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Chicago Like a Local

So you've done the Art Institute and the Willis (Sears) Tower—now it's time to put away your tourist hat and make like a local. Luckily, it's not hard to figure out what Chicagoans like to do in their spare time. Here's how to follow in their footsteps.

Get Out of Downtown

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and in many of them you can see traces of each successive immigrant group. Each neighborhood in the city has its own flavor, reflected in its architecture, public art, restaurants, and businesses, and most have their own summer or holiday festivals. Here are a few standout ’hoods.

Andersonville. The charming diversity of the Swedish/Middle Eastern/gay mélange of Andersonville means you can have lingonberry pancakes for breakfast, hummus for lunch, and drinks at a gay-friendly bar after dinner.

Bronzeville. Bronzeville's famous local historic figures include Ida B. Wells—a women's-rights and African-American civil-rights crusader—the trumpeter Louis Armstrong, and Bessie Coleman, the first African-American woman pilot. The area has nine landmark buildings and is rapidly gentrifying.

Chinatown. The Chinese New Year dragon parade is just one reason to visit Chinatown, which has dozens of restaurants and shops and a quiet riverfront park.

Devon Avenue. Devon Avenue turns from Indian to Pakistani to Russian Orthodox to Jewish within a few blocks. Try on a sari, buy a bagel or electronics, or just people-watch—it's an excellent place to spend the afternoon.

Little Italy. Though most Italians moved to the West Side a couple of generations ago, Little Italy's Italian restaurants and lemonade stands still draw them back.

Pilsen/Little Village. The best Mexican restaurants are alongside Pilsen's famous murals. Be sure to stop into the National Museum of Mexican Art, which will give you an even deeper appreciation of the culture.

Brave the Cold

The city's brutal windy winters are infamous, but that doesn't keep Chicagoans from making the best out of the long cold months. Throw on lots of layers, lace up your ice skates, and show those city dwellers what you're made of.

The rink at Millennium Park (55 N. Michigan Ave., Loop 312/742–1168 www.millenniumpark.org) has free skating seven days a week from mid-November to mid-March and a dazzling view of the Chicago skyline. Skate rentals are $10 a session.

On the snowiest days some hardy souls cross-country ski and snowshoe on the lakeshore—bring your own equipment.

Loosen up by playing outdoor paddle tennis at Midtown Tennis Club (2020 W. Fullerton Ave. 773/235–2300 www.midtowntennisclub.com). If it's snowing, they turn on the heated floors.

Holiday-walk Chicago's windows during the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, in November, the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The celebration includes music, ice-carving contests, and stage shows, and ends in a parade and the illumination of more than 1 million lights.

Updated: 02-2014

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