Photos: Chicago style

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  1. Windy City high

    A view of the Chicago skyline with Lake Michigan in the background from atop the Sears Tower Skydeck observation tower. Completed in 1973, the Sears Tower is the tallest building in the U.S. and a popular location for tourists. (Tim Boyle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Artsy avenue

    Two lions guard the entrance to The Art Institute of Chicago along Michigan Avenue. The institute was founded in 1879 as both a museum and school. (Jeff Haynes / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Rinse and spit

    Austin Hilsmier, then 3, from Chicago, looks back at his mom as he plays in Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Monumental view

    Visitors to Chicago's Millennium Park pass by the Millennium Monument. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A cloud's reflection

    Tourists gather under Anish Kapoor's "Cloud Gate" sculpture in Millennium Park. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Running the shore

    A man jogs along the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Great day for a stroll

    A woman pushes a baby buggy through a small playground nestled in downtown Chicago's Grant Park. (M. Spencer Green / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Bonding time

    A male trumpeter swan at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo takes his newly hatched offspring into the swan pond for a swim. (Greg Neise / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Botanic Garden

    The Chicago Botanic Garden features 23 beautiful gardens and three native habitats set on 385 acres of rolling hills and tranquil lakes. The garden is open year-round. (CNSCVB.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Aquamarine awe

    Visitors check out the three-million gallon Oceanarium exhibit at the Shedd Aquarium. The Oceanarium is the largest indoor marine mammal facility in the world and one of the few aquariums in North America to display Pacific white-sided dolphins and beluga whales. Cutting edge innovations introduced by the Shedd over the years has helped change the experience for visitors at aquariums around the country. (Nam Y. Huh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Preserving history

    The Evanston Historical Society, at the Charles Gates Dawes House in Evanston, Illinois. The chateauesque mansion of former U.S. vice-president Charles Gates Dawes, is three-and-a- half stories, has 25 rooms, six bedrooms, seven bathrooms and 11 fireplaces. This national historic landmark's exhibits focus on Evanston history. (CNSCVB.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Academic aerial

    Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. Founded in 1851, this renowned educational institution is rich in history and architecture. (CNSCVB.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Cycling heaven

    Two cyclists pedal along Lake Michigan in Chicago, during the early morning hours. Chicago has earned the reputation as a bike friendly city. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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updated 10/2/2008 9:34:14 AM ET 2008-10-02T13:34:14

Chicago has a reputation as a working-class city for a reason. Sure, there are fancy Gold Coast shops and $500-a-night hotel suites, but it's also possible to see Chicago's famous lakefront, eat its famous food and enjoy distinctive cultures on the cheap.

FIND YOUR WAY: Chicago's network of buses, subways and iconic elevated trains are a steal at $2 a ride. The Chicago Transit Authority offers unlimited-ride one- to five-day visitor passes that cost between $5 and $18.

For a free ride, catch one of four color-coded trolleys that shuttle tourists to and around Chicago's most popular destinations. It's a useful service considering the city's museum campus can be miles (and a $20 cab ride) from your shopping trip on Michigan Avenue. There's also a separate Lincoln Park trolley. Schedules and maps here.

For an affordable but fun way to get around, the Chicago Water Taxi travels on the Chicago River between Chinatown and the Magnificent Mile at a cost of $2 a ride.

ACCOMMODATIONS: Hotel rooms in downtown Chicago can be pricey. There are other options. Hostelling International operates an all-ages building in Chicago's Loop with 500 beds. Prices are between $28 and $34 a night.

HOT DOGS AND PIZZA: When it comes to cheap and authentic food, try a Chicago-style hot dog — pure beef on a poppyseed bun with tomatoes, relish, pickle spear, onions and celery salt.

Hot Doug's "The Sausage Superstore and Encased Meat Emporium" is a favorite on the city's Northwest Side. Hot dogs are $1.75 and a Polish sausage $2.50. If you're there on a Friday or a Saturday, don't miss the duck-fat fries for $3.50.

Another option is Superdawg on Milwaukee Avenue, where you can get a hot dog with fries for $4.75. No worries if you can't make it to one of these recommendations, there are hot dog stands all over Chicago.

Pizza, another Chicago food staple, also can be found on most neighborhood corners.

Other deals: Penny's Noodle Shop has cheap, good Thai food. The most expensive dish is $8.50. During lunch, Ronny's Original Steakhouse in the Loop offers an 8-ounce steak, baked potato, garlic bread and salad for $6.99.

Neighborhoods: Chicago's ethnic neighborhoods offer lots of food deals. If you're in Greektown or Chinatown you can feast for a few dollars on gyros and egg rolls; Indian and Pakistani fare is plentiful on Devon Avenue, on the city's North Side.

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GREAT OUTDOORS: Start the day with a stroll down Chicago's lakefront trail. The strip runs from the far South Side to trendy neighborhoods on the North Side, with a great view of Lake Michigan and the skyline. A tourist favorite is Oak Street Beach for its downtown vista.

The crown jewels of Chicago's lakefront are Grant Park and Millennium Park. Grant Park has free concerts, classes, outdoor movies and festivals. Millennium Park is home to Crown Fountain.

Admission to Lincoln Park Zoo is free and it's open year-round, even offering ZooLights displays during the holiday season. Plant lovers will want to visit the free Garfield Park or Lincoln Park conservatories.

CATCH THE VIEW FOR LESS: It costs between $15 and $25 for an adult to enjoy the view of Chicago from the John Hancock building's observation deck. But here's the local trick: Take the elevator to the Signature Room restaurant on the 95th floor and for the cost of a drink you can take in the skyline. It's cheaper than the Sears Tower Skydeck, which costs from $12.95 to $25 for adults, plus you get a drink.

Slideshow: Going for the gold

CULTURE: Chicago's museums can make for a pricey day with entrance fees nearing $30 for some attractions. But most offer free-admission days — the Chicago Children's Museum offers free Thursday nights and the Art Institute is free on Thursday and Friday nights. Check the museums' Web sites.

Some other Chicago museums are always free, including Navy Pier's stained glass displays and the National Museum of Mexican Art in the largely Hispanic neighborhood of Pilsen.

THEATER: Chicago's burgeoning theater district offers everything from glitzy musicals to independent dramas. Find day-of discounts here.

WALK THE CITY: Chicago is a diverse city teeming with different ethnic groups. Grab a map to discover African-American, Indian, Irish, Italian, Polish, Greek, Chinese, even yuppie, cultures with a self-guided walking tour.

If Chicago Blues is your interest or Millennium Park caught your eye, the city provides free audio tours of both in five languages for download to your iPod or MP3 player.

VISIT DURING THE WINTER: The city offers a Winter Delights program that features special hotel rates, shopping and dining deals and hospitality packages. The deals run from Thanksgiving through New Years.

OTHER DEALS: Be sure to visit the Chicago Office of Tourism's special values Web site for printable coupons.

The Go Chicago discount card can be a deal if you're planning to hit several of the city's tourist spots.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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