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Willis Tower
© Daniel Schwen / CC ShareAlike 3.0

Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, is the tallest building in the United States and has a public observation deck on the 103rd floor.

Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City

Chicago is located in the northern part of the mid-western United States about 800 miles due west of New York City and over 2000 miles northeast of Los Angeles, California. It is usually considered the third great metropolis in the USA along with its East Coast and West Coast sister cities of New York and LA. The city is situated on the western shore of Lake Michigan, one of those five great inland seas known as the Great Lakes.

To the west of Chicago, lies the Great Plains of the Midwest. Vast expanses of flat lands much of them covered with wheat and cornfields extend nearly a thousand miles to the feet of the Rocky Mountains. With no natural barriers such as mountains or hills to protect it, the city is subjected to the full onslaught of the winds and storms that blow across these "Prairies". Thus, Chicago deserves to be called the "windy city", although it really earned that nickname from its abundance of "windy" politicians.

Expect Warm Summers and brutally cold winters

Summer months in Chicago are usually warm and sometimes even hot and humid with a fair amount of rainfall. Winters bring only a modest amount of snow but can become bitter cold when freezing temperatures combine with the icy winds. Late spring and early fall often produce the most comfortable weather with warm dry days and cool nights.

Downtown Chicago stretches along the shoreline of Lake Michigan from north to south for approximately 5 miles. It offers an impressive skyline of high buildings including the 110-floors Willis Tower. To the north, south and west, a great expanse of low office buildings, industrial plants and residential neighborhoods sprawl along the shore and out across the plains for at least 30 miles. On the east, a beautiful lakefront park hugs the shore of Lake Michigan.

O'Hare and Midway airports serve Chicago

O'Hare International Airport is located about 18 miles northwest of the downtown business center. It is one of the busiest air terminals in the world with over 2500 flights per day arriving from and departing to cities throughout the USA and to many international destinations. The John F. Kennedy Expressway (I-90) goes directly from the airport to downtown, but the drive can vary from 30 minutes during ideal conditions to 90 minutes or more during rush hour traffic. Fortunately, the high-speed trains departing from the lower level of terminal 3 provide convenient inexpensive transportation to the downtown "loop".

Chicago Midway Airport is a much smaller facility located less than 10 miles south west of the downtown loop. It accommodates many domestic flights to destinations in Eastern and Midwestern USA. Convenient inexpensive transportation from Midway to the downtown loop is available via elevated trains.

Lake Shore Drive © Art Today
Lake Shore Drive runs parallel with Lake Michigan and has beautiful parks, marinas, beaches and museums.

The Chicago streets are on a rectangular grid

Navigation in Chicago is not difficult as the city streets are laid out in a rectangular grid pattern with the downtown loop as its center. Four interstate highways radiate out from the center to facilitate cross-town travel. The John F. Kennedy Expressway (I-90, 94) heads northwest to O'Hare International where it connects with I-294, the major north-south interstate highway. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) and the Adlai E. Stevenson Expressway (I-55) lead into the western and southwestern suburbs where they also connect with I-294. The Dan Ryan Expressway, an extension of I-90, heads due south. The distances across this metropolitan area can be quite far and rush hour traffic can be quite heavy, so it can take two hours or more to drive across the city. Parking garages provide plenty of moderately priced parking in the downtown area.

This is a culturally diverse city

For many centuries, Native Americans used the She-caw-gu portage as a convenient connection between the upper reaches of the Mississippi River and the vast waterways of the Great Lakes System. In 1779, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, a fur trader of French-African descent, created the first settlement at this strategic location. Since then, Chicago has attracted immigrants from all over the world. Their ethnic enclaves are reflected in the many culturally distinct neighborhoods throughout the city.

Greek town, Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Saigon and the Ukrainian Village are all located near the downtown loop with German, Polish, Afro-American and Hispanic American neighborhoods not far away. Each neighborhood offers a distinct cultural flavor with many ethnic shops and restaurants. When you go to Chicago, plan on visiting one or more of the ethnic neighborhoods to at least sample the cuisine.

Tourist attractions and shopping in the windy city

The major tourist attractions of Chicago include a trip to the observation deck at the 103rd floor of the Willis Tower and a tour along Lakeshore Drive with its beautiful parks, beaches and museums. Chicago offers visitors over a dozen major museums, two zoos, a large aquarium and a planetarium. It also offers lots of shopping opportunities and a variety of sports and entertainment.

The downtown loop area has many stores and shops especially along State Street, but the real heart of the Chicago shopping district lies just north of the Chicago River. The section of North Michigan Avenue across the river from downtown is known as the Magnificent Mile and is lined with world-class department stores, vertical shopping malls and many fine restaurants.  As in most US cities, many large shopping malls and outlet centers are located in the suburban communities. For discount shopping, the Gurnee Mills Outlet Mall is along I-94 about one hour north of Chicago.

Entertainment in Chicago

Chicago has a world-class symphony, opera and ballet plus many other music and dance companies. It has a variety of theatrical companies. It is famous for its comedy clubs such as "Second City" where many famous stars began their careers. Chicago is also famous for its unique brand of Jazz music and "Chicago Style Blues" The area just north of downtown especially in the vicinity of Rush Street is an entertainment hot spot. It houses many famous establishments like Michael Jordan's club, the Excalibur Dance Club, the Rock Roll MacDonald's, The Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood. This is also the home for many blues clubs like Blue Chicago, B.L.U.E.S., the House of Blues and Buddy Guy's Legends.

Wrigley Field © Rdikeman / Creative Commons ShareAlike
Home of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field is one of the oldest Major League Baseball fields. It's famous for its ivy-covered outfield walls and rooftop seats which are located on flat rooftops of apartment buildings across Waveland and Sheffield Avenue.

Sports in Chicago

Chicago has two professional baseball teams, the Chicago Cubs and the White Sox. They also have the Chicago Bears NFL football team, the Chicago Blackhawks NHL hockey team and the famous Chicago Bulls NBA basketball team. It is very difficult to get tickets to the football and hockey games and nearly impossible to find tickets for a Chicago Bulls game. There are several golf courses in the nearby suburbs, but most are only open from March through November. Harness racing and thoroughbred horse races can be seen at several suburban racetracks. Gambling is not permitted in the city, but gambling Casinos are located in the nearby communities of Joliet, Aurora and Elgin.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © mindfrieze / Creative Commons Share Alike
Photo Description: Seven photo panorama of Chicago taken from Lake Shore Drive looking west from the middle joint on the Link Bridge over the Chicago River.