Chicago often is called the Second City, a self-mocking nickname that places it runner-up to New York, but although the popular comedy troupe embraces the moniker, there's nothing second rate about this jewel of the Midwest.
Known as the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago's home to some of the nation's top chefs, best sports teams, and most prized cultural treasures. Its iconic skyline overlooks Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely in the United States. Known as the Windy City, both for its frigid temperatures and blustery politicians, the third-largest city in the U.S. is the heart of America's Heartland, from the bustling downtown business district known as the Loop to the leafy and luxurious Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Chicagoans take pride in being a hardy, hard-working bunch. The city was once the country's meatpacking capital, and poet Carl Sandburg described it as the "city of big shoulders, hog butcher for the world." This tough town survived the massive fire of 1871 to rebuild one of the world's most recognizable skylines. Culturally, it has one of the world's best collections of impressionist art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Chicagoans are also fanatical sports enthusiasts. Every major sport is represented, ensuring that any time of year, a game is being played somewhere. The NFL's Chicago Bears play in the modernist marvel Soldier Field, while Michael Jordan's statue stands guard in front of the United Center where the NBA's Chicago Bulls play, as well as the 2010 and 2013 NHL Stanley Cup winners, the Chicago Blackhawks. Although Chicago's home to two Major League Baseball teams, it's the historic ivy-covered walls of Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs that hit a home run with tourists.
Chicago's winters are downright frightful, which means that when spring finally arrives, Chicagoans celebrate like giddy school children. That's when the Windy City, also known as the city of neighborhoods, also becomes the city of festivals. From May through September, block parties, street festivals, music fests or art fairs are in swing. Blues Fest, Jazz Fest, Taste of Chicago, Lollapalooza and just about every type of ethnic festival you can imagine are celebrated in what's been called the quintessential American city.
Another hot spot in the summer is the beach. Architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham is credited with protecting the Lake Michigan shoreline, known in the Midwest as America's Third Coast, as public space for all to enjoy. One-hundred years after he proclaimed "The lakefront by right belongs to the people," the 18 miles of continuously connected public waterfront remain one of the best things about Chicago.
While the Windy City is far from being a cruise hub, those lucky enough to spend time here as they embark or disembark on a Great Lakes cruise, will find the city of broad shoulders gives no one the cold shoulder, just a friendly Midwestern welcome.
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