Trip Coach: June 3, 2008

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Margaret Lyons, editor-in-chief of city info site Chicagoist, answered your questions about the Windy City.

Margaret Lyons:Hi, this is Margaret Lyons, and I'm excited to talk to everyone about Chicago! Let's get started, shall we?

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Denver, Colo.:Hi, Margaret. I'm coming to Chicago June 24 for the first time. What exactly is Chicago-style pizza and where are some places to get the "authentic" stuff?

Thanks,
Dave

Margaret Lyons: Ooooh, boy, that's a good one. Chicago-style pizza typically means deep dish, with a very doughy crust and unlike East Coast pizza, the sauce is on the top (crust // cheese // sauce // toppings, instead of crust // sauce // cheese // toppings). As far as best places to get it, I'm partial to Pequod's and Gino's East. But places like Giordano's and Lou Malnati's, which have spots all over the city, are pretty good, too.

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Savannah, Ga.:I am planning a trip to Chicago during the Food Festival that the city has every year, but I am still not sure if I will drive or fly with the gas prices being so high. My son wants to fly because he has never been on a plane. But on the other hand I wanted to have a nice road trip to show him the different states on the way there. What should I do?

Margaret Lyons:If you're worried about needing a car to get around Chicago, don't be. I don't even have a drivers license! Chicago is very pedestrian-friendly, and the public transit system is pretty easy to navigate. (And if either of you like bikes, there are bike rentals available, too, which is a great way to get around town.) As someone who's road-tripped around the Chicago area a lot, I'll admit there's not a whole lot to see.

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Washington, D.C.:Hi, Margaret. I will be taking a trip to Chicago from July 4-7 with my husband and another couple. We'd love to spend a few hours relaxing at a spa—can you recommend a good one that won't break the bank?

Margaret Lyons: My favorite spa is Continuum. It's relatively affordable, and to me a really quintessential Chicago business: small, neighborhood-oriented, and unfailingly kind. I also got the best massage and facial ever there. :) It's pretty far off the beaten path—way on the North Side—so it's also a good see-the-city trip.

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Murfreesboro, Tenn.:My partner and I are going for our very first time in July for a conference, and we have a few days to spend with off-and-on free time. We have tickets to see "Wicked" at the Ford Center on a Sunday afternoon, but other than that, we're not sure what to do. We'd like to eat "up high" (if that makes sense) with a view of the city, and besides going to see the Crate&Barrel flagship store on Michigan Avenue, what other "must-see" stores are there? Thanks!

Margaret Lyons: Go see some live comedy! I'm a fan of Second City's etc stage which tends to be a bit more edgy and adventurous than the main stage show. If you like improv, you can see shows at iO pretty much any night of the week, and the later you go, the cheaper it gets. As far as must-see stores go, the Mag Mile has the real mega overwhelming giganto places, but don't skip the State Street drag further south. The old Marshall Fields, which is now a Macy's, is worth visiting for the architecture alone.

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San Francisco, Calif.:Hi, Margaret. My boyfriend and I are traveling to Chicago next week (6/11-14), and one of the things we're looking forward to seeing is the architecture of Chicago. We're huge fans of Frank Lloyd Wright, and we'd love to see the Prairie Avenue House District. Also, we're adding other things to our itinerary such as visiting the Field Museum, Art Institute of Chicago, and Millenium Park, so we don't have too much time. What's the best way to see Chicago's well-known architecture? A tour?

Thanks,
Jen

Margaret Lyons: I sometimes worry that tours sound corny, but the Chicago Architecture Foundation is really the way to go. They run all kinds of great tours (including a FLW one), and their website is also a solid resource for planning a trip. I'm partial to the Robie House in Hyde Park.

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San Francisco, Calif.:Heading to Chicago for a few days next weekend, June 10-13. Are there any local events, exhibitions or festivals I should not miss? Thanks.

Margaret Lyons: If you want the most culture for your buck—who doesn't?—I'd say Grant Park Music Festival is the way to go: fantastic classical music in a gorgeous park, and it's free! The Pritzker Pavilion is also its own kind of architectural marvel.

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Highland, Calif.:What are the "Don't Miss", and sometimes overlooked, local restaurants for the best breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Not the popular tourist places, but places where the locals eat when they want a bargain with lots of quality food. Not just downtown, but around the Chicago area, too.

Margaret Lyons: I'm nuts about Lula Cafe in Logan Square. The menu changes every week, and I've never been anything less than thrilled with the food there. If you like burgers or beer, Kuma's Corner is fabulous. When I quit being a vegetarian after 10 years, that's the first place I had a burger.

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Jupiter, Fla/:After visiting family in Decatur, Ill., my 16-year-old daughter and I are spending July 11-16 in Chicago. Looking for best transportation from Decatur, Ill. to Chicago & back. Also, any insider scoop on SAFELY experiencing the essence of Chicago in a short period of time is appreciated! Have been researching like crazy and the myriad of options is positively mind boggling. Considering seeing "Wicked", staying at Hotel Indigo, thrift stores are a passion, getting around the town is an unknown challenge to conquer, daughter loves affordable fashions and is considering interior or architectural design as a career. Discounts and bargains are going to be a big help. Is exquisite food in small portions at reasonable prices just a dream? Thanks, I know that's a lot!

Cordially,
Liz

Margaret Lyons: Chicago is a very safe city, so please don't worry about being able to enjoy yourself. The CTA can seem daunting, but get yourself a five-day CTA pass for $18 and a map and you'll do fine. Shopping-wise, in terms of sheer density of stores (and stores that'll appeal to a 16-year-old), I'd say Wicker Park is a good bet. Lots of boutique-y places, a recent influx of used-clothing stores, plus a smattering of higher-end shops, too, make for a very solid day of shopping and wandering around, plus there are dozens of great restaurants right in the area.

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Atlanta, Ga.:I realize this is very generic, but another girlfriend and I are planning to meet in Chicago to visit a 3rd friend (sometime this summer—date undetermined) and would like recommendation for a decent budget hotel in the city. Is airfare from ATL cheaper certain times? Thanks.

Margaret Lyons: I had friends in town a few weeks ago and they stayed at the Wicker Park Inn, which is a B&B but isn't like...all up in your business/too cozy. :) If you're planning some quality girls' nights out, it might be worth it to stay more in a night-life zone rather than downtown, where nightlife is pretty limited. Wicker Park (again!) has a ton of bars/restaurants/shopping and tends to be pretty popular. I'm not sure about airfares, but I use kayak and farecast when I'm planning a trip. Also, consider flying into Midway rather than O'Hare—often times flights are cheaper there, and the airport is much, much nicer. There's no real difference in terms of convenience getting into the city, either.

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Detroit, Mich.:We are from metro Detroit and would like to visit Chicago (we plan to drive) to celebrate 15 years of marriage the third weekend in June. We have been to Chicago before but we never seem to do anything exciting or interesting. We pretty much have been to the major attractions in Chicago (at least I think). He is an architecture buff and I love gardens. We are not into the club or mall scene. We do not want to spend a fortune but we do recognize prices have risen. Any suggestions?

Margaret Lyons:First off, congratulations. Second off, I'm not into the club or mall scene either. I hear ya. If you've already hit the major attractions, I'd say go out for a fabulous fancy dinner (Blackbird maybe?) and hit the Green Mill for live music. It's a very relaxed, non-sceney place; think romance, not pulsing club beats or anything.

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Newtown, Conn.:Hello, going to Chicago for a long weekend/business trip solo and I have time for 1-2 tours either on Monday June 9th or Thurs June 12—everyone raves about the architectural river tour but which company offers the best version? Should I do one that goes out over Lake Michigan and views the skyline as well as the river tour or just stick with the river tour? Any other "must-dos" or good tours to take (asking because I have a very limited time). I'm staying at the Palmer House Hilton. Thanks for your advice!

Margaret Lyons: I'd stick with just the river tour and use the rest of your time for a museum trip. I'd go with Chicago Architecture Foundation tour and skip the Lake Michigan part—I've done it once, and it's cool, kinda', but not at all essential. I like the Museum of Contemporary Art, but my must-see museum in the city has always been the Museum of Science and Industry.

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Margaret Lyons:Thanks, everybody! Chicago's home to some of the best restaurants, theaters, museums and stores in the country—and some of the kindest, most interesting people I know.

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