Chicago, Illinois

Local Details

Learn more about Chicago, Illinois using the City Guide below. Plan a trip, find local shopping centers, or just discover what makes Chicago, Illinois so great!

Current Temperature

  • 81.6°F
  • 27.6°C

City Guide

Chicago is a major metropolis located on the shore of Lake Michigan in Cook County, Illinois. It's the third-largest city and metropolitan area in the United States, after New York and Los Angeles.

An exciting city, Chicago is noted for its Lake Michigan shoreline and downtown skyline, considered by many the most picturesque skyline in the world.


  • Central Chicago (The Loop, Near North, Near South) The center of Chicago, the downtown, and the main attraction for 90% of Chicago's visitors
  • South Side (South Chicago Shore, Bronzeville, Bridgeport-Chinatown).The historic Black Metropolis, the University of Chicago, Chinatown, and the White Sox.
  • North Side (Lakeview/North Center, Lincoln Park/Old Town). Affluent and interesting, with the city's best theaters, clubs, one of the largest LGBT communities in the nation, and the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.
  • West Side (Wicker Park, Ukrainian Village, Greektown, Pilsen). Ethnic enclaves, dive bars, and hipsters abound.
  • Far North Side (Uptown, Andersonville, Lincoln Square, Rogers Park). Ultra-hip and laid-back, with miles of beaches and some of the most vibrant immigrant communities in the country.
  • Southwest Side (Chicago's Black Belt, The Old Stockyards, Midway area)
    Chicago's "Black Belt," large Mexican neighborhoods, and Midway Airport.
  • Far Southeast Side,A residential section with one large tourist draw: the historic Pullman District.
  • Far Southwest Side Home to a large Irish community, a huge St Patrick's Day Parade, and a ton of Irish pubs.
  • Far Northwest Side (Avondale, Irving Park, Portage Park, Jefferson Park).Polish Village, historic homes, and some undiscovered gems in the neighborhoods near O'Hare International Airport.


Progress and modernization rule in Chicago. The old Chicago with its smoke-spewing factories and quarreling politicians - not to mention machine gun-wielding gangsters - is mostly gone, having given way to a new Chicago known for architecture, world-class museums, and tourism in general.

Chicago is known as The Windy City. Popular myth has it that this nickname for Chicago was coined by Charles Dana, the editor of the New York Sun, in 1893. Chicago was competing with New York to host the 1893 Columbian Exposition and Dana allegedly coined the name as a derogatory moniker. Supposedly the term is not a reference to the winds off Lake Michigan as one might suppose, but rather refers to the Chicagoan habit of rabid boosterism and shameless boasting. To a New Yorker like Dana, Chicago was full of hot air.

The story simply isn't true. The name dates to at least 1885, and clearly refers to the breezes off the lake. 1885 references include "city of winds" as well as "Windy City." This isn't new information either. Mathew's Dictionary of Americanisms, published some 50 years ago, includes an 1887 quotation of "Windy City", but the myth persists--largely due to newspaper reporters and editors who repeat the tale without checking the facts.

Chicago is also known as The Second City, which refers to its rebuilding after the famous Chicago fire. The current city of Chicago is literally the second city. Some also believe it refers to the city's historical position as the United States' second largest city, after New York City, though it has long since been surpassed in population by Los Angeles. Chicago, however, is still the second largest financial center in the country, ahead of Los Angeles.

Carl Sandburg called Chicago the City of the Big Shoulders, referring to its tall buildings. Chicago was the birthplace of the skyscraper.

The best-known song about Chicago, written in 1922 by Fred Fisher, calls it That Toddlin' Town. Since then many different well known artists, including Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and of course Chicago, have sung their versions of the song.

Finally, the city is sometimes called the The City That Works, which is a local promotional campaign by the administration of current Mayor Richard M. Daley. It refers to the long labor tradition as well as the long hours worked by residents, as well as a stable, municipal government which provides numerous services to its inhabitants.

Chicago's history with corruption cannot be ignored. During the Prohibition Era, the Mafia became entrenched, with names like Al Capone and Baby Face Nelson. Eliot Ness was known as the "incorruptible" investigator. Al Capone was eventually sentenced on tax evasion and Baby Face Nelson was shot and killed in the northwest suburb of Barrington. (A small plaque at Langendorf Park briefly describes the dramatic shootout.) This continued with claims of ballot packing, where the dead would vote, and the motto was "vote early, vote often". More recently the former governor of Illinois, George Ryan, was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to prison.

The Chicago Fire was a major event in the city's history. On October 8, 1871, a fire was reportedly started by Mrs. O'Leary's cow knocking over a lantern in the crowded immigrant quarters in the West Side. This quickly spread throughout most of the city, killing 300 and destroying entire blocks, including most of the original downtown buildings. The stone Water Tower, just north of the Loop, is the most famous surviving structure. The city was able to rebuild, in some cases improving the layout of streets, and by 1875 little evidence remained of the devastation wrought by the fire.

Chicago is a city of vibrant neighborhoods. While the city has many great cultural institutions and tourist attractions, most Chicagoans live and play outside of the central business district. To truly understand Chicago, travelers must venture away from the Loop and Michigan Avenue and out into these neighborhoods. The North Side has many neighborhoods of interest. Travelers can visit upscale boutiques and see residential streets lined with million-dollar homes in historic Lincoln Park. Walk down Sheffield towards Fullerton and take a shortcut through DePaul University to Belmont for Lakeview, a neighborhood defined by its mix of various races, alternative youth, gays & lesbians, independent retailers, sports, and family cultures — the Belmont strip is a favorite hangout of Chicago youth. The Belmont / North Halsted / Clark Street area is called Boystown, the center of Chicago's Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender culture. Clark Street near Addison is where baseball fans hang out and where Major League Baseball's Cubs play at Wrigley Field; and Broadway south of Belmont is a laid back mix of all of the above. Take the Blue Line to Damen to visit Wicker Park and Bucktown, the center of Chicago's "in" scene and home to many chic restaurants, bars and boutiques. Finally, make sure to check out Andersonville and Lincoln Square for some great Swedish pancakes or German beer.

The South Side, which also graces the lakefront, also has many points of interest. Kenwood and Hyde Park border one another and are upscale, affluent neighborhoods with a distinct South Side flavor. Hyde Park is anchored by the University of Chicago, one of the world's foremost institutions which is affiliated with 79 Nobel Prize laureates and the illustrious Indiana Jones. This neighborhood is also home to the excellent Museum of Science and Industry, located in Jackson Park. This museum houses a submarine, a coal mine with an underground railway, a Boeing 727, and far too many other exhibits to mention. Hyde Park and Kenwood are relatively safe day or night but caution should be used when traveling in some other South Side neighborhoods at night or if traveling on the West Side of the city. Use good judgment when traveling in any large unfamiliar city.


ClimateJan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Daily highs (°F) 29 34 45 58 70 80 84 82 75 63 48 35
Nightly lows (°F) 13 18 28 39 48 57 63 62 54 42 31 20
Precipitation (in) 1.7 1.4 2.7 3.6 3.2 3.8 3.6 4.1 3.5 2.6 2.9 2.2

Unless you're staying in a western neighborhood, learn the terms "lake-effect snow" (winter) and "cooler by the lake" (summer). July and August are hot and humid, with many days reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity; temperatures over 100F are not unknown. Summer nights average about 67F. December through March will see very cold temperatures, with January and February seeing nighttime temperatures in the teens or lower, with even more bitter wind chill factors. These extreme conditions usually happen once or twice during the winter season, lasting for only a few days before nighttime temperatures return in the range of 20-35 degrees. Winter days average between 30-45F. Snow is usually limited to a handful of heavy storms per season, usually at the end of December or in January/February, with a few dustings in-between. Shorter timescales also vary widely — temperatures may swing 30 degrees within a week. Thunderstorms with heavy winds can also occur suddenly. May and September are mild and highly recommended, and the lake effect may prolong a pleasant autumn through October, and sometimes into November.

Tourist Information

Chicago's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists.

  • Chicago Water Works Visitor Information Center, 163 E. Pearson Avenue - Open daily from 7:30AM-7PM. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
  • Chicago Cultural Center Visitor Information Center - 77 E. Randolph Street - M-Th 10AM-7PM, F 10AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-5PM, Su 11AM-5PM. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

Get in

By plane

Chicago is served by two large airports. There are plenty of taxis from both to downtown Chicago, but they are quite expensive, especially during rush hours. Expect upwards of $40 for O'Hare and $30 for Midway. CTA trains provide direct service to both larger airports for $2 from anywhere in the city. They are a strongly recommended alternative.

Many large hotels have shuttle vans to one or both larger airports, particularly the O'Hare-area hotels. Inquire before you leave.

O'Hare International Airport (IATA: ORD) is 17 miles northwest of downtown and serves many international and domestic carriers. United Airlines has the largest presence here, followed by American. The CTA Blue Line runs between downtown and O'Hare in about 45 minutes, which can be faster than a taxi during rush hour periods and a lot less expensive.

Most connecting flights for smaller cities in the Midwest run through O'Hare. It's one of the biggest airports in the world, and it has always been notorious for delays. Unfortunately, it's too far northwest for most travelers who get stuck overnight to head into the city. As a result, there are plenty of hotels in the O'Hare area. See the O'Hare article for listings.

Midway International Airport (IATA: MDW) is 10 miles southwest of downtown. Recently modernized, and serviced by domestic and discount airlines. Southwest Airlines is the biggest carrier here. The CTA Orange Line train runs between downtown and Midway in around 30 minutes. As Midway is more compact, less crowded, closer to downtown, and usually cheaper, it is recommended for domestic travelers who have the option. Midway has a nondescript meditation room/chapel accessible from the terminal area.


  • Gary/Chicago International Airport (IATA: GYY) is 25 miles southeast of downtown in nearby Gary, Indiana. Currently undergoing an extension of its main runway to nearly 9000ft, this airport is currently served by a single airline, operating as a scheduled charter. Train service is via the NICTD South Shore Line from its nearby Clark Road station.
  • Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport (IATA: MKE) is served by 7 Amtrak trains per day (6 on Sunday), and the Hiawatha Service was Amtrak's most on-time train route in 2006. The trip from Chicago Union Station to Mitchell Airport Station is about one hour and 15 minutes. (Comparatively, the Blue Line to O'Hare can take 40 minutes from the Loop.) There are numerous discount flights to and from Milwaukee as well.
  • Chicago's Meigs Field (Formerly ICAO: KCGX), perhaps best known as the "home" airport for some versions of Microsoft Flight Simulator, was closed in 2003.

By bus

The main Greyhound terminal, which has interstate bus service, is at 630 West Harrison Street near the southwestern corner of the Loop. There is a secondary terminal at the CTA Red Line station at 95th/Dan Ryan. Detroit is approximately six hours from Chicago.

Megabus, a bus service very popular in the United Kingdom, recently established a branch in Chicago. The company is known for providing fares as low as $1 as long as the customer books well in advance. These buses stop in Chicago near Union Station on the east side of South Canal Street, between Jackson Boulevard and Adams Street. At present, buses run express from Chicago to eight other major Midwestern cities.

By train

Chicago's Union Station (Canal St. and Jackson Blvd.) is the hub of Amtrak's Midwestern routes, making it one of the most convenient U.S. cities to visit by train. Metra suburban trains run from Union Station and nearby Northwestern Station (Canal St. and Madison St.), and the CTA elevated tracks are within walking distance. (See below.)

By car

I-55 will take you directly from St. Louis into downtown Chicago. I-90/94 comes in from Indiana to the east. If you are travelling from the southeast, save yourself the frustration from the worst traffic congestion in the Midwest and take I-74 West from Indianapolis (not I-65 that takes you up to I-80 and I-90/94), heading west into central Illinois. As you pass through Urbana-Champaign I-74 intersects with I-57, and from there Chicago is a mere two-hour drive northward. I-90 comes in from Madison, WI to the west. I-94 comes in from Milwaukee, WI to the north. I-80 will get you to the city from Iowa which neighbors Illinois to the west.

If arriving downtown from Indiana, from the south on I-57 to the Dan Ryan Expressway, or from the north, Lake Shore Drive provides a scenic introduction in both directions, day or night. The shore and skyline are not to be missed. If arriving on the Stevenson Expressway (I-55) from the southwest, or on the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) from the west, the skyline may also be visible from certain clear spots, but without the shore view.

Get around

Navigating Chicago is easy. Block numbers are consistent across the whole city. Standard blocks, of 100 addresses each, are 1/8th of a mile long. Each street is assigned a number based on the address system, together W or E (west or east of State Street), or N or S (north or south of Madison Street). A street with a W or E number runs north-south, while a street with a N or S number runs east-west. Major thoroughfares are at each mile (multiples of 800) and secondary arteries at the half-mile marks. A street's number is usually written on street signs at intersections, below the street name. Thus, Western Ave at 2400 W is a north-south major thoroughfare, while Montrose Ave at 4400 N is an east-west secondary artery.

Since in general a mile is equivalent to a street number difference of 800, addresses can be used to estimate distances. The only exceptions are the distances between Madison St (0 N/S) and Roosevelt Rd (1200 S); between Roosevelt Rd and Cermak Rd (2200 S); and, between Cermak Rd and 31st St (3100 S). The distance between each of these exceptions is one mile.

In general, avenues run north-south and streets run east-west, but there are numerous exceptions. On the South Side, streets may alternate with places of the same name. Aside from this, Chicagoans rarely distinguish between streets, avenues, and roads (unlike New Yorkers).

A handful of streets follow diagonal or meandering paths and radiate away from the city center, including Clark St, Lincoln Ave, Milwaukee Ave, Ogden Ave, and Archer Ave.

By public transit

The best way to see Chicago is by public transit. It is cheap (basically), efficient (at times), and safe (for the most part). The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) oversees the various public transit agencies in the Chicagoland area. You can plan trips online with the RTA trip planner or get assistance by calling 836-7000 in any local area code between 5AM-1PM.


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates trains and buses in the city of Chicago and some of the suburbs. Put simply, the CTA is Chicago. It's a marvel and a beast; awe-inspiring, and never quite as good as it could be; convenient, frustrating, and completely irreplaceable. Even if you have the option of driving while you're in town, no experience of Chicago can be considered complete without a trip on the CTA.

Fares are paid with transit cards, which can be purchased and re-charged up at kiosks in the lobby of every CTA station. Adding a full $20 earns you a $2 bonus. Rides of any length, from one side of the city to another or just one stop, are $2 (or $1.75 with a pre-paid "Chicago Card", which cannot be purchased at stations). At certain stations you can transfer to other train lines at no extra cost. Once you have exited the turnstiles, entering another CTA station or boarding a CTA bus costs $0.25 — and doing it a third time is free, provided it's still within two hours of when you started the trip.

There are also visitor passes for unlimited travel. These are very convenient and very affordable: Ride everywhere on CTA and Pace for 1-Day (24 hours) for $5; 2-Days for $9; 3-Days for $12; 5-Days for $18 and 7-Days for $20. These passes are on sale at currency exchanges and some convenience stores.

Trains are referred to by locals as the "El" or the "L". (Most lines run on el-evated tracks — get it?) All train lines radiate from the Loop to every corner of the city. The "Loop" name originally referred to a surface-level streetcar loop, which pre-dated the elevated tracks; that any form of transportation preceded the present one may come as a surprise, given how old they look. But they work, and for all of the complaints one can make about the CTA, the trains and tracks are consistently in good shape.

CTA trains are divided into the Red, Green, Brown, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange and Pink Lines. All lines lead to the Loop except the Yellow Line, which is a one-way nonstop shuttle between Skokie and Howard, where it connects to the Purple and Red Lines. The Red and Blue lines run 24/7, making Chicago one of only two American cities with 24-hour rail service. Hours for the other lines vary somewhat by day, but as a general rule are from about 4:30am - 12:40am.

Before you travel, find out the name of the train stop closest to your destination, and the color of the train line on which it is located. Once you're on-board, you'll find route maps in each train car, above the door. The same map is also available online. The name signs on platforms often have the station's location in the street grid, e.g. "5900 N, 1200 W" for Thorndale.

There should be an attendant on duty at every train station. They can't provide change or deal with money, but they can help you figure out where you need to go and guide you through using the machines. The attendants can provide you with a large map of every train route, along with a map of every bus route in the city. This map will prove invaluable if you are planning a trip with the CTA as your sole means of transportation around the city.

Buses run on nearly every major street in the city, usually every 7-15 minutes apart during daylight hours, depending on the route. Other less traveled routes or evening service for all routes may have buses running every 15-30 minutes apart. There are also several bus routes that are on a 24 hour/7 day a week schedule. (See individual district articles for major bus routes through different parts of the city.)

CTA buses accept transit cards but do not sell them. They also accept cash, but do not provide change. If you overpay, the CTA keeps the extra. (Despite their persistent whining in Springfield, the state capital, the CTA doesn't deserve your charity — pay the fare and no more.)

In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all CTA buses and some train stations are accessible to wheelchairs. Wheelchair-accessible 'L' stations are indicated by the international wheelchair symbol and have elevators or are at ground level. If you are trying to get to a place with a non-accessible station, there will be alternate routes by bus — contact the CTA for more information.

Crime on the CTA is low, but as in any major urban area, single travelers should be aware of their surroundings when traveling in the wee hours of the night.

Metra runs commuter trains for the suburbs, providing service within Illinois, to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and to the South Shore railroad, which provides service to South Bend, Indiana. Metra trains are fast, clean, and on-time, but unpleasantly crowded during rush hour.

Metra's Electric Line provides service to the convention center (McCormick Place), Hyde Park (Museum of Science and Industry, University of Chicago), and the Far Southeast Side's Pullman Historic District and Rainbow Beach. The Electric Line is fast, taking at most 15 minutes to reach Hyde Park from the Loop. Unfortunately, service outside of rush hours is infrequent (about once/hour), so be sure to check the schedules while planning your trip.

Although there are plans to change this in the future, none of the commuter trains currently accept CTA transit cards as payment. The fare to McCormick Place and Hyde Park, however, is only $2. Buy your tickets before boarding the train at one of the automated vending machines. You can buy a ticket on the train, but that comes with an extra $2/ticket surcharge.

Ten-ride, weekly, and monthly passes are available. If you have a group of four or more people, it may be cheaper to purchase a ten-ride card and have all of your fares punched from that one card. If using Metra on Saturday and/or Sunday, you can purchase an unlimited ride weekend pass for just $5.

Pace runs buses in the suburbs, although some routes do cross into the city, particularly on the Far North Side at the Howard (Red/Purple/Yellow Line) CTA station and the Far Northwest Side at the Jefferson Park (Blue Line) CTA station. Pace provides paratransit services should you need to go somewhere inconvenient via CTA.


Free trolleys run in the Near North and the Loop. They use specially-marked bus stops, but they'll usually let you off wherever you want. (Make sure you're boarding a free trolley, though; for-profit trolleys do tours of the downtown area.) They run every 20 to 30 minutes. Most run from late May to early September, M-Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-6PM, but the Navy Pier trolley runs seven days a week, year round, during hours in which the Pier is open.

If you travel by trolley, you might want an alternative for your return trip. The return trolleys may be full, late, not running at all, or you may just not want to get on them again — one trolley ride is enough for a lot of people.

By car

Avoid driving in downtown Chicago if at all possible. Traffic is awful, pedestrians are in a daze, and garages in the Loop can cost as much as $30 per day. Even outside of the city center, street parking is expensive and/or not readily available, particularly on the North Side, especially for Cubs games. Parking restrictions are swiftly and mercilessly enforced in the form of tickets and towing.

The perpetual construction is bad enough, but drivers on the city expressways can be very aggressive. For those used to driving on expressways in the Northeast, this may be a welcome reminder of home. For everyone else, though, it can be frightening and intimidating.

It's not all bad, though. If your trip includes the suburbs, you'll find wider roads and more parking. Free on-street parking is also easy to find in the Hyde Park neighborhood, so long as you are not near the University of Chicago or the Museum of Science and Industry, and throughout the South Side.

By bicycle

Chicago has a bike path along the shores of Lake Michigan, making north-south travel very convenient if you're far enough east, as long as the weather is favorable by the lake. Most major city streets have bike lanes, and the biking culture is established enough that cars tend to accommodate and (grudgingly) yield to bicycles. Bike trips can also be combined with rides on the CTA. See the bicycling section below for more details.



  • Along the Magnificent Mile - one day and night in Chicago, with skyscrapers, shopping, food, parks, and amazing views of the city from high and low.


Chicago's set of museums and cultural institutions are among the best in the world. Three of them are located within a short walk of each other in the Near South, on what is known as the museum campus, in a beautiful spot along the lake: the Adler Planetarium, with all sorts of cool hands-on space exhibits and astronomy shows; the Field Museum, which features "Sue", the giant Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, and a plethora of Egyptian treasures; and the Shedd Aquarium, with dolphins, whales, sharks, and the best collection of marine life east of California. A short distance away, on the South Chicago Shore, is the most fun of them all, the Museum of Science and Industry — or, as generations of Chicago-area grade school students know it, the best field trip ever.

In the Loop, the Art Institute of Chicago has a handful of iconic household names among an unrivaled collection of Impressionism, modern and classical art, and tons of historical artifacts. And in Lincoln Park, a short trip from the Loop, the cheerful (and free) Lincoln Park Zoo welcomes visitors every day of the week, with highlights including the brand-new Great Ape House.

Those are the most famous ones, but there are smaller museums throughout the city serving specific interests. The University of Chicago, in Hyde Park, has several cool (and free) museums that are open to all visitors. The Museum of Photography in the Loop and the Museum of Contemporary Art in the Near North also have enthusiastic fans.

See the sections on ethnic neighborhoods and African-American History for directions to districts with museums covering those topics as well.

Discount packages like the CityPass and the Go Chicago Card can be purchased before you arrive in town. They cover admission to some museums and other tourist attractions, allowing you to cut to the front of lines, and may include discounts for restaurants and shopping.


From the sternly classical to the space-age, from the Gothic to the coolly modern, Chicago is a place with an embarrassment of architectural riches, where the past meets the future. Modern architecture was born here. Frank Lloyd Wright fans will swoon to see his earliest buildings in Chicago, where he began his professional career and established the Prairie School architectural style, with numerous homes in Hyde Park, Oak Park, and the Far North Side—over 100 buildings in the Chicago metropolitan area! He learned his craft at the foot of the lieber meister, Louis Sullivan, whose ornate, awe-inspiring designs were once the jewels of the Loop, and whose few surviving buildings (Auditorium Theater, Carson Pirie Scott Building, a few on the West Side) still stand apart.

The 1871 Chicago Fire forced the city to rebuild, and the ingenuity and ambition of Sullivan, his teacher William Le Baron Jenney (Manhattan Building), and his contemporaries like Burnham & Root (Monadnock, Rookery) and Holabird & Roche/Root (Chicago Board of Trade) made Chicago the definitive city of their era. The world's first skyscrapers were built in the Loop as those architects received ever more demanding commissions. Later, Mies van der Rohe would adapt Sullivan's ethos with landmark buildings on the South Side (Illinois Institute of Technology) and the Loop (Chicago Federal Center). Unfortunately, Chicago's world-class architectural heritage is almost evenly matched by the world-class recklessness with which the city has treated it, and the long list of masterpieces that have been needlessly demolished for bland new structures; be warned that as many sorrows as glories await the budding Chicago architectural geek.

Architectural tours cover the landmarks on foot and by popular river boat tours, or by just standing awestruck on a downtown bridge over the Chicago River; see individual district articles for details. For a tour on the cheap, the short trip around the elevated Loop train circuit (Brown/Purple Lines) may be worth every penny of the $2 fare.

Chicago is also the birthplace of the skyscraper. It was here that steel-frame construction was invented, allowing buildings to rise above the limits of load-bearing walls. Naturally, competition with New York was fierce, but in the end, Chicago built them taller. Chicago boasts three out of America's tallest five buildings: the Sears Tower (1st), the Aon Center (3rd), and the John Hancock Center. For years, the Sears Tower was the tallest building in the world, but it's since lost the title. Various developers insist they're bringing the title back. Until they do, the Sears Tower will have to settle for being the tallest building in North America, although the Hancock is not much shorter, is much better located for tourists, has a better view, and is quite frankly better-looking.

African-American history

Chicago's African-American history begins with the city's African-American founder, Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable. Born to a Haitian slave and a French pirate, he married a woman from the Potawatomi tribe, and built a house and trading post on the Chicago River on the spot of today's Pioneer Court (the square just south of the Tribune Tower in the Near North). He lived on the Chicago River with his family from the 1770s to 1800, when he sold his house to John Kinzie, whose family and friends would later claim to have founded the city.

Relative to other northern cities, African-Americans constituted a fairly large part of Chicago's early population because of Illinois' more tolerant culture, which was inherited from fervent anti-slavery Mormon settlers. As a non-slave state generally lacking official segregation laws, Illinois was an attractive places to live for black freedmen and fugitive slaves.

By the 1920s, Chicago had a thriving middle class African-American community based in the Bronzeville neighborhood, which at the time became known as "The Black Metropolis," home of a cultural renaissance comparable to the better-known Harlem Renaissance of New York. African-American literature of the time was represented by local poetess Gwendolyn Brooks and novelist Richard Wright, most famous for his Native Son, nearly all of which takes place in Chicago's Bronzeville and Hyde Park/Kenwood. The Chicago school of African-American literature distinguished itself from the East Coast by its focus on the new realities of urban African-American life. Chicago became a major center of African-American jazz, and the center for the blues. Jazz great Louis Armstrong got his start there; other famous black Chicagoans of the day included Bessie Coleman—the world's first licensed black pilot, the hugely influential African-American and women's civil rights activist Ida B. Wells, the great pitcher/manager/executive of Negro League Baseball Andrew "Rube" Foster, and many more.

Both fueling and threatening Chicago's black renaissance was the single most influential part of Chicago's African-American history: the Great Migration. African-Americans from the rural South moved to the industrial cities of the North due to the post-WWI shortage of immigrant industrial labor, and to escape the Jim Crow Laws and racial violence in the South. The massive wave of migrants, most from Mississippi, increased Chicago's black population by more than 500,000. With it came southern food, Mississippi blues, and the challenges of establishing adequate housing for so many recent arrivals—a challenge that they would have to meet themselves, without help from a racist and neglectful city government.

Black Chicago's renaissance was brought to its knees by the 1937 creation of the Chicago Housing Authority, which sought to build affordable public housing for the city. However well-intentioned the project may have sounded, the results were disastrous. The largest housing projects by far were the 1940 Ida B. Wells projects, which were designed to "warehouse" Chicago's population of poor African-Americans in a district far away from white population centers, the Cabrini Green projects on the Near West Side, which developed a reputation as the worst and most violent housing projects in the nation, and the massive 1962 Robert Taylor Homes in Bronzeville, which were forced to house an additional 16,000 people beyond their intended 11,000 capacity. The Black Metropolis proved unable to cope with this massive influx of new, impoverished residents, and the urban blight that came from concentrating such a great number of them in one place.

Further damaging to Chicago's black population was the phenomenon of "white flight" that accompanied the introduction of African-Americans to Chicago neighborhoods. Unwilling to live beside African Americans, many Chicagoans fled desegregation to the suburbs. This trend was accelerated by the practice of "blockbusting," where unsavory real estate agents would fan racist fears in order to buy homes on the cheap. As a result, Chicago neighborhoods (with the notable exception of Hyde Park and Rogers Park) never truly integrated, and the social, educational, and economic networks that moving African-Americans hoped to join disintegrated in the wake of fleeing white communities. During this period, Chicago experienced a huge population loss and large sections of the city were covered with vacant lots, which in turn created the conditions for crime to flourish. A number of Chicago's major roads, most notably the Dan Ryan expressway, were built in part to segregate these areas from more prosperous ones like the Loop.

In 1966, after a series of successes for the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. decided to come north and chose Chicago as his first destination. However, from the moment of his arrival on the Southwest Side, King was utterly confounded. The savage attacks and death threats that followed his march through Marquette Park were challenge enough, but nowhere in the South was there a more expert player of politics than Chicago's Mayor Richard J. Daley. Expecting resistance, King instead met with press conferences; Daley made sure that the national media saw him publicly pledging his cooperation, which took the form of endless meetings and bureaucratic maneuvers that ensured nothing actually got done. King left town frustrated and exhausted, but Rev. Jesse Jackson continued civil rights efforts in Chicago through his Operation PUSH, which became a major force in Chicago and national politics. The 1983 election of Mayor Harold Washington, the first black mayor of Chicago, was a watershed event for Chicago's African-American population, and although long battles with obstructionist white politicians lay ahead, it marked the moment when African-American elected officials ceased to be rubber-stamps for the policies of figures like the first Mayor Daley, and became major, independent forces in their own right.

Today, with a plurality of nearly 40%, Chicago's black population is the country's second largest, after New York. African-American neighborhoods dominate the South Side, the Far West Side, the Southwest Side, and the Far Southeast Side. Chicagoans ignorant of these areas may tell you that they are dangerous and crime-ridden, but the reality is much more complex. There are strong, middle and upper class black communities throughout the city. Some of the more prominent include upper Bronzeville, Hyde Park and Kenwood, and Chatham, Calumet Heights, and South Shore in the Far Southeast Side.

Bronzeville is the place to go for African-American history, although Kenwood also boasts interesting recent history, as it has been (or is) home to championship boxer Muhammad Ali, Nation of Islam leaders Elijah Muhammad and Louis Farrakhan, and current Senator and US presidential candidate Barack Obama. No one should miss the DuSable Museum of African-American History, the first museum of African-American history in the United States.

Ethnic neighborhoods

Chicago is a city of immigrants, and many neighborhoods still reflect the character and culture of the people who established them. Some, however, do more than just reflect: they absorb you in a place that, for several blocks at a time, may as well be a chunk of another country, picked up and dropped near the shores of Lake Michigan. The best of Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods are completely uncompromised, and that makes them a real highlight for visitors.

Chinatown is among the most active Chinatowns in the world. It even has its own stop on the CTA Red Line. It's on the South Side near Bridgeport, birthplace of the Irish political power-brokers who have run Chicago government for most of the last century. More Irish communities exist on the Far Southwest Side, where they even have an Irish castle to seal the deal. The Southwest Side is home to Archer Heights, a Lithuanian neighborhood.

The Far North Side has the widest variety of immigrant groups in Chicago, some of whom never became involved with the city's dominant political or commercial life, but instead established neighborhoods that reveal their native culture in both subtle and vibrant ways. No Chicago gourmand would eat Indian food that didn't come from a restaurant on Devon Avenue in Rogers Park. It's paradise for spices, saris, and the latest Bollywood flicks. Nearby, the Orthodox Jewish community on West Ridge Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park is sometimes called Seoul Drive for the Korean community there. At the Argyle El stop, by the intersection of Argyle and Broadway, you'd be forgiven for wondering if you were still in America; Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian share space on a few blocks of restaurants, grocery stores, and even dentists. Neither the Swedish settlers who built Andersonville or the Germans from Lincoln Square are the dominant presence in those neighborhoods any more, but their identity is still present in restaurants, cultural centers, and other small discoveries to be made.

Some of the communities on the West Side have faded over the years. Little Italy was massive in the first half of the 1900s, but the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway and the University of Illinois at Chicago drove a stake through its heart. Traces do remain, though: start on Taylor Street, west of Halsted. Greektown, nearby on Halsted and Adams, was never as big as Little Italy, but its restaurants are incredible. The ethnic character of the Ukrainian Village has been fading for different reasons: gorgeous architecture and cheap rent lured in the hipsters who'd made nearby Wicker Park fashionable a few years earlier (and then got priced out of it). The buildings are still beautiful, but most of them are condos now, and the Ukrainian identity is being gradually submerged. Similar concerns have hovered over Pilsen and Little Village, two neighborhoods on the Lower West Side where the Spanish signage outnumbers the English; fears persist among long-time residents of the area that they may soon be outnumbered by young professionals looking for the next hot property zone, but it hasn't happened yet.

It's hard to imagine that being a concern for the Polish community on the Far Northwest Side; Chicago is home to the largest number of people of Polish descent outside of Warsaw!



Lake Michigan is the largest freshwater lake located entirely in the United States, and Chicagoans take full advantage of it. Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach (in Lincoln Park and the Near North) are the fashionable places to sun-tan and be seen, but the Far North has mile after mile of less pretentious sand and surf. Rainbow Beach in the Far Southeast Side is actually one of the city's nicest, although it is rarely visited by sun lovers from outside the neighborhood. Anyone can show up and swim — virtually none of Chicago's lakefront is spoiled by "private" beaches.


Where there are beaches, there are lakefront parks. During the summer months, the lakefront parks are a destination for organized and impromptu volleyball and soccer games, chess matches, and plenty more. There are also a couple of tennis courts in Lincoln Park, Lakeview, and Far North Side. There are also terrific parks further away from the lake. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts music festivals throughout the year, and Millennium Park is a fun destination for all ages, especially during the summer. On the South Chicago Shore, Midway Park offers skating, and summer and winter gardens in the shadow of the academic giant, the University of Chicago, and Jackson Park has golf, more gardens and the legacy of the city's shining moment, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. In Bronzeville, Washington Park is one of the city's best places for community sports. And that's just a brief overview. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and almost every neighborhood has a beloved park.

Events & Festivals

If you're absolutely determined and you plan carefully, you may be able to visit Chicago during a festival-less week. It's a challenge, though. Most neighborhoods, parishes, and service groups host their own annual festivals throughout the spring, summer, and fall. There are a few can't-miss city-wide events, though. In the Loop, Grant Park hosts Taste of Chicago in July, and four major music festivals: Blues Fest and Gospel Fest in June, Lollapalooza (aka "Indie Rock Fest") in August, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend.


With entries in every major professional sports league and several universities in the area, Chicago sports fans have a lot to keep them occupied. The Chicago Bears play football at Soldier Field in the Near South from warm September to frigid January. Since the baseball teams split the city in half, nothing seizes the Chicago sports consciousness like a playoff run from the Bears, who dominated the 2006 season before losing in the Super Bowl. Aspiring fans will be expected to be able to quote a minimum of two verses of the Super Bowl Shuffle from memory, tear up at the mention of Walter Payton, and provide arguments as to how Butkus, Singletary, and Urlacher represent the premier linebackers of their respective eras, with supporting evidence in the form of grunts, yells, and fists slammed on tables.

On the West Side, the Chicago Bulls play basketball at the United Center. After a few miserable years, the Bulls are in playoff form again, and while ticket prices may never reach Jordan-era mania, they're still an exciting team to watch, even if the United Center doesn't hold in noise like the old Chicago Stadium did. The Chicago Blackhawks share a building with the Bulls. As one of the "Original Six" teams in professional hockey, they have a long history in their sport, but they've been awful for years, and it's taken a toll on attendance. However, that does at least mean that visitors can pick up tickets at face value on short notice, unlike Bears and Cubs games. Both the Bulls and the Blackhawks play from the end of October to the beginning of April.

It's baseball, though, in which the tribal fury of Chicago sports is best expressed. The Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field on the North Side, in Lakeview, and the Chicago White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field (Comiskey Park, underneath the corporate naming rights) on the South Side, in Bridgeport. Both stadiums are open-air, and both franchises have more than a century's worth of history. Everything else is a matter of fiercely held opinion. Both teams play 82 home games from April to the beginning of October. The two series when the teams play each other are the hottest sports tickets in Chicago during any given year. If someone offers you tickets to a game, pounce.

There are plenty of smaller leagues in the city as well, although some play their games in the suburbs. The Chicago Fire play soccer in the suburb of Bridgeview, the Chicago Rush play the more frenetic Arena version of football in Rosemont, and the Chicago Sky play women's professional basketball at the UIC Pavilion on the West Side. Minor league baseball teams dot the suburbs as well.

College graduates move to Chicago from all over the nation, so there's no real consensus on which teams are favored in town. Michigan fans are among the most plentiful, but there are bars dedicated to other schools like Penn State across the city. Locally, Northwestern football (in Evanston) and DePaul basketball (in Lincoln Park) show occasional signs of life, and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana is usually competitive. The University of Illinois at Chicago on the West Side tends to have one of the best college hockey teams in the country. If you find yourself in Hyde Park, ask someone how the University of Chicago football team is doing — it's a surefire conversation starter.


Modern American comedy — the good parts, at least — was born when a group of young actors from Hyde Park formed The Compass Players, fusing intelligence and a commitment to character with an improvisational spark. One strand of their topical, hyper-literate comedy led, directly or indirectly, to Shelly Berman, Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Lenny Bruce, M*A*S*H and The Mary Tyler Moore Show; another strand, namely The Second City, led to Saturday Night Live and a pretty huge percentage of the funny movies and television of the last thirty years. Still in Chicago's Old Town (and few other places as well), still smart and still funny, Second City does two-act sketch revues followed by one act of improv. As the saying goes, if you can only see one show while you're in Chicago, even if you have no particular interest in theater, Second City is one to see.

Improvisational comedy as a performance art form is a big part of the Chicago theater scene. At Lakeview and Andersonville theaters like The Annoyance, I.O., and The Playground, young actors take classes and perform shows that range from ragged to inspired throughout the week. Some are fueled by the dream of making the cast of SNL or Tina Fey's latest project, and some just enjoy doing good work on-stage, whether or not they're getting paid for it (and most aren't). There's no guarantee that you'll see something great on any given night, but improv tends to be cheaper than anything else in town, and it can definitely be worth the risk.

Steppenwolf, in Lincoln Park, is Chicago's other landmark theater. Founded in 1976, they have a history of taking risks onstage, and they have the ensemble to back it up, with heavyweights like Joan Allen, John Malkovich, and Gary Sinise. Steppenwolf isn't cheap any more, but they mix good, young actors with their veteran ensemble and still choose interesting, emotionally-charged scripts. It's the best place in town to see modern, cutting-edge theater with a bit of "I went to..." name-drop value for the folks back home.

Most of the prestige theaters like Victory Gardens, Drury Lane, The Goodman, The Ford Center, The Cadillac Palace, and The LaSalle Bank Theater are located in the Loop or the Near North. Tickets are expensive and can be tough to get, but shows destined for Broadway like The Producers often make their debut in Chicago before going to New York.

One theater to see, regardless of the production, is The Auditorium in the Loop. It's a masterpiece of architecture and of performance space. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, who were on a commission from syndicate of local business magnates to bring some culture to the heathen city, it was the tallest building in Chicago and one of the tallest in the world at the time of its opening in 1889, and it's still an impressive sight, inside and out.


Chicago has a fine bicycle culture. (Supposedly, even Mayor Daley rides to work.) Bikes may be rented from the North Avenue Beach House (Lincoln Park), Navy Pier, (Near North), the Millennium Park bike station (Loop), and from several bike shops in the city. Pedaling your way around the city is one of the best ways to get to know Chicago. And the terrain is flat — a boon for easy-going cyclists! There are many on-road bike lanes, park trails, and a scenic Lakefront Trail, which runs for 18 continuous miles along the city's beautiful shoreline.

Many streets have bike lanes on them and the city has installed signs specifically pointing out directions to major bike routes. Bicyclists have to follow the same "rules of the road" as automobiles. In some areas of the city, police officers will write citations for bicyclists in violation of traffic laws (especially disregarding stop signs and traffic lights). Bicycle riding is never allowed on sidewalks (except for children under age 12) and this rule is strictly enforced in the higher density neighborhoods of the city (mostly areas near the lake) and is actually an criminal misdemeanor offense. You must walk your bike on the sidewalk.

Conveniently, CTA buses are all equipped with bike racks which carry up to two bicycles, and 'L' trains permit bicycles except during rush hour (roughly 7am-9:30am and 3:30pm-6:30pm weekdays, excluding major holidays on which the CTA is running on a Sunday schedule). Only two bicycles are permitted in each train car. Foldable bicycles in the closed position may be brought on-board any bus or 'L' train at any time.


Several major and minor universities call Chicago home. The University of Chicago is undoubtedly the most prestigious among them; its Gothic campus is in Hyde Park, which is, famously, "home to more Nobel Prizes per square kilometer than any neighborhood on Earth". Further north, in the Bronzeville area, is the Illinois Institute of Technology, which has notable programs in engineering and architecture.

On the North Side, there are two nationally-acclaimed Catholic universities with over a hundred years in Chicago: DePaul University, in Lincoln Park, and Loyola University, in Rogers Park. Both schools also have campuses in the Loop. Rush University Medical School, also in the Loop, traces its roots back even further, to 1837. Northwestern University has its main campus in Evanston, just north of Chicago, but it also has campuses in the Loop, particularly for its medical school.

A handful of schools in the Loop attract students in the creative arts. Columbia College has an enviable location on Michigan Avenue, and its programs in creative writing and film production are well-regarded. The School of the Art Institute and the Illinois Institute of Art specialize in different fields of art and design.

To the west of the Loop, built over the remains of Little Italy and Maxwell Street neighborhoods is the brutalist West Side campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the second-largest member of the Illinois state university system.

The City Colleges of Chicago are scattered throughout the city. They include Harold Washington College (Loop), Harry S. Truman College (Uptown), Malcolm X College (West Side), Wright College (Humboldt Park), Kennedy-King College (South Chicago Shore), Daley College (Southwest Side), and Olive-Harvey College (Far Southeast Side).


Chicago still loves Carl Sandburg and his poems, but the city shucked off the hog butcher's apron a long time ago. In terms of industry, there's little that distinguishes Chicago from any other major city in America, save for size. The Chicago Board of Trade and Chicago Mercantile Exchange are among the biggest employers, with stables of traders and stock wizards. Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago amid much fanfare a few years ago; United Airlines is another international company with headquarters in town. Abbott Labs, just outside city limits, is the biggest employer of foreign nationals in scientific fields. The Big Five consulting firms all have one or more offices in the Loop. And there's always construction work in Chicago, but with a strong union presence in the city, it's not easy for a newcomer to break into without an introduction.

For younger workers, the museums in the Loop and the Near South are always looking for low-paid, high-enthusiasm guides, and the retail outlets on the Magnificent Mile also need seasonal help. And with so many colleges and universities in the city, study abroad opportunities abound.

In Chicago, business is politics, and there's one word in politics: clout. Some people have clout, and others don't; the principal measure of clout is how many jobs you can arrange for your friends. Hence, if you want to work in Chicago, start asking around — email someone from your country's embassy or consulate and see if they have any leads, or figure out if there is a cultural association that might be able to help you. It's no coincidence that the Mayor's Office employs scores of Irish workers every summer. If you happen to contact somebody who met the right person at a fundraiser a few days ago, you might fall into a cushy job or a dream internship; it's worth a try.


Whatever you need, you can buy it in Chicago, on a budget or in luxury. The most famous shopping street in Chicago is a stretch of Michigan Avenue known as The Magnificent Mile, in the Near North area. It includes many designer boutiques, and several multi-story malls anchored by large department stores including 900 N Michigan (Bloomingdales), Water Tower Place (Macy's), North Bridge (Nordstrom) and Chicago Place (Saks Fifth Avenue). Additional brands are available from off-strip shops to the south and west of Michigan. For access to the Magnificent Mile, take the Red Line subway to Chicago or Grand.

State Street used to be a great street for department stores in the Loop, but it's now a shadow of its former self, with Carson Pirie Scott's landmark Louis Sullivan-designed building closed, and invading forces from New York holding the former Marshall Field's building hostage under the name Macy's. Sears is still on State, though. Discounts can be found at Nordstrom Rack, TJ Maxx and Filene's Basement.

For a classic Chicago souvenir, pick up a box of Frango Mints, much-loved mint chocolates that were originally offered by Marshall Field's and are still available at Macy's stores. The original recipe appears to still be in use, which pleases the loyal crowds fond of the flavor — and too bad for anyone looking to avoid trans-fats.

Trendy boutique shopping can be found at the shops around Halsted and Armitage in Lincoln Park, and the shops near the intersection of Damen, North, and Milwaukee in Wicker Park on the West Side. Wicker Park is also the place to go for record fiends of the sort seen in High Fidelity, which was filmed there, but there are also key vinyl drops in other parts of the city as well.

For art or designer home goods, River North is the place to go. Centered between the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago Avenue Brown Line "L" stop in the Near North, River North's gallery district boasts the largest arts and design district in North America outside of Manhattan. The entire area is walkable and makes for fun window-shopping.

Goods from around the world are available at the import stores in Chicago's many ethnic neighborhoods; check See for descriptions and district articles for directions.

If you are the type that loves to browse through independent bookstores, Hyde Park has a stunning assortment of dusty used bookstores selling beat-up-paperbacks to rare 17th century originals, and the world's largest academic bookstore.


Chicago is one of the great restaurant towns in America. If you're looking for a specific kind of cuisine, check out the neighborhoods. Greek food on the West Side, Indian on the Far North Side, and soul food in Chicago/Bronzeville are just the tip of the iceberg. Other areas are more eclectic: Clark Street in Andersonville on the Far North Side has great American, Swedish, Korean, Ethiopian, Persian, and Italian restaurants (to name a few) lined up in a row, and there are cheap, wildly-varied eats for students in Hyde Park. River North is the where most upscale and "hot-spot" restaurants can be found, but don't waste your time on tourist traps such as Rainforest Cafe and Hard Rock Cafe. No matter what you enjoy, you'll eat well in Chicago, and you won't need to spend a lot of money doing it — unless you want to, of course.

Two culinary specialties deserve further description, though.

Chicago pizza

Chicago's most prominent contribution to world cuisine might be the deep dish pizza. Delivery chains as far away as Kyoto market "Chicago-style pizza", but the only place to be sure you're getting the real thing is in Chicago. To make a deep dish pizza, a thin layer of dough is laid into a deep round pan and pulled up the sides, and then meats and vegetables — Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, and more — are lined on the crust. At last, tomato sauce goes on top, and the pizza is baked. It's gooey, messy, not recommended by doctors, and delicious. When you dine on deep dish pizza, don't wear anything you were hoping to wear again soon. Some nationally-known deep dish pizza hubs are Pizzeria UNO and DUE, Gino's East, Giordano's, and Lou Malnati's, but plenty of local favorites exist. Ask around — people won't be shy about giving you their opinion.

But deep dish is not the end of the line in a city that takes its pizza so seriously. Chicago also prides itself on its distinctive thin-crust pizza and stuffed pizzas. The Chicago thin crust has a thin, cracker-like, crunchy crust, which somehow remains soft and doughy on the top side. Toppings and a lot of a thin, spiced Italian tomato sauce go under the mozzarella cheese, and the pizza is sliced into squares.

The stuffed pizza is a monster, enough to make an onlooker faint. Start with the idea of a deep dish, but then find a much deeper dish and stuff a lot more toppings under the cheese. The stuffed pizza has an additional layer of dough over the cheese, which allows the whole pizza to be cooked within a pie-like structure and prevents the sauce from mixing with the toppings and cheese. Allow 45 minutes to an hour for pizza places to make one of these and allow 3-4 extra notches on your belt for the ensuing weight gain. Arguably the best stuffed pizza in town is at Bella Bacino's, but other excellent vendors include Giordano's and Edwardo's.

The Chicago hot dog

This may come as a surprise to New Yorkers, but the Chicago hot dog is the king of all hot dogs — indeed, it is the perfect hot dog. Perhaps due to the city's history of Polish and German immigration, Chicago takes its dogs way more seriously than the rest of the country. A Chicago hot dog is always all-beef (usually Vienna beef), always served on a poppy-seed bun, and topped with what looks like a full salad of mustard, diced tomatoes, a dill pickle spear, a cucumber spear, sport (chili) peppers, a generous sprinkling of celery salt, diced onion, and an odd relish endemic-to-Chicago that is dyed a dark neon-green color. It's a full meal, folks.

Ketchup is regarded as an abomination on a proper Chicago-style hot dog. Self-respecting establishments will refuse orders to put the ketchup on the dog, and many have signs indicating that they don't serve it; truly serious hot dog joints don't even allow the condiment on the premises. The reason for Chicago's ketchup aversion is simple — ketchup contains sugar, which overwhelms the taste of the beef and prevents its proper enjoyment. Hence, ketchup's replacement with diced tomatoes. Similarly, Chicagoans eschew fancy mustards that would overwhelm the flavor of the meat in favor of simple yellow mustard. And for the hungry visiting New Yorkers, the same goes for sugary sauerkraut — just no.

At most hot dog places, you will have the option to try a Maxwell Street Polish instead. The Polish is an all-beef Polish sausage on a bun, with fewer condiments than the Chicago hot dog: usually just onions, mustard, and a few chili peppers. Hot dog joints often serve other classic, greasy Chicago fare such as the Italian Beef sandwich (a spiced up French Dip) and Gyros.

In a tragic, bizarre twist of fate, the areas of Chicago most visited by tourists (i.e., the Loop) lack proper Chicago hot dog establishments. If you are downtown and want to experience true hot dog perfection, the nearest safe bet is Portillo's. Sadly, both baseball parks botch their dogs.


Chicago is a drinking town, and you can find bars and pubs in every part of the city. It is believed that Chicago has the second highest bars-per-capita in the US (after San Francisco). Be prepared to be asked for identification to verify your age, even at neighborhood dive bars.

The River North area contains many nightclubs, such as the former Michael Jordan's (now Lalo's) and Excalibur. Hordes of suburbanites head to River North on the weekends to experience nightlife in the city. This area also includes the "Viagra Triangle", near Rush and Division, where Chicago's wealthy older men hang out with women in their early 20s. Most nightclubs are on or near Ontario; walk west from Grand (Red Line) or east from the Merchandise Mart (Brown Line). Streeterville, immediately adjacent, exchanges the dance floors for high-priced hotel bars and piano lounges.

The bars in Lakeview/North Center are packed on weekends and jam-packed all day whenever the Cubs are playing at nearby Wrigley Field. Expect lots of Old Style, Budweiser, and guys in baseball hats. Just to the north, Lincoln Park has many college bars and fashionable clubs for the neighborhood's notorious high-spending Trixies. Meanwhile, there are few places in the nation where hipster dive bars are more plentiful than Wicker Park, whose epicenter is at the tri-intersection of Milwaukee, Damen and North Avenues, and nearby Ukrainian Village.

Jazz and Blues

See The Jazz Track for a wealth of information about current and historic jazz clubs in Chicago.

The Lower Mississippi River Valley is known for its music; New Orleans has jazz, and Memphis has blues. Chicago, though located far away from the valley, has both. Former New Orleans and Memphis residents brought jazz and blues to Chicago as they came north for a variety of reasons: the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 brought a lot of itinerant musicians to town, and the city's booming economy kept them coming. Chicago was the undisputed capital of early jazz between 1917-1928, wih masters like Joe King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines, and Jelly Roll Morton.

Most of Chicago's historic jazz clubs are on the South Side, particularly in Bronzeville, but Uptown has the can't-miss Green Mill (Far North Side) as well. Modern jazz thrives in Chicago, too, thanks to members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and their residencies at clubs like The Velvet Lounge (Near South), The HotHouse (Loop), The New Apartment (Southwest Side) and The Hideout (West Side), with more expensive national touring acts at The Chicago Theater (Loop).

The blues were in Chicago long before the car chase and the mission from God, but The Blues Brothers sealed Chicago as the home of the blues in the popular consciousness. Fortunately, the city has the chops to back that up. Maxwell Street (West Side) was the heart and soul of Chicago blues, but the wrecking ball, driven by the University of Illinois at Chicago, has taken a brutal toll. Residents have been fighting to save what remains. For blues history, it doesn't get much better than Willie Dixon's Blues Heaven Foundation (Near South), and Bronzeville, the former "Black Metropolis", is a key stop as well. Performance venues run the gamut from tiny, cheap blues bars all over the city to big, expensive places like Buddy Guy's Legends (Loop) and the original House of Blues (Near North).

Fans should time their visits to coincide with Blues Fest in June, and Jazz Fest over Labor Day Weekend. Both take place in Grant Park (Loop).


Wicker Park is the main place to go for indie rock shows: the Double Door and the Empty Bottle are the best-known venues, but there are plenty of smaller ones as well. On the Lakeview/North Center, the Metro is a beloved concert hole, with Schubas and Abbey Pub nearby. Other mid-sized rock, hip-hop and R&B shows take place at the Riviera and the awesome Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. No list of rock venues in Chicago would be complete without a mention of the Fireside Bowl in Logan Square, that beloved, scum-encrusted sanctuary for teen punks; sadly, though, like all good things, it's not what it used to be. The place cleaned up and focused on bowling, and only occasional 21+ over shows pass through there now, unimaginable in the days of Fugazi and Shellac.

The Park West in Lincoln Park has light jazz, light rock, and other shows you'd sit down for; so does Navy Pier (Near North), particularly in the summer. The venerable Chicago Theater in the Loop is better-known for its sign then for anything else, but it has rock, jazz, gospel, and spoken-word performances by authors like David Sedaris. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is the main bulwark in the city for classical and classy jazz, with occasional curve-balls like Björk. You'll find musicians from the CSO doing outreach all over the city, along with their counterparts at the Lyric Opera. Both are in the Loop.

A few big concerts are held at the UIC Pavilion, the Congress Theater, and the United Center on the West Side every year, and some huge concerts have taken place at Soldier Field (Near South). The Petrillo Bandshell in Grant Park and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, both in the Loop, tend to host big, eclectic shows and festivals in the summer, which are sometimes free.

Otherwise, most big shows are out in the suburbs, primarily at the Allstate Arena and the Rosemont Theater in Rosemont, the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, the former New World Music Theater in Tinley Park, Star Plaza in Indiana, and the Alpine Valley Music Theater over the Wisconsin border. You'll also have to head out to the suburbs for Ravinia, which features upscale classical, jazz, and blues outdoors throughout the summer. See Chicagoland for details on suburban venues.


Chicago hosts many major conventions each year and has plenty of places to stay, although most of them are in the "mid-range" or "splurge" price levels. The vast majority of hotels are either at O'Hare Airport or downtown (Chicago/Loop and Near North). If you want to explore the whole city, aim for the latter — a hotel near O'Hare is good for visiting one thing and one thing only, and that's O'Hare. However, if you have a specific interest in mind, there are hotels throughout the city, and getting away from the Loop will give you more of a neighborhood feel. You'll appreciate that if you're in town for more than a couple of days. Bronzeville, for example, has plenty of hotels that aren't chains and will leave you with a much more profound sense of place than, say, the Marriott Somewherearoundhere.

Budget-priced places are usually pretty far from the Loop, so when you're booking, remember that Chicago is vast. Travelers on a budget should consider accommodations away from the city center which can be easily reached via the El.



The first Internet cafe in the United States was opened in Chicago, but they never really caught on here. There are still a few, though; check individual district articles. Free wireless Internet access is now standard-issue at most coffee shops throughout the city — only the big chains like Starbucks charge for it. However, at most places, you'll need your own computer.

There are public terminals at the Harold Washington Library Center in the Loop and many of the city's branch libraries. Visitors without a library card can present photo ID to use the computers.


312 was the area code for all of Chicago for a long time; it's still the code of choice for the Loop, and most of the Near North and Near South. 773 surrounds the center, covering everything else within city limits.

Suburban areas close to the city use 847 (north/northwest), 708 (south), 815 (southwest), and 630 (west).

Stay safe

As in almost the entire United States, dial 911 to get emergency help. Dial 311 for all non-emergency situations in Chicago.

Despite a decline in the crime rate from the 1970's and '80's, Chicago is still a big city with big city problems. There are run-down areas within a few blocks of well-traveled places such as near the United Center and US Cellular Field. Exercise caution in some areas of the South and West Sides at night, especially the areas around the Dan Ryan Expressway near the Skyway Interchange/69th st, and areas near the Eisenhower Expressway west of Western Avenue. Take caution in the Loop at night — after working hours, the Loop gets quiet and dark in a hurry west of State Street, but you'll be fine near hotels, and close to Michigan Avenue and the lake. When disembarking a crowded CTA train, especially in the downtown-area subways, be wary of purse snatchers.

Beggars are common in poor neighborhoods and in the Loop. They are very unlikely to pose any kind of problem, though. Some sell a local newspaper called Streetwise to make a living.

In general, common sense will keep you safe in Chicago: avoid unfamiliar side streets at night, stay out of alleys at night, know where you're going when you set out, stick to crowded areas, and keep a $20 bill on hand for cab fare as a bail-out option.

Dress appropriately for the weather. In the winter, cover exposed skin and wear layers. Everyone knows it can be windy and cold in Chicago, but heat exhaustion is an equal risk in the summer months, especially July and August. Stay off the road during a snowstorm. Chicago's streets and sanitation department generally does a good job clearing the major roads in the center of the city, but the neighborhoods can take longer, and the construction-littered expressways are anyone's guess.




  • The Chicago Tribune("The Trib") is the Chicago area's biggest daily.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times is the other major daily.
  • Redeye is a free weekdays-only newspaper produced by the Chicago Tribune. It is shorter and focuses more on entertainment and local gossip than the Tribune.
  • The Daily Herald is a large daily newspaper aimed primarily at the suburbs.
  • The Chicago Defender is Chicago's biggest African-American daily.


  • Chicago Magazine is a monthly handy guide to events, dining, and shopping for the upcoming month.
  • New City is a free weekly alternative arts and entertainment magazine, distributed every Wednesday.
  • The Chicago Reader is a free weekly newspaper distributed beginning each Thursday. It includes extensive listings of local arts, music, and events.
  • TimeOut Chicago is a weekly "where to go, what to do" magazine.

Religious services

Get out


  • There are forest preserves in the far north, northwest, and southwest sides, and into nearby suburbs. (See Chicagoland.) They are excellent for biking, jogging, and picnicing.
  • Evanston is on the north border of Chicago, approximately one hour from downtown on the El, or half an hour via car (during light traffic), and contains shops, restaurants, bars and Northwestern University.
  • Brookfield is home to the Chicagoland area's other world-class zoo, the Brookfield Zoo.
  • Historic Galena, three hours west-northwest of Chicago via I-90 and US-20, is great for hiking, sightseeing, and antiquing.
  • Six Flags Great America, in Gurnee (40 miles north on I-94). The biggest and wildest roller coasters in the Midwest.
  • Peoria, in some ways a miniature Chicago, is a little over three hours away.


  • The Indiana Dunes are a moderate drive away. If you've enjoyed the beaches in Chicago, you owe the Indiana Dunes a stop — that's where all the sand came from.


  • Lake Geneva is a summer getaway across the Wisconsin border. Nearby are the Kettle Moraine state parks, with good mountain biking.
  • Spring Green is an easy weekend trip from Chicago, about three and a half hours from town on I-90. It's the home of two unique architectural wonders: Frank Lloyd Wright's magnificent estate Taliesin, and Alex Jordan's mysterious museum The House on the Rock.
  • The Wisconsin Dells are another (wet) summer fun destination, just three hours north of the city by car (I-90/94), also accessible by Amtrak train.

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