Cutting-edge architecture, legendary blues, and scrumptious dining? Check. Lavish shopping, world-class museums, and lake views? Check. Glorious parks, major-league baseball, and side-splitting improv? Check. Deep-dish pizza, piled-high hot dogs, and Italian beef sandwiches? Check. Chicago has it all — now all you need to do is book a flight!

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Places to Explore in Chicago

Hyde Park: Hyde Park is something of a trek from downtown Chicago, but it's worth the extra effort. The community is rich in academic and cultural life, and it is also considered one of the country's most successfully integrated neighborhoods, which is reflected in everything from the people you'll meet on the street to the diverse cuisine available.

Lakeview and the Far North Side: Running north in a rough row that runs parallel and close to the lake, the primarily residential neighborhoods in Lakeview and the Far North Side aren't the place for major museums or high-rises. Instead, they're best at giving you a feel for how local Chicagoans live.

Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, and Bucktown: In 1864 Lincoln Park—the park, which extends from North Avenue to Foster Avenue—became the city's first public playground. Its zoo is legendary. The area adjacent to it, bordered by Armitage Avenue, Diversey Parkway, the lake, and the Chicago River, took the same name.

The Loop: Defined by the El (the elevated train that makes a circuit around the area), the Loop is Chicago at its big-city best. Noisy and mesmerizing, it's a living architectural museum alongside shimmering Lake Michigan.

Near North and River North: With art galleries, the famous Magnificent Mile, the Gold Coast, and upscale dining options, River North and Near North hold some of the city's greatest attractions. The Near North's Navy Pier and the Chicago Children's Museum are great family-friendly stops.

Pilsen, Little Italy, and Chinatown: A jumble of ethnic neighborhoods stretches west of the Loop and from the south branch of the Chicago River to the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290). Once home to myriad 20th-century immigrants, the area is now dominated by Pilsen's Mexican community, Little Italy, and the University of Illinois.