Nestled on the Lake Michigan shoreline and sprawling outward, Chicago is the country's third largest city with a population of almost 10 million. With thriving arts and restaurant scenes and a wave of gentrification having revitalized much of the city, Chicago has stepped forward in its bid to be recognized as a cosmopolitan area.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Chicago is generally divided into four large sections: Downtown, the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side. Each of these areas is further divided into smaller neighborhoods. In fact, Chicago has about 225 neighborhoods, each with its own special culture and lifestyle. A neighborhood known for its Puerto Rican immigrant heritage, for example, might butt against a neighborhood popular for its hip, urban nightlife and white yuppie inhabitants. It is impossible to discuss each neighborhood in detail here; however, there are some must-know highlights:
- Hyde Park: Now famous as the home of President Barack Obama, Hyde Park on Chicago's South Side is home to the University of Chicago. The neighborhood has a mix of single-family homes (many of which are historic beauties), condos and apartment buildings.
- Lakeview: Home to Wrigley Field and scores of boutiques, restaurants, and bars, Lakeview on Chicago's North Side has long been a hip Chicago address. Lakeview is mostly made up of small and mid-rise condos and apartment buildings, with pockets of single-family homes.
- Lincoln Square: Once a little-known German immigrant enclave in the city's far north, Lincoln Square has exploded into a hot family neighborhood, thanks to the relatively large stock of single-family homes.
- The Loop: Chicago's high-rise downtown center is referred to as the Loop, with housing mostly comprised of condominiums. The area is packed with a mind-boggling array of shops, restaurants, bars, galleries, and museums.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Once the "hog butcher for the world," Chicago no longer relies on meatpacking to power its economy. Today, the city has an enviably balanced economy, drawing on finance, manufacturing, education, tourism, food processing, conventions, and more. Chicago is an important financial center with three major financial and futures exchanges, as well as many major brokerage houses and insurance companies. The city also is home to more than 10 Fortune 500 companies. Chicago has the country's third-largest gross metropolitan product, estimated to be $440 billion in 2007.
Chicago boasts an array of world-class museums:
- Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum: The oldest planetarium in the United States, Adler Planetarium was founded in 1930. It has three full-size theaters and one of the world's most important antique instrument collections.
- Art Institute of Chicago: Known for its American and Impressionist collections, the Art Institute is one of the country's premier fine art museums with more than 300,000 works.
- Field Museum: Chicago's natural history museum is packed with anthropological and scientific finds. Visitors should be sure to check out Sue, the largest and most complete T. Rex fossil yet discovered.
- John G. Shedd Aquarium: With more than 32,000 animals from whales to snails, including fish, birds, and dolphins, this is Chicago's most popular cultural attraction.
- Museum of Science and Industry: One of the world's largest science museums with almost 14 acres of hands-on exhibits, artifacts and demos. It's housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, which was built for the 1893 World's Fair.
- Millennium Park: Chicago's most unique downtown park features eye-popping sculptures and architecture.
- Navy Pier: The 3,000-foot-long pier boasts retail space, restaurants, museums, and theaters, as well as a 150-foot Ferris wheel with a spectacular view of the city.
- Sears Tower: The tallest building in the United States features an observation deck on its 103rd floor, a mere 1,353 feet above ground.
- Walking/Boat Tours: Chicago is famous for its architecture. The Chicago Architecture Foundation hosts superb walking, bus, and boat tours.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- Dance: Countless dance troupes call the city home. Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago are two of the more famous dance companies.
- Improv: Chicago is known as the birthplace of modern improvisational theater. Second City and iO-as well as several smaller troupes-honor this tradition.
- Music: Chicago is best known for its historic link to blues and jazz, but a strong current of indie rock also runs through the city. Check out House of Blues and the Green Mill for blues and jazz; look into Double Door and the Metro for indie rock. For classical fans, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra is one of the best in the world.
- Opera: The Lyric Opera of Chicago is one of the premier opera companies in the United States.
- Theater: Chicago lives up to its reputation as a strong theater community with Steppenwolf Theatre Company and the Goodman Theatre, as well as scores of smaller but respected theater companies.
Chicagoans love their outdoor festivals, and most neighborhoods host at least one fest in the warmer months. In addition, locals and tourists alike pack downtown for the huge citywide festivals:
- Chicago Blues Festival: The top-tier festival is held each year in early June.
- Taste of Chicago: The enormously popular food festival (the largest in the world) is held each July.
- Chicago Jazz Festival: This oldest of the city's lakefront music festivals is held each Labor Day weekend.
There's never a dull moment for Chicago sports fans, as they have their pick of teams (and sports) to choose from:
- Chicago Bears: Chicago's legendary football team plays in historic Soldier Field.
- Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago's National Hockey League franchise plays in the United Center.
- Chicago Bulls: The National Basketball Association team takes to the court at the United Center.
- Chicago Cubs: This Major League Baseball team plays in historic, ivy-covered Wrigley Field.
- Chicago White Sox: Southside Chicago's MLB team plays at U.S. Cellular Field.
- Chicago Fire: Chicago's professional soccer team plays at Toyota Park.
Chicago also hosts several professional teams in lesser-followed sports, such as women's basketball, arena football, and indoor soccer. And while not a team sport, the Chicago Marathon in October is considered to be one of the world's top marathons. It draws enormous crowds of supporters who cheer on the thousands of runners.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Western Avenue is the longest continuous street within Chicago, at 24.5 miles. Until 1869, Western Avenue was the western edge of the city.
- The world's largest commercial office building is the Merchandise Mart, at 222 Merchandise Mart Plaza, along the Chicago River.
- The world's largest illuminated fountain is Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park.
- When the Harold Washington Library Center opened in 1991 at 400 S. State St., with about 6.5 million books, it was the world's largest municipal library.
- The Lincoln Park Zoo, one of the last free major zoos in the country, is the country's oldest public zoo with an annual attendance of 3 million people.
- The world's tallest masonry building is the Monadnock Block at 53 W. Jackson Blvd.
- The world's largest free-admission food festival is the Taste of Chicago in Grant Park.
- The world's largest convention facility is McCormick Place along Lake Shore Drive, just south of Downtown.
- The McCormick Place convention center offers the largest amount of exhibition space in North America (2.2 million square feet).
- The world's busiest futures exchange is the Chicago Board of Trade.
- The world's largest parochial school system is the Archdiocese of Chicago.
- The world's largest water filtration plant is the Jardine Water Purification Plant at 600 E. Grand Ave. along the lakefront.
- Chicago produced the first roller skates in 1884.
- Chicago produced the first Elevated railway in 1892.
- Chicago produced the first Cracker Jacks in 1893.
- Chicago produced the first zipper in 1896.
- Chicago produced the first steel-framed skyscraper in 1885, for the Home Insurance Co.
- Chicago produced the first window envelope in 1902.
- Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837.
- The Historic Route 66 begins in Chicago at Grant Park on Adams Street in front of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- The first Ferris wheel made its debut in Chicago at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Today, Navy Pier is home to a 15-story Ferris wheel, modeled after the original one.
- The game of 16-inch softball, which is played without gloves, was invented in Chicago.
- In 1900, Chicago completed a highly innovative engineering project - reversing the flow of the Chicago River so that it empties into the Mississippi River instead of Lake Michigan.
- Chicago was one of the first municipalities to require public art as part of the construction of municipal buildings, with the passage of the Percentage-for-Arts Ordinance in 1978.
- The Chicago Cultural Center is the first free municipal cultural center in the U.S. and home to the world's largest stained glass Tiffany dome.
- The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere at 110 stories.
- The Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) elevators are among the fastest in the world, operating as fast as 1,600 feet per minute.
- The first steel railroad in the United States was produced here in 1865.
- The first mail-order business, Montgomery Ward & Co., was established in Chicago in 1872.
- The first televised U.S. presidential candidates' debate was broadcast from Chicago's CBS Studios on Sept. 26, 1960, between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.