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Shopping at Chicago’s ‘magnificent mile’

A visit to Chicago wouldn’t be complete without some shopping time.

Shopping in Chicago began on State Street with the opening of the original Marshall Field’s Department store in 1852.

Today, the former Field’s flagship store is known as Macy’s on State Street and shoppers still find an outstanding selection of men’s and women’s apparel, an extensive house wares department, several fine restaurants, a food court and a visitor center.

Your shopping experience must include a stroll along the fabled “Magnificent Mile”. This strip runs along Michigan Avenue from Oak Street to the Chicago River.

Amidst department store giants such as Marshall Field’s, Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, are hundreds of specialty shops and boutiques offering goods from around the world. Oak Street, just west of Michigan Avenue, is a boutique shopper’s dream.

An abundance of shopping can also be found at The Shops at North Bridge, Water Tower Place, the 900 North Michigan Avenue Shops, Chicago Place Shopping Center, Navy Pier and “The Shops at the Mart” located at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

I’ve always wanted to return to the “Magnificent Mile” during the December holiday period to view the holiday decorations. I imagine that the displays will be stunning and very comparable to New York City’s.

But my next journey is scheduled for early March 2010 as I’m working with the Ironton in Bloom folks on plans to attend the Chicago Flower and Garden Show being held at Navy Pier.

The weather will be brisk but the brilliant colors of the plants and garden should brighten up the dreary dull grey skies.

Chicagoans are famous for taking two food classics very seriously: pizza and hot dogs. Be sure to sample these two favorites during your visit then you can officially join in the debate between NYC and Chicago of who has the better pizza and hot dogs.

Personally I prefer a thin crust pizza but the loaded Chicago style deep dish pizza is unbelievable. A debate rages over who invented the first deep dish pizza but two of my favorites are Pizzeria Uno and Giordano’s.

When I was here in June the wait time for a table in the early evening was close to 2 hours. So you can see that these pizza joints and dining options are very popular so arrive early or better yet make reservations.

According to my seat mates at Wrigley Field a Chicago Style hot dog is a steamed all beef hot dog topped with yellow mustard, bright green relish, onions, tomato wedges, pickle spear or slice, hot peppers and a dash of celery salt served in the all-important steamed poppy seed bun.

The toppings are just as important as the order they are applied to the hot dog. Add toppings in the following order: yellow mustard, bright green relish I swear this stuff would glow in the dark, fresh chopped onions, two tomato wedges, a pickle spear, two hot peppers and a dash of celery salt.

Sorry Chicago but my preference is still just a dog slathered in Cleveland Stadium mustard. I tried a few of the Chicago mutts at Wrigley Field and found them both tasty and filling.

Another discovery was Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap. It’s right downtown at the corner of Wabash and Superior. It serves up your typical pub grub but I was thinking about tackling their 8 pound monster burger.

After all I polished off the Norm Burger at Boston’s Bull and Finch pub. You know the one made famous by the TV show Cheers. However after I saw one of Jake’s monster burgers on the platter I decided that a regular Jake burger would do.

Regardless of your tastes you are bound to find it in Chicago land. From contemporary dining to ethnic Chinese to soul food the dining scene is stunning whether you’re downtown or in one of the 77 neighborhoods excellent.

Visitors to Chicago have plenty of lodging options ranging from hostels to ultra deluxe hotels. Prices vary greatly according to location, days of the weeks, special events so planning ahead may be the best route to go to get the best rates.

Or take a chance and gamble with last minute savings offered by on-line discounters’ hotwire.com.

The downtown loop and shopping/entertainment area is fairly compact so just about any major hotel offered by hotwire should put you right in the heart of it.

If I am not going the discounter route of making reservations some of my personal favorites in the downtown/loop district are moderate properties like the Best Western River North, Hotel Cass, the Ambassador East or the Seneca a boutique condo hotel.

For drivers the Best West River North offers free parking otherwise I would look at staying out in the suburbs and riding the “L” into town. Downtown parking is very pricey and at times extremely limited.

You should also be able to find a much lower rate than in the city center.

Of course there are plenty of additional choices depending on your preferences and budget. For a complete listing contact your travel agent or visit the Chicago Tourism office (www.choosechicago.com).

Got travel questions or concerns I’ll be happy to chat with you about them. Just contact me at thetravelprofessor@gmail.com.