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The Insider's Guide to Lollapalooza

POSTED:
Lollapalooza 2011
Daniel Boczarski/Redferns

Every smart festival-goer knows to slather on the SPF, drink lots of water and not pack explosives when attending a massive music event like Lollapalooza, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer. But when the sold-out three-day festival hits Chicago on August 5th with 140 acts – including My Morning Jacket, Coldplay and Eminem – not everyone will know, say, where to find the best Chicago-style hot dog or the hottest beach party. Here are 10 tips to enhance your Lolla/Chi-Town experience.

Come Early, Leave Late: Lollapalooza shuts down at 10 p.m. every night, but the festival is famous for keeping the party going with its official post-concert gigs. Last year, Phoenix, MGMT and the Black Keys rocked local venues on their down-time from the fest; this summer, more than 50 acts, including the Arctic Monkeys, the Black Lips and Lykke Li, will drop by Chicago clubs to crank out bonus sets. The shows kick off on August 3rd with the Cold War Kids at Metro; other weekend gigs include Pete Wentz and his new band, Black Cards, at the Hard Rock Hotel (August 5th), and a two-day party (August 5th-6th) at the W Chicago City Center, which will feature DJ sets by Grace Potter and Danny Masterson from That 70's Show.

Map It Out: With Grant Park's 115 acres to cover – not to mention 95,000 fans wandering around – getting around the fest can be a slow process. This may sound like a no-brainer, but if you want to catch two bands whose sets start around the same time – like Friday headliners Coldplay and Muse, who play within 15 minutes of one another – budget in travel time, as stages may be at opposite ends ohf the park. To simplify the process, design a custom schedule on Lolla's website. Just highlight the bands you want to see, and the festival gods will spit out an itinerary laying out where you should be, when.

Drink Beer: Lollapalooza's Lederhosen Beer Garden boasts quality brews (Hoegaarden, Stella Artois) and shaded seating areas, but real beer lovers should quench their thirst outside festival grounds. Chicago is a beer mecca, with tons of craft breweries that churn out local, seasonal, creative offerings. Highly recommended: Goose Island's citrusy, Belgian-style Sofie and Half Acre's hop-heavy Daisy Cutter. If you don't have Lolla tickets for Saturday, jump on a tour at one of the local brewpubs (we recommend Haymarket on Randolph Street, which isn't far from Grant Park), where you might be able to score free suds.

Chow Down at Chow Town: Chicago is known for its groundbreaking cuisine, from classic comfort food (Lou Malnati's deep-dish pizza) to high-end gastronomy (Grant Achatz's Alinea). Both the low- and highbrow are represented at Lollapalooza's Chow Town, which is curated by hometown chef Graham Elliot and features more than 30 local vendors offering their trademark eats. Ones to try: gourmet Chicago-style hot dogs – topped with caramelized onions and cherry-tomato relish – from Franks 'N Dawgs; ice cream from the 85-year-old Chicago staple Original Rainbow Cone; and in a nod to Illinois' dairy-loving neighbor, Wisconsin fried cheese curds with rhubarb romesco from local foodie spot Bonsoiree.

And Then Eat More: The face-stuffing doesn't have to stop at Lollapalooza. For breakfast, we recommend Wicker Park spots Bongo Room, which has tasty seasonal pancakes (check out the orange-ricotta hotcakes with brown-sugar butter), and Jam, where the egg sandwich comes with pork cheek and green-apple ketchup. When lunchtime rolls around, head to Andersonville pizza icon Great Lake, where the mortadella-sausage pie made GQ's 2009 list of America's best slices. Grab a cheap dinner at Bucktown's Big Star – which was inspired by the Bakersfield, California honky-tonk bars where Merle Haggard once hung out – order some pork tacos and tequila (they have 19 different kinds), and dine al fresco.  

Be Eco-Friendly: Lollapalooza is a green festival, which means it's 100 percent carbon neutral (this summer, fest organizers will work to offset emissions created by the travel of Lolla artists) and promotes initiatives like recycling and composting, which all food vendors are required to do. Get in the eco-friendly spirit at Green Street, Lolla's multi-booth stretch of organic jewelry stands, fair-trade clothing and recycled art (think purses made from seatbelts). There's also a Farmer's Market, where vegans, vegetarians and those watching their calories can down shots of wheat grass and sample organic mushrooms.  

Bring Your Kids (if you have to): Carting children around a massive festival sounds like a nightmare, but at Lollapalooza, it doesn't have to be. Thank Kidzapalooza, a mini-festival designed for mini music fans (and parents whose babysitter canceled at the last minute). Kids younger than 10 get free admission, but anyone with a general festival ticket can swing by to hear family-friendly acts like Ralph's World and Brady Rymer. (Lolla founder Perry Farrell will also perform a DJ set.) If you're craving something slightly more hard-core than kiddie-rock, check out the hip-hop workshop, where a pair of Chicago rappers will teach your little ones how to flow, or get your kids inked at the (airbrush) Tattooz station.

Bike Around: There are lots of reasons to ditch your car for a bike in Chicago. The biggest: parking spots are pricey and nearly impossible to find. Plus, Chicago is one of the country's most bike-friendly cities, with 117 miles of on-street cycle lanes, more than 12,000 bike racks and a scenic, 18.5-mile bike trail that runs along Lake Michigan. If you don't have your own wheels, $20 will buy you a day pass on a cruiser from B-cycle, the city's bike-sharing program. (Just pick up and drop off your ride at one of Chicago's six stations; the Columbus and Congress location is closest to the festival.) Local company Bike and Roll is also offering a rental discount – $65 for five days – to Lolla ticket holders from August 3rd-9th (bikechicago.com/lollapalooza). Snag free bike parking at the McDonald's Cycle Center in nearby Millennium Park.

Roll on the River: Even if you're not an architecture nerd, chances are you'll dig Chicago's Architectural Cruise. For $38, grab a seat on the Chicago Line's two-decker boat and sail down the Chicago River while you learn how the city became an architectural hub. Drink complimentary Starbucks coffee and scarf fresh-baked muffins (yes, really!) while taking in the 1,454-foot Sears Tower, the gothic masterpiece Tribune Tower and Marina City's corn-cob-style buildings, which are featured on the cover of Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

Get Your Swim On: After baking in the Chicago heat all day, there's nothing better than diving into an ice-cold body of water, be it chlorinated (a pool) or semi-polluted (Lake Michigan). For the former, stay at a hotel with an outdoor swimming hole – the Double Tree Magnificent Mile, Avenue Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn Chicago-Downtown all have 'em – or try to sneak past the front desk with your bathing suit. (Bonus: If the pool is on the hotel's roof, like the Avenue Crowne Plaza's, expect killer skyline views.) For an indoor dip, visit the 82-year-old pool at Hotel Intercontinental on Michigan Avenue, which – fun fact! – was a favorite of Olympic swimmer and Tarzan star Johnny Weissmuller. If Great Lakes are more your thing, hit the always-packed North Avenue Beach, where Spring Break-style parties, complete with volleyball tournaments, pina coladas (from nearby Castaways bar) and lots of beefy, shirtless dudes, are usually raging.

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