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Chicago is the largest city in Illinois, but it is not the capital. It is the third largest city in the United States and is often called The Windy City or The Second City.

Chicago has a population of approximately 3 million people, most of those residing in neighborhoods which radiate from an area in the city center called The Loop, so called because the elevated trains (the "El", or "L") create a loop where commuters can transfer between train lines with ease.

Chicago is located on Lake Michigan, which generally lies to the east of the city. The city has a long stretch of beautiful lakefront beaches and parks which can be easily traversed by foot or bicycle. There are bicycle rental places near Millennium Park (just east of any color "El" line stop in the Loop). Touring the lakefront is, of course, best done in good weather, but you can still do so year-round. Beware of forceful, lake-effect wind; she is a cruel mistress.

Getting Around

Public transportation is run by the Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA. It includes bus and train services and further information can be found on their website: http://www.transitchicago.com

The Chicago city trains, affectionately known as the "El" (or "L") for elevated include several lines, designated by color: Red, Blue, Brown, Purple, Yellow, Green, Orange and Pink. The Red and Blue lines run 24 hours; the remaining lines are usually closed between 1:00 a.m.-4:00 a.m. Visitor passes are available in various increments (e.g., 1 - 5 - 7 - 30 days) and can be purchased at the O'Hare Blue Line station; the Midway Orange Line station; CTA Pass Machines located at certain 'L' stations and area attractions (comprehensive list here); currency exchanges; and CVS, Jewel, Walgreens and various convenience stores, especially those located near train stations.

Neighborhoods of Note

Aside from the downtown stretch of Michigan Avenue (aka the "Magnificent Mile") that holds several major tourist attractions that anyone should see on their first time to Chicago - e.g., Millennium Park, Grant Park, Art Institute of Chicago, John Hancock Observatory and Museum of Contemporary Art - Chicago is also famous for its many neighborhoods that offer a distinct local flavor worth exploring.

The most popular (and populous) neighborhoods in the city are arguably Wrigleyville (Red Line ADDISON stop), Wicker Park (Blue Line DAMEN stop) and Lincoln Park (Red/Brown Line FULLERTON stop).

In addition, Logan Square (Blue Line LOGAN SQUARE stop), Andersonville (Red Line BERWYN or BRYN MAWR stop, then walk west to Clark), Lakeview (Red/Brown/Purple Line BELMONT stop) and Lincoln Square (Brown Line WESTERN stop) come highly recommended to any traveler visiting the city.

Last but not least, neighborhoods (just) off the beaten path such as Pilsen (Pink Line 18TH STREET stop, then walk east to Halsted), West Loop (Green/Pink Line MORGAN-LAKE stop), Hyde Park (Red Line JACKSON, then #6 JACKSON PARK EXPRESS bus south to Museum of Science and Industry), Bridgeport (Red Line 35TH STREET station, then #35 31ST/35TH bus west to Halsted) and the suburb of Evanston (any Purple Line stop; DAVIS is fairly central) are rich in character and should not be missed.

Tips

The cheapest beer in town is generally PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon, can be ordered by saying "PBR"), or Old Style. Both can run from $2-$4. While not brewed in Chicago, Old Style is often considered Chicago's Beer because it is popular at baseball and football games. Other local beers include Goose Island ("312" is most often on tap), Berghoff, and suburban gems: Three Floyd's and Two Brother's Brewing Companies.

Speaking of baseball games, day of game tickets can generally be found at the game for real cheap. $10 sometimes. Chicago has two baseball teams the Cubs (Red Line ADDISON) and the Sox (Red Line SOX/35th). Expect to pay more at for Cubs tickets than for Sox tickets.

Theatre is also something that is always happening in Chicago. There are upwards of 300 different theatre companies, so depending on what you want, you can probably find a play about it. Aside from Chicago's Loop Theatre District, there are a multitude of "Off-Loop" companies for your consideration. Best to consult the Chicago Reader, an alternative local newspaper, for more information on locations, times, and prices. Larger theatres include: Chicago Shakespeare (on Navy Pier), Steppenwolf (Red Line NORTH/CLYBOURN), Northlight (in the suburb of Skokie), Next Theatre (in Evanston, Purple Line NOYES), Court Theatre (Red Line GARFIELD then #55 Bus east), Lookingglass (Red Line CHICAGO), and The Goodman (Red Line LAKE). But definitely consider checking out a storefront production, often times better value (and better quality). The Theatre Building Chicago is a good bet (Red Line BELMONT, then walk west to Racine.)

Chicago is well-known for its contribution to Improv Comedy. Check out Second City (North and Wells in Old Town), Improv Olympic (Clark and Addison in Wrigleyville) and Comedy Sportz (Belmont and Wilson in Boystown). There are also various weekly comedy shows. Please check www.metromix.com/chicago for the calendar.

LGBTQ Tips

Chicago generally is a very safe place for LGBTQ people, having hosted the Gay Games in '06, and a very gay friendly Mayor Richard M. Daley. That being said, the city is made up of people and outside of the gay neighborhoods - even inside the gay neighborhoods - hate crimes have occurred. Like any big city it is friendly, but an ounce of caution is always a good idea.

The neighborhood hangouts for the queers are generally Boystown - guess what, its mostly boys! - (Red Line BELMONT) between Belmont and Addison on Halsted (close to Wrigley Field). It is the neighborhood that hosts Chicago's Gay Pride and also, a smaller happy gay party in August called North Halsted Market Days. Another spot to venture to is Andersonville (aka Girlstown, guess why!), which is at Foster and Clark streets (a little walk west of the BERWYN Red Line stop).

More off the beaten path though, are some very queer/artsy bars in Wicker Park during the week. For example, Chances Dances [1] is every third monday of the month at Subterranean (2011 W. North Ave.; Blue Line DAMEN). A beautiful dance party with beautiful happy queer hipsters. Rodan, just down the street at Milwaukee, while not being outright Gay, has a $3 Lychee Royale (think Lychee mimosa) special on Mondays that is pretty darn good and pretty darn gay friendly if you ask me. Also, in Boystown at LBC (Lakeview Broadcasting Company, located at Addison and Halsted) Thursday nights are girls night with fun DJs and very fun girls.

Chicago also hosts, every Memorial Day weekend, the IML meeting (International Mr. Leather). It's international, it's leather, it's something to see.