Last Updated On: May 22, 2018
It’s the beginning of summer in Chicago and it’s my absolute favorite time of the year in the city. Anyone who lives in Chicago LIVES for summers here. It’s really the best place to be and there’s always something to see and do. Summer is also the most popular time to move to Chicago so I thought it would be the perfect time to write this guide. If you are planning to move to Chicago, as you read this guide I hope to answer all your questions and concerns. However, if you have a question that I didn’t answer please leave your question in the comments below.
A girl’s guide to moving to Chicago
Before I wrote this guide, I came up with a list of questions of things I would have loved to have known before I moved here. I’ve lived here for ten years now and I wish back then I had a guide of sorts to help me navigate through my first year and help me with a move to the big city.
Is Chicago a safe place to live?
The most general answer is yes. I was a young girl in my twenties when I moved here and for the most part, I always felt safe. Don’t listen to the media! They portray Chicago as being a terrible place to live and it’s really sad. However, it is a big city and you need to always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t do things like walk or take the train alone late at night. You might think this is common sense but it’s amazing how many people do it. Also, I would move to a neighborhood that makes you feel safe. A neighborhood you can enjoy and will make you feel at home. Don’t move somewhere just because it’s all you can afford, or think you can afford. More on where to live later in this guide.
Chicago winters sound awful, how do I survive them?
Well, you just do. Some years that can be so cold and feel like they last forever. Some years they are not so bad. The important thing is to prepare for the winters by investing in the right clothing. If Chicago is going to be your new home, you need to have the right coat, boots, and accessories. If you don’t you will be miserable. I would spend the money and buy a really good quality warm coat and snow boots. It honestly took me a few winters to realize this and it was not fun in the beginning.
What are the other seasons like in Chicago?
Well, honestly I like them all. Of course, as I mentioned above, summers in Chicago are the best. However, I really love fall as well as the holiday season in Chicago. The fall is beautiful with all the leaves changing colors, and the weather can still be really nice so you can still enjoy a lot of outdoor time. The holiday season in the city is truly magical! There is so much to do and there is nothing like the holidays here in beautiful Chicago.
How do I find the right apartment?
I’ve had the most success with finding the right apartment when I have done the research myself. I never thought I would be able to live downtown but after spending the time really searching. I found an updated studio that I loved in a great location for exactly my budget. This might be difficult for you if you are new to the city and you don’t know where you want to live so I would highly recommend using a realtor. I would not suggest using an apartment leasing place. They don’t usually have a lot of offer their clients. A realtor for one has access to all the rentals in Chicago and they sometimes have exclusive deals for you with apartment buildings. For example, the first month free. Also, I highly recommend trying to rent a condo unit. You can get a really amazing deal and you are not paying apartment building prices. One of my good friends, Andy Hasdal, is an awesome realtor and he can really help you find exactly what you are looking for. You can contact him here.
What neighborhood should I move to?
Finding the right neighborhood is essential to your experience in Chicago. Every neighborhood is so different and each one has different things to offer. Here are the most popular neighborhoods in Chicago broken down and I’m certain at least one of these neighborhoods will fit your personality. So, I would recommend picking a few you like, explore those neighborhoods, and even look at a few apartments.
South Loop/Printers Row
These two neighborhoods are quieter neighborhoods just south of the Loop. They are both perfect for both young families and singles. If you are looking for newer or more luxury high rise condos, there are many to choose from in the South Loop. Both neighborhoods have been a little slow in growth when it comes to bars and restaurants but finally, after the last few years, there are some great places that have finally opened. You can also easily walk downtown to work or take the L train or many different buses.
River North/Gold Coast/Streeterville
If you are a single girl and work downtown I would highly suggest living in one of these neighborhoods. These three neighborhoods are all just north of the Loop and you are close to everything. You are within walking distance to all transportation, Michigan Avenue, the lakefront, tons of trendy restaurants and bars, nightlife, the Riverwalk, and more. There’s plenty of apartments with doormen at all price points, and the area is very safe.
Old Town is a great neighborhood for singles who love to go out but don’t want to be right downtown. You can easily walk to the Gold Coast as well as Well Street which has tons of dining and bar options. Rent can be a little higher in this neighborhood but definitely more affordable with a roommate.
This neighborhood is the most popular for recent college graduates. It’s only about two miles from downtown and you have multiple public transportation options. It’s an iconic neighborhood with beautiful tree-lined streets and historic houses. Although the apartments are smaller they are very affordable. The area is safe and there’s plenty of things to do including, restaurants, bars, the lake, and Lincoln Park.
Lakeview and especially Lakeview East just north of Lincoln Park, is a very popular family-friendly almost community like neighborhood. The streets all around Broadway, Clark, and Halsted are full of great restaurants, bars, and even a very popular independent movie theater. During the summer, Broadway is full of people walking around and dining outside, or enjoying an afternoon out by the lake. Also, this neighborhood is close enough that you can easily walk to Wrigley Field without being right in all the action. Rent is currently affordable in this neighborhood although those places are not always as updated. But remember location is everything.
A few years ago Wicker Park was up and coming now it’s one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city. If you like a vintage, artsy, vibe then you will love Wicker Park. This neighborhood is full of coffee shops, great boutiques, unique bars, great restaurants, late-night music, and is just a cool neighborhood to walk around and explore. You can also bike or walk the elevated 606 trail which is almost three miles long. Rent is a mix of highs and lows depending on how updated the units are and how close the apartments are located on the main streets. Also, the main source of transportation is the blue line which runs from O’Hare airport all the way to the Loop.
For a more affordable neighborhood than Wicker Park, many singles and families choose to live in Logan Square. Still an up and coming neighborhood, however, there are many really great food options including hipster and trendy bars and restaurants. You will find mostly homes and three-flats for rent in this neighborhood. The commute time to downtown is a little longer since this neighborhood is more west.
Just west of the Loop is the neighborhood of West Loop. Known for highly popular and nationally recognized restaurants, the West Loop or also known as Restaurant Row is now one of the most popular neighborhoods in Chicago. Currently, it seems like new places are opening all the time and the whole neighborhood is under construction. It will be exciting to see how much the West Loop continues to grow.
* Keep in mind as you look for apartments the more west and north you go from in each neighborhood, you might experience a longer commute time and you might find yourself further away from all the things to experience in that neighborhood.
Chicago is a really big city, is it expensive?
For being a really big city, Chicago is actually affordable. Of course, going out all the time to trendy restaurants, living in a luxury high rise apartment, and having a car can be expensive. But, if you are new to the city whether it’s your first job after college or you are relocating from a smaller town I think you will find that you can afford to live really comfortably in Chicago. There are tons of things to do that are inexpensive or free and you can find places to rent that are really affordable. Especially if you have a roommate. Also, although Chicago is a very driveable city, you do not need a car to get around the city.
The current average rent in Chicago is around $1600 for a one bedroom. Remember this is an average and I’ve always been able to find places when I was renting that I loved and that I could afford. If you are a single girl, don’t rule out a studio or a junior one-bedroom, especially in a highrise. They are great options. These buildings usually have a doorman so you will feel safe, most utilities are usually included, and you can use all the amenities in the building for the price someone pays for a one or two bedroom. You can also live comfortably in Chicago with a salary of around $30,000 to $40,000.
How do you navigate the city?
Chicago’s CTA system is pretty easy to navigate once you get used to it. Most major streets in Chicago have buses that run all day every day. The “L” train is the most popular way to get around the city. All the trains meet at the downtown Loop and travel out to the surrounding neighborhoods. The three most popular “L” trains are the brown, red, and blue lines. The brown line travels around the loop and then North and slightly West. The red line travels north and south, and the blue line travels west all the way to O’hare airport. You can also take the orange train in the Loop all the way to Midway airport.
For just over $100 you can get a 30-day monthly unlimited pass which is great if you take the CTA every day to work and then use the CTA also on the weekends. The cost for one ride on the “L” train is $2.50, the bus is $2.25 and if you ride again within two hours it cost $.25. You will definitely want to buy a reusable Ventra card for $5 and download the app so you can manage your account.
Also, be prepared to walk. Chicago is a big walking city. Once you get used to walking around you will probably enjoy walking to most places and it’s also a great way to explore the city and each neighborhood.
Chicago is a pretty bike friendly city, so if you like to ride, get a bike or get a Divvy bike pass to get around the city. For $99 a year you can get unlimited rides. They are tons of Divvy bike stations all over the city.
Uber and Lyft are also a popular way to get around the city and they also have new commute options where you can pay monthly to be picked up every day.
Do I need a car?
You absolutely don’t need a car to get around the city. However, Chicago is also a very drivable city and a lot of people do drive. If you need to have a car you will need to budget for parking, a city sticker, and maybe a neighborhood permit, if you plan on parking on the street. If you are going to rent a parking spot, it will cost you anywhere from $125 to $275 per month, depending on your neighborhood. If you rent a spot you do not need a neighborhood permit but you will still need a city sticker. A city sticker will cost about $90 per year.
If I don’t have a car how do I get things like groceries home?
Carrying lots of groceries home can definitely be a huge pain. You can sign up for a car-sharing service like Zipcar. Zipcar is great when you need to run a lot of errands and will have a lot of bags to bring home. You can rent a Zipcar for about $11 per hour. Or you can sign up for a food delivery service like Peapod, Instacart, ClickList, or even Amazon will now deliver your groceries.
I don’t know anyone in Chicago. How do I meet new people?
Most people meet new friends through work but if you work from home or work in a small environment then you might need to put yourself out there a little more. Believe me, I know this is tough and I’m so shy when I first meet new people. However, once you start getting out there, I think you will become more comfortable. If you work from home I suggest that you join a place to work like WeWork. They often have events and happy hours so you can meet other people after work hours. It’s kind of like being a part of a private club.
Sign up for meetup.com. Depending on what your hobbies are you can join tons of events in the city and meet people who are similar to you. Also, get involved in a Chicago organization or volunteer. This is a great way to meet new people as well as doing something positive by helping others. You can also sign up for an app like Bubble BFF. Girls and guys on the app are looking for friends just like you are.
Also, if you are a dog lover and willing to make a big commitment you could get a dog. You will instantly meet friends at dog parks or follow Dog Moms of Chicago on Instagram and sign up for tons of doggie social events.
Will a big city like Chicago ever feel like home?
Absolutely! This most important thing is to be in the right neighborhood and a neighborhood that you can enjoy. After you have seen or explored a few Chicago neighborhoods, make a list of all the things you would like to have close to you. For example, a grocery store, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, movie theater, etc. Choose your neighborhood based on which neighborhood has the most to offer you. It’s also important to take the time to decorate your new home to make it feel like it’s your own. Also, figure out your commute time and how you will commute to work. It’s amazing how much a long commute can stress you out and make you regret where you live. Most importantly, take the time to really explore the city and see all that Chicago has to offer. I think you will find you will not be disappointed.
So, what is so great about living in Chicago?
There are so many amazing things about living in Chicago. To me, Chicago is one of the best cities to live in the world. First of all, it’s a gorgeous city full of interesting history and culture. People are very friendly and welcoming and there’s always something to do. After living in Chicago for ten years I’m still finding new places to explore and new restaurants, bars, coffee shops are opening all the time in the city. I have so much fun learning and exploring everything I can about Chicago and I continue to love writing guides because there’s always something new and exciting. Trust me if you take the time to embrace Chicago and all this city has to offer, I think you will find you will love it too!
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A Girl’s Guide to Moving to Chicago