Beach vacation or city escape? You don't have to choose with Chicago! Dip your toes into the cool, blue freshwater and soft sand at Chicago beaches that stretch along Lake Michigan. Chicago boasts 26 miles of shoreline, 26 free beaches and an 18.5-mile long bike path along the waterfront. While most cities build industrially all the way up to their respective lakefronts, Chicago's remains an open playground to the public.
Below is some background on some local favorites, but be sure to check out the Chicago Park District at cpdbeaches.com for a complete list, plus the daily advisories or swimming restrictions at each Chicago beach.
- Downtown: South Loop
- 200 S. Linn White Drive (Solidarity Drive and Linn White Drive)
The site of the former Miegs Filed airport is now a 91-acre peninsula
just a short walk from the Adler Planetarium. The area boasts a 30-acre
prairie reserve and, given its proximity to the Lake Michigan, is a
popular "hang out" for migratory and resident birds. The prairie was
burned for the first time in 2007 to manage invasive plants and
encourage native prairie grasses.
Summer concerts set up on Northerly Island at the FirstMerit Bank Pavilion so give the schedule a look for ticket availability for major headliners like Modest Mouse, Bryan Adams and 311.
beach itself is very family friendly given its Museum Campus location,
and offers spectacular skyline views as you walk its peninsula-like
- Neighborhood: Hyde Park
- 6300 S. Lake Shore Dr. (Lake Shore Drive and Hayes Drive)
Located in Jackson Park, 63rd Street Beach is one of Chicago's oldest
and most storied parks. The designers of New York City's Central Park,
Olmsted and Vaux, planned Jackson Park in 1871. By 1888, an area made
from granite bricks extended the lakefront, creating a paved beach. In
1899, when Chicago's innovative Drainage Canal began diverting sewage to
other locations, the lakefront became a common sport for public
bathing. They were simpler times.
By the early 1900s community planners extended the beach's sand area by
ten acres. An elaborate bathing pavilion was constructed in 1919 and is
better known today as the historic 63rd Street Beach House, a celebrated
landmark of the area.
- Neighborhood: Rogers Park
- 230 W. Greenleaf Ave. (Greenleaf Avenue and Sheridan Road)
In 1909 the North Shore District concentrated its resources on purchasing beachfront real estate and developing a boating basin known as North Shore Park. Less than ten years later the District had acquired nine more acres of lakeshore property, built a small fieldhouse and provided public game rooms. The popularity of the park quickly sky rocketed, bringing droves to the beach in the summer months and filling the ice with skaters in the winter.
In the mid-1930s the Chicago Park District took control of the property and held a contest to choose a new name for the area. Neighborhood residents favored the name Loyola Park, an ode to nearby Loyola University. Over the next half century Loyola Park grew to over 20 acres in size. Today, it's a central hub for a series of street-end beaches in Rogers Park.
- Neighborhood: Uptown
- 4400 N. Lake Shore Dr. (Montrose Avenue and Lake Shore Drive)
The largest beach in Chicago is a favorite for dog lovers as it contains one of only a pair of Park District-run dog beaches. A fenced off section on the northern end of the Montrose Beach Dog Friendly Area is open to playful pups who are free to run without a leash once inside the contained area.
The location's beach house was designed by EV Buchsbaum and, unfortunately, lost the east wing to a fire in the 1950s. Although the east wing was never rebuilt, the house has been remodeled recently with a 3,000-square-foot patio deck and a full service restaurant. Chicago's July 4th fireworks are held in three locations throughout the city, Montrose Beach hosts the procession for the City's North Side.
- Neighborhood: Lincoln Park
- 1600 N. Lake Shore Dr. (North Avenue and Lake Shore Drive)
Widely considered Chicago's trademark beach, North Avenue is conveniently located just north of downtown Chicago in the picturesque neighborhood of Lincoln Park. Boasting a seven million dollar beach house and the immensely popular Castaways Bar & Grill, it's a favorite amongst locals and visitors. You can't miss it... it takes the shape of a massive ship.
The beach hosts international volleyball tournaments like Volleywood and the AVP Chicago open. Beach volleyball and yoga are just a few of the activites you can pick up while you're there. It's also a popular vantage point for the always exciting Chicago Air and Water Show.
Great people watching, a palm tree-covered oasis and close proximity to downtown make Oak Street Beach a sure bet. If you want refreshments, escape to Oak Street Beach Food + Drink. If you want to check out street art, take the underpass for the Jeff Zimmermann mural.
And for a little history lesson, read on: In the late 1800s, the construction of a breakwater system at the mouth of the Chicago River led to a buildup of sand just north of the area. As the space grew in size, it became a haven for squatters who claimed the newly formed land as their own. Naturally, this led to a bevy of property disputes.
Most famous, perhaps, is the land quarrel between the City and George Streeter in 1886. Streeter encouraged dumping around a small sandbar, which eventually turned into a sizeable island. He claimed this manmade oasis for himself, sold parcels to naïve buyers at the Tremont Hotel, and, to the bafflement of his neighbors, declared the area "The District of Lake Michigan" — neither a part of Chicago or Illinois. This, predictably, triggered a dispute between Streeter and the City that, at times, involved gun fights. Eventually, Streeter was evicted and the island was filled in, giving birth to the micro-neighborhood known today as Streeterville — and the home to Oak Street Beach.