San Francisco is a world-class city, but housing costs are over the top. With the highest housing prices in the country, San Francisco has sent many people fleeing for towns that still offer cosmopolitan culture and excitement, but at a much lower price tag.
Chicago’s cost of living is half of San Francisco’s, and housing costs are 502% lower – plus the city provides urban delights with world-class museums, award-winning restaurants, stunning architecture, and culture galore.
But before you start gathering up your packing supplies, we provide more comparisons between San Francisco and Chicago so you can make sure the move is the right choice.
What to Know About Moving from San Francisco to Chicago
If you are leaving the Bay Area and setting your sites on the Windy City, here’s what to know before you move.
Housing and Cost of Living
With San Francisco’s median home cost of $1,378,300, the vast percentage of residents simply can’t afford to buy a home. At a median home cost of $229,100, Chicago homeownership is within reach. Rent is also vastly cheaper in Chicago. A two-bedroom rental in San Francisco averages $3,286. In Chicago, you’d pay almost $2,000 less – a two-bedroom rental averages $1,320.
It costs almost twice as much to live in San Francisco as it does in Chicago. Compared to the overall U.S. cost of living index of 100, the San Francisco index is a jaw-dropping 269. Chicago is more in line with the average, at 107. In addition to huge savings on housing, your transportation, groceries, and health costs will also be lower.
The family median income in San Francisco is about $52,431 higher than in Chicago. In San Francisco, the family median income is $114,049 compared to $61,618. But remember, for many San Francisco residents, almost half of their income goes just to housing.
You’ll pay higher property and sales taxes in Chicago, and possibly, after the November 2020 election, higher state income tax.
Chicago sales tax is 10.25%, a rate so high that many Chicago residents shop outside of the city. In San Francisco, you pay an 8.5% sales tax. And property taxes in Chicago, at 2.009%, are quite a bit higher than San Francisco’s .68%. However, since housing prices are substantially lower than in SF, your Chicago property tax bill may still be lower despite the higher rate.
Illinois state income tax is currently 4.95%, but chances are there may be a change after the 2020 November election. If voters approve, Illinois will then levy a graduated income tax. If you’re seriously considering moving from San Francisco to Chicago, be sure to stay on top of election results to know what your state income taxes will be.
Economy and Job Growth
Fueled by finance, trade, food manufacturing, transportation, education, health care, biotech, energy, and utilities, the Chicago economy is strong and varied. If you are looking for work when you move, you shouldn’t have trouble finding employment in a variety of sectors.
As the nation’s tech giant, San Francisco has over twice as many tech and engineering jobs as Chicago. However, Chicago has over twice as many transport, production, and material moving jobs. Still, Chicago’s job growth is predicted to be weaker than in San Francisco over the next ten years, with a 26% growth rate compared to 39%.
Transportation and Traffic
Across the board, more people in San Francisco walk, bike, or use public transit to get to work than Chicago residents. About 49% of Chicago residents use their car to commute compared to 34% in San Francisco.
Even though more Chicagoans commute by car, the city has excellent public transit and has earned high ratings from walkscore.com, with a transit score of 65, a bike score of 72, and a walk score of 78. Many neighborhoods are incredibly walkable, particularly Downtown, where pedestrian bridges and tunnels connect 40 blocks.
Chicago operates the 2nd most extensive transportation system in the country – a network of buses, elevated trains, and metro rails are ready to whisk you across the city. You can comfortably live in Chicago without a vehicle, especially if you’re careful about choosing a neighborhood with convenient public transit stations and routes. Traffic on all roadways is more stop than go during rush hours.
Weather and Climate
San Francisco’s mild climate is pretty ideal, but if you’re yearning for four distinct seasons, then Chicago is for you. The Windy City will challenge you with all kinds of weather in every season. In winter, you’ll need to bundle up for average January highs of 31 °F and lows that average 17. Before winter arrives, be sure to shop for quality snow gear because, in Chicago, you’ll see about 35 inches each year.
In addition to snow, Chicago will be wetter than San Francisco. In the City by the Bay, you enjoy about 259 sunny days each year with 25 inches of rain. Chicago has about 189 sunny days with 38 inches of yearly rainfall. Sandwiched in between especially beautiful springs and falls, Chicago summers are hot and humid. July highs average 84 °F compared to San Francisco’s average July high of 67.
While Chicago’s violent crime rate is higher than San Francisco’s, the property crime rate is quite a bit lower. Here are the statistics:
Based on a scale of 1 to 100, violent crime in the U.S. is rated 23. In Chicago, it’s 50, and in San Francisco, it’s 40. Property crime in the U.S. is rated 35. In Chicago, it’s 46, and in San Francisco, it’s 79.
As you start investigating various Chicago neighborhoods, you’ll find lots of online information about crime rates. Some of the safest areas include the communities of Forest Glen, Edison Park, and Norwood Park.
Culture, Diversity, and Demographics
At 864,263 people, San Francisco has a little less than a third of the population of Chicago. The ethnic makeup in San Francisco is 41% White, 5% African American, 34% Asian, 15% Hispanic, and 4% Two or More Races. In Chicago, with 2,722,586 residents, the ethnicities include 33% White, 30% African American, 6% Asian, 29% Hispanic, and 2% Two or More Races. Residents in both cities overwhelmingly vote Democrat, with 85% in San Francisco and 74% in Chicago.
With only 47 square miles of land, San Francisco’s population density adds up to 18,442 people per square mile. In Chicago, 11,974 people live in every square mile. Since the last census, while Chicago’s population decreased by -6%, San Francisco’s grew 11%. Why the net decrease in population? Along with lower birthrates and fewer immigrants, people have been fleeing Chicago’s taxes, high crime rates, and winter weather, among other things.
Things to Do
If Chicago is to become your new home, your adjustment will be easier if you get oriented. Even if you won’t be living right in Downtown, one of the first things you should do is take the architectural tour on the Chicago River. The tour not only gives you a bird’s eye view of some of the nation’s most extraordinary buildings but gives you an overall sense of your beautiful new city. Then walk along Lake Michigan’s waterfront, and when you’re ready to relax, refresh with some classic Chicago food. For a full list of things to do, see here.
What is classic Chicago food? Even though you can enjoy over 8,000 restaurants, Chicago’s signature dish is the world-famous deep-dish pizza. Many Chicagoans would tell you that Lou Malnati’s is the place to get your pizza pies. But in such an ethnically diverse city, in addition to deep dish, you’ll be able to find yummy global cuisines all around town.
Best Neighborhoods in Chicago
With 77 community areas and over 200 neighborhoods, you should be able to find one that ticks all your boxes.
Albany Park could be considered one of the nation’s most diverse neighborhoods and is undoubtedly one of the most diverse in Chicago. The diversity results in a rich stew of food, shopping, and locally owned businesses. You’ll find reasonably priced housing, in the form of multi-family flats, condos, and single-family bungalows, in this neighborhood of about 52,000 residents. Learn more about Albany Park here.
Located on the southside of Chicago along Lake Michigan, historic Hyde Park is also culturally diverse. About 26,890 people reside here and enjoy the proximity to the University of Chicago campus, the UChicago Medical Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the DuSable Museum of African American History. Here you’ll find a varied selection of housing, including condos, townhomes, multi-family apartments, and lovely single-family homes. Here’s more Hyde Park information.
Close to Downtown for convenient commutes, River West is home to around 3,000 residents. In addition to single-family homes, townhomes, and condos, you can find cool lofts in reclaimed warehouses, but housing is a bit more expensive in this trendy neighborhood. People come from around the city to enjoy some of River West’s renowned restaurants. Find out more about River West here.
Known for its hip entertainment and restaurants, Wicker Park has a thriving nightlife scene. And cafes, coffee shops, boutiques, galleries, and specialty groceries provide plenty of amenities for day-trippers. Housing ranges from affordable apartments to expensive single-family homes. In this neighborhood of about 23,400 residents, Gen-Xers and Millennials love the nightlife, and families enjoy the excellent schools. If you’re ready to learn more about Wicker Park, click here.
With plentiful amenities and the vast namesake green space, Lincoln Park, this neighborhood of about 67,000 residents is one of Chicago’s most popular. Charming tree-lined streets house greystones, brownstones, apartments, townhomes, condos, and apartments. Lincoln Park is a very walkable neighborhood with everything from a thriving restaurant scene to De Paul University. Find out more here.
Another of Chicago’s beautiful parks is in South Loop. The 319-acre Grant Park, plus the renowned Chicago museum campus, offers a lovely mix of nature and cultural immersion. Housing consists of both new and renovated buildings in the form of single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and apartments. Many renovations include loft-style living in old refurbished office buildings and warehouses. Highly walkable South Loop is a trendy neighborhood to call home. Learn more here.
One of Chicago’s larger neighborhoods, Logan Square, has about 73,700 residents. With beautiful tree-lined streets; lovely homes, condos, and townhomes; busy nightlife; chic restaurants and bars; and family-friendliness, Logan Square seems to have it all. The neighborhood gives off both a unique, quirky old-school vibe while also feeling trendy and happening. Here’s more information about Logan Square.
With a population of about 17,200, many Roscoe Village residents feel like they live in their own exclusive little town. In fact, the neighborhood motto is ‘Village Within the City.’ Located on Chicago’s north side, Roscoe Village is an eclectic blend of independently owned shops, cafes, coffee houses, and taverns with evening entertainment, amid frame and brick homes. But you can also find housing in apartments, townhomes, and condos. Find out more about Roscoe Village here.
Cost of Moving from San Francisco to Chicago
On average, it costs about $2500-$3000 to move from San Francisco to Chicago. Though this might sound expensive, consider that you are hauling your stuff about 2,127 miles across the country. The total cost of your move will depend on several variables, including your origin and destination zip codes, the time of year you’re moving, the size of your household, and which services you require. The best way to get an accurate estimate is by scheduling an in-home or virtual (no contact) walkthrough with a licensed and insured interstate mover. Get free moving quotes from the best San Francisco to Chicago movers now!