You probably don’t think of Chicago as a beach town
Which would be understandable since we’re in the middle of the country and have the pleasure of enjoying brutal winters. But thanks to our expansive 26 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, we’ve earned our nickname of the “Third Coast.” We’ve got more than two dozen beaches, all free, all unique in their own way and all waiting for you to spread out a towel and soak in some beautiful Chicago summer sun. Keep reading for a local’s (that’s me!) guide to the beaches in the city and what makes them special.
Not sure where to stay? Your best bet is downtown. You’ll have access to the great parks and museum campus, plus, it’s an easy hop onto the northbound Red Line or southbound Green Line to get to most of the beaches. As far as food, you’ll be able to grab a bite at several of the beaches themselves, or just a short walk away.
The Bird Sanctuary Beach
Chicago has a habit of turning local wildlife into celebrities. See alligator Chance the Snapper and Chonkosaurus the snapping turtle. Two of the most beloved were Monty and Rose, a pair of piping plovers that nested every year at the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, right on Montrose Beach. More than 300 bird species head there every year.
The LGBTQ+ Beach
It may be officially called Kathy Osterman Beach, but locals call the unofficial LGBTQ+ beach “Hollywood Beach” (you can get to it by walking down Hollywood Avenue). It’s close to the two main LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in the city, too: Andersonville and Northalsted, formerly known as Boystown. And as an extra bonus, the beach house is LEED-certified.
The Dog Beach
Traveling with a pup? You have a lot of beach options. Montrose Beach is one of the very few official off-leash dog beaches in the city. The dog area is on the north end of the beach and fenced in, so you don’t have to worry about them running off. The other main dog beach is at Belmont Harbor, but it gets pretty crowded and caters to small dogs. There’s another smaller-in-size dog-friendly spot at Foster Beach.
The Volleyball Beach
If you’re looking for a true coastal vibe in the Midwest, head to North Avenue Beach. It’s by far the most crowded beach in the city and is well-known for the expanse of volleyball nets used by bar leagues, local teams and anyone looking to hit a ball around. The beach house here is fun, too — it’s shaped like a boat and has concessions, showers and rentals.
The Beach With the View
31st Street Beach (officially known as Margaret T. Burroughs Beach) has probably the best view of downtown that you’ll find along the lakefront. It’s also a great spot for watersports, since it’s the homebase for Chicago Water Sports Rentals. Go on. Try the jet skis. Plus, you can fish at the public fishing dock here. A closer but no less delightful view of downtown can be had at 12th Street Beach, located on Northerly Island by the museum campus.
The Historic Beach
In 1908, Rainbow Beach officially opened under the name Rocky Ledge Beach, and was one of the rare spots at the time with electric lighting. It’s bigger and smoother now with lots of sand and the Rainbow Beach Victory Garden, which is one of the oldest public gardens in Chicago. At the north edge of the beach, stroll the 10 acres of dunes looking for native plants and animals. You’ll also want to visit 57th Street Beach — it’s part of Jackson Park, which was the site of the 1893 World’s Fair — and 63rd Street Beach, with a historic beach house and interactive water features for the kids.
The Bougie Beach
Oak Street Beach is nestled right into the curve of Lake Shore Drive, on the edge of the Gold Coast and Streeterville neighborhoods — two of the most posh and expensive areas of Chicago. Expect to find rentable cabanas, upscale beach food and swimsuits that probably cost more than your rent. All that being said, it is gorgeous and definitely worth a stop. Ohio Street Beach falls into this category, too, but it’s right next to Navy Pier and has more of a touristy vibe.