strollers). The Lakefront is amazing for biking, running, picnicking, volleyball, etc. It's no Pacific, but being from here I call it the ocean because you can't see the other side and we have beaches. There's also great bike/run/walk trails in the forest preserves on the northside.

Different neighborhoods have different stock of apartments. If you want a doorman, for example go or New York. I kid! That might happen downtown in the Loop or River north. There's lots of vintage apartments in most neighborhoods, don't assume there's A/C (I've never had it in Chicago) but you can usually supply your own window unit. Logan has larger apartments in my experience (not a lot of one bedrooms compared to the number of 2-4 bedroom places).

If you're here in the summer DO STUFF. There's so much to do. There's at least 5 festivals every summer weekend, some better than others. Every museum in the city has free days. I usually program them into my calendar at the start of the year.

You'll need a Ventra card which works on the L, city buses (CTA is the company that runs the L and the buses), Pace (suburban buses - which you'll need to go to King Spa), and Metra (commuter trains to suburbs). I've never had a car and it's fine. The downside to Logan Square with no car is there are currently not many close grocery stores. The main reason for a car is for road trips to Wisconsin for beer. Maybe give it 6 months or a year and then reevaluate if it's worth keeping.

I've lived in Logan Square for 10 years and have experienced most of the gentrification (it certainly started before me but kicked up a notch the past 3 years). If I had to commute on the blue line I'd go crazy. It's so crowded. I often have to wait for a few trains to pass to get on so consider that when calculating commute times. That said, it's fast once you get on. I'm too old/too poor for the neighborhood now. When I moved in I paid $800 for a two bedroom, and now 2 bedroom units around here are $1,800—much more if you want A/C or a new hi rise. My neighbors are either old Chicagoans who've lived on this block 50 years, 27 year-olds who work at restaurants, or yuppies who bought a two flat where 8 people used to live and converted it into a million dollar single family home. If you have any specific questions about Logan feel free to DM me.

Look for places hugging Milwaukee (and the Blue Line). I usually suggest staying East of Central Park and West of the Expressway and google how long it will take you to get to work so you're not too far from the L. Logan Square is technically quite large, and the areas to the West are quite far from the L. Also, a lot of people renting places will claim Humbolt Park or Avondale are Logan so check your P's and Qs, look for rentals on Craigslist and Domu, and I suggest avoiding going through an apartment placement place because they only showed me the worst apartments in the areas I didn't want to live. The best deals are sometimes just signs in windows, so if you come to town just walking around and calling numbers is something people do.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:20 PM on May 11, 2018

I should clarify that the Ventra card "works" on Metra in that you can use the Ventra app on your phone to buy a ticket for Metra but you still need to show it to the conductor like you always have—you can't just scan the card. I usually wait til I get on or buy the ticket right before. But if you're commuting you can buy monthly or 10-ride Metra passes.
posted by Bunglegirl at 3:27 PM on May 11, 2018

Tagging along on Bunglegirl, is great for collating a bunch of apartment listings across multiple sites, including CL, while also letting you specifically filter on a map (cutting down on the "wait, this isn't in [NEIGHBORHOOD X]").
posted by protocoach at 6:14 PM on May 11, 2018

8 blocks is one mile. If you're trying to figure out how far something is.

Because warm weather days are slimmer than other places, we RAGE in the summer. Lots of outdoor events & festivals.

Plan a weekend out of town somewhere warm in Feb. Our worst winter months tend to be late, so when you're at your breaking point it is the worst.

When I say "bar" a lot of LA friends hear "club." People here hang out and talk in bars. We're into meeting at a "third place" like a bar to hang out. While some people definitely hang out in each others' houses, it's much less than my experiences in LA, probably partially because we have an easy way to get home drunk!

My LA experience is that if there's traffic people just won't go to another part of town. That's not an option as much here. While definitely everyone has neighborhoods they feel like are a pain, and because of the aforementioned segregation there are neighborhoods no one from the north side goes to and vice versa, if you live in andersonville and your friends are having a party in ukrainian village, and it's snowing and rush hour, you're still going. :D

The farther you get from the 0/0 of the address grid (north and west, at least) the more likely people will own cars and there will be parking. This is VERY rough estimation but the closer in you live the more expensive having parking is. The farther out from an el stop you live, the less likely people will want to come over, although this is less true with lyft/uber.

Chicago dibs is real
posted by jennybento at 10:07 PM on May 11, 2018

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