Getting Around Chicago a.k.a. Decoding the City
If you are new to the city or relocating to the city soon, here are some tips that that will have you navigating the Chicago street grid and getting around Chicago like a seasoned local. And there is even one tip that was completely eye opening to me. I didn’t know about it until 3 months after moving to Chicago.
But First, A Brief City Overview
The most important thing to know is that Chicago is the best city in the world!
Just ask someone when you are lost or have questions. Locals are proud of their city and are happy to help you in navigating Chicago.
Cycle, run, walk or rollerblade along the lake.
We have a pretty amazing water feature, Lake Michigan. It sometimes looks more like an ocean than a lake. The Lakefront Trail is one of my favorite city amenities and transportation routes. It is a paved multi-use trail that spans nearly 20 miles from the Southside of Chicago to the Northside. The Lakefront Trail is great for getting around Chicago. It’s bustling all year round with cyclists, runners, walkers and rollerbladers. And, there is nothing better than riding the lake front path on a clear Summer morning with the sun coming up over the Lake and bathing the city in golden light. Did that paint a picture or what?
Explore: Chicago Lakefront Trail
Now For Getting Around Chicago
The Chicago Street Grid
I’m directionally challenged. As a result, at first getting around Chicago was a mystery. But the big tip that helped me in navigating Chicago after relocating here is how the Chicago street grid works.
The Central Point
The Chicago street grid centers downtown in the Loop at State Street an Madison Street. It’s known as the busiest corner in Chicago. These are the 0 E and 0 W points on the grid. Keep in mind that the Lake is always to the East. The numbers count up by 100 each block in most parts of Chicago and 8 blocks is roughly a mile. With this in mind, Navigating Chicago is a breeze.
Even Number Addresses
The second part of the Chicago street grid system is that even number addresses are on the North and West sides of the street and odd number addresses are on the South and East sides of the street.
For example, our office address at 847 W Monroe Street in the West Loop. Based on the address, you can figure out that we are 8 1/2 blocks West of State Street. That’s about a mile away from the Chicago city center. Monroe Street is at 100 South, which is one block South of Madison. (You’ll learn the major Chicago streets over time).
Odd Number Addresses
The odd number in the address would tell you to look on the South side of Monroe Street. So, our office location is about a 12 minute walk from the Loop. Feel free to stop by and say ‘hi’!
Chicago Street Grid Has Diagonal Streets Too!
Just so navigating Chicago isn’t too easy to figure out, there are some diagonal streets in the mix. I still get turned around at some of the 6 way intersections, so I’m glad there is GPS! Check out Best Chicago Properties Neighborhood Map and you will notice the street grid numbers on the sides. Make a mental note of the major street locations and you will always be able to figure out where you are. If in doubt, just ask someone!
Resource: Chicago Relocation Resources
Navigating Chicago – The Highways You Need To Know
If you are asking driving directions or listening to the traffic report, you will notice that the highways are referred to by their respective names and numbers. Here is a quick description of each that will get you where you are going.
- The main highway that everyone knows and sings about is US Route 41 or Lakeshore Drive, LSD for short. LSD runs North/ South along the Lakefront. It is a really beautiful drive during off-peak hours.
- I-290 (the Eisenhower) will take you West of the city. Heading East, I-290 turns into Congress Ave once you pass under the old post office and then intersects with Lake Shore Drive.
- I-90/94 from I-290 South is known as the Dan Ryan Expressway and will take you East to Indiana. I-90/94 from I-290 North is known as the Kennedy Expressway and will lead you to North Suburbs/ O’Hare/Wisconsin.
- I-90 and I-94 spilt from each other near Montrose (4400N) with I-94, The Edens Expressway feeding the North suburbs and Milwaukee. I-90 heads West to O’Hare/ Rockford/ Madison and intersects I-294, the Tri-State Tollway. At O’Hare, I-90 changes names to the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway.
- I-55, The Stevenson, will get you from Chicago to St. Louis. A portion of I-55 from the Tri-State Tollway to Pontiac, will be known as the Barack Obama Presidential Expressway.
- Confused yet? Here is one more… The Jane Byrne Circle Interchange is where it all comes together in downtown Chicago. It is where the Eisenhower, the Dan Ryan and the Kennedy all meet. This is a good area to avoid on a Friday afternoon!
Navigating Chicago – Beat The Traffic, Use Public Transit
Avoiding a hectic day behind the wheel is pretty easy. For public transportation, there are multiple options to get anywhere in the city and save you from the hassle of driving. We have the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) bus lines, CTA “L” (Elevated) train lines as well as the South Shore Line and Metra commuter trains. They make getting round Chicago a breeze.
Notable CTA L Lines
- The Blue Line that takes you to/ from O’hare Airport.
- The Orange line will get you to/ from Midway Airport.
- The Red Line can take you from Guaranteed Rate Field (3500S: formerly US Cellular field, but still commonly called Comiskey Park by diehard Chicagoans) up to Wrigley Field (3600N: Addison St). Sox fan or Cubs fan, it’s your choice. But you might as well root for the Cubbies if they are playing!
- My favorite L line is the Brown Line. The Brown Line has cool city views and never seems as crowded as other lines.
Union Station and Ogilvie are the main Metra hubs. Metra will quickly get you out to the Chicago suburbs and back. The South Shore Line is the electric commuter train that connects Chicago to Northwest Indiana.
CTA Bus Lines
The CTA bus lines are great to get around and the PACE buses are for commuters to/ from the Suburbs.
Let’s not forget about the Shoreline Water Taxi. You can take a cruise up the Chicago River to Navy Pier all the way down to Museum Campus in the South Loop. Some people actually commute to work by water taxi in the Summer.
Next up are the Divvy bikes. You can purchase day or year passes to get access to the bright blue bikes located at stations all over the city. If you are on two wheels, the bike lanes are a welcome addition to the city streets.
If you do plan to drive instead of using the above transit solutions, then you might want to buy a Chicago garage parking space.
A Few More Fun Facts About Navigating Chicago…
Cue up some Chuck Berry because there is a sign on Adams street near Michigan Ave that designates the beginning of Route 66. Fun fact within a fun fact… Chuck Berry recorded at Chess Records in Chicago’s South Loop and Chess Records is now a super cool loft condo building!
There is a pedway system that spans underneath the Loop. Oddly, a lot of people have never heard about it, but it is a popular way of navigating Chicago for people working downtown on rainy and snowy days. Explore Downtown Chicago.
Gotta give a shout out to The Willis Tower, which will always be referred to as Sears Tower by true Chicagoans. It is the tallest building in North America and a very useful landmark for getting around the city.
If you are here for vacation, you are one of 40 million people that visit the city each year. I hope you have an easy time getting around Chicago and that you enjoy it as much as I do!
Have questions, we’re here to help, contact us!