Summer in South Bend: The Big City

The perks of living in South Bend are many, and one is our proximity to the city of Chicago. One of the biggest cities in the United States, Chicago has something for everyone: museums, theaters, city parks, restaurants, and all manner of opportunity for adventure. If you are looking for food, music, or a just a stroll around the bustling downtown, the city is only a couple of hours away.

Getting to Chicago

The first step is to get to the city, a task not as easy as it may seem. The time it takes to travel to downtown Chicago by car from South Bend can vary from a low of 1 hour and 45 minutes to a high of 3 hours, depending on the time of day and the amount of traffic you encounter. If possible, you will want to avoid entering or leaving the city during the morning and afternoon rush hours, though you could hit traffic at just about any time of day. There are two major routes to Chicago from South Bend: the I-90/I-80 toll road and the I-94 interstate. Taking the toll road may save you some time, though probably not very much, and it will cost you a few dollars. Usually, taking the toll road is a better option for those who need to travel through the city to another destination.

If you are driving to the city, you’ll also need to locate a place to park. Be prepared to pay at least a few dollars though, since free parking is non-existent in downtown and other tourist-heavy areas. While there are numerous parking lots and garages near to many of the main attractions, some can be quite expensive. The best way to find an affordable and conveniently located parking spot is to use an app or website ahead of time (SpotHero and Parkwhiz are two popular options), so that you know where you are going and what you’ll be paying to park.

If you would rather avoid the headache of negotiating potentially heavy traffic and finding a spot to park, you can also take public transit from South Bend to Chicago. The most cost-effective and convenient option is the South Shore Line, an electric commuter train that runs from the South Bend airport all the way to Millennium Park in downtown Chicago. The trip takes between one and two hours, and a one-way ticket will cost you $13.50 (less if you plan to get off before Millennium Park). At many stations in the city, you will be able to make an easy transfer to a bus or to the metro. Given that the cost of parking downtown for a whole day can easily exceed $20, taking the train is not a bad option. By transferring to the metro from the Van Buren or Millennium Park stations, you can also get to either of Chicago’s major airports. (If you are just looking for transportation to the airport, you might also consider the Airport Super Saver bus service, which runs at all hours from South Bend to both of Chicago’s major airports)

Once you have made it into the big city, getting around is not difficult. You can always drive in the city, though traffic and Chicago drivers can make things a little crazy. On the other hand, downtown Chicago is very walkable, and for locations in other neighborhoods, you can also take a bus or the metro. Check out current schedules, routes, and fares on the Chicago Transit Authority’s website. Various bike rental services are also available, including Divvy, the city’s official bike rental system. They have numerous docking stations throughout the city where you can rent a bike for 30 minutes at a time with your credit card, or you can buy a day pass online before you go.

Things to Do

There is no end of things to do in Chicago, and any claim to an exhaustive list would be spurious. Below are a few suggestions for major attractions, but if you look around, you will be able to find just about anything you could want to do.

Museums and Zoos

Museum of Science and Industry

Field Museum

Adler Planetarium

Children’s Museum (free admission Thursday evenings, first Sundays)

Chicago History Museum

Shedd Aquarium

Lincoln Park Zoo (free admission)

Since tickets to these museums and to the Shedd’s Aquarium can be expensive, and since only the Field Museum offers student tickets, the most cost-efficient way to see multiple museums is to purchase a CityPASS (about $100 for adults), which gives you admission to five attractions in the city over the course of nine days, often with add-ons included. The pass includes admission to Shedd’s Aquarium, the Field Museum, the Chicago Skydeck, and your choice of either the Planetarium or the Art Institute and either 360 Chicago or the Museum of Science and Industry.

Arts and Culture

The Art Institute of Chicago (small discount for students)

The Newberry Research Library

Lyric Opera of Chicago ($20 student tickets, discounts for ages 21-45, rush tickets)

Chicago Symphony Orchestra ($15 student tickets)

Chicago Shakespeare Theater ($20 tickets for students and young professionals)

The Chicago Theatre

Food

Chicago, like every big city, has great food. Although the city is best known for deep-dish pizza (with Lou Malnati’s, Giordano’s, Pequod’s, and others all contending for the title of best) and hot dogs, you can find any other type of food imaginable if you are willing to look for it. For example, you might check out Cafe Ba-ba-reeba! for tapas or visit one of several Glazed & Infused locations for specialty donuts. If you are into coffeehouses, try Big Shoulders or The Wormhole. Pubs, cocktail lounges, and bars abound, as do restaurants serving Mexican, Korean, BBQ, Mexican-Korean BBQ, and foods that don’t belong to any category at all.  With dozens of “best of” lists available from far more knowledgeable sources, providing yet another list here would be a futile exercise at best.

Other things to do

Check out one of the numerous independent bookstores in the city, go to a Cubs or White Sox game, walk along the lake-shore, visit some of the city’s many neighborhoods, take an architecture tour, do a Big City Scavenger Hunt, or check out one of the city’s many bars and pubs, where you can hear the blues, watch some improv, or get a tropical tiki cocktail. In short, you’re not going to run out of things to do while visiting the big city of Chicago.

Best places for a Cup of Joe (or tea)

Need a little caffeine boost or a change of scenery? As you figure out your workflow this semester, consider integrating an occasional, or maybe even frequent, visit to some of these awesome local coffee shops. Most of these places have no problem with grad students coming in and setting up shop for a few hours (or more than a few…)

Here are some that took me a while to discover:

  • Zen Cafe – With a cool industrial vibe, this local roaster has a huge space perfect for spreading out and studying.
  • Top Heavy Cafe (Niles) – Just a quick drive north of campus, this extremely modern cafe features hipster quality drinks with minimalist design features. There is also a delicious pizza place just up the street from Top Heavy. They are also open on Sundays!
  • Electric Brew (Elkhart and Goshen locations) – This cafe has a great eclectic vibe complete with bikes hanging from the ceiling and burlap bags hanging on the walls. The coffee is great and they are also open on Sundays.
  • Union Coffee House (Buchanan, MI) – This bright little coffee house features both tables and couches to study in maximal comfort. They have both vegetarian and vegan eats as well!
  • Cafe Tosi (St. Joe, MI) – About 45 minutes from South Bend, this beautiful beach town has a charming French style cafe with delicious (seriously delicious) eats and endless cups of Joe. I love driving up to St. Joe on the weekend and working in some research time at this charming cafe after a dip in Lake Michigan.

And here is the classic list:

  • Chicory Cafe – A favorite among grad students, Chicory is the only New Orleans themed cafe in South Bend. They have a wide range of caffeinated options, as well as excellent Mac N Cheese and Po Boys.
  • Chocolate Cafe – A South Bend classic, this cafe seems to have it all – ice cream, cake, caffinee, a wide variety of sweets, and hearty food as well! You haven’t really been to South Bend if you haven’t visited the Chocolate Cafe
  • Starbucks – Several locations to check out. If you want to use the rewards program (i.e. free refills), you will want to go to a stand alone location. My favorites for studying are the one north of campus just past the toll road, the one on South Bend Ave right by school (although this one can be crazy during exam time), and the one south of school on Ireland road.

3 things I wish I’d known during my first week at Notre Dame

The first week of grad school can be both exciting and stressful. Not only are you jumping into a full load of coursework, research, and/or teaching, but you’re also learning to navigate a new campus. Even simple tasks can become a pain when you’re trying to figure out where things are located or how the system works. So, with only two more weeks (!!) until the semester begins, I thought now would be a good time to share a few bits of knowledge that would have made my life a little easier during those first few weeks on campus.

  1. You can check out an umbrella from the library! After being caught without a rain jacket or umbrella during the torrential downpour that occurred during last year’s orientation, I will pass on this key piece of information that might have saved me from a very soggy trip home. If you find yourself stranded on campus during a downpour, head for the circulation desk at Hesburgh Library and ask to check out an umbrella–all you’ll need is your ID card. Bonus fact: the Library also lets you borrow other handy equipment including phone chargers, laptop stands, and international outlet converters!
  2. Time your coffee runs carefully. If you’re taking classes, there may be times when you have just 15 minutes to get from one building to another and refuel with some precious caffeine. Unfortunately, the same holds true for most of the students campus. Waddicks (on the first floor of O’Shaughnessy Hall) and Starbucks (in LaFortune student center) are notorious for ridiculously long lines between classes. So if you’re not constrained to a class schedule, it’s best to avoid the rush-hour headache altogether. But if you’re in a time crunch and you really need that boost to get you through your next class, it pays to familiarize yourself with the options along your route—you can scope out some of them in advance on this page (the listings under “Express Locations” are all possible options for caffeine on-the-go).
  3. How to print on campus. I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took me several days to figure this one out . . . I was coming from a university with a totally different system for graduate student printing so I foolishly ignored the PrintND signs posted all around campus. At Notre Dame, graduate students can print anywhere on campus using personal laptops, mobile devices, or campus computers. If you’re using a laptop, you’ll need to download the correct drive from the OIT website in order to get started. After that, you can simply hit print and then locate a nearby printer (they can be found in most buildings on campus). You’ll just need your student ID card to access your print queue. All grad students receive a yearly $35 printing credit that is automatically linked to your account. Click here for detailed step-by-step instructions on how to set up your devices and print your documents. You’ll also find instructions posted above most campus printers.