J1 Insider: Tips & Tricks For Loving Chicago

Ahoy hoy! Two of our J1 Recruitment Team, James & Lyndsey just got back from a busy week scouring Chicago for more employers for this year’s J1 students (you lucky people!) and finding out the best things to do in the city, how best to get around, where to stay and what to enjoy. If you’re hitting Chicago, you’ll want to read this. Even if you’re not, you’ll want to go another time!

James Lyndsey Consulate
James & Lyndsey popped in to the Irish Consulate

 Before we start I would like to go on record by saying Chicago is definitely one of the best locations for a J1 in the U.S. The city comes alive in the summer as everyone is delighted to see the back the winter where temperatures can reach a bone chilling -10 degrees below freezing. The city bursts into life come May and summer temps can range between 25-38 degrees which makes it extremely seasonal and perfect for J1ers looking for seasonal work. Chicago is a busy city but is also extremely chilled and laid back. The city is located on Lake Michigan which is one of the 5 superior lakes of North America and the only superior lake to be fully located inside the U.S. Although it is a lake, get Glendalough lakes out of your head as it is more ocean then lake. To give you an idea of the size, 68% of Ireland could fit inside the circumference. The city sweeps down to the lake side and is picturesque beyond belief. There are 3 main beaches in the city Ohio Street Beach, Oak street beach and the greatest beach on earth North Avenue beach.

Chicago is an all American city with Sports, food, entertainment, great nightlife and there is always something to do, and if you’re into sports or looking to get into American sports I could not recommend Chicago enough for your J1. The city boasts some of the best sports teams in the country with two major league baseball teams, The Chicago Cubs & the Chicago white Sox, the world famous basketball team, The Chicago Bulls, the NFL colossus, The Chicago Bears and the summer favourite, the Chicago Fire who are the Major League Soccer team.

Baseball: The Cubs & the White Sox


It is impossible to avoid baseball here so you may as well watch and enjoy it.  As mentioned, Chicago has two major league baseball teams located in the city. The Chicago Cubs who play out of Wrigley field and are located north of the river in Wrigleyville. Wrigleyville has become a hub for J1ers during the summer and is extremely popular place for J1ers to find accommodation for the summer months. The stadium is easily accessed by the Chicago loop (the “L”) students can take the Red line towards Howard and get off at the Addison stop. Tickets for Cubs games during the summer range from $20-$100 depending on availability, opposition and seats.

The next door neighbours are the Chicago Whitesox. They are located on the Southside of Chicago and the rivalry is poignant throughout the whole summer accumulating in a local derby. Tickets are hot property for this game series so apply for tickets early. The white Sox play out of Cellar Field, located in the Armour Square park area of Southside Chicago. J1ers get to the ground by taking the green line to the 35th street – Lou Jones stop.

Ticket prices fluctuate depending on opposition, day, weather, game importance etc. Both  will play the same team 3 times over 3 days! The baseball season runs throughout the whole summer and is a great day out with a group of friends looking to immerse themselves in one of America’s favourite summer pastimes.

Navy Pier

Navy Pier James
A pic sent back to the Irish offices to make them all jealous!

Navy pier is the most Iconic tourism destination in Chicago. It is located east of the city centre and very easily accessed from the magnificent mile. Navy Pier is where many J1ers find their summer jobs as the place is bustling with people enjoying the sun and some really, really, really good food! Navy pier is home to the best seafood in Chicago with restaurants like Margaretville, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. & Riva Crab shack. Chango Loco and Giordano’s are also great food spots to get some Mexican food or some of Chicago’s finest deep dish pizza.

Navy pier also has a newly built Ferris wheel which offers spectacular views of the whole city and is home to The Seadog Boat Tours which is a roller coaster inspired open sea thrill ride. The pier has firework shows every Wednesday and Saturday evenings in the summer and it’s packed full of people enjoying some cold drinks in navy piers best bars like the Billy Goat tavern, Margaretville and Harry Carey’s. You can also rent bikes or Segway’s on the pier and head south towards the beautiful grant park where Lollapalooza takes place every year.

Accommodation – The Awesome Freehand Hostel!

Freehand Tour
You could barely count it as a hostel, it was amazing!

Luckily for J1ers travelling to Chicago this year, USIT are offering accommodation packages in the amazing Freehand Hostel located at 19 East Ohio Street, Chicago, IL. The hostel is incredible, I was lucky enough to stay there for 7 nights and it more resembles a hotel then a hostel if I am honest. You still get that laid back hostel feel but the comforts of a hotel, the perfect combination if you ask me. The rooms are quad rooms so if you have a group of 4 then that will be your room for the whole summer, all quad rooms come with an en-suite so you will have complete privacy. The interior is brand new and the bunk beds are created in such a way that you have your own private space and there is also a lounge area in the room for chilled nights in.

There are no kitchens in the rooms but there is a fully equipped kitchen in the hostel that everyone can use.  The Hostel has 24/7 help desk a& security, a 10 minute walk to Navy Pier, 5 minute walk to the magnificent mile and a 10 minute walk to Ohio Street Beach. Any students working in or around the city will save so much time and money on travel staying here and have a great summer living and working in the city.

The hostel is also home to the incredible Broken Shaker Cocktail Bar. It really is the real deal with fresh herbs and the nicest drinks I have ever tasted! This place will be packed all summer and the hostel will have a great atmosphere throughout your stay. For nights in or nights out, Freehand gives its guests a weekly report on events going down in the city or events run by the hostel.

Last but not leased there is a FREE Breakfast included in the cost for all students. For more information around cost and photos of the property, please visit your tracking account at https://www.j1online.ie/ or contact Graham on graham.higgins@usit.ie limited places are available and are filling up fast.

Download our Chicago Housing Guide 2016

Getting Around The City

Chicago Trains

Chicago as a city is extremely accessible. O’Hare International is located North-west of the city and J1ers flying in can easily access the city or wherever they will be staying by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue line train which runs all the way into O’Hare airport. Just follow the signs for the blue line and you can’t go wrong. From the beginning buy a “Ventra” Card from the machine as the will be your leap card equivalent for your full summer. It works the same as leap card allowing you access to all CTA public transport at a reduced rate of a real ticket. The Ventra card can be topped up easily in any CTA station and is definitely worth the investment.

Top tip: plan your route to your accommodation while you have WIFI or internet access. The best app to use is Google Maps as you can type in a destination and click CTA public transport and it will show you the exact route to the door stop. If your accommodation is located on the blue line then you’re onto a winner from the start, you just need to find your stop and disembark. If your accommodation is located on another line then there are transfer terminals where you can transfer to different trains. If you are transferring from the blue line to the red line always transfer at Jackson as there is a free transfer between both the red and blue line trains. If you were to transfer at the stop “Lake” you would have to pay again. For all other transfers to Brown, Green, pink, orange and purple line trains, you should transfer at “Clark/Lake”.

Chicago’s transport system is extremely easy to navigate and although it may be overwhelming at the start using a new system and finding your feet. You will be acting like a local after a few days and giving other people directions, not the best directions but directions none the less.

Ah the Beach Life…

Chicago is home to some of the best beaches in North America without a doubt. Each beach has its own charms and attributes which makes them unique. The beaches are man made and very easily accessible from the city. All three beaches are located east of the city towards the lake of course. In the summer months, the beaches are packed full of people trying to escape the busy city and get some colour on their cheeks.

Ohio Street Beach is the beach located closest to Navy Pier. It is being done up at the moment as it was a bit run down and needed a face lift, It should be completed by the summer. There are some cool beach bars with some decent food but this is the smallest of the three city beaches and can be crammed with people. However, It is a 5 minute walk to Navy Pier so if you’re hungry, you can head over for some seafood.

North BeachOak Street Beach is located about 300 metres north of Ohio Street Beach. The best thing about Chicago’s lakefront is that it is all public area access. They have created a running/ cycling/ walking track which connects all three beaches and runs the whole length of Chicago. Oak Streetoffers incredible views of the city and its central location means you can go from shopping on the magnificent mile to getting your tan on in about 10 minutes time.

North Avenue Beach is by far the best beach in Chicago and possibly the U.S in my opinion (big call but it happened). It has everything. Two miles of white sand, lake water lapping, beach volleyball courts, a beach club with great food and drinks (who also supply the beach with good music). What more do you want? The beach club is called castaways and it is unique that it looks like a ship which has run aground. The food there is delicious and you will have some of Chicago’s best DJ’s supplying the soundtrack to your beach day. North Avenue beach is located further north than Oak Street beach approx. 500 metres but it is still centrally located and is connected to Linken park, a famous park in Chicago which houses the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Whatever you decide to get up to in Chicago, you are going to have the summer of your life! Remember, stay safe, be organised, follow the rules and have  a ball.

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