Many out-of-towners probably don’t think of Chicago as a prime beach destination, what with our land-locked locale smack in the middle of the Midwest and reputation for frigid winters. But with 26 miles of sand along Lake Michigan, the city has a surprisingly impressive summer beach scene. While we may not have waves big enough for surfing, Chicago’s 26 beaches have plenty else to offer. This is your guide to the city’s eight best beaches including where to sunbathe, where to swim, where to join a pick-up game of volleyball, and where to eat and drink while doing all of the above.
1. Montrose Beach
Montrose Beach? ?is by far one of the city’s most popular, and not just because it’s one of the biggest. The north end is designated dog-friendly, making it one of the only beaches of its kind in the city. It’s also home to? ?The Dock, a full-service? ?eatery? ?serving “Chicago” classics like hotdogs, fried pierogis and cheesecake. The restaurant and bar also hosts the weekly reggae showcase Jamdock. Another perk, the beach has ample parking so there’s no need to haul your inflatables on public transit.
Address: 4400 N. Lake? ?Shore Drive
2. North Avenue Beach
Ask just about any beachgoer which is their favorite Chicago beach and North Avenue? ?will likely be the answer. It’s just a short walk from Lincoln Park (via a pedestrian bridge over Lake Shore Drive) and home to an ocean liner-shaped beach house, where you’ll find the popular restaurant and bar? ?Castaways. North Avenue Beach has everything you could want, including abundant sand volleyball courts and an impressive view of the skyline. It’s often busy, but for good reason and the lively atmosphere is half the appeal. In August, the beach serves as the main viewing area for Chicago’s Air and Water Show. Get there early and bring plenty of sunscreen.
Address: 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive
3. Ohio Street Beach
If you’re training for your next triathlon or just looking to exercise, this Streeterville beach is for you.? ?Ohio Street Beach?? is popular among distance swimmers, who have more than a mile of shallow water along a seawall near the beach designated for them.
Address: 400 N. Lake Shore Drive
4. Oak Street Beach
Just steps from downtown,? ?Oak Street Beach is among the city’s better options. Every summer, an open-air restaurant by the same name sets up shop on the beach serving a menu that includes a Hawaiian burger and a summer Caesar salad. Oak Street is also home to the city’s largest deep-water swimming area?.
Address: 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive
5.? 63rd? ?Street Beach
The jerk chicken served at Belly Up, a stall selling Jamaican (and other) fare at 63rd Street Beach will have you feeling like you’re in the Caribbean instead of Chicago. It’s located in historic Jackson Park and home to an iconic pavilion popular for beachfront weddings and events. There’s also an interactive splash pad and fountain where you can let your inner-kid run free, or take a more adult approach to getting wet by hitting the distance swimming section that runs along the shore.
Address: 6300 S. Lake Shore Drive
6. 31st Street Beach
By far one of the best beaches that Chicago’s South Side has to offer, the strip of sand at 31st Street has all the fixings for a great day in the sun. There’s a concession stand, restrooms and a lifeguard station, making this a great spot for families with young swimmers. There’s also an impressive playground nearby for when your kids inevitably get bored with their sand toys.
Address: 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive
7.? ?12th Street Beach
Good views and the great outdoors are what you’ll get at this near South Side spot. Located conveniently close to the nature trails of? ?the 91-acre? ?Northerly Island? ?(but really, it’s a peninsula), a visit to 12th Street? ?Beach? ?will have you poised for an entire day of outdoor activities should you be interested. The beach also offers one of the best northward views of the city.? ?After working up an appetite hiking, swimming and sunbathing, pop into Del Campo’s, an authentic Mexican-fare stand selling everything from tortas and tacos to ceviche right on the beachfront.
Address:1200 S. Linn White? ?Drive
8. Osterman Beach / Hollywood Beach
Known formally as? ?Kathy Osterman Beach, this stretch of sand is a prominent Edgewater destination and popular with the city’s LGBT community. Along with one of the best views of Lake Michigan, Osterman Beach (also called Hollywood Beach) has a concession stand that serves a variety of food and alcoholic beverages.
Address: 5800 N. Lake Shore? ?Drive
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.