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CHICAGO is in many ways the nation's last great city. Sarah Bernhardt called it "the pulse of America" and, though long eclipsed by Los Angeles as the nation's second
most populous city after New York, Chicago really does have it all, with less of the hassle and infrastructural problems of its coastal rivals.
Founded in the early 1800s, Chicago grew up with the country, serving as the main connection between the established east coast cities and the wide open Wild West frontier. This position on the
sharp edge between civilization and wilderness made the city into a crucible of innovation. Many aspects of modern life, from skyscrapers to suburbia, had their start, and perhaps their finest
expression, here on the shores of Lake Michigan.
For visitors, Chicago offers the Art Institute of Chicago and a wide range of excellent museums (many of which have one day of free admission per week), restaurants, sports and highbrow cultural
activities. However, its strongest suit is live music , with a phenomenal array of jazz and blues clubs packed into the back rooms of its amiable bars and cafés. The rock scene is also one of
the healthiest in the country with a prolific number of bands having come out of the city in the 1990s, including Smashing Pumpkins, Material Issue, Veruca Salt and Wilco. And almost everything is
noticeably less expensive than in other US cities - eating out , for example, costs much less than in New York or LA, but is every bit as good. Though locals might deny it, the city has a
surprisingly low-key and generally welcoming population - Chicagoans on the whole are proud of their city and usually keen to point out its best features. Two great ways to get a real feel for the
city are to head out to ivy-covered Wrigley Field on a sunny summer afternoon to catch baseball's Cubs in action, or take a cruise boat under the bridges of the Chicago River at sunset.