Forget Rodeo Drive or Fifth Avenue -- Chicago is the country's original shopping center, the place that helped the United States expand westward by transporting goods to the frontier. Today, the city is the commercial capital of the Midwest, attracting out-of-towners with its mix of designer boutiques, quirky independent clothing shops and cutting-edge home design stores.

The big names in fashion -- from Prada to Louis Vuitton -- are all represented here, but you don't have to be a big spender to enjoy a Chicago shopping spree. Indeed, the city's commercial success comes from offering something for everyone. Oak Street is known for its luxury boutiques, while bustling Michigan Avenue has everything from designer labels at Giorgio Armani to low-priced fashion trends at H&M. In the Loop, you can wander the massive Macy's (built in the 19th century as Marshall Field's and a Chicago architectural landmark), or bargain shop at a range of discount department stores. River North is home to a cluster of interior-decor shops, while the fashion-forward can find inspiration at the independent boutiques of Wicker Park.

Shopping Hours -- As a general rule, store hours are 10am to 6 or 7pm Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6pm Sunday. Stores along Michigan Avenue tend to keep later hours, since they cater to after-work shoppers as well as tourists. Almost all stores have extended hours during the holiday season. Nearly all of the stores in the Loop are open for daytime shopping only, generally from 9 or 10am to no later than 6pm Monday through Saturday. (The few remaining big downtown department stores have some selected evening hours.) Many Loop stores not on State Street are closed Saturday; on Sunday the Loop -- except for a few restaurants, theaters, and cultural attractions -- shuts down.

Sales Tax -- The biggest sales of the year take place in January, when retailers slash prices on winter clothing to make room for spring offerings. This is the best time to shop (if you didn’t blow all your bucks over the holidays), especially because Chicago has the highest total sales tax of any major city in the country at 10.25%. Car rentals are taxed at about 21%, hotel rooms at 17.4%, and soft drinks 13.25%. Ouch. Grocery items and medications are much less, at about 2%.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.