You might know Chicago as the birthplace of the skyscraper, the home of deep dish pizza, or as one of the largest urban cities in the country. But you might not know that we’re home to miles and miles of sandy shoreline, where you can swim, bike, kayak, boat, jet ski, paddle board, and more.

Chicago’s 26 miles of scenic lakefront includes numerous public parks and gardens, an 18-mile Lakefront Trail — and more than two dozen free beaches. Here are a few spots you can kick back and soak in the sun at Chicago’s beautiful beaches.

North Avenue Beach

North Avenue Beach is one of Chicago’s most popular beaches with locals and visitors alike, thanks to its spacious sands, cool beachfront bars, and convenient location near other top attractions (like the nearby Lincoln Park Zoo).

The first thing you’ll notice about North Avenue Beach is the sleek ocean liner-inspired beach house. It’s top deck is home to Castaways, a casual bar and grill that boasts some stunning views of the city. A little further up the beach, Shore Club offers a more upscale experience. Sip cocktails with your toes in the sand or reserve a private cabana with personalized bottle service.

Shore Club Chicago
Shore Club Chicago

Ready to work up a sweat? North Avenue Beach offers tons of recreation options. Get out on the water with a paddleboard, kayak, or jet ski rental. You can also rent bikes and cruise down the Lakefront Trail, take a beachfront yoga class, reserve a court and play beach volleyball, or just kick back in the sand and soak in the sun and skyline views. 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive (North Avenue and Lake Shore Drive)

31st Street Beach

Love water sports? 31st Street Beach (also called Margaret T. Burroughs Beach) is the place to be. Head to the 31st Street Harbor to find Chicago Water Sports Rentals, where you can rent jet skis, pontoon boats, kayaks, and paddleboards. The beach itself is located within Burnham Park, originally envisioned by legendary Chicago architect Daniel Burnham (best known for designing the 1893 World’s Fair), and features sweeping skyline views. 3100 S. Lake Shore Drive

Friday Night Flights

Oak Street Beach

Its close proximity to downtown and The Magnificent Mile makes Oak Street Beach an easy (and scenic) pit stop. That also means you’ll get an up-close view of some iconic Chicago buildings, like 875 N. Michigan Ave. and historic The Drake Hotel.

On the beach, you’ll find bike rentals, chair rentals, volleyball courts, and plenty of space to swim and spread out in the sand. This beach hosts a number of popular amateur and professional volleyball tournaments throughout the summer. 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive (Oak Street and Lake Shore Drive)

Hollywood Beach

Located in Edgewater, this beach is officially named Kathy Osterman Beach — though the locals just call it Hollywood Beach for its proximity to Hollywood Avenue. The calm waters and lack of boat traffic make it a popular spot with paddleboarders (you’ll find rentals and lessons right on the sand). Near the beach, there’s a playground and dog park, a natural area popular with migratory birds, and the northernmost point of the 18-mile Lakefront Trail. 4600 N. Lake Shore Drive

12th Street Beach

This unique beach is situated on the eastern edge of Northerly Island, a man-made peninsula that stretches along the lakefront. The beach area is located on the Lake Michigan side of the island, just south of the Adler Planetarium. It’s a spot known for spectacular, panoramic views, so make sure to bring your camera.

The area is also home to a 30-acre prairie reserve that’s good for bird watching, casual to-go spot Del Campo’s Tacos, and outdoor concert venue Huntington Bank Pavilion. The beach is located within the Museum Campus, offering easy access to the Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, and Shedd Aquarium. 200 S. Linn White Drive (Solidarity Drive and Linn White Drive)

Montrose Beach

Dogs love Montrose Beach as much as people do. Montrose Beach offers one of the only official dog beaches in the city, with a fenced-off section on the northern end of beach where pups can swim and run free without a leash. It’s also the largest beach in Chicago, which means there’s plenty of room for humans too.

Montrose Beach is a popular place for families, who set up umbrellas on the spacious sands or grill out in the grassy area just beyond the beach’s edge. The Dock at Montrose Beach is another hot spot. The large patio offers waterfront views, a casual menu, cold beer, and occasional live music. It’s also dog friendly, if you want to bring your four-legged friend after a day at the dog beach.

Montrose Beach also includes a natural area that attracts migratory birds during the fall and spring seasons. A serene dune habitat supports a variety of endangered plant life. 4400 N. Lake Shore Drive (Montrose Avenue and Lake Shore Drive)

South Shore Beach

South Shore Beach is perfect if you’re looking to soak up a little sun and culture. This beach is part of the South Shore Cultural Center, a gorgeous and historic building that houses a solarium, formal dining hall, a theater, the Washburne Culinary Institute, the Parrot Cage Restaurant (run by Washburne students), and the Dr. Margaret Burroughs gallery.

The beach itself includes a nature sanctuary, sand dunes, a small wetland, prairie landscape, woodlands, and plenty of sand and sun. The 65-acre area include a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, and a circular beach house with restrooms and showers. 7059 S. South Shore Drive (within the South Shore Cultural Center)

Rainbow Beach

This southside beach is named after a U.S. Army division that fought in WWII. The lakefront area was first established in 1908 and was originally known as Rocky Ledge Beach due to the rough terrain. The beach was extremely popular in the early 1900s, since rare electric lighting allowed local workers to enjoy the beach at night.

An expansion in 1918 connected Rocky Ledge with another nearby beach, creating the sandy shores of modern-day Rainbow Beach. Today, the area is home to sweeping skyline views, a gymnasium, fitness center, and multipurpose rooms, handball courts, two playgrounds, and one of the oldest community gardens in Chicago. 2873 E. 75th St. (75th St. and Lake Michigan)