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, sip cocktails on the waterfront, 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 that open to the public every summer in Chicago. Here are a few spots you can kick back and soak in the sun at Chicago’s beautiful beaches.
Find Chicago beaches by activities:
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).
What to do: Ready to work up a sweat? North Avenue Beach offers tons of recreation options. Get out on the water with a paddleboard or kayak or a Jet Ski. You can also rent bikes and cruise down the Lakefront Trail, take a beachfront yoga class, play beach volleyball, or just kick back in the sand and soak in the sun and skyline views.
Where to eat: The first thing you’ll notice about North Avenue Beach is the sleek ocean liner-inspired beach house. The top deck is home to Castaways, a casual bar and grill that boasts some stunning views of the city. Also right on 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.
Explore more: Dine with a view at these waterfront restaurants and bars.
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.
What to do: 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.
Where to eat: Reserve a cabana at Whispers at Oak Street Beach, where you can enjoy waterfront views and upscale beach fare, like ahi tuna nachos, crab cakes, and duck confit tacos.
A little farther north, you’ll find a tranquil atmosphere at Loyola Beach, named for the nearby Loyola University campus. The quieter atmosphere, ample green space, and a playground make it a family favorite. Nearby, the Glenwood Avenue Arts District in the Rogers Park neighborhood offers vibrant murals, music venues, theaters, art galleries, and a mix of shops and restaurants.
What to do: Around the beach, you’ll find Divvy bike rentals, sand volleyball courts, a natural area, 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.
Explore more: Discover top things to do with our summer guide to Chicago.
31st Street Beach
Love water sports? 31st Street Beach (also called Margaret T. Burroughs Beach) is the place to be. 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.
What to do: Head to the 31st Street Harbor to find Chicago Water Sports Rentals, where you can rent Jet Skis, pontoon boats, kayaks, and paddleboards.
What to eat: Pier 31is a beachside bar and grill featuring a walk-up window and plenty of outdoor seating.
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 beach is also a beloved part of the city’s thriving LGBTQ+ scene.
What to do: The calm waters and lack of boat traffic make it a popular spot with paddleboarders. 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.
What to eat: Aura on Osterman Beach is a casual beachfront bar by popular neighborhood restaurant Uvae Kitchen & Wine Bar.
12th Street Beach
This unique beach is situated on the eastern edge of Northerly Island, a man-made peninsula that stretches along the lakefront. It’s a spot known for spectacular, panoramic views if the surrounding cityscape, so make sure to bring your camera.
What to do: The area is home to a 30-acre prairie reserve that’s good for bird watching, casual concession 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.
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.
What to do: 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. 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.
Where to eat: The Dock at Montrose Beach is another beach 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.
South Shore Beach
South Shore Beach is perfect if you’re looking to soak up a little sun and culture, thanks to the nearby South Shore Cultural Center. The beach itself includes a nature sanctuary, sand dunes, a small wetland, a prairie landscape, woodlands, and plenty of sand and sun. The 65-acre area includes a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts, a circular beach house with restrooms and showers, and excellent city views.
What to do: When you’re done on the beach, walk over to South Shore Cultural Center, a gorgeous and historic building that houses a solarium, formal dining hall, a theater, and the Dr. Margaret Burroughs gallery.
Explore more: Check out things to do, see, and eat in the South Shore neighborhood.
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.
What to do: Today, the area is home to sweeping skyline views, a gymnasium, a fitness center, and multipurpose rooms, handball courts, two playgrounds, and one of the oldest community gardens in Chicago.
57th Street Beach
Tucked in the Hyde Park neighborhood, fewer crowds make 57th Street Beach an ideal spot for picnicking or building sandcastles. The beach is part of historic Jackson Park, one of the city’s oldest parks and the site of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The beach is the perfect stop after exploring the Museum of Science and Industry across the street.
Find Chicago beaches by activity
Chicago beaches with waterfront dining
Sip cocktails with your toes in the sand, enjoy a meal with waterfront views, and so much more at these beaches with waterfront dining.
- Montrose Beach: The Dock
- North Avenue Beach: Castaways, Shore Club, The Lakefront Restaurant
- South Shore Beach: The Parrot Cage Restaurant
- Oak Street Beach: Whispers at Oak Street Beach
- 31st Street Beach: Pier 31
Chicago beaches with outdoor recreation
Whether you’re looking for a leisurely paddle in a kayak or an adrenaline-pumping ride on a Jet Ski, you can do it all at Chicago’s beaches.
- North Avenue Beach: paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing, volleyball, bike rentals
- 31st Street Beach: jet skiing, boat rentals, kayaking, paddleboarding
- Oak Street Beach: bike rentals, volleyball
- Montrose Beach: sailing and boat charters
Chicago beaches near museums and attractions
These beaches are conveniently located near some of Chicago’s top attractions and museums.
- 12th Street Beach: Adler Planetarium, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, Huntington Bank Pavilion
- South Shore Beach: South Shore Cultural Center
- 57th Street Beach: Museum of Science and Industry, Jackson Park, Garden of the Phoenix
- Ohio Street Beach: Navy Pier, Chicago Riverwalk
- North Avenue Beach: International Museum of Surgical Science, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago History Museum
- Oak Street Beach: Chicago Sports Museum, 360 CHICAGO