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A Beautiful Stay in the Neighborhood
Chicago is, famously, a city of neighborhoods. Chicagoans like to define themselves by where they hang their hat, with attendant pride, snobbery, or aspirations to street cred (of all kinds). For visitors, setting up a temporary base in one of the neighborhoods offers many advantages. This is especially true for leisure travelers. Without an expense account to ease downtown's hotel bills and menu shock, staying right in downtown can get very expensive very quickly.
When choosing accommodations, it pays to look beyond the Loop and the Magnificent Mile.
A walk up Clark Street or Lincoln Avenue in Lincoln Park opens up miles of reasonably priced dining possibilities. Along one short stretch of the former you'll pass an excellent fusion restaurant, a take-out crepe place, a grocery store, and a couple of diners where the waitress might call you "hon." Remember that the next time you're called something else in the Loop.
There's also better and cheaper parking. Downtown you'll usually pay at least $30 a day. Rates at garages in outlying neighborhoods are less. There's even a chance, albeit rather remote, of finding street parking. Some days that's like saying there's a chance of a Republican mayor, but it happens.
The best reason to stay in a neighborhood is the chance to immerse yourself in the rhythms of the city. You get a chance to live as most Chicagoans live. In the neighborhoods you'll see the sky. You'll have countless distinctive restaurants and shops to browse in.
If you'd like to be somewhat near downtown, the happening Lincoln Park and Lakeview neighborhoods offer a handful of hotels. As a bonus, accommodations are relatively near the lakefront. Most also have relatively easy access to public transportation or routes well traveled by cabs. A determined walker can even get from Lincoln Park to the Magnificent Mile in a half hour.
Getting to downtown sights from farther afield may sound like too much trouble. But keep in mind that thousands upon thousands of Chicagoans make the trip every day. And, like them, you'll come home to something vital and intriguing at night. Much of the Loop, on the other hand, becomes relatively quiet after rush hour. In places like Lakeview the starting gun goes off at 7 pm.
The neighborhood experience isn't for everyone. Those determined to "see it all" may find the journey in from such outposts takes too much time. Also, small hotels and B&Bs cannot offer the same pampering and facilities that are typical at the luxury digs downtown.
It's a search for small moments, for random encounters, for something indefinable—the vibe, you might say—that most appeals to visitors who stay in outer neighborhoods. Each area's rhythm is different. And it's easier to hear the city's songs away from the hustle and bustle, and tall buildings.
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