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Chicago
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood,” advised one of Chicago's leading architects nearly a century ago. Chicagoans listened. You can't visit the Windy City today and find much that's small about it. Skyscrapers stretch toward the heavens—four are more than a thousand feet...
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Introduction
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood,” advised one of Chicago's leading architects nearly a century ago. Chicagoans listened. You can't visit the Windy City today and find much that's small about it.

Skyscrapers stretch toward the heavens—four are more than a thousand feet tall—while shorter buildings loom large as unrivaled works of art as much as architecture. Lake Michigan, that sparkling inland sea, laps at the city's doorstep along 29 miles of shoreline adorned with spacious parks, marinas and public beaches. Venerable museums house treasures, both natural and manmade, in such profusion that even the most determined sightseers can't manage to see every painting, sculpture, fossil or living specimen on display. And even the most dedicated shoppers can't hope to browse all the glitzy boutiques, department stores and vertical malls along downtown's Magnificent Mile within a single visit.


Wandering among its intimate neighborhoods or encountering that famous Midwestern friendliness, you might briefly forget you're in one of the world's biggest cities, but only briefly. Reminders of Chicago's immense scale are everywhere, and you will probably be overwhelmed at first. But if you're looking for blood-stirring magic, this is the place.

In Depth
Imagine walking through a park when a huge silver object appears before you. Surrounding it, curious onlookers stroke its gleaming surface as if mesmerized by someone—or something—inside.

It may seem as if you've stepped into a science-fiction thriller, but such a sight has become commonplace in Chicago's Millennium Park since the mammoth “Cloud Gate” sculpture was completed in 2006. Likened, not unkindly, to a big silver bean, it has become a city icon recognized around the world. People do indeed find it difficult not to touch its highly polished sides.


British artist Anish Kapoor designed “Cloud Gate” partly as a mirror to Chicago's extraordinary skyline, which explains why sightseers gaze into its shiny, light-bending contours as if it were a crystal ball. In a way, it is a crystal ball, only instead of the future, it is the past—represented by Chicago's brick, glass and steel towers—that is reflected in its surface. And no event looms larger in that past than one so catastrophic it's still notorious today: the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Although the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking over a lantern and starting the blaze has been discredited, and the exact cost still remains in question, one thing is certain: the fire was one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. It created a 2,000-acre swath of devastation that included the central business district and left 100,000 homeless.

Yet, within just 20 years of the conflagration, Chicago surpassed Philadelphia to become the nation's second largest city. The arrival of many talented architects during the post-fire building boom heralded an era of architectural innovation that distinguishes the city today. Chicago is even credited as the birthplace of the skyscraper.


One of those early innovators was Daniel Burnham, whose firm designed such Loop landmarks as the Rookery Building, Reliance Building/Hotel Burnham and the Marshall Field's flagship store, now Macy's. He also directed construction of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, which premiered the first Ferris wheel. Other top attractions owing some part of their existence to the 1893 World's Fair: the Museum of Science and Industry, The Field Museum and The Art Institute of Chicago.

One of Burnham's rivals was Louis Sullivan. With his partner Dankmar Adler, Sullivan designed Roosevelt University's Auditorium Theatre and the Old Chicago Stock Exchange (torn down in 1972).

If Sullivan's name isn't better known outside architectural circles, it's no fault of his apprentice, Frank Lloyd Wright. After launching his own firm, Wright perfected his Prairie style, so called because the low, horizontal profiles evoked the Midwestern landscape. To see a prime example of his style, visit the Frederick C. Robie House on The University of Chicago campus, or head to Oak Park, which has an entire district of Wright-designed houses, including the architect's own home and studio.

While Oak Park has a variety of walking tours, the diversity of architecture tours downtown is almost overwhelming. Boat, bus, bike, foot and even Segway tours are offered. And taking a high-speed elevator to the top of the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower or John Hancock Center is a Chicago must-do; exhibits at both explain how these landmarks were at the forefront of skyscraper design.


 
About the City


City Population
2,695,598

Elevation
665 ft.

Money


Sales Tax
Illinois sales tax is 6.25 percent; cities and counties impose additional increments. The Chicago area has a lodging tax of 16.4 percent.

Whom To Call


Emergency
911

Police (non-emergency)
311

Hospitals
Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, (312) 567-2000; Northwestern Memorial Hospital, (312) 926-2000; Resurrection Medical Center, (773) 774-8000; Rush University Medical Center, (312) 942-5000; Saint Anthony Hospital, (773) 484-1000; The University of Chicago Medicine, (773) 702-1000; University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System, (866) 600-2273.

Where To Look and Listen


Newspapers
The two major dailies are the Tribune and the Sun-Times, both morning papers. These are supplemented by smaller journals and foreign-language papers.

Chicago Reader, a free weekly newspaper; Time Out Chicago; and Chicago, a monthly magazine, are helpful for visitors. Key—This Week in Chicago, Concierge Preferred and Where are available at most major hotels in the metropolitan area and provide entertainment and event information. The Choose Chicago Visitors Guide also is available at the majority of hotels.

Radio
Radio station WBBM (780 AM) is an all-news/weather station; WLS (890 AM) is talk radio; WGN (720 AM) is news/talk radio and the voice of Chicago Cubs Baseball; WBEZ (91.5 FM) is a member of National Public Radio.

Visitor Information

Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington St. CHICAGO, IL 60602. Phone:(312)744-3316


Transportation


Air Travel
O'Hare International Airport (ORD)—17 miles northwest of the city—is served by major domestic and foreign carriers. Midway International Airport (MDW), though smaller and serviced by far fewer carriers than O'Hare, is closer to the Loop—only 8 miles southwest of downtown.

Rental Cars
Chicago is served by major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip; your local AAA club can provide this assistance or additional information. Hertz, (312) 372-7600 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service
Chicago Union Station, 210 S. Canal St., is the city's main train depot and Amtrak's local hub. Trains run to both coasts and well into the South, with stops at most major cities along the routes; phone (800) 872-7245.

Buses
Greyhound Lines Inc. has its station at 630 W. Harrison St.; phone (312) 408-5821 or (800) 231-2222.

Taxis
Taxis are readily available in Chicago.

Public Transportation
Transportation by train and bus is available in Chicago.

 
Visitor Information

Chicago Cultural Center

78 E. Washington St. CHICAGO, IL 60602. Phone:(312)744-3316


 
Getting There


By Car
The primary route into Chicago from Milwaukee and other lakeside cities to the north is I-94. In the northern suburbs it divides; the eastern segment (Edens Expressway), still marked I-94, joins the John F. Kennedy Expressway, which enters downtown Chicago. The western leg, called the Tri-State Tollway, is numbered I-294; it forms a circumferential expressway around the city's west edge and ends at I-80.

From Madison and Rockford, I-90 (Jane Addams Memorial Tollway) is the main highway. In the northwestern suburbs it intersects I-290, which curves southeast and continues into Chicago as the Eisenhower Expressway. Near O'Hare International Airport, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway intersects I-294, where it becomes the John F. Kennedy Expressway (I-90) as it heads into the city.

From the west direct access to Chicago from the Aurora area is via the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88). Once inside the I-294 belt it becomes the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290). I-55 comes from Bloomington and other points in central Illinois; in the Chicago area, it is called the Adlai Stevenson Expressway. A major transcontinental route, I-80 passes to the south of Chicago and provides several connections into the city via I-55, I-57, I-90 and I-94. I-355 (Veterans Memorial Tollway) runs through the southwestern and westerns suburbs and connects with I-80, I-55, I-88 and I-290.

The major routes from the south are I-94 (Bishop Ford Freeway), I-57 and I-90 (Chicago Skyway—toll). All three connect with the Dan Ryan Expressway (I-90/94), which leads into the city center. On the Indiana outskirts of Chicago, I-90 and I-80 form the Northern Indiana Toll Road, which is the main route to the city from the eastern seaboard; I-94 provides access to the city from Michigan.

Chicago's Loop, once defined as an area of the city encircled by the “L” elevated rapid transit line, now lends its name to the core downtown area.

Air Travel
O'Hare International Airport (ORD), 17 miles northwest of the city proper, is one of the world's busiest, averaging some 191,000 passengers and 2,400 flights a day. The three domestic terminals service most major carriers and offer plenty of amenities for travelers as well. The international terminal is host to more than 40 airlines from around the world and is linked to the domestic terminals via the Airport Transit System. Allow yourself plenty of time to negotiate the airport.

The only highway exit is via I-190 E., which connects with I-90 (Kennedy Expressway) directly east of the airport. I-90 E., a southeasterly route into the city proper, intersects I-294 a short distance east of the I-190/90 junction. I-294 leads north to Wisconsin and south to Indiana. Another option for going downtown is the locals’ choice, which saves tolls but involves some highway number changes: I-90/I-94/I-94 E/I-90 E. Allow plenty of time for traffic, which is always a factor in getting around greater Chicago.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provides 24-hour service between O'Hare and downtown on the Blue Line, a 45-minute ride via rapid rail. Departures occur approximately every 15 minutes from the lower pedestrian tunnel level of Terminal 2. The fare is $5. Purchase a Transit Card or a 1-day or multi-day unlimited-ride pass from the CTA vending machines; turnstiles do not accept cash. CTA also provides rapid rail service between O’Hare and Midway International airports (at the Clark/Lake stop, transfer for free to the Midway-bound Orange Line during its hours of operation); phone (312) 836-7000 for details.

Midway International Airport (MDW) is only 8 miles southwest of the downtown core. Seven airlines offer low-fare, point-to-point service to nearly 60 domestic and international cities. Midway's passenger terminal building, with its three concourses, offers a number of amenities for travelers.

Exit Midway via the airport roadway system, which intersects SR 50 (Cicero Avenue) along the airport's eastern edge. The most direct route downtown is on SR 50 north to I-55 north (Stevenson Expressway), then northeast to I-90/94 W. (Wisconsin) and east on Congress Parkway.

One of the most convenient ways to travel downtown Chicago is via rapid transit service on the CTA Orange Line. Elevated trains take travelers from Midway to the heart of the city in approximately 30 minutes. Visitors can board the train about every 15 minutes at the terminal just east of the airport building. The fare is $2.25. CTA Transit Cards and unlimited-ride multi-day passes are available at station vending machines.

GO Airport Express, (888) 284-3826, provides buses to and from O’Hare and Midway to many downtown hotels, McCormick Place, Navy Pier and certain city and suburban neighborhoods. One-way fare from O’Hare to the Loop is $32; round-trip $58. One-way from Midway to downtown is $27; round-trip $48.

For airport trips from downtown are on average $30-$58 to O'Hare and $25-$48 to Midway. There's generally no charge for baggage or credit card use, and tipping, though optional, is appreciated for good service. Shared rides to downtown and McCormick Place are available with each passenger paying a flat fee. Wheelchair accessible vehicles also are available at Midway and O'Hare.

 
Getting Around


Street System
In driving around Chicago, as well as in approaching it, you should know where you are going and exactly how to get there. Plan your route in advance, particularly in regard to expressway interchanges, and be sure to keep a good street map handy.

Most Chicago streets follow an orderly grid running north-south and east-west. The few exceptions to this rule are outside the Loop—as downtown generally is known—and include N. Clark Street, N. Lincoln Avenue, Clybourn Avenue, Grand Avenue, Hyde Park Boulevard, Elston Avenue, I-90/94, N. Milwaukee Avenue, W. Ogden Avenue, S. Blue Island Avenue, S. Archer Avenue, S. Chicago Avenue and Lake Shore Drive.

State Street is the east-west bisector; Madison Street divides north from south. The intersection of State and Madison streets in the Loop is ground zero for the street numbering system; all addresses begin at this intersection. The uniform numbering system from this point is an added help in finding an address. Downtown street numbers increase by 100 every two blocks leading away from this central intersection; outside the Loop they increase by 100 every block. For example, 800 W. Madison St. would be 16 blocks west of State Street.

In the northern section of the city all streets are designated by name. In the south, beginning at 8th, most east-west streets are numbered consecutively, and only north-south streets are named.

Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit on most streets is 25 to 30 mph. U-turns are allowed only where indicated by a sign. Many downtown streets are one-way. Rush hours, from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m., should be avoided.

Parking
The downtown Loop area has metered street parking but there is little open to the heavy volume of determined drivers, and fines for parking violations are steep and towing, a real possibility. Instead, take advantage of the city's numerous lots and garages.

Some of the larger garages downtown are beneath Grant Park on N. Michigan and S. Michigan avenues and S. Columbus Drive near Monroe Street; beneath Millennium Park on S. Columbus Drive near Monroe; and on Museum Campus, north of Soldier Field on McFetridge Drive. Other Museum Campus garages and lots, all accessed via 18th Street and Lake Shore Drive, include one south of Adler Planetarium off Solidarity Drive (cash only); southeast of The Field Museum and south of it on Museum Campus Drive; and at Burnham Park Harbor at Waldron and Museum Campus drives. Rates range on average from $21-$29 for 1-2 hours to $39 for 8-24 hours at Grant Park and from $23-$25 for 1-3 hours to $30-$35 for 12-24 hours at Millennium Park. Full-day rates at Museum Campus average $19-$41. Rates may be higher during special events.

There are many other public and private garages and lots, both downtown and on the outskirts; rates can be as high as $40 a day.

Taxis
Expect to pay for the privilege of taking a taxi within city limits. Cabs are metered, with a basic charge of $3.25 for the first 1/9 mile plus 20c for each additional 1/9 mile. Further charges for extra passengers, higher than normal gas prices and airport trips can add up. Taxi companies typically charge $1 for the first additional passenger ages 12-65, and 50c for each additional passenger after that. When gas prices rise, companies may include a fuel surcharge. Cab riders also pay tolls.

The largest cab company is Yellow, (312) 829-4222.

Public Transportation
Chicago has one of the nation's most convenient and accessible public transportation systems, serving the entire metro area. Metra commuter trains, augmented by Pace suburban buses and the Chicago Transit Authority's (CTA) extensive network of buses and subway/elevated “L” trains, connect suburbanites to the heart of the city. Stations are throughout the city; each has a color-coded map showing the system's myriad routes.

Rapid rail trains provide service around the city proper, north to Evanston, south to 95th Street and west to both airports. Routes are designated by colors and offer varying schedules. The Red and Blue lines (subway in the Loop) operate daily 24 hours. The Orange, Brown, Purple, Green, Pink and Yellow lines “L” all have different schedules, most beginning in the early morning hours and ending after midnight; not all lines stopping in the Loop operate on weekends. The trains operate every 5 to 12 minutes during weekday rush hours, every 8 to 20 minutes at other times. Schedules are posted in each station.

All CTA buses are accessible and provide service throughout the city and 35 surrounding suburbs. The route number, name and destination of each vehicle are clearly displayed on the windshield sign, and many bus shelters offer graphical maps highlighting the routes. Service is offered daily, with most schedules beginning in the early morning and ending around midnight; some buses run on a more limited schedule.

In general, the fare for all CTA vehicles is $2.25 when paying cash (no transfer allowed for cash fares); exact change is required on buses and at the train station Ventra Card vending machines. (Dollar bills and coins are accepted; credit and debit cards are accepted at select train stations.)

To pay for CTA fares, riders have the option of purchasing a reloadable Ventra Card, available at train stations, the Ventra Customer Service Center (165 N. Jefferson St.), select retail locations, online or by phone, (877) 669-8368; a $5 purchase fee is imposed. Ventra Cards permit an additional two rides (25c deducted on first bus-to-bus transfer, second transfer free), provided they occur within 2 hours and are not on the rider's original route. Children under 7 with a fare-paying adult ride free. For riders who do not purchase a reloadable Ventra Card, a single-use Ventra Ticket is available at train station Ventra Card vending machines for $3 (includes $2.25 full fare, $0.50 limited-use fee and $0.25 transfer fee).

CTA offers unlimited multi-day passes good for a specified time period. A 1-day pass costs $10; a 3-day pass, $20; a 7-day pass, $28; a 7-day CTA/Pace pass, $33. Passes can be loaded onto Ventra Cards or purchased separately at vending machines at select locations, including the CTA train stations at O’Hare and Midway, and at select retail locations, the Ventra Customer Service Center, online or by phone.

For additional information phone CTA at 836-7000 from any of the local area codes (224, 312, 331, 630, 708, 773, 779, 815, 847, 872). The handy “Downtown Transit Sightseeing Guide” illustrating the CTA system is available at train stations, both airports and the City of Chicago Visitor Information Center at the Chicago Cultural Center, or phone (888) 968-7282. For information about the Ventra Card system phone 877-669-8368.

Note: As in any major city, it pays to be cautious when using public transportation. Know where you are going, which trains to take before boarding and avoid after-dark travel.


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Essentials
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• Let yourself be whisked 1,353 feet up the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) in a high-speed elevator to Skydeck Chicago , where you can view the entire city spread out before you and, on a clear day, see four states.


• Lose yourself within the cavernous exhibit halls of The Field Museum , where you'll (safely) come face-to-fang with the man-eating Tsavo lions (stuffed) and SUE, a menacing Tyrannosaurus rex (fossilized), along with a menagerie of other well-preserved and well-displayed creatures.


• Savor a slice of Chicago-style pizza (also known as stuffed or deep-dish), but try not to draw too much attention to yourself when you make the yummy sound. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in the Near North district is known for its signature crispy crusts.

• Ride the “L” (Chicago's ELevated mass transit trains) around the Loop and enjoy an up-close look at downtown Chicago's historic architecture that you can't get from the ground, or for another perspective, take a boat tour along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan shoreline.

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• Make a pilgrimage via the Red Line to the Chicago Cubs' Wrigley Field, whose venerable ivy- covered outfield walls have served as backdrop for some of Major League Baseball's most thrilling moments.


• Experience live blues music for 3 days in June during the free Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park or visit one of the blues clubs scattered about “Sweet Home Chicago.”

• Limber up your shopping muscles and spend an afternoon hunting for that must-have item or tracking the latest styles along the Magnificent Mile, that boutique-crowded section of North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River.

• Entertain the kids at Navy Pier , a 50-acre waterfront entertainment complex complete with 150-foot Ferris wheel and a musical carousel, not to mention a children's museum, a miniature golf course, shops and restaurants ranging from family-friendly to romantic.

• Snap a photo in front of Buckingham Memorial Fountain in Grant Park with either the Chicago skyline as a background or the lovely lakeshore, which during warm weather will no doubt be crowded with joggers, bikers and skaters.

• Tour suburban

Oak Park

to see the groundbreaking work of Frank Lloyd Wright, often called America's greatest architect, whose home and studio stands amidst several of his Prairie-style masterpieces.


• Dodge jets of water spewing from The Crown Fountain's twin video towers or photograph your warped reflection in the funhouse mirrorlike surface of “Cloud Gate” (aka The Bean), both in Millennium Park , which is where you'll also find the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge.

• Ponder the lost-looking souls passing time in an all-night diner in Edward Hopper's masterpiece “Nighthawks” or imagine yourself strolling in a 19th-century park with the fashionable Parisians of Georges Seurat's Neo-impressionist painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” during a visit to The Art Institute of Chicago , one of the premier art museums in the country.

• Watch chicks hatch, witness artificial lightning bolts arc through the air, descend into a re-created coal mine, and climb aboard a German submarine captured during World War II at the Museum of Science and Industry , a beautiful 1893 building packed with hundreds of entertaining and educational science exhibits.

• Press your nose against the thick acrylic windows of the Wild Reef Exhibit and feel like you're swimming with the eels, lionfish and sharks inside or wander through a reproduction of an Amazon rainforest at the John G. Shedd Aquarium .



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Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.

By Inspector 40

as told to Frank Swanson

A Chicago mainstay for more nearly 90 years, The Italian Village continues to be one of the city's favorite Italian restaurants. Its second-floor location within the Loop features a long, narrow, dimly lit dining room with small nooks offering semi-private seating areas. With its large murals depicting the Italian countryside and strings of twinkle lights hanging overhead, the dining room has the feel of a small village street. Known for its variety of fresh pastas, the restaurant's other signature dishes include fine choices of veal, steak, fish and chicken. Try the excellent chicken Vesuvio with roasted potatoes, which is prepared in the traditional way. The experienced wait staff provides good overall service, but the tables are cramped in places, so beware if you're claustrophobic.


Also within the Loop, Everest is aptly named for its almost divine perch high atop a lavish bank building. Guests reach the exclusive dining room after traveling up a series of elevators, one of which is private, before finally reaching the 40th-floor restaurant. Exhilarating Alsatian-influenced French cuisine is served in a highly refined space featuring colorful, fresh floral displays, luxurious crystal chandeliers and a unique safari theme. The food is as heavenly as the location with chef Joho's signature dishes taking center stage. For an appetizer, order the Dover sole braised in an Alsace Riesling with mushrooms and tomatoes, and follow it up with the exceptional sautéed beef tenderloin with braised oxtail, potato gratin and spring vegetables. The courteous and friendly wait staff exhibits a supreme level of guest awareness, tact and knowledge. To put it simply, Everest is the quintessential special occasion restaurant.

Despite being part of a national chain hailing from New York City, Smith & Wollensky has made a huge dent in Chicago's highly competitive steakhouse scene. Its 24-ounce Porterhouse along with some of its other fine steaks consistently rate among the city's best. The multilevel restaurant has a fabulous location overlooking the Chicago River just north of the Loop with outdoor patio dining in season. The dining room has a “clubby” ambience with lots of wood trim and carvings and abundant natural light courtesy of windows and French doors. The dry-aged steaks are robust and expertly prepared, and there are plenty of fine fish and seafood choices.

For traditional deep dish, Chicago-style pizza Lou Malnati's Pizzeria stands out among the huge number of the city's fine pizza parlors. The Italian restaurant's signature, crispy “buttercrust” blends beautifully with the supremely fresh mozzarella and tomatoes on each pie. The sausage pizza, an obvious star on the menu, features many small chunks of spicy Italian sausage mixed with the sauce and cheese of each slice. It literally melts in your mouth. The casual sports-themed restaurant in Chicago's Near North neighborhood is great for groups or families and offers plenty of TVs to watch as you dine. The wait staff is very laid-back and dresses casually but is efficient.

Also in the Near North area, Frontera Grill and its more sophisticated sister next door, Topolobampo, are at the top of the heap of Chicago's exceptional and authentic Mexican restaurants. Call ahead if you expect to get a seat at this supremely popular venue. Frontera Grill, the ultra-casual part of this hot spot, has an exciting, colorful décor and serves such traditional Mexican food as burritos, six kinds of tacos and mouth-watering enchiladas. The guacamole and rich mole sauces burst with flavor. The restaurant features a lively bar along with an inviting outdoor patio dining area. The wait staff rush about and generally provide good service while displaying an exceptional knowledge of menu items.

Acclaimed by some as one of the top ten steakhouses in America, Chicago Chop House features USDA prime steaks, chops and prime rib. The steaks are huge so bring a hearty appetite, although you can also choose among chicken, lamb and various seafood dishes. The multifloor restaurant in the River North neighborhood has a lounge on the first floor with main dining areas upstairs. The walls are dotted with nicely framed, black-and-white Chicago photographs taken from 1830 to 1930. The oak-paneled walls give the dining room a classic steakhouse ambience. The restaurant's popularity rests squarely in the fine steaks and not the service, which can be uneven and inattentive at times.

Although known for its vertical malls and high-end boutiques, the Magnificent Mile abounds with eateries serving a spectrum of cuisine as well. For unmatched views of Chicago's skyline, visit The Signature Room at the 95th, perched atop John Hancock Center. The views are breathtaking no matter where you sit in the moderately upscale dining room. The restaurant offers hugely popular lunch options, a weekend brunch and a seasonally changing menu. Plenty of fine salads and sandwiches also are available. Each dish brought out of the kitchen is dramatically displayed on bone-white plates. The menu also features an excellent variety of beautifully presented desserts. Be sure to pick a clear day and then call ahead to reserve your spot because this place stays quite busy during nice weather.

For years Spiaggia has impressed its patrons, elevating itself to the level of the place in Chicago for special occasion dining. Located on the Magnificent Mile, the restaurant presents luscious Italian food in a lovely, sophisticated, tiered dining room with views of Lake Michigan. Majestic columns, linen-covered tables and unusual chandeliers punctuate the room's refined ambience. Spiaggia has stood the test of time and continues to be a culinary treasure in Chicago as well as the standard for upscale Italian cuisine. The silky smooth and creamy risotto is exceptional along with the signature dish of wood-roasted sea scallops with porcini mushrooms. The food is as stunning to the taste buds as it is to the eyes. The sharply dressed staff is well informed and, from the hostess to the bus boy, offers a welcoming disposition.

It should come as no surprise that to find the busiest and most popular Greek Restaurant in Chicago, you'll need to leave the Magnificent Mile and head west from the Loop to Greektown. Expansive Greek Islands has four dining rooms, each with a sea-blue Mediterranean theme complete with large, colorful wall murals, weather-worn wood and hanging plants. This hot spot literally sizzles with the sounds of saganaki being flamed tableside. Another treat: the enthusiastic wait staff shouts “opaa” along with the guests when the cheese is ignited. The menu is as large as the restaurant with many pre-entrée, main course and after-dinner choices available. Swordfish, red snapper, orange roughy, Dover sole, beef tenderloin, New York sirloin steak and white fish are just a few of the popular menu items. Lamb prepared in every possible way is, of course, the signature at Greek Islands. The wait staff has fun and provides good attention to each table.

If you're craving dim sum, your obvious destination is Chicago's Chinatown south of the Loop. Here The Phoenix Restaurant is a standout. The spacious second-floor dining room is outfitted with large, white-cloth-covered tables and attractive Asian artwork. Phoenix features both a traditional menu and daily dim sum offerings wheeled around the dining area in the customary carts. Hong Kong-style Cantonese cuisine includes a variety of game meats and live seafood prepared to each guest's liking. The service staff is smartly dressed, but it can be tough to communicate with them at times unless you happen to speak Cantonese.

Also in North Chicago, Le Bouchon is as authentic a French bistro as you'll find in the city. The exquisite neighborhood restaurant has a distinct Parisian ambience featuring a lovely wall mural, etched glass wall sconces and lace café curtains. The dining room is intimate with some tight table spacing, but it is always busy so phone ahead for a spot. The menu consists of exceptionally well-prepared French country cuisine. The rabbit loin is moist and tender and comes with a side of bowtie pasta and mushrooms. The classic steak pommes frites served with a tasty butter sauce is incredible. Steamed mussels, snails burgundy and sautéed frog legs are often on the menu. The courteous, apron-clad wait staff is well-informed about the menu and provides attentive service.

See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.



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Attractions
In a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

By Frank Swanson

Often called Chicago's front yard, Grant Park really does create that impression with its broad, tree-bordered lawns spread out like a green picnic blanket before a wall of downtown high-rises. There's no better place to kick off your sightseeing itinerary since most of Chicago's top attractions either adjoin or are within sight of the park. The park's centerpiece is Buckingham Memorial Fountain, a city icon since its 1927 installation. Within its wide pool, four stylized bronze seahorses spew water at three tiers of overflowing basins. At night the splashing water is synchronized to a light and music show.


Projecting above the leafy canopy along Michigan Avenue is the park's most impressive building and a definite must-see: The Art Institute of Chicago, a AAA GEM attraction. Pass between the huge bronze lions guarding the main entrance and into the museum's echoing skylighted halls, and you'll likely be surprised by how many familiar faces you meet. There's the dour farmer and his daughter from Grant Wood's “American Gothic” on view not far from the haunted-looking couple drinking coffee at an all-night diner in Edward Hopper's “Nighthawks.” You're liable to have many such déjà vu moments in the Beaux-Arts building thanks to mass-produced versions available at shopping malls everywhere. These, however, are the originals.

But you need not confine your appreciation of art to the indoors when just across Monroe Street, at the northwest corner of Grant Park, is Millennium Park, another AAA GEM attraction. Opened in 2004 on the site of a defunct rail yard, the park boasts stunning examples of alfresco modern art and architecture including the undulating stainless steel walls of the Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge, both designed by “starchitect” Frank Gehry. A photo of Anish Kapoor's “Cloud Gate” sculpture, which looks like a gigantic droplet of solidified mercury, is a must even for those connoisseurs who don't think much of it: You can capture an artfully distorted view of the Chicago skyline reflected in its mirror-shiny surface.

Of course, in a city noted for its architecture, a tour focusing on the topic is de rigueur. The Chicago Architecture Foundation and Tour Center, a AAA GEM attraction, is just across Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park. Here you can choose among more than 85 different tours that'll suit about any taste or interest. You can also select your mode of transportation: bus, boat, trolley, “L” train, bicycle, Segway or by foot.

If you want even more of a boat tour selection, head through the park and north along the lakeshore about a mile and a half to Navy Pier, a AAA GEM attraction from which a flotilla of sightseeing craft depart. Of course the pier, with its carnival-style rides, restaurants, shops, concert venues, IMAX theater and a museum geared toward children under 12, is a worthwhile sightseeing destination by itself. You'll be able to take in a wide swath of Chicago's spectacular skyline from the pier's eastern end, and in summer the night sky explodes with color and light during weekly fireworks shows.

On the southern end of Grant Park lies Museum Campus Chicago, a lakefront expanse shared by no fewer than three AAA GEM attractions. Foremost among these stands The Field Museum , primarily known for its natural history exhibits but featuring anthropological specimens as well. A tyrannosaur named SUE, the most complete T. rex skeleton yet found, occupies pride of place in the museum's main entrance hall along with two preserved elephants, prominent museum residents since 1906.

What neighboring John G. Shedd Aquarium lacks in tyrannosaur fossils, it more than makes up for with dramatic aquatic displays including a Caribbean reef exhibit at the center of a skylighted Beaux Arts rotunda and the Oceanarium, which replicates a Pacific Northwest Coast habitat for harbor seals, beluga whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Don't miss the Wild Reef exhibit where panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows will give you an eerie sense of floating among the aquarium's school of sharks.

In terms of subject matter, leaping from our world's oceans into the vastness of space is as easy as walking to nearby Adler Planetarium, where the sky takes center stage courtesy of a glass roof that permits daylight to flood the main exhibit area. A planetarium replicates a nighttime view of the heavens in addition to showing off colorful nebulas and spiral galaxies. Displays of antique astronomical instruments reveal the artistry involved in producing these early devices, and a motion simulator theater takes visitors on a virtual journey through the universe.

Although separated from Museum Campus Chicago by 6 miles of lakefront, the Museum of Science and Industry, AAA GEM attraction in the Hyde Park neighborhood, shares much with its downtown counterparts. Here again is a decades-old Beaux Arts palace crammed with an eclectic mix of exhibits—only in this case the theme is technology and engineering. The question isn't what will you see, but what won't you see inside these venerable walls. Don't be surprised to find a large portion of a 727 passenger jet, a 1936 streamlined locomotive with passenger cars and even a German U-boat captured during World War II.

While Chicago remains the birthplace of the skyscraper, the city can no longer claim to have the world's tallest building—a distinction it enjoyed most recently 1973-96 courtesy of the 1,450-foot-tall, 110-story Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower). While the building's rank has slipped a bit, its ability to wow visitors who ascend to Skydeck Chicago, a AAA GEM attraction, remains undiminished. On clear days views extend for 50 miles in every direction, a spectacular panorama that you also can enjoy from 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) at John Hancock Center. While at a mere 1,000 feet, the observatory falls somewhat short of Skydeck Chicago at the top of the Willis Tower, you'll hardly notice the difference when you step onto the observatory's Skywalk for a thrilling, open-air view.

From your aerie atop the John Hancock Center you'll spy a narrow green patch along Lake Michigan north of downtown. A AAA GEM attraction, Lincoln Park started out as a small, makeshift cemetery in the 19th-century but now spreads out over more than 1,200 acres. In addition to monuments, playgrounds, beaches and recreation trails, the park's borders encompass a conservatory and Lincoln Park Zoo, where such endangered critters as black rhinos, snow leopards and western lowland gorillas make their home in enclosures scattered among the zoo's historic buildings.

At the beginning of his illustrious career more than a century ago, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose the western suburb of Oak Park as his home and ended up executing some of his most renowned designs for himself and his neighbors and in the process perfecting his distinctive Prairie style. Architectural Tours in Oak Park, a AAA GEM attraction, offers an extensive menu of tours that includes his home and studio and the exteriors of 15 Wright-designed buildings—the visionary Unity Temple among them.

In the shadow of John Hancock Center and just off Michigan Avenue stands an institution dedicated to visionary creativity: the Museum of Contemporary Art. Focusing on works created since 1945 in a wide range of media, the museum's collection is edgy, challenging and sometimes confounding, and the modern building's bright, airy galleries suit the exhibits to a T.

Although not focused exclusively on contemporary art, the AAA GEM-rated National Museum of Mexican Art (NMMA) in Chicago's Pilsen/Little Village neighborhood southwest of the Loop spotlights works that fall into that category as well as a host of other genres. The unifying theme here is the artistic expression of the Mexican experience on both sides of the border. In addition to artifacts created centuries ago by Mexico's indigenous peoples, you'll find paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, textiles and photographs.

The focus narrows considerably at the National Veterans Art Museum, where veterans of all wars convey their personal experiences through a variety of media on display here. One particularly moving artwork is, “Above & Beyond,” a memorial sculpture made up of more than 58,000 dog tags suspended from the ceiling, each one imprinted with the name of a serviceman or woman who died in the Vietnam War.

When it comes to getting around Chicago, probably no option is more fun or informative than that offered by Chicago Trolley & Double Decker Co. Not only are tours aboard the company's double-decker buses and trolleys entertainingly narrated, but you can hop on and off at most of the city's top attractions, offering you a very convenient way to sightsee.

Venturing just a few miles out into that vast metro area known as Chicagoland yields even more tourist draws well worth your time. The Brookfield Zoo, a AAA GEM attraction in Brookfield just west of Chicago, treats animal lovers to a veritable Noah's Ark of exotic creatures too numerous to list, all housed in natural-looking enclosures. Dolphins splash about, gray wolves prowl around their lair and a troop of western lowland gorillas leisurely munch on fruits and leaves in some of the zoo's most popular exhibits.

If the zoo has whetted your appetite for the outdoors, then visit the Morton Arboretum, a AAA-GEM attraction in Lisle, 25 miles west of the Loop. Established in 1922 by the owner of the Morton Salt Co., the 1,700-acre arboretum offers a pleasing counterpoint to Chicago's asphalt-and-steel landscape. You can roam paths around wetlands and lakes and through formal gardens and oak forests, and when you get tired, there's an open-air tram that tours the grounds.

Or if back-to-nature serenity isn't your thing, explore the opposite extreme at Six Flags Great America, a AAA GEM theme park in Gurnee packed with enough roller coasters to keep your adrenaline levels high and, depending on your constitution, your stomach in knots all day. Motion simulators, carnival-style thrill rides and a Caribbean-themed water park round out the amusements on tap here.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.



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Chicago in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Chicago.

By Frank Swanson

Day 1: Morning
Start your first day in the Windy City by heading to the Near North Side, which is just north of the Loop and the Chicago River. With so many hotels in the vicinity, you're probably staying nearby, but if not, take the Red Line CTA train to the Grand Station or take the Orange, Brown, Pink or Green lines to the State/Lake “L” Station in the Loop.

One of the best ways to get acquainted with Chicago is aboard a boat tour leaving from either Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., or the nearby Chicago Riverfront at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. To get to Navy Pier, hop on the free Navy Pier Trolley running Mon.-Fri. 10-10 and Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-12:30 a.m. between the pier and State Street, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Just look for the “Navy Pier Trolley Stops” along Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.


Shoreline Sightseeing has a 75-minute architecture tour on the Chicago River that you don't have to be an architect to enjoy. As you float past some of the city's most famous buildings, an on-board guide shares entertaining stories and facts about Chicago's history, including the Great Fire of 1871 and the city's importance as birthplace of the skyscraper. Tours depart from the Ogden Slip dock near the Navy Pier's entrance. Shoreline offers other types of tours, including sunset and fireworks cruises, as well as water taxi service to locations along the lakefront. Wendella Boats & Chicago Water Taxi also offers 75-minute-long architecture tours that are informative without being dull. Their excursions depart from a prime location at the foot of the Wrigley Building beside the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Choose whichever cruise company is most convenient; you can't go wrong with either one.

Day 1: Afternoon
The Wrigley Building together with the Tribune Tower across the street forms a skyscraper gateway to Chicago's renowned Michigan Avenue shopping district popularly known as the Magnificent Mile (see our Shopping article). You'll only be able to scratch the surface of this shopping Shangri-la in a single afternoon, but if you're serious about exploring this mile-long corridor lined with high-end department stores, boutiques and vertical malls from one end to the other, be sure to slip on your most comfortable pair of get-around shoes.

To fuel your shopping spree, look no further than one of the plentiful corner coffee shops, chain restaurants or mall food courts. If you make it to the northern end of the district, however, treat yourself to lunch at Cafe Spiaggia on the second floor of the One Magnificent Mile Building at Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. Warm hues, a casual vibe and murals copied from Italian Renaissance originals will make you feel like you've slipped into a cozy Old World café, while the soaring windows provide a nice view of Lake Michigan and remind you you're in Chicago. Although the ambience is a feast in itself, you'll probably enjoy the fresh-tasting Italian cuisine even more.

Day 1: Evening
You've acquainted yourself with Chicago from street level (actually the river is several feet below the street), so now it's time to take in a bird's eye view of this vast metropolis. Head to John Hancock Center, a Mag Mile landmark looming more than a thousand feet above Michigan Avenue just a few yards from the castlelike Historic Water Tower. In addition to spectacular 360-degree views of the city, 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) on the 94th floor distributes handheld devices showing an amusing multimedia audio tour of the city and its history. One floor above is The Signature Room at the 95th, a restaurant known for its views, its cocktails and its steaks and seafood. The traditional tourist uniform of shorts and a T-shirt are OK for lunch, but if you go there for dinner and the amazing nighttime views, you'll need to make a stop back at the hotel for a costume change. The Signature Room's dress code policy switches to business casual during dinnertime.

Day 2: Morning
Take a cab or train to Millennium Park and spend the morning exploring this striking and relatively new public space in the heart of Chicago. The closest “L” station is Randolph/Wabash in the Loop. Once the site of an ugly parking lot and rail yard, Millennium Park opened in 2004 to wide acclaim and has become one of the city's most visited places. The centerpiece Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue, was designed by Frank Gehry and displays the artfully folded stainless steel shapes the architect is known for. A cage of gracefully curving stainless steel pipes forms a rooflike structure above the seating area and the Great Lawn, which together can accommodate 11,000 music lovers.

Complementing the park buildings that look like sculptures are the sculptures that are as big as buildings. Getting a picture of yourself reflected in the mirrored surface of “Cloud Gate,” a 110-ton, kidney-bean-shaped arch, is something you shouldn't miss, and set aside a few minutes to sit and watch The Crown Fountain's 50-foot-high glass-brick video towers cycle through a succession of faces as they appear to spit water into a shallow basin. A thousand diverse Chicagoans contributed their likenesses to this dynamic artwork, which in summer attracts crowds of laughing, splashing children.

Among the park's other focal points are the Millennium Monument, a Greek-style colonnade; 1,500-seat Harris Theater; McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink; and the Lurie Garden. With so many lawns, shrubs and trees, you might find it hard to believe that most of Millennium Park sits atop a parking garage. The silvery, serpentine BP Bridge, also designed by Frank Gehry, spans Columbus Drive, connecting the park with Maggie Daley Park.

Day 2: Afternoon
You won't have to go far for lunch: the plaza surrounding “Cloud Gate” is actually the roof of Park Grill, an eatery serving salads and sandwiches including delicious hamburgers. In winter the restaurant's windows overlook the ice rink, which in summer becomes The Plaza at Park Grill, a coveted outdoor dining spot with frequent live entertainment. If the weather's especially nice and you really want to enjoy the park's lovely surroundings, phone in and order a picnic bag from the restaurant's Park Café.

Across Monroe Drive from Millennium Park is The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world's great art museums. What could be better than whiling away an afternoon among priceless treasures from around the world? You can get a sense of how comprehensive the museum's collection is by just wandering from gallery to gallery, strolling past Medieval suits of armor, ancient Asian sculptures of Buddha and Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings by the likes of Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec. Or you can pick a specific collection and focus your efforts on, say, modern American art or photography or textiles. To enrich your experience, rent the institute's MP3 audio tour; it provides an overview of the vast collection you can tailor to your interests.

Day 2: Evening
After several hours spent savoring some of the world's greatest art, it's time to sink your teeth into artwork of a different sort: Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in the Near North neighborhood called River North serves some of the best pizza in town; the closest CTA station is the Red Line's Grand Station at Grand Avenue and State Street. The restaurant's combination of fresh, mouth-watering ingredients with crispy, buttery crusts are to pizza lovers as paintings by Monet or Degas are to art aficionados. If you like spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes, order the “Lou,” a house specialty popular for its golden brown three-cheese topping of cheddar, mozzarella and Romano.

While you're in the River North area stop by Blue Chicago, 536 N. Clark St., and sample some Chicago-style blues. This popular venue opens at 8 p.m. and stays open until 2 a.m. Sunday-Friday, 3 on Saturdays. The cover charge is $10 Sunday-Thursday, $12 Friday-Saturday.

Day 3: Morning
Take a cab or catch a Red Line Train to Roosevelt Station and walk toward the lakefront to reach the Museum Campus, home to the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and The Field Museum. With more than 25 million specimens and counting, the Field Museum's collection is so vast you'd need days to truly do it justice. You can, however, get a wonderful overview during the free docent-led highlights tour, which lasts about 45 minutes, or request a self-guiding highlights tour handout.

If you'd rather ramble on your own through this beautiful marble building's echoing halls, be sure to see the following exhibits: Inside Ancient Egypt, Ancient Americas, Lions of Tsavo and Evolving Planet. You'll see mummies and hieroglyphs; a full-sized replica of the intricate Aztec Sun Stone; two preserved lions that in 1898 killed 128 African railroad workers; and a huge hall of dinosaurs that'll make you glad the last of the big-boned, toothy monsters died out 65 million years ago.

Day 3: Afternoon
Lunch options are slim in the Museum Campus' immediate vicinity unless you're in the mood for fast food. You could head to The Phoenix Restaurant, which is just a couple miles away from the Museum Campus and a short walk from the Cermak-Chinatown Station, the very next Red Line stop south of the Roosevelt Station, and try the daily dim sum. Colorful paintings contribute to the festive mood as you sample from an array of more than 50 dim sum delicacies, and on top of that there's a regular menu offering traditional Peking duck, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken and orange beef along with fresh seafood and vegetarian tofu dishes.

There's still plenty to see and do back at the Museum Campus. Spend the rest of the afternoon among rare and unusual sea creatures bathed in wavering blue-green light in the Shedd Aquarium or stroll next door and explore the far reaches of the solar system beautifully represented by scale models at the Adler Planetarium. Or if it's a nice day, you can ramble about the southern end of expansive Grant Park, known as Chicago's front yard.

Bordering the Museum Campus at the park's southwest corner is a somber art installation titled “Agora,” an array of 106 headless cast-iron figures standing 9 feet tall created by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. Find your way to Grant Park's centerpiece: Buckingham Memorial Fountain, a massive pink marble affair often seen on postcards with the distinctive Chicago skyline behind. You might recognize the fountain from the opening credits of the 1990s sitcom “Married with Children.”

Day 3: Evening
While the stately marble museum temples surrounding Grant Park draw millions each year with their collections of paintings, sculpture, scientific exhibits and biological specimens, not all of Chicago's landmark institutions are so serious. Case in point, The Second City Theatre at 1616 N. Wells St. in Old Town near Lincoln Park. Since 1959 the performers at Second City have been cracking audiences up with their sketch and improvisational comedy antics, and the theater's list of alumni reads like a who's who of movie and television stars: Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, among others.



close
Chicago in 3 Days
Three days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in Chicago.

By Frank Swanson

Day 1: Morning
Start your first day in the Windy City by heading to the Near North Side, which is just north of the Loop and the Chicago River. With so many hotels in the vicinity, you're probably staying nearby, but if not, take the Red Line CTA train to the Grand Station or take the Orange, Brown, Pink or Green lines to the State/Lake “L” Station in the Loop.

One of the best ways to get acquainted with Chicago is aboard a boat tour leaving from either Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., or the nearby Chicago Riverfront at Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive. To get to Navy Pier, hop on the free Navy Pier Trolley running Mon.-Fri. 10-10 and Sat.-Sun. 10 a.m.-12:30 a.m. between the pier and State Street, Memorial Day through Labor Day. Just look for the “Navy Pier Trolley Stops” along Grand Avenue and Illinois Street.


Shoreline Sightseeing has a 75-minute architecture tour on the Chicago River that you don't have to be an architect to enjoy. As you float past some of the city's most famous buildings, an on-board guide shares entertaining stories and facts about Chicago's history, including the Great Fire of 1871 and the city's importance as birthplace of the skyscraper. Tours depart from the Ogden Slip dock near the Navy Pier's entrance. Shoreline offers other types of tours, including sunset and fireworks cruises, as well as water taxi service to locations along the lakefront. Wendella Boats & Chicago Water Taxi also offers 75-minute-long architecture tours that are informative without being dull. Their excursions depart from a prime location at the foot of the Wrigley Building beside the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Choose whichever cruise company is most convenient; you can't go wrong with either one.

Day 1: Afternoon
The Wrigley Building together with the Tribune Tower across the street forms a skyscraper gateway to Chicago's renowned Michigan Avenue shopping district popularly known as the Magnificent Mile (see our Shopping article). You'll only be able to scratch the surface of this shopping Shangri-la in a single afternoon, but if you're serious about exploring this mile-long corridor lined with high-end department stores, boutiques and vertical malls from one end to the other, be sure to slip on your most comfortable pair of get-around shoes.

To fuel your shopping spree, look no further than one of the plentiful corner coffee shops, chain restaurants or mall food courts. If you make it to the northern end of the district, however, treat yourself to lunch at Cafe Spiaggia on the second floor of the One Magnificent Mile Building at Michigan Avenue and Oak Street. Warm hues, a casual vibe and murals copied from Italian Renaissance originals will make you feel like you've slipped into a cozy Old World café, while the soaring windows provide a nice view of Lake Michigan and remind you you're in Chicago. Although the ambience is a feast in itself, you'll probably enjoy the fresh-tasting Italian cuisine even more.

Day 1: Evening
You've acquainted yourself with Chicago from street level (actually the river is several feet below the street), so now it's time to take in a bird's eye view of this vast metropolis. Head to John Hancock Center, a Mag Mile landmark looming more than a thousand feet above Michigan Avenue just a few yards from the castlelike Historic Water Tower. In addition to spectacular 360-degree views of the city, 360 CHICAGO (formerly the John Hancock Observatory) on the 94th floor distributes handheld devices showing an amusing multimedia audio tour of the city and its history. One floor above is The Signature Room at the 95th, a restaurant known for its views, its cocktails and its steaks and seafood. The traditional tourist uniform of shorts and a T-shirt are OK for lunch, but if you go there for dinner and the amazing nighttime views, you'll need to make a stop back at the hotel for a costume change. The Signature Room's dress code policy switches to business casual during dinnertime.

Day 2: Morning
Take a cab or train to Millennium Park and spend the morning exploring this striking and relatively new public space in the heart of Chicago. The closest “L” station is Randolph/Wabash in the Loop. Once the site of an ugly parking lot and rail yard, Millennium Park opened in 2004 to wide acclaim and has become one of the city's most visited places. The centerpiece Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue, was designed by Frank Gehry and displays the artfully folded stainless steel shapes the architect is known for. A cage of gracefully curving stainless steel pipes forms a rooflike structure above the seating area and the Great Lawn, which together can accommodate 11,000 music lovers.

Complementing the park buildings that look like sculptures are the sculptures that are as big as buildings. Getting a picture of yourself reflected in the mirrored surface of “Cloud Gate,” a 110-ton, kidney-bean-shaped arch, is something you shouldn't miss, and set aside a few minutes to sit and watch The Crown Fountain's 50-foot-high glass-brick video towers cycle through a succession of faces as they appear to spit water into a shallow basin. A thousand diverse Chicagoans contributed their likenesses to this dynamic artwork, which in summer attracts crowds of laughing, splashing children.

Among the park's other focal points are the Millennium Monument, a Greek-style colonnade; 1,500-seat Harris Theater; McCormick Tribune Plaza and Ice Rink; and the Lurie Garden. With so many lawns, shrubs and trees, you might find it hard to believe that most of Millennium Park sits atop a parking garage. The silvery, serpentine BP Bridge, also designed by Frank Gehry, spans Columbus Drive, connecting the park with Maggie Daley Park.

Day 2: Afternoon
You won't have to go far for lunch: the plaza surrounding “Cloud Gate” is actually the roof of Park Grill, an eatery serving salads and sandwiches including delicious hamburgers. In winter the restaurant's windows overlook the ice rink, which in summer becomes The Plaza at Park Grill, a coveted outdoor dining spot with frequent live entertainment. If the weather's especially nice and you really want to enjoy the park's lovely surroundings, phone in and order a picnic bag from the restaurant's Park Café.

Across Monroe Drive from Millennium Park is The Art Institute of Chicago, one of the world's great art museums. What could be better than whiling away an afternoon among priceless treasures from around the world? You can get a sense of how comprehensive the museum's collection is by just wandering from gallery to gallery, strolling past Medieval suits of armor, ancient Asian sculptures of Buddha and Impressionist and Postimpressionist paintings by the likes of Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Seurat and Toulouse-Lautrec. Or you can pick a specific collection and focus your efforts on, say, modern American art or photography or textiles. To enrich your experience, rent the institute's MP3 audio tour; it provides an overview of the vast collection you can tailor to your interests.

Day 2: Evening
After several hours spent savoring some of the world's greatest art, it's time to sink your teeth into artwork of a different sort: Chicago-style deep dish pizza. Lou Malnati's Pizzeria in the Near North neighborhood called River North serves some of the best pizza in town; the closest CTA station is the Red Line's Grand Station at Grand Avenue and State Street. The restaurant's combination of fresh, mouth-watering ingredients with crispy, buttery crusts are to pizza lovers as paintings by Monet or Degas are to art aficionados. If you like spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes, order the “Lou,” a house specialty popular for its golden brown three-cheese topping of cheddar, mozzarella and Romano.

While you're in the River North area stop by Blue Chicago, 536 N. Clark St., and sample some Chicago-style blues. This popular venue opens at 8 p.m. and stays open until 2 a.m. Sunday-Friday, 3 on Saturdays. The cover charge is $10 Sunday-Thursday, $12 Friday-Saturday.

Day 3: Morning
Take a cab or catch a Red Line Train to Roosevelt Station and walk toward the lakefront to reach the Museum Campus, home to the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Adler Planetarium and The Field Museum. With more than 25 million specimens and counting, the Field Museum's collection is so vast you'd need days to truly do it justice. You can, however, get a wonderful overview during the free docent-led highlights tour, which lasts about 45 minutes, or request a self-guiding highlights tour handout.

If you'd rather ramble on your own through this beautiful marble building's echoing halls, be sure to see the following exhibits: Inside Ancient Egypt, Ancient Americas, Lions of Tsavo and Evolving Planet. You'll see mummies and hieroglyphs; a full-sized replica of the intricate Aztec Sun Stone; two preserved lions that in 1898 killed 128 African railroad workers; and a huge hall of dinosaurs that'll make you glad the last of the big-boned, toothy monsters died out 65 million years ago.

Day 3: Afternoon
Lunch options are slim in the Museum Campus' immediate vicinity unless you're in the mood for fast food. You could head to The Phoenix Restaurant, which is just a couple miles away from the Museum Campus and a short walk from the Cermak-Chinatown Station, the very next Red Line stop south of the Roosevelt Station, and try the daily dim sum. Colorful paintings contribute to the festive mood as you sample from an array of more than 50 dim sum delicacies, and on top of that there's a regular menu offering traditional Peking duck, sweet and sour pork, lemon chicken and orange beef along with fresh seafood and vegetarian tofu dishes.

There's still plenty to see and do back at the Museum Campus. Spend the rest of the afternoon among rare and unusual sea creatures bathed in wavering blue-green light in the Shedd Aquarium or stroll next door and explore the far reaches of the solar system beautifully represented by scale models at the Adler Planetarium. Or if it's a nice day, you can ramble about the southern end of expansive Grant Park, known as Chicago's front yard.

Bordering the Museum Campus at the park's southwest corner is a somber art installation titled “Agora,” an array of 106 headless cast-iron figures standing 9 feet tall created by Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz. Find your way to Grant Park's centerpiece: Buckingham Memorial Fountain, a massive pink marble affair often seen on postcards with the distinctive Chicago skyline behind. You might recognize the fountain from the opening credits of the 1990s sitcom “Married with Children.”

Day 3: Evening
While the stately marble museum temples surrounding Grant Park draw millions each year with their collections of paintings, sculpture, scientific exhibits and biological specimens, not all of Chicago's landmark institutions are so serious. Case in point, The Second City Theatre at 1616 N. Wells St. in Old Town near Lincoln Park. Since 1959 the performers at Second City have been cracking audiences up with their sketch and improvisational comedy antics, and the theater's list of alumni reads like a who's who of movie and television stars: Alan Arkin, Fred Willard, John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers, Chris Farley, Steve Carell, Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey, among others.



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