Two years ago today I moved to Chicago. It was freezing and my apartment was smaller than I realized. I cried on the floor. The first couple of months were not wonderful, but wow…what a summer in Chicago can do. The lakefront, patios, beaches, rooftops, food festivals, art fairs, concerts, and the enthusiastic embrace of a season we know is fleeting. I’m biased now, but I swear Chicago does summer better than anywhere else.
Two years later, I panic at the thought of moving. I travel constantly, but always breathe a sigh of relaxation and have a huge smile on my face when I exit a plane into O’Hare. Chicago is home, and though I might move again, right now it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. Aside from a fantastic first summer, here are a few other things that helped me fall head over heels for the Windy City:
The food scene is ridiculous.
Seriously. It’s almost hard to find bad food in Chicago. We have food of every kind, from everywhere, prepared by some of the world’s best chefs. Sure, so do other cities, but Chicago’s food scene feels more accessible. Even at fine-dining restaurants, it’s more affordable to eat here than other big cities, and our inexpensive options are still held to high standards. We know good food and we’re critical. There’s a feeling of community among chefs and restaurant owners too; a collective desire to raise the city’s food scene up in the eyes of the nation. I interviewed Chicago Tribune food critic Phil Vettel for an article once, and he said one of the things he loved most about the city was that Chicagoans love to eat and experiment, and it would have been hard to pull off fine-dining Mexican or Thai anywhere else. Back when Rick Bayless first opened Frontera Grill, anything but tacos and enchiladas was a novelty. Alpana Singh, Master Sommelier and owner of a few Chicago restaurants, said the same goes for wine, and Chicago is full of young and adventurous drinkers. The restaurants are beautiful too, often historic, and almost always tied in with their neighborhood. They embrace the character of the area they’re housed in, which is something really special here. And again, the food is really, really good across the board, innovative from farm-to-table to the best hot dogs you’ll ever eat. And there’s so much of it. You could eat out every meal for a year and new amazing options would keep popping up. If you don’t live here, come just to eat. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
We have history.
So do a lot of east coast cities, and I love that about them too. The United States is an infant compared to other countries, and Chicago is even younger. The city was founded in 1833, but since then has had a fascinating history. It’s one of corruption, gangsters, chaos, jazz, beauty, and wonder. Our history is still being written of course. In the last decade we’ve been in the spotlight for being home to the Obamas (another thing I love about it), for being in the center of the debate over gun violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, for a never ending budget crisis, for politicians you love but also love to hate, for sleazier politicians you just hate, for a crazy World Series win and one of the largest gatherings in human history, and much more. I’m not always proud of Chicago, but I am always proud to be a Chicagoan. Which brings me to my next point.
Chicagoans LOVE Chicago. It’s intense. It’s palpable. It’s catching. Just try to say something bad about the city. I dare you. We’ll defend it, even if you have a point. I love when people love their cities. It’s obvious in New York too, which I’ve always appreciated as a visitor. It makes the experience of living or visiting somewhere better when everyone else wants to be there too. Walking through Chicago in the summer is funny because everyone is beaming. You walk across the river and people are always stopping to take photos, and they’re not tourists. Every Instagram photo I see of Chicago has captions bursting with adoration. “Love this city so much!” “So happy to live in the best city ever!” “Looking good Chicago!” “Just another perfect day in my beautiful city!” Lots of heart eyes. No, I’m not talking only about my own Instagram posts, though I am very guilty of this.
Winters CAN be bearable.
I hate winter. I hate it. Being cold is the absolute worst. Chicago is windy and bitter and freezing for several long months each year. But we bear it, and we brag about it (this is part of our city pride). Sure, it might be colder where you are, but is it windy? It’s the windchill that gets you. Oh you had a giant blizzard yesterday? Well let me tell you about the blizzard of ’79. No I didn’t live here yet. No, I wasn’t born yet. But that’s not the point. It’s cold and we hate it, but secretly love the bragging rights. Especially if you walk by the lake. Don’t you know the lake makes it feel so much colder than it is? Bonus points for actually still trying to run. In all seriousness though, it is cold, but it is bearable. We forget fashion and wear the warmest boots, the coziest coats, and the biggest scarves. We invest in gear half the country doesn’t ever have to own. And it makes shedding layers come spring so much sweeter.
So. Many. Neighborhoods.
Each neighborhood (and apparently there are more than 200 micro-neighborhoods) is like its own small town. They each have a distinct character and their own history. Choosing which one to live in is a huge matter. It says something about you. About what you value, about how you shop, maybe even about how you vote. Choose carefully, but then don’t get caught in your bubble. Chicago is large geographically, and we have a tendency to stay in our neighborhood or the surrounding one or two. If you live in Lakeview, I promise Bridgeport is worth the trip. Pilsen is also really cool, but if you live there, get yourself to Andersonville once in awhile.
We go all in.
We go big for our sports, for St. Patrick’s Day, for our food festivals, for our parades, and for our protests. Speaking of protests, lately we’ve done an awesome job of standing up for our rights, and what’s right.
It’s the heart of the Midwest.
One of my favorite things about Chicago is that it’s a big city with Midwestern charm. You can get anything you want or need at any time of day. We have the art and the culture and the shopping and the skyscrapers and the transport. But it never feels overwhelming. You have space. And people are Midwestern nice.
There’s basically an ocean at my doorstep.
I mean, have you seen the lake??
For a big city at least. It’s expensive, but so much cheaper than New York, DC, or San Francisco.
That skyline though.
Chicago architecture is objectively some of the most historic and interesting in the country. Subjectively, it’s some of the prettiest too. (Also, walk through Old Town. Those houses are amaaazing!)
I don’t even like sports and I love going to Wrigley. That’s probably half the city’s relationship to baseball.
Our museums and tourist sights are so worth seeing.
They’re world renowned. The Art Institute is incredible, Shedd is the largest aquarium in the world, and have you guys been to the Planetarium? Go! (See my five favorite toursity sites actually worth visiting here).
We have Kanye. We have Chance. We have Barack Obama. Whether you love or hate them, these are three incredibly talented men who went through a lot to achieve success, and they started right here. More importantly, we have Oprah. We have Jennifer Hudson. We have MICHELLE OBAMA. Enough said.
So, in summary: We have everything you could ever want. Chicago is the best. It’s the greatest city ever.