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Chicago on a budget - here's how to do it.

  • Oct 12, 2010
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In the summer, I visited Chicago on sort of a spontaneous occasion. It was my first time to the midwest on my own, and I was traveling to visit @zellysayz who was interning there. Here are some basic things to know if you are trying to visit Chicago and want to get the most of the city while keeping under a decent budget. 

Where to stay: Downtown will be the best place to stay if you are wanting to see the museums, towers, shopping centers and parks. At first glance, downtown might be a little expensive - but a few hotels near The Loop are decent and affordable. We stayed at Travelodge on Michigan and Harrison, but I've found that people recommend Best Western on Michigan and 11th. TL was a bit old and small, and for just another two blocks south, you get a much newer and nicer place for about the same price. 

The area we stayed at is not too far away from what people would begin to consider a shady neighborhood, but trust me - it was fine. The location was extremely convenient: across the street from Grant park, near train stops, convenience stores and restaurants. Best value for downtown. ($110 for two nights.)

What to see/best photo spots: I'll start off by listing some things you have to see while in Chicago. Seeing is different from my next part, 'What to do' because these things are simply things you can snap a photo, enjoy the view and move on.

-For sure you'll have to see the bean, located in Grant Park and Millenium Plaza. It's nothing extraordinary, but coming to Chicago and not having a photo near the bean is like going to Disneyland and not seeing Mickey, so just do it. (Free)

-There is a cool view of the city skyline from Shedd Aquarium. If you don't make it out there, anywhere along the Lake Michigan shoreline is a great spot to catch a photo of downtown. (Free)

-Buckingham Fountain/Grant Park - Plenty of spots to take photos here, lots of public art on display. Buckingham fountain is a huge fountain in the middle of the park - with a light show at night. (Free)

What to do/Where to go: Here is where you'll probably spend both money and time.  

-John Hancock observatory. Best value in my opinion. For $15, you go up the tower and get a view of every part of Chicago. Downtown, Lake Michigan, the suburbs, everything. All from 100+ floors up in the air in a nicely air conditioned deck. There is a lounge up there, so to make the most of your elevator ticket - I recommend having a few drinks and rest up for an hour or so before rushing off to your next thing. ($30-40)

Chicago History Museum. This place will keep you busy and entertained for at least 2 hours. It gives you the dynamic history of the entire city along with cool exhibits. There is a train that stops right in front of the museum, so it's very easy and convenient to get to. It's also free! Other museums offer free admission too, so check it out. (Free)

Navy Pier. Most of Navy Pier is used for boarding tour boats/taxis and very touristy pier like attractions. Ferris wheel, cotton candy, etc. I'm not a big fan of boat tours or pier attractions, but if you are - then come here. It's a nice walk down the pier though, and I highly recommend it. At the very end of the pier there are seasonal/rotating exhibits that are pretty interesting. If you come here, take the trolly back to the front of the pier - most people don't realize there is one going up and down the pier but on the other side of the building. (Free)

What to Eat: I think of pizza and hot dogs when I think of Chicago.

The best pizza I tasted was by the recommendation of my family who lives there and that is placed called Lou Malnati's. I highly recommend this spot. The butter crust pizza is amazing. You will not be disappointed!

The place I went for hot dogs was just you'll have to find a better spot and let me know where you go. I ate at Portillo's - and while it was cheap, it wasn't really anything special. 

Other Tips:

Get the bus pass! It was so convenient to not have to drive and pay parking. It's a bit confusing as to how to get a day pass for the Metro in Chicago. I found one at a CVS pharmacy, but I had to ask the cashier for it. 

Look for events that are happening in the city. I happened to go during Fourth of July weekend, and found that Taste of Chicago was happening (food festival) along with fireworks on Lake Michigan. I found that there are plenty of free events happening all year round throughout the city. 

Have fun! 

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June 28, 2011
This sounds interesting and affordable.
February 10, 2011
Cool! Chicago is one of my most favorite cities in the U.S.! If I win the lottery, I'd have bought myself an apartment here, LOL...
December 04, 2010
That pizza at Lou Malnati's looks amazing. I ahve seen it featured on Travel Channel and Food Network. Yum!
October 13, 2010
$110 for two nights in downtown? Deal! The last time I was there in college, I stayed in a city outside of Chicago instead to save money. I stayed in Harvey for about $30 a night, but I also needed to pay for parking in downtown, which is like, $30-something a day. Good call on those free museums, too! I definitely spent quite a bit of time in those. I'll have to remember your other tips for the next time I'm in. Thanks for sharing! :)
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Angelo Ignacio ()
I'm a Filipino-American living life as a post undergrad making a start here in beautiful Los Angeles. I love the weather and diversity here and enjoy everything this city has to offer. I'm excited to … more
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Chicago is the third largest city in the United States with more than 2.8 million residents. Adjacent to Lake Michigan, the Chicago metropolitan area (commonly referred to as Chicagoland) has a population of more than 9.7 million people in three U.S. states, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, and was the third largest metropolitan area in 2000.  Chicago is partitioned by the city into four main sections: Downtown (which contains the Loop), the North Side, the South Side, and the West Side. In the late 1920s sociologists at the University of Chicago subdivided the city into 77 distinct community areas. The boundaries of these areas are more clearly defined than those of the over 210 neighborhoods throughout the city, allowing for better year-by-year comparisons.
Chicago incorporated as a city in 1837 after being founded in 1833 and soon became the transportation, financial and industrial center of the Midwest. Today the city's attractions bring 44.2 million visitors annually.
Chicago became notorious worldwide for its violent gangsters in the 1920s, most notably Al Capone, and for its political corruption in one of the longest tenures of political machinery in the United States. The city has a notable and famous political culture, is a stronghold of the Democratic Party, and has been home to numerous influential politicians, including the first African-American president-elect of the United States, Barack Obama.

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