Road Trip! Destination: Chicago

| Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012

Wintry winds blowing across Lake Michigan might put a chill on Chicago's tourist scene. But they also increase the chances of a warm welcome from the city's hotels that hope to encourage visitors with lower rates and special packages.

With hotel rates as low as $79 a night, and fewer crowds at tourist sites during the day, Chicago is more affordable and more accessible at this time of year, writes Christina Pundavela in a press release for , the city's official tourism website.

With a wealth of diverse and interesting restaurants, a vibrant cultural scene and outstanding examples of architecture, it's no wonder that Frommer's, the travel-guide producers, named Chicago its top city-break destination for 2012.

Meander the Magnificent Mile

Superb shopping is only one reason to visit Michigan's famed "Magnificent Mile." The stretch of Michigan Avenue between the Chicago River and Oak Street does offer department-store giants such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's and specialty shops and boutiques. But it's also home to some of the city's most iconic and historic buildings:

You can catch the sunset over Chicago and four surrounding states from cafe on the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center, delight in the Art Deco touches on the Palmolive Building (919 N. Michigan Ave.), examine the gargoyles and flying buttresses on the Tribune Tower (435 N. Michigan Avenue)or admire the gleaming white terra-cotta grandeur of The Wrigley Building (400 N. Michigan Ave.).

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Take in a show

Chicago is home to more than 200 regional theaters. There's a bustling improv-theater scene performed by companies that include the world-famous improv troupe The Second City. Theatergoers will find a richly diverse selection of locally produced dramas, comedies and musicals at area theaters, including the five that have won the Tony Award for regional theater -- Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theater, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Lookingglass Theatre and Victory Gardens Theatre. The budget-conscious should check out Hot Tix, which offers half-price theater tickets online, as well as at two downtown ticket-booths locations: across from the Chicago Cultural Center and in the Water Works Visitor Center.

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Go Deep Dish Diving

Chicago-style pizza is not a finger food. Use a knife and fork when digging in to this deep-dish version that comes with generous portions of mozzarella, sausage and sauce held in place by a thick, 2-inch-tall crust. The original recipe still can be enjoyed in Pizzeria Uno, where it was born in 1943.

Although the restaurant gave birth to a multi-location international chain -- Uno Chicago Grill -- the original Pizzeria Uno retains its mid-20th century ambience and still serves founder Ike Sewell's recipe.

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Call on Frank Lloyd Wright

In 1908, long before Frank Lloyd Wright built Fallingwater, the visionary architect began creating The Robie House for forward-looking Chicago businessman Frederick C. Robie. Many consider the Robie House one of the most important buildings in the history of American architecture and a sterling example of the Prairie style and modernism. Now on the campus of the University of Chicago, the house can be visited inside and out.

Details: 312-294-4000 or .

Contemplate Kitsch

Offbeat and a bit off the beaten path, the Busy Beaver Button Museum can be found inside the company headquarters of the Busy Beaver Button Co. in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood.

The company, which manufactures the sort of custom pin-back buttons handed out by advertisers and political campaigners, opened the museum last year with its display of hundreds of historical buttons. Some are silly or whimsical.

Others contain serious messages or show support for political and social campaigns. All are intriguing works of art created on a small, generally circular surface.

While you're in the neighborhood, go the extra mile to Sam's Red Hots for an authentic Chicago hot dog: a Vienna-brand all-beef frank adorned with yellow mustard, pickle relish, chopped onions and a pair of piquant peppers. Top off your hot lunch with dessert at Margie's Candies, (1960 N. Western Ave.), across the street from Sam's, where they've been serving sundaes since 1927.

Welcome Back Chagall

With more than 260,000 artworks and artifacts, The Art Institute of Chicago's encyclopedic collection appeals to a broad spectrum of interests and tastes.

Its collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintingS particularly is strong, with world-class works by Degas, Seurat and Monet.

Be sure to stop by Marc Chagall's "America Windows," six stained-glass panels that celebrate America's cultural and religious freedoms.

Recently reinstalled after a five-year absence for conservation, the panels glow even more vibrantly in their new setting.

Details: 312 443-3600 or .

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