Chicago is one of the country's primary conference cities, and the hulking hotels that line Michigan Avenue do fill up when a big meeting hits town. Before planning your trip to Chicago, check with the Convention and Tourism Bureau to make sure a major conference won't strand you in the suburbs. If one does, choose Evanstona leafy college town, 12 miles north of the Loop, where accommodations like the Hotel Orrington offer big-city style (1710 Orrington Ave., Evanston; 847-866-8700; www.hotelorrington.com). Assuming you're neither shut out of Chicago proper nor confined to a conference rate, there is a range of new-wave grandes dames that tower around North Michigan Avenue; the Ritz-Carlton, Peninsula, and Park Hyatt are especially glossy. Smaller boutique hotels, such as the James, add a more personalized touch to your downtown stay. Some recent openings, such as Hotel Indigo and the Avenue Hotel, have brought budget-conscious optionsand weekend prices hovering between $200 and $250to the Gold Coast. The best chance of finding a hotel in Chicago under $200, however, is at a B&B located north of downtown: The neighborhoods of Boystown and Lincoln Park offer a number of options. Contact Bed & Breakfast Chicago for listings (www.chicago-bed-breakfast.com).