What it’s really like moving to Chicago: Observations from a Midwest transplant Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
EMERYVILLE, CA - MARCH 25: The skyline of San Francisco is seen as Amtrak's California Zephyr comes to the end of its daily 2,438-mile trip to Emeryville/San Francisco from Chicago that took roughly 52 hours on March 25, 2017 in Emeryville, California. President Trump has proposed a national budget that would terminate federal support for Amtrak's long distance train services, which would affect the California Zephyr and other long distance rail lines run by Amtrak. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Ten months ago I moved from Seattle to Chicago for a new job. I wasn’t expecting the Midwest be be much different from the Pacific Northwest, but I was wrong. A few differences stuck out to me right away.

Downtown Chicago, February 2017
Photo: Kayla Ihrig

Midwestern friendliness is real

Never have I encountered such friendliness like I have in the Midwest, and that rings true in Chicago too. It’s a huge city without the attitude of a huge city. People still make small talk at the grocery store, and invite strangers drinking alone at the bar to join their group. As a 20-something who moved to a city not knowing anyone, that’s meant a more accessible social scene. It also helps that the city has a lot of transplants, and I’ve experienced a sense of camaraderie amongst newbies.

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Born and raised Chicagoans also seem very accepting of the transplants. I’ve heard countless times from my coworkers, Lyft drivers, bartenders and so on that they’re happy to hear someone new liking the city so much. After experiencing the Seattle Freeze, I had braced myself for a slow accepted as a Chicagoan but instead I experienced a warm welcome. I think in general people are just happy to see Chicago being recognized for being a great place to live. It slips some people’s minds when they think of destination cities in the United States, but it’s the third largest in the country, cheaper and more accessible than a lot of other major cities. Maybe it’s that midwestern charm that made me feel so welcomed in Chicago.

Chicago likes to have fun

And I’m not just talking about the 5 a.m. last call, though that is a good place to start. It’s not an option at every bar, but you can still party to live blues music until sunrise at some establishments (I’m looking at you, Kingston Mines). It’s one of the latest last calls in the country. Perhaps even more practical are the dozens of 24/7 restaurants. As a night owl, late night diners are my bread and butter. I learned early on in my career that I can’t live in a town without at least one spot to grab pancakes at 3 a.m., and Chicago hasn’t disappointed.


I think this stems from the geography of the region. Seattle wasn’t what I considered to be a late-night city. It’s surrounded by some of the best parks and peaks in the country and attracts outdoor enthusiasts. Illinois’s landscape offers much less, and thus people keep to the city more and it’s become better known for its blues and comedy scene. I prefer dancing to live jazz until 4 a.m. versus waking up at 4 a.m. to go tackle a new summit (though major props to anyone who does that kind of haul on your weekend).

Chicago downtown view, 2017, versus Seattle downtown view, 2016
Photo: Kayla Ihrig

Have you relocated to a new city and made similar or contrary observations? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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