New to Chicago? 10 Things to Help You Find Your Way

Chicago Hotdog

I love to talk about how to adapt when moving from one culture to the other in terms of international cultures/countries. But lunch yesterday with a colleague moving to Chicago, cold turkey, on her own, this weekend, (she is an amazing, dynamic woman—follow her journey here) had me thinking about the top 10 things that someone should know to start getting around and adapt to Chicago from the get go.


  1. The Chicago Grid System.
    This is the most important thing to know to orient you to where you are at any time. Madison Street is the Zero point for north and south (so if you are 100 South, you are 1 block south of Madison…which is Monroe) and State Street is the Zero point for East and West (so if you are 100 East, you are 1 block east of State…which is Michigan.) Off the Grid explains it here.
  1. Call 311
    Chicago has a fabulous, 24 hour information system. If you have any question about any City service call 311. I even called once to find out what “number” west Central Street was, when I was lost (It’s 5600)
  1. Chicago Loves It’s Neighborhoods
    River North? Bucktown? Logan Square? Chicago loves its neighborhoods. Each one has its own distinctive personality, and, if you ask where they live, they will invariably answer with the name of their neighborhood. Here’s a handy map and guide. By the way–this information will help too when you are looking for your local grocery store/dry cleaner/yoga studio, etc., because there’s always at least one or more that has the neighborhood name as the name of the business.
  1. All the highways are called by their names
    Why, no idea, but you’ve seen signs for 90/94, or 55, but when you ask for directions, someone will say take the Edens, or hop on the Kennedy. And, to make it more confusing, 94 is called the Edens north of the city and the Dan Ryan south of the City. And, the Kennedy and the Edens are intertwined for a chunk of time until the Dan Ryan overlaps with the Tri-State Tollway. Get it? At least here is a primer to get you started.
  1. Sox or Cubs?
    The White Sox play at US Cellular Field on Chicago’s south side (although many fans and sportscasters sill call it Comiskey Park), and the Cubs play at Wrigley Field on Chicago’s north side. And don’t get involved if you don’t have a strong opinion or be prepared to back it up if you do. Here’s some insight into this 100 year old competition.
  1. Chicagoans love their hotdogs and their popcorn.
    Also called a Chicago Red Hot, it’s covered What goes on a Chicago style hot dog is an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. And Garrett’s popcorn…the mix of CheeseCorn and CaramelCrisp.
  1. Chicago Summer Festivals are the Best!
    Chicago summer festivals range from Neighborhood food fests to Jazz, Blues and more in the heart of downtown Grant Park. There is always something to do every summer weekend in Chicago.
  1. We Have Real Beaches
    Chicago’s lakefront is amazing—26 miles of it…featuring a bike path, Marina’s beaches and more. It is a great place to walk, run, skate, bike, swim all summer (flip side,  If you have a car and you live near the lake don’t plan to move your car for most of the year because you’ll never get a parking space when you come back.)
  1. Chicago’s Park System is Amazing!
    It’s not just the 580 parks but also 200+ buildings offering thousands of sports, physical and cultural activities, indoor and outdoor pools, ice skating, and more, most for low or no cost. Learn more here.
  1. People are friendly and wonderful and in a very Midwestern way
    And what a better way to experience that than with a free Chicago Greeter or InstaGreeter walking tour of downtown Chicago, and seasonally of Millennium Park, presented by Choose Chicago (the Chicago’s tourism office) and led by enthusiastic volunteers who can’t wait to share their City with you.

I’ve purposely left out anything about cold and snow (if you’re smart enough to move during summer, why not get to know the good stuff first!), I just realized I forgot to say our subway system is called “the El” (as in, where do I catch the El?) and here are 33 more tidbits Time Out Chicago says they are positive will happen to you when moving to Chicago, but now you, Chicagoans…what would you add?