Chicago has an incredible 18.5 miles of lakefront from the north to south sides, offering a record number of beaches to enjoy in the warmer weather. But beyond the sand and blue waves, some beaches have extra special features that make them stand out based on the experience you’re looking to get under the sun. Whether you’re toting along the kids, have a pet that loves the sand or want a unique dining experience, here’s where to go.
Its official name is Kathy Osterman Beach, but locals call this strip of Edgewater sand Hollywood Beach, after nearby Hollywood Avenue. The name is doubly appropriate given the hard-bodied connotations it conjures: As Chicago’s unofficial gay beach, it draws a fit crowd eager to show off the hard-earned results of their daily workouts.
This Uptown beach is the city’s largest, and one of the few where patrons can launch non-motorized watercraft, like kayaks and catamarans, into Lake Michigan. The 11-acre dedicated natural habitat known as the Montrose Beach Dunes is home to native plants and over 150 bird species. Animal lovers can pack their pooches and let them loose in the beach’s dog-friendly area. This area is actually the only off-leash beach for dogs in the city and it’s open year-round at Montrose & Simonds Dr.
The most popular stretch of sand in the city, North Avenue is home to a 22,000-square-foot, ocean liner-inspired beach house, where patrons can rent sports equipment and grab a bite to eat and a cool drink at Castaways Bar and Grill. On sunny summer weekends you’re sure to see hundreds of people serving and spiking on one of 50-plus beach volleyball courts. Recently, there’s also the great addition of Shore Club. This “urban oasis” offers a formal dining area, plus a patio and exclusive lounge area filled with daybeds and cabanas, where you can enjoy brunch, lunch and dinner menus with Mediterranean-inspired fare plus a summery cocktail menu.
Oak Street Beach
With its turquoise blue water stretching far as the eye can see, it’s easy to mistake Lake Michigan for the ocean—and even easier at Oak Street, where seasonally placed palm trees sway next to the beach’s restaurant. Home to the largest area of deep water swimming in the Chicago, Oak Street serves as the training grounds for many local triathletes and distance swimmers.
12th Street Beach
A stone’s throw from the Museum Campus and Soldier Field, this downtown beach is located on Northerly Island, which served as the site of Chicago’s second World’s Fair in 1933, “A Century of Progress.” Like Oak Street, it’s a great spot for swimming, and the eight-year-old beach house offers amenities like restrooms and concession stands. The scenic beach features a background of the Field Museum, the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. It’s great for walking and paddelboarding with calm waters, and if you’re hungry there’s the Del Campos eatery.
63rd Street Beach
This Jackson Park spot is home to Chicago’s largest and oldest beach house, which was completed in 1919 and was renovated in 2000. The beach is rarely crowded, but the masses are missing out: In addition to being a prime place for shell collecting, 63rd Street offers grills, free parking, a floral courtyard, and a wheelchair ramp that leads to the water.
Rainbow Beach & Park
This lakefront spread, in the South Shore neighborhood, is part of a 60-acre park and next to one of Chicago’s oldest public gardens. There’s also dunes with wildlife. 2873 E 75th St.