Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Chicago

A skyline adorned with modern skyscrapers, miles and miles of lakefront path, sandy beaches and wavy water views are just a few of the sights to take in along the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Choose Chicago.
Written by Steve Atlas

Are you looking for a place to visit for three days or more without your car? Then, consider a large city. Most major cities have very good and affordable public transportation, and many neighborhoods and parks that are good choices for walking. When you want to enjoy a play, concert, museum, major league sports, or simply a good place to eat,  a short walk or ride on a local bus or train makes it easy to get there.

Today, we will visit one of the truly great cities in the United States: Chicago. With the help of Choose Chicago: the city’s visitor information center and suggestions from a local resident, we will explore a few of the many choices available to visitors who don’t want to drive.

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA): Your best single resource

The best way to explore the city is on foot or using public transit. CTA’s website is Here, you can find information about CTA’s many rail and bus routes, and detailed information about getting downtown from both airports: O’Hare and Midway. You can also call CTA customer service from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., 365 days a year, at either (888) 968-7282 (toll-free) or (312)836-7100.

Before You Come
Plan carefully, and you will have a memorable vacation here. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Call (toll-free) (877) 669-8368 to order a VENTRA Card. The $5 fee is waived for phone or online orders. Ask for details when you call. You can also buy a VENTRACard with a one-day, three-day, or seven day pass after you arrive in Chicago at any CTA rail station, Currency Exchange, or many retail drugstores in Chicago (including all Walgreens). For more information about VENTRA CARDs, go to
  • Go to for detailed information about CTA trains and buses.
  • If you are a bicyclist, visit for information about local bike lanes and bicycle rack parking. Check out for information about the city bike system, bike station locations, and rental fees. Then click on Get the App.
  • If you plan to drive at all (not recommended because of the high cost of both gas and parking), public parking lots, garages, and street parking varies by neighborhood. Choose Chicago suggests that, after you arrive, look for streets with metered parking spaces and get meter rates at Download either Park Whiz or Spot Hero on your phone. Then, use these apps to find the best prices and available parking spots in and around downtown Chicago.
  • For information about Chicago attractions and hotels and restaurants, visit, or call (312) 567-8500. You can also visit the Chicago Visitor Center at

Tips from a Local Resident to Help You Plan Your Trip

Jodie Bodeker, who works in the travel industry, has lived in Chicago for several years without owning a car. She recommends leaving your car at home. “I look at having a car in Chicago as a burden. After moving to Chicago seven years ago from Florida, I went from driving everywhere to not even owning a car.

“I live in East Lakeview/Wrigelyville (North-Side Neighborhood) and take the CTA ‘L’ Red Line into Downtown twice a day as my commute. It only takes me 30 minutes to get to my office. A cab ride adds 15 minutes to my commute because of traffic.

“Between traffic, finding parking, snow and parking fees, you are better off taking public transportation or walking. The CTA is very easy to navigate with many train and bus lines running 24/7. You may also use an app to track the departure times of our public transit.

“Why drive when you can enjoy walking through our beautiful trails such as Chicago’s Lakefront Trail or Riverwalk?

“Our city’s streets are designed in a grid-like format, making the streets extremely easy to navigate by foot and Lake Michigan always marks East. There are also compasses at CTA exits so you know which way to head upon exiting. One thing you will notice is that the people of Chicago are very friendly, so if you are ever lost, simply ask a local!

“If you are a biker, Divvy bikes are a great way to get around the city!”

Jodie adds this caution: “It sounds cliché, but look both ways before crossing. Chicago is a busy city, so it is important to watch traffic signs.”

Getting Here

By Air

Chicago has two airports: O’Hare International Airport, and Midway Airport.

CTA’s Blue line serves O’Hare 24 hours every day. 

CTA’s Orange Line serves Midway during the following hours:

       Monday-Friday: 3:30 a.m. until 1:05 a.m. the following day,

       Saturday: 4:00 a.m. until 1:05 a.m. the following day

       Sunday: 4:30 a.m. until 1:05 a.m the following day 

For detailed information about CTA’s airport service, go to  

By Train: Amtrak ( )

CTA’s Bus #60 serves Union Station 24 hours a day. The closest stop is at Canal and Adams, a short walk away. You can also walk to the Quincy and Wells CTA rail station, about 10 minutes away. That rail station is served by the Brown, Purple, and Green lines.

Megabus (

Buses stop at West Polk Street between Clinton and Canal Streets. From there, it’s a two-minute walk to Van Buren and Canal streets where you can catch CTA’s Bus #151.

Greyhound: .

The Chicago Greyhound station is at 630 West Harrison Street. CTA bus #60 serves the Greyhound station (stopping on West Harrison Street) 24 hours a day. The nearest CTA rail station is the LaSalle station of the Blue Line (a short walk from the bus terminal).

Where to Stay

Jodie Bodeker suggests staying either in downtown Chicago or Lincoln Park.

If downtown is your preference, Jodie recommends River North (many restaurants, jazz clubs, and other evening activities), Magnificent Mile (if you are a shopper), and Millennium Park (a beautiful park, plus a wide selection of places to eat and shopping off nearby Michigan Ave. and State Street).

“River North, Magnificent Mile, and Millennium Park hotels are in or near Chicago’s downtown, so there is a wide choice available. Recommendations will be based on budget, reason for travel, and what type of experience you would like. All hotels are walking distance from shops, restaurants, bars, clubs, and the CTA (public transit). Millennium Park area is my suggestion if you’d like to be near a park.”

If you want to stay outside of downtown, Jodie recommends these North Side neighborhoods:        Lincoln Park, East Lakeview/Wrigleyville, and the following hotels:

Best Western Plus Hawthorne Terrace Hotel

Majestic Hotel Chicago

City Suites Chicago 

If you are a baseball fan, the Hotel Zachary ( is across the street from Wrigley Field: home of the Chicago Cubs.

The West Side neighborhood of Wicker Park has a more hipster vibe, and lots of boutique shopping, restaurants and bars, record stores and more.

Before You Begin Exploring Chicago

CTA’s “L” train fare is $2.25 for a single trip, and a single bus trip is $2.00 There are reduced fares for senior citizens and persons with disabilities. For details, go to

The most affordable way to use CTA during your visit is with an unlimited ride pass (that

includes CTA trains to O’Hare and Midway Airports). A one-day pass costs $10; a three-day

pass is $20, and (if you are here more than 3 days) a seven-day pass costs $28 ($4 per

day). For details about how to add passes to your Ventra Card, visit

Special Tips for Visiting Bicyclists

Jodie Bodeker, who is a bicyclist, offers these suggestions for visiting bicyclists:

  • Chicago is very hospitable to visitors who want to explore the city by bicycle. On a personal note, more of my friends own bikes than cars!
  • Rent a bike at one of hundreds of Divvy Bikesstations around the Chicago area:
  • We have great bike trails: Some of my favorites are: The 606, Lakefront Trail North, and Lakefront Trail South
  • The 4 Kimpton Hotels of Chicago offer complimentary loaner PUBLIC bikes.
  • I Recommend Bobby’s Bike Hike for bike tours:

Exploring Chicago Without Needing to Drive

A good way to experience what is special about the city is to visit some of Chicago’s neighborhoods. According to WalkScore (, Chicago is the 6th most walkable large city in the United States. For a complete list of the city’s most walkable neighborhoods, go to, scroll down to neighborhoods, and then click on “See all Chicago neighborhoods.”

Here is a brief description, from, of several of Chicago’s most walkable neighborhoods in 2017:

1. West Loop – Walk Score 96

It doesn’t get much hotter than the West Loop, with its trendy Restaurant Row, hip bars and plenty of grocery stores. Shoppers can choose between specialty, organic and conventional grocers. Soon, after Google’s Chicago campus has moved here, you will also be able to walk to work. With a transit score of 100, you have a neighborhood where owning a car is definitely optional.

2. Near North Side – Walk Score 96

This classic walkable Chicago neighborhood  includes the smaller neighborhoods of River North, Streeterville and the Gold Coast. You are just a 15-minute walk from the business district, the shopping  district, grocery stores, bars and restaurants and even the Chicago Water Taxi.”

3. East Village – Walk Score 96

This neighborhood’s restaurant and retail offerings have increased over the last several years, most notably along Chicago Avenue, which is quickly becoming one of the hippest areas to spend a night on the town.

Known for its relaxed residential character, Ukrainian Village is well-located for walkability: next to Wicker Park and East Village, the neighborhood also has its share of restaurants along Division and Chicago Avenues, as well as a Mariano’s grocery.

However, as walkable as it is, Ukrainian Village has a transit score of only 69, the lowest of any neighborhood on the list – it’s also the only neighborhood without at least one El stop. However, Ukranian Village is served by several CTA bus routes.

5.Wicker Park – Walk Score 94

Once a bohemia that nurtured the likes of Smashing Pumpkins, Veruca Salt and Liz Phair, Wicker Park has long since become one of Chicago’s most well-known and mainstream-trendy neighborhoods. Featuring numerous brunch spots, well-maintained vintage greystones and plenty of over-trendy condos, this neighborhood is home to a weekly farmer’s market, plenty of shopping, bars and restaurants.

6   Lincoln Park – Walk Score 94

Adjacent to the well-known park of the same name, Lincoln Park features high-rises with spectacular views of Lake Michigan to the east, and historic, late 1800s brick row homes to the west of the neighborhood. Residents and visitors who stay here can enjoy plenty of green space, the El’s Brown and Red lines, and nightlife along Lincoln Avenue.

7. The Loop – Walk Score 93

Contrary to popular belief, the Loop is more than just a shopping neighborhood. It is also home to 14,000 residents, and a good base for visitors who want easy access to the Art Institute, Millenium Park, and a variety of high-quality restaurants.

8.Grant Park: Walk Score 93

Located in Chicago’s Loop community, this neighborhood surrounds Grant Park. The park’s most notable features are Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum Campus. Originally known as Lake Park, and dating from the city’s founding, it was renamed in 1901 to honor Ulysses S. Grant.

9. Fulton River District – Walk Score 93

Once a center of industry and shipping, the Fulton River District is growing in popularity. Served by three El lines, the Ogilvy Transportation Center, and near to River North, the West Loop and the Loop, it’s very well-located. A growing bar and restaurant scene makes this district even more walkable. There’s always cocoa wafting through the air, thanks to the Blommer Chocolate Factory.

10.  Noble Square – Walk Score 94

One of the city’s lesser-known neighborhoods, Noble Square benefits from the popularity of nearby Wicker Park and East Village. Touching upon sections of commercial corridors along Milwaukee, Chicago and Grand Avenues, Noble Square offers a cross-section of area nightlife, easy access to the expressway and the Blue line.

Neighborhoods worth a Special Visit

Chicago has 77 neighborhoods. A neighborhood-based visit to Chicago can easily take several days—perhaps a week or more. For details about Chicago neighborhoods, visit Best of all, most of these neighborhoods are easy to reach on CTA trains and/or buses. With a CTA pass, it costs nothing additional to visit as many neighborhoods as you want.

Here is a brief description of a few of these neighborhoods:

Lakeview: According to, this North Side neighborhood is the 14th most walkable neighborhood in Chicago. It has a walking score of 91 (out of 100), a transit score of 79, and a bike score of 81.

To get here by train: take the Red Line from the Belmont or Addison stations in Lakeview south toward 95/Dan Ryan to the heart of Downtown. For example, a trip from Boystown to Magnificent Mile/John Hancock Building is only a 25-minute commute.

Several buses can also take you there: 36 (Broadway), 146 (Michigan Express), or 22 (Clark) (24/7 bus service) each in no more than 35 minutes pending traffic

Anchored by a beautiful stretch of shoreline to the east and dotted with train stops from two ‘L’ lines, Lakeview is one of Chicago’s liveliest and most accessible neighborhoods. Several distinct areas — East Lakeview, Central Lakeview, Boystown and Wrigleyville — meld together to form a lakefront community that celebrates diversity and boasts something for every type of visitor.

Hit the bustling commercial districts along Belmont Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, Southport Avenue, Clark Street, Halsted Street and Broadway Street to shop — be it for vintage frocks, designer jeans or leather biker gear — or live it up with the locals at the seemingly endless options for bars and pubs, and the dozens of celebrated restaurants in between.

Arts and culture come in the form of live music venues, several summer street festivals and a thriving scene for theater, dance and comedy (Belmont Theater District is a stellar collection of nearly 20 independent companies).

Lakeview makes full use of its 1,200 acre slice of Lincoln Park, dedicated to the outdoors.  Here you will find the scenic Lakefront Trail, a golf course and driving range, a boat harbor, a bird sanctuary, tennis courts and grassy playing fields that are also perfect for picnics           or just soaking in the views.

For a list of things to do in Lakeview, by category, go to:

Within Lakeview, 2 communities worth a special visit are Boystown, and Wrigleyville. 

Boystown is one of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities in the United States. The Chicago Pride Parade and Market Days attracts more than a million spectators and visitors and visitors of every background and sexual orientation every summer. Take time to see a performance by the Strawdog Theatre Company or Oracle Productions. The long-running “Blue Man Group” performs at the Briar Street Theatre.

After the show, North Halsted’s bar and restaurant district features gay-friendly staple            Spin and show tune institution Sidetrack, plus a range of dining options from Spanish to Asian to American cuisine.

Wrigleyville is the lively little pocket in the Lakeview neighborhood that sits in the shadows of historic Wrigley Field, the second oldest stadium in baseball and home to the beloved Chicago Cubs. It has become a magnet for sports fans and young professionals alike, and particularly singles who hop from bar to bar along Clark, Addison and Sheffield Avenues.

Wrigleyville is just a 15-minute train ride from the Chicago Ave. station on the Red line, where the Magnificent  Mile and John Hancock Building are located.

Rather tame by day, the neighborhood’s souvenir shops and casual eateries are open but quiet. For late night entertainment, a boisterous after-hours crowd heads to Wrigleyville for everything from live music to sketch comedy.

But if there’s a day game or a night game letting out at “The Friendly Confines”    then look out: the streets swell with fans looking to celebrate a Cubs win!

For a list of things to do in Wrigleyville, go to:

Lincoln Park: According to, Lincoln Park is the 6th most walkable neiighborhood in Chicago. It has a Walk Score of 94, a Transit Score of 79, and a Bike Score  of  88. Here, Chicago’s motto: “urbs in horto”–or “City in a Garden” truly comes to life. Historic churches and handsome brick row houses nestled within landmark districts sit next to peaceful parks, while quiet, tree-lined residential areas give way to bustling business corridors.

To get to Lincoln Park, take CTA’s Red Line or Brownline L trains to FullertonA trip from Lincoln Park to Magnificent Mile/John Hancock Building is only 15 minutes. CTA buses 22, 36, 151, and 156 also serve Lincoln Park. (Bus 22 runs 24 hours every day.)

Armitage Avenue is lined with independent boutiques and high-end retailers; Clark Street is packed with casual cafes, ethnic restaurants and sweet shops that spill out onto the sidewalks during warm weather; and Lincoln Avenue buzzes all night with bars and taverns that cater to the young college crowd from the nearby DePaul University campus.

Lincoln Park is also a diverse arts and entertainment destination as well with a wide selection of museums, top theaters and live music clubs to pick from.

For scenery, there’s plenty of natural beauty and outdoors to enjoy.

This neighborhood’s namesake park is a sprawling 1,208 acres of green space with a free zoo open year-round, a nature museum and conservatory. And when the weather’s right, head over to the lakefront trail and beaches, where sand and surf are set against a backdrop of downtown skyscrapers.

For a list List of things to do by category, go to:

Wicker Park/Bucktown: According to, Wicker Park/Bucktown is the 5th most walkable neighborhood in Chicago. It has a Walk Score of 94, a Transit Score of 75, and a Bike Score of 86.

These synonymous neighborhoods, known for being hubs of creativity, are famous for live music and nightlife, chef-driven restaurants and countless art galleries — many housed within the Flat Iron Arts Building.

It’s easy to get here on CTA. Take the Blue Line L train to Damen. It is about a10-minute commute on the Blue Line from Damen Ave. to Washington St. in the heart of downtown Chicago.

The area is well known for its high quality restaurants, the renowned breweries Pierce and The Violet Hour.

Along North, Division, Milwaukee and Damen Avenues, you will find an unbelievable blend of vintage shops amid independently-owned boutiques touting fashions for both men and women, and luxury home goods and beauty products. On the same blocks are nationally-recognized names in fashion, and a mix of major retail chains that have also set up shop to satisfy the on-trend crowds.

For a list of things to do by category, go to:

Seeing Chicago Attractions

Most of us visit Chicago to see its many famous attractions—from the Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute of Chicagoto a stroll along the Magnificent Mile.

While you are here, take time to enjoy a baseball game at the home of one of the city’s two major league teams: the Chicago Cubs (Wrigley Field) and the Chicago White Sox (Guaranteed Rate Field), a concert by the world-famous Chicago Symphony, or an opera by Lyric Opera Chicago. (This is a very small sample of what is available.)

Here are a few suggestions from Choose Chicago:

Discount Passes: If you plan to see many attractions during your visit, consider one of the following discount passes:

Organized Tours: Here are a few ideas from Choose Chicago:

Self-Guided Walking Tours

Choose Chicago’s Suggestions for What to See

A big problem for many visitors is what to see during their visit. The many choices can easily seem overwhelming. Here are a few suggestions, from Choose Chicago, for both first-time visitors, and those returning for another visit:

Ideas for first-time visitors:

  • Adler Planetarium
  • Field Museum
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Art Institute of Chicago
  • 360 CHICAGO (John Hancock Observatory)
  • Lincoln Park Zoo (Lincoln Park neighborhood)
  • Magnificent Mile (shopping)
  • Millennium Park
  • Navy Pier
  • Skydeck Chicago
  • Chicago riverwalk
  • Visit Chinatown (in Chinatown neighborhood)
  • Go out to eat in River North or West Loop neighborhood of downtown. T

Ideas for repeat visitors:

  • Blue Man Group
  • Broadway in Chicago
  • Chicago’s First Lady Cruises
  • Odyssey
  • Second City’s Up Comedy Club
  • Shoreline Sightseeing Cruises
  • Steppenwolf Theatre
  • The Lakefront Trail
  • Wendella
  • Buddy Guy’s Legends
  • Enjoy a major league game at: Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), Fixed Guarantee Park (Chicago White Sox), The United Center (Chicago Bulls), or Soldier Field (Chicago Bears)
  • Visit a Chicago brewery (Goose Island, Revolution Brewing, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Half Acre are just a few available choices.)

What’s Your Pleasure?

Do you have a special interest? Then, you may want to base your visit around one or more of these interests. Choose Chicago has these recommendations for an interest-based visit:

             Museums and Exhibits

  • Museum of Science & Industry
  • Chicago Children’s Museum
  • Field Museum
  • Chicago Cultural Center
  • Art Institute
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Shedd Aquarium
  • Museum of Contemporary Art
  • American Writers Museum (new)
  • Museum of Broadcast Communications
  • Chicago History Museum

For information about major exhibits in Chicago, go to Exhibits 2017


  • Museum of Science & Industry
  • Adler Planetarium
  • Field Museum

            Families with young children                                   

For ideas, go to:           


  • Chicago History Museum
  • Start of Route 66,
  • Cultural Center

            Parks and the outdoors (including Lake Michigan)    

  • Jay Pritzker Pavilion for free concerts or movies Oak Street Beach,
  • North Ave. Beach, and the following parks:     
    • Millenium Park
    • Maggie Daley Park
    • Grant Park
    • Lincoln Park
    • Wicker Park
    • Rhw 606
    • Riverwalk

              Zoos and Aquariums:

  • Lincoln Park Zoo
  • Shedd Aquarium

Performing Arts (theatre, opera, symphony, jazz, ballet or modern dance etc.)

Jazz Clubs: 

  • Buddy Guy’s Legends
  • Andy’s Jazz Club
  • Blue Chicago
  • Green Mill, and
  • Kingston Mines

       Architecture (home and business)

  • Chicago Architecture Foundation (new Chicago Architecture Center coming summer 2018)
  • Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise First Lady Cruises (by boat):
  • Shoreline Sightseeing architecture river cruise 




A Special Invitation to Major League Sports Fans

Chicago has major league sports teams in many sports. Best of all, it’s easy to enjoy games without a car. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Soldier Field (football) is located in Museum Campus in Downtown. If you’re taking the L train to Soldier Field, get off at the Red Line’s Roosevelt station
  • Wrigley Field (baseball) is located just off the Addison Red Line in the Wrigleyville neighborhood
  • Guaranteed Rate Field (baseball) is located just off the Sox-35th Red Line
  • United Center (basketball/hockey) is located off the Ashland Green Line. A new stop, even closer to the arena, is expected to be complete in 2020.
  • Toyota Field (soccer) If you are a soccer fan, you can watch the Chicago Fire play here. Toyota Field is located outside the city, in nearby Bridgeview. There are two ways to get here from Chicago:

More Tips from local resident Jodie Bodeker

Here are some more of Jodie’s suggestions for visitors who don’t want to drive:

Favorite Places to Eat

“I personally love the West Loop/Fulton Market neighborhood for eats. This neighborhood was a formal industrial area containing Chicago’s famous Union Stock Yards, which supplied the city’s meatpacking district. It is now one of Chicago’s hottest neighborhoods as major corporations, restaurants, and retailers are flocking to the area. I recommend Sushi Dokku (has a speakeasy below the main level), Girl & The Goat, Nellcote, CH Distillery & Cocktail Bar, The Publican, Au Cheval, and Monteverde Restaurant & Pastificio

“In River North, some of my favorites are: Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria (deep dish!), Shaw’s Crab House, Siena Tavern, RPM Italian, River Roast, Andy’s Jazz Club (I used to work here. Andy’s features 2 live jazz bands every night of the week!)”

Jodie’s Tips for Walkers

  • Here are some of Jodie’s favorite places to walk:
  • The 606 goes through Northwest side neighborhoods),
  • Lakefront Trail North and Lakefront Trail South
  • Ride along the Lakefront Trail from North Neighborhoods like East Lakeview/Lincoln Park to downtown. Lincoln Park Zoo  and the Lincoln Park Conservatory.
  • Jodie’s favorite walkway is the Riverwalk, which was fully completed last year.

Evening Entertainment

Here are Jody’s suggestions:

Concert Ideas:

  • House of Blues
  • Chicago Symphony Orchestra
  • Andy’s Jazz Club
  • Buddy Guy’s Legends, and
  • The Green Mill


  • The Chicago Theatre
  • Broadway in Chicago
  • Cadillac Palace Theatre
  • Oriental Theatre
  • Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
  • Auditorium Theatre
  • Lyric Opera Chicago
  • Harris Theatre
  • Blair Street Theater (Blue Man Group) and
  • Music Box

Clubs:  Chicago has a lively nightlife; some bars/clubs are open until 5am on Saturdays.

Some of my favorite clubs are:

  • Debonair,
  • Underground
  • The MID,
  • Spy Bar
  • Smart Bar and
  • Berlin

Ideas for Day Trips and Weekend Excursions

The city of Chicago has so much to do that it is easy to spend a week or longer here.

However, some of you may want to get away from the city. Here is a great website that includes information about getting to many places by public transportation:

For More Information

For Information about Where to Stay and What to Do:

For Information about Public Transit Fares and Schedules:

Visit www.transitchicagocom or call CTA customer service (6:00 a.m -7:00 p.m. Central Time, 365 days a year) at either (888) 968-7282 (toll-free) or (312) 836-7100.


Steve Atlas welcomes your comments, and suggestions for cities or vacation destinations to feature in future Car Free Journey columns. E-mail In the subject line, put “Car Free Journey.”

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at