Help me fall in love with Chicago
April 24, 2008 6:19 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend has a job offer in Chicago. We're taking a trip out there in a few weeks, and I'll have two days to walk around alone. What neighborhoods should I visit to get myself excited about the idea of moving there?

We currently live in Cambridge, MA, and love it. If you could point me to a similar neighborhood in Chicago, I would walk around and say "ahhh, this is just like home! I love it!" Or if you could point me to an even better neighborhood, I could say "This is just like home, but even better! I really love it!"

I'm not concerned, yet, with things like commutability or how expensive rent is in a particular neighborhood. This is a blatant attempt to create a positive experience, to see the best the city can offer for people like us.

About us: we're scientists; I'm in my late 20's, he's in his mid 30's. The job offer is at the University of Chicago. We like cafes and gardens and bookshops and restaurants and all that good stuff; not such fans of bars and clubs.

I'll be walking around during the day, in May. I'll be stopping for lunch and snacks, but dinner will be taken care of.

I've seen this and this and this , but I think what I'm looking for is a bit different. Help me fall in love! (And then watch me get my heart broken if we decide not to go...) Much thanks!
posted by wyzewoman to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Wicker Park and Lincoln Park
posted by cachondeo45 at 6:40 AM on April 24, 2008

Oak Park, if you're a Cambridge transplant. Here's their webpage.
posted by jujube at 6:57 AM on April 24, 2008

Seconding Lincoln Park, Lived there for a year right across the stree from the zoo. I loved being woken up by the lion every morning. Awesome! Don't need a car, everything in walking distance with tons of stuff to do.
posted by bleucube at 6:59 AM on April 24, 2008

Like bookstores but don't like bars: I hate to recommend Hyde Park, but since it has lots of the former and darn near none of the latter, and it would mean a walking commute for him, you could do worse. [My wife hated it, but she would have hated Cambridge too.]

HP bears some similarity to Cambridge, if say, Cambridge were airlifted into the middle of postindustrial Gary, IN. (OK, that's a bit unfair, and the South Side has made something of an economic turnaround since the 1980s, but you get my drift.)

If his commute isn't a factor, Ravenswood is nice, as is Andersonville, and both are pretty crunchy.
posted by mrbugsentry at 7:06 AM on April 24, 2008

Seconding wicker park. My best friend lives there and I always have a good time when I visit.
posted by xotis at 7:11 AM on April 24, 2008

UofC grad here. I'm also a veteran of moving all over the place. While I think it's possible to approximate your Cambridge life in Chicago, I personally found I was happier faster in new locales if I made conscious efforts to embrace the new place for what it was, instead of trying to force it to fit where I used to be.

That said, you'll need to give serious consideration to commuting and how big a part it will play in your life. Hyde Park is a truly weird neighborhood. It can also be a wonderfully eclectic, stimulating, and sometimes dangerous place. I enjoyed living there the first time, but when my wife brought us back for another degree, it needs to be said that we made a purposeful decision to not live there again. It's also really geographically isolated from the rest of the city.

We chose the west loop, among the still present meat packers/fish mongers and the new cafes/restaurants/art galleries and yes, bars and clubs. Mainly because that particular location offered the best balance of not in Hyde Park and access to easy routes to Hyde Park. Many of her classmates chose a Chicago as theme park route and lived in Wrigleyville, Lincoln Park/Lakeview, or even River North. Wicker Park could arguably be added to that list nowadays.

All nice places - but much higher pain in the ass factor. Hyde Park is not well served by public transit (in fact, few neighborhoods in the city are), so that typically means driving. Which necessarily means trying to find parking. Our particular part of the west loop, off fulton market, featured ample parking day or night.

If I had to do it over again, I would explore living along the lakefront on the northside, and riding down by bike on the lake shore path. Chicago is 15 miles end to end, and a flat 20 mile round trip commute to school would have done my health a world of good.

I wish I could say there was one neighborhood that could do it all for you, but I've found that every major city featured way too much interesting stuff all over their limits and neighboring suburbs. That's changed our hunt for places to live from "interesting stuff within walking distance" to maximizing bang for buck and quality of life at home - and making real efforts to truck out (or ride your bike!) to the interesting stuff.

Best of luck. Give Chicago a chance to grow on you.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 7:17 AM on April 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

I never lived anywhere but Hyde Park (never had a car), but am quite fond of Wicker Park and Lincoln Park. You might also want to take a look at this thread for some more ideas that do bring commutability into question.

Congratulations to your husband for the offer, by the way, and I hope you enjoy your visit! May's a lovely time on campus.
posted by catlet at 7:23 AM on April 24, 2008

Lincoln Park. Old Town. Lakeview.

Chicago is a fantastic city to just go walking around in. I grew up there, and go on epic walks every time I visit now. Some fun walking loops for you:

1. From the corner of Clark & Armitage walk W on Armitage to Racine, N to Diversey, E to Clark, and back down. Walk down some side streets along the way.

2. From the corner of Clark & North, walk E to Dearborn, S to Division, W to Wells, N to Clark, and E again. Dearborn is a very fancy neighborhood. Wells, although very close, is very different.

3. Walk around the Loop. Start at the Art Institute, go N on Michigan Ave, W on Randolph, S on State, E on Monroe or Jackson.

4. You should also make it a point to walk along the lakefront, through Lincoln Park (the actual park, not the neighborhood), and perhaps Lincoln Park Zoo.

The city has changed a lot since I lived there, mostly for the better. Have fun.
posted by adamrice at 7:28 AM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

wyzewoman, sit down with a stack of tourist guide books at your local independent bookstore (or chain) and make some notes on the different neighborhoods which sound interesting to you. I say this because although our fellow Chicago MeFi's are good with city specific advice, sometimes it's nice to pour over the included maps that these sorts of guide books include.

The commute to Hyde Park is your biggest consideration. Most UofC people I know wind up driving. You can cross reference your Chicago Transit Authority commuting options at their trip planner website. Just plug-in your starting address and Hyde Park as your destination - that will give you an idea of what it will be like taking public transit to get there.

The CTA is bad shape right now, but it will get better. It has to if Daley really wants to bring the Olympics here in 2016. Either that or the entire city will implode.

Otherwise, everything that NoRelationToLea said above.
posted by wfrgms at 7:51 AM on April 24, 2008

I know you said you're not concerned about commutes right now. But keep in mind U of C is waaay on the south side, and most of these neighborhoods mentioned here are on the north side. Long, long commute.

Hyde Park, where U of C is located is beautiful, though it's kind of an island neighborhood surrounded by not so nice neighborhoods. Something to keep in mind.

Another nice area, though extremely far north, in Andersonville.

IMO, Lincoln Park is pretty, but sharply divided into the extremely wealthy, and recent college grad frat boy types partying like crazy in obnoxious sports bars.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 8:03 AM on April 24, 2008

What NoRelationToLea said, especially about the Chicago-as-theme-park neighborhoods.
posted by klangklangston at 8:04 AM on April 24, 2008

Also, Lake Shore Drive (which would be the way you'd get to Hyde Park from places like Lincoln Park, doesn't really have as bad traffic as you'd expect. You could get to Hyde Park in a half hour

I live in Lincoln Park, but I'd probably fall in the recent college grad frat boy types.

Second the walking Chicago trip. I first visited Chicago as an adult 2.5 years ago, and I walked from downtown to Wrigley Field (4.5 miles). I decided to move then.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:17 AM on April 24, 2008

Nthing Lincoln Park/Lakeview/Old Town, and particularly adamrice's walking recommendations, but they are indeed wealthy and bars-y. If you walk around on a weekday afternoon, and the Cubs aren't in town, you'll avoid a lot of the WOOOO! (And if you want to do some straight-up shopping while you're in Chicago, Armitage and Halsted is my favorite area.)

Lincoln Square is my favorite neighborhood, though an even further commute from Hyde Park. A little cheaper and more family-friendly. Check out the area around Lincoln Avenue between Lawrence and Montrose, near the Western CTA Brown Line stop. Andersonville is also lovely; try walking along Clark north of Foster.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:20 AM on April 24, 2008

I lived in Hyde Park for only a short time. It seems to be a strange and rather isolated world unto itself. Unusually quiet and a little bit dangerous, it nevertheless is home to Chicago's best bookstores (check out Powell's and O'Gara and Wilson for used books and the Seminary Co-Op (hidden in the basement of a University Building) for new academic-y titles).

It's a bit of an ivory tower, though. It always made me sad, for example, to note how lousy the local public library there was, in the shadow of U of C's sealed-off fortress of books.

So it's an oddly lonely and yet somehow vital place--epicenter, of course, of the Barack Obama phenomenon, and a place where Louis Farrakhan's nation of Islam has a visible presence.

Personally, if you have a look at Hyde Park, I'd encourage you not just to tour 57th street (and 53rd), but to continue down 57th past Powell's, the railroad tracks, and the Museum of Science and Industry, to Promontory Point (or in Hyde Park, just "The Point"). To me this is one of the most beautiful places in Chicago. For me, sitting on the limestone steps near the lake, reading a good book, as older professors and other regulars engage in semi-legal swimming from the point is the quintessential Hyde Park experience, and a beautiful one too.

Am I recommending you live in Hyde Park? I don't know the neighborhood, or you, well enough to do that, but I would recommend that you make the walk to Promontory Point.
posted by washburn at 10:05 AM on April 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the suggestions! I will sit down with a guidebook, as wfrgms suggested, and plan out a route. (And, yes, I can do it at my local independent bookstore -- another reason I love Cambridge!)

I currently have exactly zero geographical sense about the city, so jeff-o-matic's point is useful. Also, it's looking like we may want to think about purchasing a car... darn...
posted by wyzewoman at 10:07 AM on April 24, 2008

I lived in Wicker Park and Logan Square for a long time and my girlfriend at the time was working at the University of Chicago. I used to drive her to work in the morning before I went to work in the West Loop. Commuting *can* be a pain, but realistically, it was never that bad for me to go from the near NW side, all the way to the South side and back up to the Loop.

When she was living in Hyde Park, her only complaint was that it was hard to get home late at night (after clubs). The Blue Line and Red Line are both 24 hours, but they run much less frequently at night. If you're not the type to stay out late at clubs, then this shouldn't be much of an issue for you.

I'd recommend you look at the South Loop/Chinatown and possibly even Pilsen as another option. It's a nice area, near all the museums and some great restaurants, and should make for an easy commute to almost anywhere.
posted by atomly at 10:22 AM on April 24, 2008

sometimes it's nice to pour over the included maps

Even better, pore over them. If you pour, the book store will probably charge you :-)

The Wikipedia entry on Chicago's neighborhoods, Time Out Chicago, and the Reader may be helpful. Good luck!
posted by lukemeister at 7:53 PM on April 24, 2008

Not Oak Park.

My fiancée and I moved there this past December from out of state so I could take a job here in Chicago, and we've been sorely disappointed with the area. Our commute is a tad too long (especially with the constant CTA screw-ups), we're too far away from anything interesting (we're near-30 and childfree, and Oak Park seems to cater more to budding parents), and we're surrounded by not-exactly-wonderful neighborhoods (Oak Park itself feels safe, but I wouldn't walk too far outside its borders in certain directions; the CTA commute between here and downtown does not feel safe at night, and my fiancée was already mugged on the Blue Line one evening).

We're going to re-sign our lease in June, since we haven't been here long enough to investigate where we do want to end up; we're considering Wicker Park or the north side (Lakeview, etc.). What we do know is that we're not staying here more than another year.
posted by korpios at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2008

And as far as comparing Oak Park to Cambridge — I've been to Cambridge on several occasions, and Oak Park isn't anything like it. You'll do better in Chicago proper.
posted by korpios at 10:12 AM on April 25, 2008

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