Places like California and Hawaii have the obvious advantage when it comes to stunning stateside beaches. But with 26 miles of shoreline facing massive Lake Michigan, Chicago is home to a vastly underrated beach scene that was built for recreation. Man-made to be used primarily as parkland, Chicago’s 24 beaches run the gamut from rocky urban oases to sandy playgrounds for kids of all ages. And these five are some of our favorites.
North Avenue Beach
By far one of the most popular beaches in the city is this large sandy splay jutting east of Lincoln Park. Volleyball is huge here, thanks to courts on the south-central side of the beach, and the unique beach house, a 22,000-square-foot building modeled after an ocean liner, offers plenty of upper-deck vantage points for staring at the freshwater “sea.”
Oak Street Beach
Equally popular Oak Street Beach is a see-and-be-seen kind of scene, as it’s wedged in a popular corner of Lake Michigan adjacent to the ritzy Gold Coast neighborhood. Stunning views of the looming skyline and eye-catching murals round out the attractions, as well as popular canteen Oak Street Beach Food & Drink, with daily drink specials such as Sangria Sundays with $5 glasses and $10 buckets, or Wine-Down Wednesdays with $5 glasses.
On Chicago’s North Side in Uptown sits the city’s largest beach, with ample parking for its visitors. And with waters closed off by a jetty, Montrose is one of few beaches welcoming non-motorized watercraft, including kayaks. (There’s a rental facility here, too.) Other features include the adjacent dog beach on the north side and the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary to the south.
Ohio Street Beach
Because of its unique location between the Streeterville neighborhood and Jardine Water Filtration Plant, this modest beach is oriented east-west instead of north-south, making it advantageous for open-water swimmers. There’s a full half-mile of protected swimming before spilling into the greater lake waters. Ohio Street Beach is also in close proximity to the family-friendly tourist hub of Navy Pier.
Though technically a park, we love this little patch of lakefront public land in the Edgewater neighborhood. Visit the onsite historic mansion (originally named the Downey Mansion), once one of many along this section of the lake, and check out its beautiful antiques, woodwork and lake views. Hang out till evening and you might catch a band at the Waterfront Café, the charming eatery on the park’s south side, as well as some eats — appetizers of nachos or shrimp tempura, wraps (from falafel to pesto-Cajun chicken), the waterfront fish and chips and more.
Photo Courtesy of Chicago Park District