Some people plan their city getaways during the off-season, to avoid crowds. But Parag Raja comes to Chicago when he knows he’ll find a crowd—and one-stop shopping for everything he loves about the Windy City.
“For the past six years, I’ve traveled to Chicago for Lollapalooza during the first week of August,” says the founder of travel outfitter TravelMore.com. “It’s in Grant Park, in the heart of the city, so you don’t have to travel to the middle of nowhere and camp. Instead, you can get a luxury hotel on Michigan Avenue, eat at Chicago's amazing restaurants, and in the evening walk over to the festival and enjoy the music. And I've made amazing friends from all around the world. ”
Indeed, as event spaces go, the urbane Windy City makes a richly accommodating one, and Travel + Leisure readers ranked it at No. 7 for its enticing festivals. Days-long parties were just one category in the magazine’s America’s Favorite Cities survey, where readers ranked 38 metro areas on such magnetic features as their live music, art scenes, theater, craft beer and even offbeat locals. Festivals tend to bring all those good things together—along with plenty of other kindred-spirit travelers.
Some of the winning cities boast a world-famous festival—like New Orleans and Mardi Gras, Memphis and Elvis Week, or Albuquerque and its International Balloon Festival. But New Mexico native Carolyn Flynn loves to give new fests a chance, too. The author recently went to Albuquerque’s inaugural Movies & Meaning Festival, launched by a blogger and featuring a Franciscan priest. “It drew an intelligent, contemplative and engaged crowd—think Sundance meets a Spirit Rock retreat and you might just have it—only with Venus the dog, [the priest’s] constant companion. It was unique.”