How to Navigate Chicago

My Inspiration

I recently spent some time in Washington DC and man was I excited when I got home to Chicago. Washington DC is one heck of a place to navigate. There doesn’t seem to be much of a structure, and there is certainly no grid system like good ol’ Chicago. It was a lesson learned, and now I know to add in a few extra minuets when navigating the streets of DC.

Slow Learners

When you compare navigating Chicago vs. Navigating DC, Chicago is the clear winner, but I still come across friends of mine and even local Chicagoans who have a tough time with the grid system here! I’ll say I live at Lawrence and Damen, followed up with “it’s like 48oo north”, and I get blank looks! Come on people, lets get it together. 

The Grid System

What makes Chicago such an easy city to navigate is our grid system. Essentially, the city is broken down into block like shapes, with north and south running streets, and east and west running streets. Self explanatory I know, but it’s good to have a foundation. Each block is listed in increments of 100, so if you start at zero the first address will be 1, and the first address on the second block will be 201 and so on and so forth. Even number address are on the west side of north/south streets and north side of east/west streets. This is how the grid system works for both north/south streets and east/west streets. Additionally, each block is 1/8 mile long, making 8 blocks a full mile. This measurement system is great when you are trying to figure out quickly just how far away the nearest CTA stop is. 

So, now the questions is, where is the address “zero”? Well, there really is no zero address, but the numbers do start at a particular intersection. This is State and Madison. Every address in the city is using this point as a reference. For example, 2400 North State means that address is 24 blocks north of State and Madison or, 3 miles when using the 8 blocks = a mile. 2400 West Madison works the same.

North vs. South

If you thought it couldn’t get any easier, it does! On Chicago’s south side most of the east/west streets are named by their numbers, in reference to the State and Madison intersection. For example: 35th street is 35 blocks south of Madison. So, when on the south side you have half of the thinking done for you! 

Even when you are without streets named as numbers you are still okay. Just remember the busy streets numbers (which are in factors of 8) and you can figure out the rest from there! Here are some busy streets and their numbers that are assigned. You will also notice a lot of these streets have CTA access – another great urban planning strategy. 


Now that we have the number and grid system down, you just have to watch out for just a few diagonal streets that can get you confused. The big ones to look out for on the north side are Clybourn, Lincoln and Clark. On the south side the two big ones are Archer, along with Ogden. Other than these you are all set for navigating Chicago. A quick word of advice and a helpful hint to make you learn this a bit quicker, go out and get lost. The best way to learn is from experience, and what better way then to find your own way! 

Happy Navigating.