Moving to Chicago

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See also: Visiting Chicago
Oct 2004

My husband and I are contemplating a move to Chicago. My husband is orginially from the mid-west and I from the east coast, so we figure this would be a good compromise for our young family since we feel very exposed financially here with the high cost of living although we love everything else about the bay area!!

I am looking for any recommendations of any areas similar to that of Oakland/Berkeley which are somewhat urban/suburban but also have diversity, liberal, in a safe area in addition to any good information about school districts or access to good private schools. We would prefer to stay within the city limits but open to exploring northern city-type suburbs like Evanston.

Also, if there are any good network sites like this one. We have a son who will be 3 next fall when we are thinking about moving and I want to be sure I have a good pre-school spot for him when we move so any advice on how to find resources would be great.

Lastly, any general impressions of the city itself, weather (yes, I know it is cold), outdoor activities- we are hikers and bikers and lastly general impressions about attitudes of people in the city or surrounding areas.

Thanks in advance! Stephanie

Oak Park is a town minutes outside of downtown Chicago. Several of our friends have bought homes there. They are happy with their homes, neighbors, schools, etc. Most of their kids are still preschool age however. I don't know the politics of some of our friends, but they are all worldy and life long learner types. My husband has visited several times and was very positively impressed. It's also connected by the 'EL' to downtown.

Chicago has everything--culture, sports, great food-- and a very unpretentious atitude. -Chicago Lover Karen

While I was born and raised in SF (3rd generation San Franciscan) we have just returned to Berkeley after living in Chicago for 14 years. While I'm thrilled to be closer to family and won't miss those Chicago winters, I do miss Chicago. So here goes... We lived in the City of Chicago in Bucktown. Very groovy area and fun-- but in my opinion, not good for public school. In Chicago, the best elementary public schools are in the Bell School district (part of Roscoe Village will get you there--very fun, and urban), Lincoln school in Lincoln Park, LaSalle Language in Old Town....just to name a few-- I know there are others but do your research!

As far as pre-schools in the City, the 3 most talked about are

1. Mary Meyer 773-549-0870 enroll the Sept before your child turns 3. (although very hard to get into--I've heard you either have to know someone or be a legacy kid/family)

2. Park West Co-op (in a church (although not affiliated with the church) behind Children's Memorial Hospital in Lincoln Park...supposedly a true lottery) 773-327-1115

3. Lincoln Park Co-op. 312-944-5469 in Old Town. Eligible when child turns 3. Call the Sept before turning 3 then they have tour and applications must be in by March 1st

My son went to Near North Montessori, which was wonderful! They have an AMAZING 2 year old program and the school goes until 8th grade.

There are also many Catholic or other religously affiliated schools although I don't know much about them. I've heard people have been very happy with the JCC.

As far as the suburbs go--Evanston is FABULOUS. I have many friends all from Evanston and it's a wonderful and diverse community. I'm told you can also go to public school there--my friends who are from there all send their kids to the public school. It's near the lake, not far from Chicago and just an all around great community.

Oak Park, which is West of the City is also very diverse and probably not as expensive as Evanston (I've been told that Evanston taxes are very high), and yet still close to the City. I never hung out there much but people like it and I think the schools are pretty good. Actually most of the suburban public schools are quite good--so I've heard.

A few important things if you're going to live in Chicago: 1) Northside Parents Network is similar to Berkeley parents network although there is an annual fee. I would encourage you to check it out and join. They also have a FABULOUS school booklet for purchase that will tell you everything about all of the schools and they'll let you know when they're having a school fair. 2) Definitely check out the Chicago Park District website. They have wonderful programs and they don't cost much. The ''moms, pops and tots'' class was great especially the ones at Holstein park, Adams, Shield Park, the cultural center park district, and I think wicker park was ok. I'm sure there are many others but definitely check them out as well as the other classes they offer. 3) In the summertime don't miss the water park at Adams Park playground in Linclon Park--an absolute gem!! 4) Many of the park districts have camp although you have to camp out to sign up, some better than others. But, we belonged to LakeShore Athletic Club which has classes for kids as well as Pee-Wee camp. I wasn't thrilled about the staff but my son had a blast. People aslo rave about the camp at Parker school--although pricey.

Speaking of Parker, there are 3 main private schools in Chicago-- Parker, Latin and The Lab School. The Lab School is AMAZING, near the University of Chicago....if you end up living on the South Side and can afford it, it's one of the best.

Sorry I can't offer more about the suburbs. I personally like the Northern suburbs best because it's along the lake, but you'll have to check it out for yourself.

In the City, the Lincoln Park Zoo is free, but if you become a member you get free parking and that therefore gives you free parking right on the lake front if you like to run or bike. The Children's Museum is fabulous as is the Museum of Science and Industry. The Nature Museum is good, my kids really liked it...and if you become a member of the Nature museum, there is reciprosity with the Museum of Science and industry. The aquarium is great....actually the museums in general are wonderful in Chicago. Also, the libraries offer free passes to the museums if they haven't run out....if I remember correctly, one pass groups together a bunch of museums and you can go check them out...I think you can check the pass out for the weekend.

Many of the libraries as well as the Barnes and Noble (on Webster and Clybourn) have story time for kids, and the Barnes and Noble is a must in the winter as they have a train table in the kids section--a good place to pass the time when it's cold.

The Old Town School of Folk Music (main one on Armitage but have also opened locations throughout Chicago) is great for music classes for kids young and old, and there's also the usual ''Music Together'' classses, etc.

If you're looking for AMAZING gymnastics classes I highly recommend Lakeshore Academy of Gymnastics on Chestnut (an absolute BLAST and has a fabulous class for little ones) and they also have ''Hidden Peak'' Climbing Gym there for I think 5 year olds and up.

Ok, I think my fingers are about to fall off. Feel free to email me if you have any specific questions or just want more info. The winters are tough there (make sure you have a little room in your house as a play space because you'll be spending a lot of time there....but don't worry, you'll be able to afford it, if you've been living here) but the people are VERY friendly and it's a wonderful, fun city.

Take care and good luck. Dana

I grew up in a Northern suburb of Chicago and still have family and friends there and visit often. Evanston will likely be the closest thing to what you want.LIke Berkeley, university town, beautiful old homes, lots of trees and great beaches and lots of places to walk to. The schools are good and diverse. And it is beautiful. Living in the city is doable but you will likely have to pay for private school. And houses are now very expensive in the city. My friend lives near Wrigley Field and homes are going for $800,000 plus, with many homes being sold, knocked down and rebuilt. Evanston will likely be more affordable, and you will get a yard. There are many things to do in Chicago and its set up for winter, both with outdoor and indoor activities. The museums are many, varied, fabulous and great for kids. They have something we don't here - dinosaurs and mummies (Field Museum), there is the original children's museum, but on a grand scale (Museum of Science and Industry), lots of indoor sports, etc. And of course beaches in summer, lots of bike paths (flat!), lots of hiking, great camping, etc in Wisconsin. I could go on. The skiing is far and not so great (think bunny hills)and very cold. The one thing about winter in Chicago compared to the bay area is that there is sun and lots of it, even when its snowing the sun can be shining and you aren't sopping wet when you get somewhere. And the homes are insulated and heated properly (not like here, where builders believed the myth that they lived in California so it didn't get cold enough to actually insulate your homes adequately). The schools also have something we don't have, GYMS! I don't know one grammar school in our district here with a gym, my nephews school in a northern suburb has 6 gyms! I love Evanston, and some of the closer suburbs, they are still close to the city, have great transportation into the city (and unlike the bay area, the systems are more connected, you don't have to pay 2 or 3 different transit fares to get somewhere) and the transit goes directly to Ohare (I fly in, hop on the train and go right to my friends house). There are many city festivals, all free, lots of free music, there is a new fantastic city park (Millenium Park) right downtown that my kids loved on the last visit, complete with a Frank Gehry designed band shell. If I could work there, I'd go back in a flash. Good luck. always a Chicagoan
I went to school in Chicago and still have many friends in the area. One family I know lives in the Beverly area (sometimes called Beverly Hills - not, however, because it resembles Beverly Hills, CA) on the south side of the city. Beverly is still in Chicago proper but it feels more suburban to me. It is quiet, nice neighborhood with good schools and proximity to some really good private schools. I understand that it is hard to find a house in the area because it is in demand and the homeowners mostly advertise in local papers and through word of mouth. My friend said that if you are really interested in Beverly you need to find a ''local'' Beverly realtor to help you out. A final thought on quality of life in Chicago. As a Bay Area native I moved to Chicago for 6 years, came back to SF for 3 years, moved back to Chicago for 2 more years and then finally returned to Oakland! I love Chicagoans. They are very friendly. The city has much to offer. My main complaints were 1) the weather - not only too cold in the winter but too hot in the summer too. and 2)Lack of outdoor activities - maybe this is because the weather and maybe because of the flat topography but I felt that in general Chicago is a city of people who WATCH sports and the Bay Area is a place were people DO sports. That being said, you can always nurture your passions wherever you go, you just have to seek out the right companions and opportunities. Good luck! Jennifer
March 2002

My husband is considering a job offer in Chicago. I am very reluctant to move. We wil be flown out in April to check neighborhoods and schools. Iwould like my three children to shadow a day of classes there to compare. If you have lived there recently or have friends in the area would you kindly suggest a good school district/neighborhood in vicinity of Chicago? I don't see any good reasons to move (except money and that isn't a strong enough reason for me)Do you know of anything that would entice me to go there? (No, I don't miss the snow and cold.) happy in the Bay Area

Hi -- I am both in the same boat with you, yet have also lived in Chicago. My husband's work has ''asked'' him to consider a move to Chicago recently, and we have been grappling with the decision. We lived in different areas of the city and suburbs as single and married people, but with no kids at the time. We both LOVED the city -- very young, vibrant, friendly and LOTS to do! The biggest thing holding us back right now is that we want our next move to be to a more rural, quiet setting rather than trading like for like -- which is how we see living in Pleasant Hill/SF Bay Area vs. Chicago suburbs. We are weary of ''big city suburban life'' (especially traffic, which we definitely have in common with Chicago!). Another drawback is that we would be far from our support network -- I'm a 4th generation Californian and my husbands parents are in NY. As for a suburb we have considered should we move? We really like Elmhurst or Arlington Heights -- both have excellent public schools and are far enough out of the bustle of the city, but on train routes right into the city. Arlington Hts. is a bit further out. I lived in Glencoe, a town just to the north of the city by about 20 min. -- loved it, right on the lake, but very expensive for a family. Some real positives? The great aquarium, waterfront parks, Navy Pier (!!!), Michigan Ave. shopping and beautiful Wildlike Preserves with miles of biking trails. It is a fabulous city -- cold in winter, yes, but the life that springs forth as soon as that barometer hits 50 degrees is a thrill! I love the city and only wish we could live close enough to it to end of the day. Don't know if this helps, but I hope so! Trish
I forwarded this question to a friend who has moved to chicago within the last couple of years: Chicago and suburbs are great places to raise kids. The public schools in most suburbs near the city are quite good and there are lots of activities, sports, etc. for kids in all these towns. We live in Glenview and really like it, other nice suburbs are Wilmette, Park Ridge, Oak Park, Schaumberg. It depends how far away you want to live from Chicago. It is different here from living in the Bay Area: the scenery is pretty ugly(with the exception of Lake Michigan) and the weather, of course, can be horrendous. However, the past 4 winters have been relatively mild. There aren't nearly as many nice weekend getaway places as in California, most people go to Wisconsin or Michigan to their weekend/summer homes.

It is cheaper to buy houses here, but not much cheaper in some of the most desirable suburbs. People are friendly and probably a little less materialistic than in SF. Family values are very strong - most people I have met here, grew up here and wanted to stay near their families. That is nice - different from all the transplanted people in SF, I loved SF and miss it a lot - but both areas have a lot to offer Good Luck with your decision! jennifer