Map of Chicago Illinois Area | What is Chicago known for?
Spread in an ever-widening semi-circle on Lake Michigan, Chicago holds many attractions for its residents and visitors year round. There is no “down” season, the city has something to enjoy the year around.
Where is Chicago Located?
Chicago is almost squarely in the middle of the country, a place where all the railroads and freeways meet as they travel east and west. Downtown Chicago, or the Loop formed by the elevated (“L”) rail tracks is within a few blocks of Lake Michigan – whose southern shore Chicago sits on.
Major arterial freeways include I-90 and 94, going north-south and I-55 and 290, going due west from the Lakefront. In addition, the layout is ever widening semi-circles, so ring roads like I-355 are important connectors to the various suburbs. I-88 and I-57 connect at points away from the central city.
Chicago is served by two major airports – O’Hare International Airport to the northwest and Midway towards the southwest side.
History of Chicago
Chicago grew from a sleepy provincial town to a bustling city with over 300,000 inhabitants over 1830 to 1870. The main driver was its position to handle the lumber and other goods coming down Lake Michigan, and then the establishment of the railheads connecting the east and west within the US. Chicago became the transit point of butchers, farmers and freight handlers.
The largely unplanned city had the potential to become an urban disaster, but as fate would have it, a great fire destroyed the city proper along the lakefront in 1871. Though the damage was enormous, the architects of the city – especially Daniel Burnham – used the opportunities created by the space now available to build the current day city of Chicago.
Chicago Size and Population
Chicago is the third largest city in the nation, with a population of 2,705,994.
The city is spread over a 234 square mile area.
Is Chicago a Good Place to Live?
Chicago is considered to be a good place to live and raise a family – it allows for a variety of accommodations, from core city living to suburbs with spacious homes.
Median Income vs. Income Required to Live Comfortably
An analysis of major US cities prepared by gobankrates.com lists median incomes against the amount it costs to live comfortably (using the rule that 50% of income is spent on necessities, 30% on extra spends and 20% is saved).
Residents of Chicago have a median income of $52,497, while the income needed to live comfortably varies between $84,765 (for homeowners) and $94,917 (for renters).
The shortfall of $30,000 to $40,000 may seem to be a lot, but is actually modest in comparison to the six-figure shortfalls in big cities such as New York and San Francisco.
A Multicultural Population
Chicago’s culture is typically described as “neighborhood based”. Strong ethnic populations, including the Germans, Irish, Mexican, Asian, Greek Italian and Polish, each of whom proudly observe traditions. Many such events, such as the day long Guinness and Oyster Fest or the three-day festival in Greektown, draw tens of thousands of visitors.
Best Places to Live in Chicago
Chicago has one of the most diverse sets of options for singles and families, either to rent or own. The huge downtown and city has areas with hundreds of apartment and condominium buildings all along the Lakefront and in the Loop Area (Streeterville and Gold Coast in particular).
Homes are expensive in places like Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Forest Park and Oak Park – but affordable housing is still available.
The Chicagoland area is famous for its suburbs, the likes of Evanston, Wilmette Village and Winnetka along the North Shore, Hyde Park to the South and a plethora of western suburbs such as Naperville, Aurora and Schaumberg. Pricier suburbs include South Barrington, where 5-acre lots are common, Long Grove, Buffalo Grove, Lake Forest and Glencoe.
There are an abundance of good schools in these areas.
What is Chicago Known For?
Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, is known for many things, but perhaps the most striking aspect for visitors is the magnificent downtown spread around Lakeshore Drive and the strong architectural sights that give the city a distinctly European feeling.
The Lakefront, River Walk and Parks
Few cities in the world can boast the 40+ mile stretch that forms Chicago’s front along Lake Michigan. Even more unique is the large stretch of parkland right on the lake – Grant Park, Millennium Park and Maggie Daley Children’s Park being the main points of attraction.
The Chicago River features a long walkway with shops and eateries on its South Bank. Joggers and bikers are always present.
Boat tours along the river and Lake Michigan are great to gain an appreciation for the downtown skyline and the architectural styles of Chicago. Hop on hop off bus tours are also available.
The Air and Water Show is held over Navy Pier every year in August. Other festivals, including the Festival of Lights parade in winter and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade are key attractions.
Willis Tower and John Hancock Center
Chicago’s skyline and Lakefront view can be enjoyed from the Skydeck on the 103rd Floor of the Willis Tower. Magnificent vistas are also available from the lounges and restaurants on the 95th and 96th floor of the John Hancock Tower.
Shopping – The Magnificent Mile and State Street
Chicago is a shoppers’ paradise, be they the high-end shops along the Magnificent Mile stretch of Michigan Avenue or along a dozen blocks inside the Loop on State Street.
Art, Architecture and History – The Museums
A list of museums to visit in Chicago, along with exhibits and festivals, could occupy a book. Among the must sees are the Chicago Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Field Museum of Natural History. For the scientifically minded, there is the Museum of Science and Industry and Adler Planetarium. A unique Children’s Museum is a great place to stop by for families with small kids.
Family Activities – Navy Pier, Six Flags, Concerts in the Park, Aquarium and Zoos
Family outings in Chicago often focus on the Lakefront. Navy Pier and the Lakefront adjacent to it is a prime destination, with shops, activities and restaurants all around. There are multiple areas for family fun along the parks. There are regular concerts at Millennium Park, movie nights at Grant Park and Lakeshore East, roller skating or ice skating and children’s activities at Maggie Daley park, the giant fountain at Grant Park …
For the thrill seekers, the Six Flags at Gurnee Mills beckons. The Shedd Aquarium on the Lakefront Museum Campus, the Lincoln Park and Brookfield Zoos are family friendly.
The Chicago Bulls, Bears, Blackhawks, Cubs, White Sox and Fire cover five major sports among them. The iconic Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and United Center are a treat for sports lovers everywhere.
World Class Schools, Universities and Hospitals
Chicago boasts two world class universities – Northwestern and the University of Chicago – along with a host of other colleges and universities that cover every specialty. There are half a dozen large medical schools and hospitals, including Northwestern Memorial (downtown) and Rush. Finally, there are multiple schools, both public and private, ranked at the highest levels nationally – including Walter Payton, Whitney Young, Latin, Lab, Nutrier and Naperville.
Food and Drinks
Chicago is famous for many food items, among them its Deep-Dish Pizzas and Steakhouses. Pizzerias such as Giordanos and steakhouses such as Morton’s, Gino & Georgetti and Rosebud are must visits. There is ethnic food all over the place, such as Chinatown, Devon Avenue (for South Asian food) and Little Italy. Pubs are strewn over the city as well.
Chicago is known for blues and jazz, available at spots like the House of Blues, Buddy Guy’s Lounge and Kingston Mines. It is also the home of world class comedy – the iconic Second City stage has produced a very long list of A-class comedians, including Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Akroyd, Alan Alda, Amy Pohler, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Mike Meyers and Steve Carrell.
Best Times to Visit Chicago and How to Get Around
Chicago is sublime to visit during the Tulip Season in the spring, or during the myriad concerts throughout the summer. But even during the cold months, the city dresses up to welcome visitors in a manner that can awe the casual or seasoned visitor.
Visiting the Christmas Village in the City Hall Plaza Downtown, Ice Skating in Millennium Park, watching the tableaus at Macy’s or visiting the Winter Wonderland at Navy Pier are experiences to savor.
Chicago is easy to get around using public transportation, such as the L trains or Metra, or the bus service. It is preferable, especially during weekdays. Parking is expensive and tickets are commonplace. Cabs and shared rides are readily available. Bikes can be rented as well.