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Chicago - United States
Chicago, "The City that Works", "The City of Big Shoulders," “The Second City,” and most famously “The Windy City” is one of the United State’s most culturally significant capitals. It contains several of the United States' tallest buildings and remains a fascinating window to 20th Century American industry and grandeur. With endlessly clattering elevated trains and street musicians playing around almost every corner, the city is a bustling metropolis of art, culture, music and cuisine.
At first glance, Chicago can be overwhelming. Also known as "The City of Neighborhoods," Chicago comprises more than 75 official neighborhoods. Each neighborhood is distinguished by its own distinct quality and character.
The Loop takes its name from the elevated "El" train that circles around the city's central core. While the downtown area stretches beyond these boundaries, the real pulse of the city is found in this historic district. The Willis Tower(formerly the Sears Tower), the United States' second-tallest building, is here, as is the Chicago Board of Trade, one of the biggest options and futures trading floors in the world. City government offices are also located in the area, as well as the home offices of several global corporations.
When it's time for the city that works to relax, the Loop does not disappoint. The city's magnificent Harold Washington Library, the Art Institute of Chicago,Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Chicago Cultural Center are all here.
Thanks to a thriving theater district, the Loop is growing more and more popular with nearby office workers. The restored Ford Center for the Performing Arts-Oriental Theatre hosts lavish Broadway productions while the iconic Chicago Theatre has several musical concerts. The landmark Auditorium Theatre, considered by some the most beautiful theater in America, hosts musicals, concerts and other performances in the South Loop area. The renowned Goodman Theatre also offers several performances throughout the year.
While technically just outside the Loop's borders, Grant Park is still closely tied to the Loop neighborhood. Hugging Lake Michigan, this park is often referred to as "Chicago's Front Yard." The majestic Buckingham Fountain is here, as is a plush rose garden and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's outdoor home, the Petrillo Music Shell. The park is immense, with the capacity to hold up to three million people, tested annually by the Taste of Chicago festival. Grant Park also plays host to many free music and arts festivals during the summer, including Jazz Fest, Blues Fest and Gospel Fest.
Near North Side
Just to the north of the Loop is Chicago's Near North Side neighborhood, a collection of several other smaller districts.
The city's "Magnificent Mile" ("Mag Mile" to locals) is one of the Near North's most famous boulevards. Stretching along Michigan Avenue from the Chicago River to Oak Street, this shopper’s paradise is home to high-scale chains like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale's at the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops, as well as lavish boutiques scattered throughout the area along with many fine hotels and restaurants.
The John Hancock Center is just down the block from the city's links to its past, the Water Tower and the Chicago Water Works, two of the few buildings that survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Water Tower Place, an upscale indoor shopping mall, offers a wide variety of shopping, dining and entertainment options. You can enjoy RL Restaurant, Ralph Lauren’s hip eatery next to the brand’s largest retail location. Nordstrom, Crate & Barrel and Saks Fifth Avenue can be found a few blocks south on Michigan Avenue.
Of course, all these upscale shops need equally upscale shoppers, most of whom live in Streeterville or the adjoining Gold Coast neighborhood. Originally named after John Jacob Aster, the area’s present moniker describes the area's opulence. The neighborhood is the nation's second wealthiest, surpassed only by New York City's Central Park East.
Just north of the Chicago River and a few blocks west of the Mag Mile is River North, home to an eclectic mix of swanky galleries, trendy cafes and theme restaurants like the Hard Rock Café. The area has the second densest concentration of art galleries in the US, only surpassed by Manhattan.
In stark contrast to the opulent skyscrapers and contemporary nightlife, the South Loop offers a quaint, Old World charm, neighborhood bars and small restaurants. Once home to one of the largest publishing centers in the Midwest, the warehouses left behind have been renovated and taken over by young, affluent professionals in walking distance to their jobs in the Loop. The area's focal point, Dearborn Station, is a stylistic beacon for the neighborhood, the former rail transportation hub's façade lavishly restored to its former glory.
Lake Shore Drive, one of the city's major north-south arteries, runs along the picturesque lakefront. While the Drive will take you to many of the city's attractions, this boulevard is destination in itself. The lake view, the bold skyline and even the street's own tree-lined medians offer some of the most breathtaking views in the city.
Once you pass North Avenue, you enter Lincoln Park, home to some of the city’s most beloved attractions. Tree-lined Fullerton Avenue, with its brownstones converted into condos, gives you a feel for the neighborhood residents. Lincoln Park also surrounds the DePaul University neighborhood. A variety of bars, dance spots and inexpensive restaurants cater to the college and just-out-of-college crowd.
The park from which the neighborhood takes its name is one of the city's largest and most pastoral. Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also drew up the blueprints for New York's Central Park, Lincoln Park encompasses more than 1,000 acres. It includes the famous Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, a driving range, dozens of recreational fields and several biking and running paths connecting to lakefront beaches. You'll find many pickup games of soccer and ultimate Frisbee here on warm summer days.
Heading further north brings you to Lakeview, a neighborhood that serves as a popular nightlife center for both the straight and gay communities. These groups tend to party separately, with the standout exception being Berlin, a late-night dance club where hipsters of every orientation party together.
Halsted Street between Belmont Avenue and Irving Park Road serves as the headquarters for gay nightlife. The area is not hard to find; just look for the gigantic rainbow-colored pylons that line the streets. For dancing, head to Roscoe's Tavern. Don't miss the Center on Halsted, the city's premier destination for LGBT cultural and recreational activities and wide array of social events throughout the year.
If partying is not your thing, don't despair. The area also contains its fair share of restaurants, from Angelina Ristorante and Yoshi's Cafe to the 24-hour Melrose Restaurant.
For nightlife without a specific LGBT focus, head a few blocks west to Wrigleyville, a bar neighborhood that gets its name from the nearby Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. The district’s numerous taverns here make for excellent bar-hopping, so stop in the Cubby Bear or The Metro, a bar that features live music and up-and-coming rock bands like the Smashing Pumpkins, who played here before they made it big and returned for their final two shows.
Diners can select from a variety of tastes in Wrigleyville, including Asian, Cajun, Italian and Mexican. Those who prefer to stick with the bar scene can eat well at Bar Louie or Sluggers.
For more live music, head farther north, where you'll find the Aragon Ballroom, the Riviera and the prohibition-era jazz bar, Green Mill. Some of the best music in the city be it jazz, rock, and anything in between can be found here.
A hot spot for artists and partiers is the Wicker Park/Bucktown area. Hang out at bars like the Blue Note and Holiday Club or restaurants like Northside Bar & Grill and Beat Kitchen to catch up with the hip crowd and find out about what’s going on in the city’s underground scene.
The South Side
While Chicago’s South Side has traditionally been a bit more rough and tumble than the rest of the city, there are tons of attractions that North Siders often forget about.
As you cruise south on Lake Shore Drive, admire the Museum Campus where the Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and the Field Museum converge. If you have the time, you could easily spend a full day in each museum, but it's also well worth a stop just to enjoy the lake views and watch sailboats go by.
Just south, you pass Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears. After driving past this monumental stadium, you come to sprawling McCormick Place, one of the largest convention centers in North America and home to numerous annual trade shows, like the Chicago Boat, RV & Outdoors Show and the Chicago Auto Show. The space includes more than 2.2 million square feet of exhibition space, Chicago's largest ballroom and the Arie Crown Theater.
US Celluar Field, formally known as Comiskey Park (though not the same location as the previous Comiskey Park), home of the Chicago White Sox, lies just west of Lake Shore Drive. This modern stadium features an exploding scoreboard that sets off fireworks along with a Sony Jumbo Screen.
Further south, the charming Hyde Park neighborhood has retained its quaint, old-world charm. Home to the world-famous University of Chicago, the area boasts interesting restaurants like Salonica and Medici, great used book stores like O'Gara & Wilson's (the oldest used bookstore in the country), and the quaint 57th Street Art Fair. Hyde Park is also home to the gigantic 350,000 square-foot Museum of Science and Industry. This monument to 20th-century technology houses a replica coal mine, a German U-Boat and a Zephyr train and the Smart House: Green & Wired, a futuristic home made with eco-friendly materials.
After visiting the museum, enjoy a counterpoint to the world’s industrial history with a leisurely stroll through Jackson Park. Like its sister to the North, Lincoln Park, Jackson Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. It features a Japanese garden, a bird sanctuary, a reflection pond and a golf course.
Chicago is a destination that has so much to offer visitors. Come and explore the diversity and variety that is Chicago.