Chicago

Chicago’s 21 Best Beaches to Visit This Summer

Your guide to hanging 10 in the 312.

We’re not sure which aspect of 2020 suckiness was more of a nightmare: A year without music festivals or a year without beach days. Thankfully, both are back in full force this summer, with all 26 miles of Chicago’s sparkling lakefront beaches fully reopened for the season from now until Labor Day. And in case you need a little refresher after our collective year off, here’s a definitive guide to getting reacquainted with one of the absolute best things about residing in the City by the Lake. Welcome back, Chicago. Now go grab some sand. (But first, don’t forget to check the park district’s site for the latest on swimming conditions and advisories.)

Leone and Loyola Beaches

Rogers Park
The adjacent beaches surrounding Loyola spans eight blocks from Touhy to Pratt, which makes them a popular option for those seeking a more laid-back northside venture. Shore-seekers will also find a fishing pier, softball fields, picnic grounds, a basketball court, and a playground located at Touhy and Sheridan.
What to know: Check out the colorful art along the sea wall—every Father's Day weekend, Rogers Park residents come together for Artists of the Wall Festival, where neighbors help paint a 600-foot community mural while enjoying live music. Sadly, old favorite Crepes on the Beach is now closed, but you can still hit Crepes in the Park in Lincoln Square’s Welles Park if you’ve got a hankering.

Tobey Prinz Beach

Rogers Park
Formerly known as Pratt Beach, this spot was renamed back in 2014 to honor community activist and founding member of the Rogers Park Community Council, Tobey Prinz. The fishing pier that separates this quiet stretch from the southern end of Loyola features jaw-dropping skyline views.
What to know: This beach bears no relation to Freddie Prinze Jr., just in case you were wondering.

Lane Beach

Edgewater
Lane Beach tends to be frequented by those looking for a more relaxed experience than one might encounter at nearby Osterman Beach. A playground is located on the west end, making it a popular after-school stop for families in the area.
What to know: Moody’s Pub is a five-minute walk from this lakefront chill zone. Park yourself there, house a burger, and then spend a little time digesting in the sun. Berger Park’s Waterfront Café, possibly the cutest outdoor waterside bar in all of Chicago, is also a short jaunt away.

Osterman Beach

Edgewater
Commonly known as Hollywood Beach, Osterman has long been a favorite among those in the know. While families tend to set up shop on the north end, the south end has been a summer hangout hotspot for the LGBTQ+ community for many years. Nacho Mama’s taco stand has sadly closed, but don’t let that deter you from a glorious day at the beach.
What to know: Fun fact: According to the park district, this beach, like a “surprising amount” of Lincoln Park, was constructed out of landfill—dig at your own risk.

Foster Beach

Edgewater
Foster can best be described as a slightly less crowded version of Montrose, attracting a diverse mix of younger beachgoers as well as families. The adjacent grassy park area is a hub for cookouts and other neighborhood gatherings, including Chicago Full Moon Jam, which features flame dancers, drumming, and more. Seems like as good a way as any to welcome summer back to town.
What to know: If the main strip is too crowded, the grassy section on the hill just past the beach is one of the breeziest, most idyllic escapes in all of Chicago.

Montrose Beach

Uptown
Thanks to ample parking and a wide variety of amenities ranging from free Wi-Fi to kayak rentals, Montrose Beach is constantly buzzing. There are plenty of food options here, including The Dock, which combines live music with tropical cocktails and a menu ranging from tacos and burgers to pierogi and jerk shrimp skewers. Several other smaller concessions are scattered around the area, rife with tacos, fruit, and elote, all of which you should definitely try. The fenced-in north end is reserved exclusively for dogs (and their people, of course) and stands proudly as Chicago’s first off-leash beach. The south end, on the other hand, is reserved for an entirely different purpose: A gorgeous native dune ecosystem that attracts an array of migrating birds. Take a stroll through this eight-acre nature habitat and you’ll quickly forget that you’re in the middle of the nation’s third largest city.
What to know: Montrose Point is both one of the most beautiful places in the city and a place you need to visit before you die. So yeah, we recommend it.

North Avenue Beach
North Avenue Beach | f11photo/Shutterstock

North Avenue Beach

Lincoln Park
North Avenue Beach is one-stop-shopping for smart-looking young folk looking to see, be seen, and stay fit. In addition to the variety of vendors and concessions—including everyone’s favorite summer hangout, Castaways—the downtown destination is also home to a bunch of fun activities. Visitors can go wakeboarding and paddleboarding with Chicago SUP, rent a kayak, play beach volleyball, or take advantage of the free Wi-Fi and pretend to get some work done. It’s also a prime vantage point for enjoying longstanding summer events like The Chicago Air and Water Show.
What to know:  Castaways is no longer the only game in town when it comes to boozing it up beneath the skyline, thanks to the 2017 opening of the more upscale Shore Club. Serving Mediterranean-inspired cuisine and beach-themed drinks throughout three distinct spaces near the lakefront path, the property includes a beachy open-air bar and fancy indoor restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows plus the exclusive RSVP-only Oasis at Shore Club complete with cabanas and day beds. A bit further up the road sits the beautiful Lakefront Restaurant at Fullerton and the lake, serving upscale Midwestern fare in the historic Theater on the Lake building. And while not technically on beach proper, it’s more than worthy of the short diversion.

Ohio Street Beach

Streeterville
During the day, Ohio Street Beach is mostly frequented by area residents, families squeezing in some time in the sun before or after a visit to nearby Navy Pier, and the occasional downtown working stiff playing hooky. Come 5 pm, the west end becomes occupied by distance swimmers eagerly swapping their business suits for wetsuits. While distance swimming is permitted elsewhere in the city, Ohio Street is Chicago's only north-facing beach, making it possible to swim 800 meters from the shore to the Oak Street curve without ever being more than a few feet away from the seawall. Take in the view with tropical cocktails at Caffè Oliva, which (like the beach) offers both fantastic water and skyline views.
What to know: We’ve already called it one of the most underrated beaches in Chicago as well as one of the best beaches on the Great Lakes. The real highlight, though, is its proximity to the similarly underrated Milton Lee Olive Park, where you can enjoy a peaceful post-dip promenade under the shady trees.

12th Street Beach
12th Street Beach | Flickr/Monika Thorpe

12th Street Beach

South Loop
Situated on the eastern edge of Northerly Island, 12th Street Beach happens to be one of the most well-hidden in Chicago. While distance swimming is allowed here, too, many visitors report running into submerged wreckage out there. And depending on the day and time, you may even be able to listen in on concerts taking place at neighboring Huntington Bank Pavilion
What to know: Fact: The only thing better than a hidden beach is one with a hidden taco shop.

Oakwood Beach

Oakland
Opened to the public in 2010, Oakwood—also known as 41st Street Beach—is both relatively new and still somewhat of a hidden treasure. Although it’s small in size, it manages to pack in a great beach house, a nearby picnic area, and volleyball courts. And, of course, you can’t beat the view!
What to know: Seriously, did we mention the view?

57th Street Beach

Hyde Park
Tucked away behind the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street Beach was designed by renowned landscape architects Olmsted and Vaux as part of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Parking is fairly easy west of Lake Shore Drive, and the beach is accessible via the pedestrian underpass. Once the sun goes down, head on over to nearby Promontory Point and gather around a bonfire pit (reservations needed).
What to know: While the criminally underrated Promontory Point is worth a visit to this beach alone, nearby (and always bumping) neighborhood music venue The Promontory makes the trip even more appealing.

63rd Street Beach

Woodlawn
Located at the southern end of beautiful and historic Jackson Park, 63rd Street Beach has long been a hit among water-loving Southsiders. In addition to amenities like a historic beach house that dates back to 1919, onsite showers, and concessions, this family-friendly spot also features a spray pool play area and a playground. Best of all, it’s one of the few places in the city where you can still comb the sand in search of seashells and beach glass.
What to know: Easily one of the greatest additions to the city’s beach scene in recent years, it’s pretty much impossible to have a bad time at Reggie’s on the Beach (operated by iconic South Loop music venue Reggie’s). And if you’re ever gonna get married, the stunningly opulent 63rd Street Beach House is the place to do it—maybe after a few drinks at Reggie’s.

Juneway Beach

Rogers Park
Blink and you may miss the city’s northernmost beach. This particular street-end spot isn’t ideal for sunbathing, particularly since its extremely tiny patch of sand occasionally gets buried under rising water levels.
What to know: Spread out your blanket on the soft grass of the surrounding Juneway Terrace Park and gaze at the lake from there. It’s much more comfy than laying on the rocky shore.

Rogers Beach

Rogers Park
Much like its neighbor to the north, Rogers is quite rocky and has minimal sand. Still, the adjacent grassy area is an ideal spot to relax with a book, and the on-site tennis courts make it a popular spot for local residents.
What to know: This is not a dog-friendly park, and locals can get ornery if you bring your four-legged friend with you. Also, the lifeguards have a reputation of taking their jobs a bit too seriously, so be on your best behavior.
 

Howard Beach

Rogers Park
Boasting sandier, although still somewhat rocky, terrain, Howard Beach is slightly more traditional than the other postage stamp-sized street-end beaches nearby. The 4-acre park includes a playground, making it a popular family destination.
What to know: If you’re looking for an Ibiza-style party, head elsewhere. The family vibe isn’t conducive to wildness.

Helen Doria and Hartigan Beaches

Edgewater
Fairly well-hidden behind residential buildings, both Helen Doria and Hartigan Beach tend to be frequented primarily by area residents. However, don’t let that stop you from paying a visit. Remember: All of Chicago’s beaches are completely open to the public. In 2016, the portion known as Columbia Beach was renamed in honor of Helen Doria, a well-loved local advocate who passed away in 2012.
What to know: There is no bathroom at Hartigan, but you can use the one at Loyola’s student center about two blocks south.

 

Belmont Harbor Dog Beach

Lakeview
While you wouldn't want to lay out here for obvious reasons, your pup will certainly love doing so. Given that this particular doggie haven is small in size and not as busy as others in the city, it’s a good starting point for anyone who wants to test the waters with their pup before letting it loose at a bigger park like Montrose.
What to know: This spot, within walking distance of Wrigley, makes for a fine excursion after a Cubs day game. Plus, the lakeside Sydney Marovitz Golf Course, easily the finest public course in the city, is just a stone’s throw away.

 

Margaret T. Burroughs Beach

Douglas
This stretch of lakefront formerly known as 31st Street Beach has received several impressive upgrades over the last few years. Not only did it get a brand new name, it now has a public fishing dock, a “green roof” picnic area, and a playground with a climbing wall. Along with paddleboard and jet ski rentals at Chicago Water Sports, there are a wide variety of events that attract a more grown-up crowd after dark, ranging from spin classes and live music to movies. Best of all? There’s now an on-site parking garage, which means you’ll spend less time jockeying for a space and more time in the sun.
What to know: With live jazz, house music dance parties, and a prime waterfront location, Pier 31 is one of Chicago’s most overlooked beach bars. Be sure to stop by.

South Shore Beach

South Shore
South Shore Beach is part of the South Shore Cultural Center, a historic landmark featuring a solarium, formal dining hall, and nine-hole golf course. The adjacent nature sanctuary has sand dunes, a prairie landscape, a small wetland, and a butterfly garden, and the beach itself features a circular beach house with concessions, restrooms, and showers.
What to know: If you don’t feel like driving and haggling over parking, the South Shore Metra drops you off steps away.

Rainbow Beach

South Shore
Like many South Side beaches, Rainbow has a lovely view of the Downtown city skyline, as well as Wi-Fi, free parking, a playground, handball courts, and a nine-acre natural dune habitat. What more can you ask for?
What to know: With a gymnasium and fitness center, it’s Chicago’s version of Muscle Beach. (OK, the gym is indoors, but you’ll still see a lot of buff people here.)
 

Calumet Beach

East Side
Located a stone’s throw away from the Indiana border, you'll find the delicious seafood spot Calumet Fisheries just a short 5-minute drive from here. Given that it’s not the most populated beach in Chicago, this stretch of shoreline is ideal for large gatherings. As part of the 200-acre Calumet Park, the area features a boat launch, softball and soccer fields, a playground, and several different concession stands. 
What to know: The view of smokestacks and factories isn’t the most enticing in the world, so if you’re looking for scenic beauty, head elsewhere.

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Lisa Chatroop daydreams about eating elote at Montrose Beach. Invite her to your next beach party via Twitter: @LisaChatroop or DailyUrbanista.com.
Jay Gentile is a Thrillist contributor and you can usually find him at Ohio Street Beach in the summer months when he is supposed to be working. Follow him @innerviewmag
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