Trip Coach: July 8, 2008

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Karla Zimmerman, the main author of "Lonely Planet Chicago (2008)," answered your questions on Chicago.

Karla Zimmerman: Hi, Karla Zimmerman here, ready to chat with you about Chicago. Let's get started, shall we?

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Mission Viejo, Calif.: We are going to be in Chicago in August with 2 teenage girls. Do you have a top 5 list of "must-see's"? We have done the Sears Tower before.

Karla Zimmerman: OK, must-see No. 1: Millennium Park. You gotta' walk through and see The Bean sculpture and human-gargoyle-style Crown Fountain. The park also hosts concerts, yoga and dance classes—all for free. See the website for schedules and a do-it-yourself mp3 audio tour. No. 2: Art Institute, vast and magnificent. It's free on Thursday and Friday eves. No. 3: the lakefront. Stroll along it, or better yet, bike it with a rental from Bike Chicago's Navy Pier or Millennium Park outlets. No. 4: Chicago architecture, best appreciated via a tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. The 90-minute river cruise and the Historic Skyscraper walking tour are both winners. No. 5: Shopping. Check out the Magnificent Mile stores or trendy boutiques in Wicker Park (about a 10-minute El ride from downtown).

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Griswold, Conn.: My former college roommate and I are planning a reunion and girlfriend's weekend in late September. Since we will only be there a couple of days, what are the must-see, must-do attractions, spa experiences, dining options, shopping etc.? We want to have time to catch up and relax, but also experience the Windy City. Thanks for your suggestions!

Karla Zimmerman: See my answer to Mission Viejo's question, above, for Top 5 attractions. For spas, there's the Aveda Institute a bit north of downtown. For all-out pampering, there's the Four Seasons Spa, where caviar-and-pearl facials await. For dining, Wicker Park and Lakeview are two neighborhoods holding rich veins of restaurants. The Chicago Reader and Time Out Chicago both list restaurant reviews by neighborhood on their websites, so check there for further ideas.

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Bellaire, Mich.: What are 3-5 good places to eat in the Lakeview area of Chicago? I will be there in September.

Karla Zimmerman: I like Mia Francesca, a popular Italian restaurant. Lines are usually out the door, but move fast. PS Bangkok dishes up tasty Thai chow. Orange wins raves for brunch. The Chicago Reader and Time Out Chicago have more listings.

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Oregon, Wisc.: I travel to Chicago every 6 weeks to take my 95-year-old, wheelchair-bound "Aunt" out of her nursing home. We've gone to "Wicked," the Brookfield Zoo, the chocolate fest at the conservatory, the races at Arlington Park, the botanic gardens, shopping on Michigan Ave, a lake-front cruise, the Scarecrow Festival, and several other summer-time outdoor events. I'm starting to run out of ideas for daytime adventures. Can you help?

Karla Zimmerman: I'm impressed! You've already been very creative. You could try a baseball game. Both Wrigley Field and US Cellular Field offer special wheelchair seating. If your aunt likes art, you could try the Art Institute which is wheelchair accessible throughout.

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San Antonio, Tex.: Hi! I'm a mom taking her 13-year-old daughter to acrobatic gymnastics National Championship in Des Moines at the end of the month. As a treat, I'm taking her and her 10-year-old sister to Chicago from July 30 to August 2. Where should we stay? We want to go to Hancock Tower on Wednesday night to see sunset and fireworks and "Wicked" on Thursday. Not really into American Girl Dolls. Would love to see appropriate art museum for budding 10-year-old artist. Would love to see cool stuff for 13-year-old...how things work...tours of big company manufacturing or TV show production. Thanks!

Karla Zimmerman: Take the budding artist to the Art Institute. Its Kraft Education Center provides activity books and programs to help kids of all ages interact with the collection. Check the museum's website under the "Families" heading for more info. As for where to stay: the Embassy Suites Downtown is popular with families.

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Atlanta, Ga.: Once a HotTix Booth existed across from the Marshall Field's store on State Street in the Loop (yes, I am dating myself!). Since HotTix is no longer there (and Macy's has replaced Field's), what is the best way to get a couple of same-day, half-priced tickets to the great shows on Randolph Street's theatre district?

Karla Zimmerman: Hot Tix is still around, my friend. You can buy same-day, half-price tickets online, or at outlets at 72 E. Randolph Street and 163 E. Pearson Street. Note they're closed on Mondays.

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Aiken, S.C.: Where in Chicago does one go for the best Greek food?

Karla Zimmerman: Chicago's Greektown lies along Halsted Street, just west of the Loop. You'll have lots of restaurants to choose from. I recommend Artopolis Bakery & Cafe.

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Toronto, Ontario: Can you suggest a couple of hotels at each price point that's close to a subway station? I'm a female who's looking to get away solo to Chicago for a few days and would like to stay at a decent place that's not far from a station. Thanks!

Karla Zimmerman: The boutique Hotel Allegro is right by the Randolph El stop downtown. The City Suites Hotel is a stone's throw from the Belmont El stop in Lakeview. The Wicker Park Inn B&B is really sweet, located in the unique Wicker Park neighborhood, though it's about 5 blocks or so from the Damen El stop.

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St. Petersburg, Fla.: We have never been to a baseball game at Wrigley Field. How can we get tickets? We hear it's always sold out. Also, we'd like to stay at a B&B for a 3-night stay in the ballpark area. We're coming from St. Pete, Fla., in Aug. 2008. Thank you. —Frank

Karla Zimmerman: Getting Cubs tickets this year sucks, since the team is actually worthy. You can keep checking online, preferably in the morning, when newly released tickets sometimes appear. Or you can show up at Wrigley's box office when it opens (8am weekdays, 9am weekends) to see it any seats have become available. About two hours before game time, a few standing room tickets are released at the box office. Otherwise, you'll have to spend big bucks on a brokerage site like StubHub, or dealing with scalpers who sell tickets all around the park. If nothing else, peek in the "knothole"—a garage-door-sized opening on Sheffield Avenue that'll give you a glimpse inside Wrigley for free.

As for nearby places to stay, I don't know of any B&Bs, but the Majestic Hotel and Best Western Hawthorne Terrace are nearby.

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Detroit, Mich.: My girlfriend and I are planning a trip to the Windy City on October 10-12, 2008. We want to stay relatively close to the main attractions but don't want to spend a lot of money—what neighborhoods/areas should we be looking in for hotels?

Karla Zimmerman: The Loop and Near North—where most major attractions are located—can be affordable if you use a bidding service like Hotwire or Priceline. I have friends who've landed killer rooms for $80 when they usually cost $200-330. Otherwise, neighborhoods to the north such as Lincoln Park and Lakeview are typically cheaper, as is Wicker Park to the west (yet all are easily connected to downtown by train).

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Laguna Beach, Calif.: Four family members are planning to visit Chicago at the end of Sept. 2008. We would like to stay 2 nights near some of the favorite sights. Where would you suggest staying, and what sights are not to be missed?

Thank you,
Daryle

Karla Zimmerman: Hi, Daryle. See my answer to Mission Viejo, above, for top sights. You'll want to stay in the Loop or Near North to be near the action. Where to stay depends on your budget. I like the Hotel Allegro and Hotel Burnham, though they ain't cheap. For that, try a bidding service (see my answer to Detroit, above).

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Washington, D.C.: My girlfriend and I will be flying in to Milwaukee and taking the train down to Chicago for a few days. Can you suggest an affordable hotel that is near the train station (i.e. does not require driving)? Thanks!

Karla Zimmerman: You'll be chugging into Union Station, just west of the Loop. The W Chicago City Center is probably the closest hotel. But anything in the Loop or Near North will be easily accessible via short cab ride (around $8 or so).

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Bloomington, Ind.: I am planning a surprise (60th) birthday trip to Chicago over Labor Day weekend for my husband. The surprise will be that our 2 daughters, their husbands, and 2 kids (1 boy 20 months, one girl 9 )will be joining us. We have a cool apartment on the lake all reserved. My question is where to have a birthday dinner—someplace nice but not completely outrageously expensive that would be OK for kids. If not beastly hot, we like outdoor seating. Love Lincoln Park, but not wedded to it for this. We are fairly familiar with Chicago. Thanks!

Karla Zimmerman: Hmm, I'm kind of stumped on this one. Maybe the Plaza at Park Grill for outdoor seating right in Millennium Park? Or Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba in Lincoln Park? You can always check the Chicago Reader and Time Out Chicago for more ideas and reviews.

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Karla Zimmerman: Thanks, everybody. I hope you all have a sweet time in Chicago. It's one of the best cities on the planet (IMHO).

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