The Best Beaches in Chicago

July 10, 2017

Chicago, being located in the Upper Midwest, is often not thought of as a beach destination. However, Chicago is home to more quality beaches than you might imagine, and every single one of them has something different to offer. You’ll almost forget that it snows in this city at all after a summer of living it up at the best beaches in Chicago.

We’ve compiled what we believe to be the finest beach offerings within sight of Chicago. All of the beaches listed are maintained by the city’s parks department, and patrolled by certified lifeguards to ensure your visit to the beach is as safe as it is enjoyable. We’ve also tried to focus on the “atmosphere” of each beach to give you a sense of the beach before you arrive. We’re hoping to assist you in selecting not only the best beach in Chicago, but the one that will most closely fit the experience you’re looking for.

Oak Street Beach

Near North Side, Gold Coast
1000 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 747-2474

Atmosphere: Relatively Quiet, Family-Friendly, Can Get Busy

Located in the Gold Coast and Streeterville neighborhoods of Chicago, Oak Street Beach is possibly the finest beach you’ll find between Los Angeles and Miami. With white sand beaches and spectacular views of the skyline, Oak Street is much more than you’d expect to find so close to a major metropolitan area. It has the feel of an island getaway until you look left or right and see the iconic Chicago architecture. That’s when you pinch yourself to be sure it’s all real.

Being so close to Chicago’s premier neighborhoods, Oak Street Beach is the indirect beneficiary of the increased police presence, making it one of the safest places you can be in the city. There are amenities around every corner as well. The Oak Street Beach is a restaurant and bar serving good food and cold drinks right beside vendors renting every type of watercraft and beach accessory known to man. There are showers, water fountains, restrooms, and a boardwalk leading down to the water. Oak Street is also an ADA-approved beach, meaning there is handicapped access to all beach amenities.  Parking can be difficult, with street parking being almost impossible to find, so take public transportation to save time and money. TIP: You can put the Drake Hotel into your GPS and see if a spot is open there. It’s adjacent to the beach and cars come and go there all day long!

Kathy Osterman Beach

5800 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60626
(773) 363-2225

Atmosphere: Quiet, Family-Friendly, Never Busy

Located in the upscale Edgewater neighborhood in the northern end of Lincoln Park, Kathy Osterman Beach is considered by many older Chicagoans to be the ultimate beach experience in the city. Far from the fraternity crowds and sorority shouting, Osterman Beach is an oasis of peace and quiet with immaculate sand, first-class amenities, and a wading-depth of crystal clear water extending nearly 50-feet into the lake.

Boasting the best amenities of any beach in town, Kathy Osterman Beach has everything you need for a fantastic day on the water. You can grab a bite to eat at Nacho Mama’s Burrito Bar and rent a paddleboard or other beach accessory from one of the local vendors. The beach house has clean restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and a first aid station in case of emergencies. If you’re in the market for a quiet day sitting in the sunshine and playing in the water, then this is the beach for you!

North Avenue Beach

Lincoln Park
1600 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 747-0832

Atmosphere: Not Quiet, Family-Tolerant, Busy

Probably the most popular beach in all of Chicago, North Avenue Beach is one of the liveliest, most entertaining places to be in the city during the summertime. We’ve included it on this list for just that very reason. This is a place you go to enjoy world-class people watching while sunning and splashing in the cool water. The Lakefront Trail runs right along the beach, and the daily parade of pedestrians, bikers, joggers and tourists with different cultures and  dialects makes for a one-of-a-kind day at the metropolis beach.

North Avenue Beach has beachside parking available for a cost or you can take public transportation from anywhere in the city. Either option is a good one, but come early on Saturdays in August, as the parking spaces fill up fast. You’ll find a sprawling 22,000 square foot beach house with clean restrooms, friendly staff, Wi-Fi, and some of the best views of the city you can find anywhere. There are several eateries located on the beach including Castaway’s – a bar and grill shaped like a giant boat! The sand and grounds are well-maintained and there are ample lifeguards and police around ensuring everyone has a safe, entertaining day. If you’re a fan of people watching then North Avenue Beach is the only beach for you!

Fullerton Beach

Lincoln Park
2301 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60614

Atmosphere: Quiet, Family-Friendly, Never Busy

One of the newest additions to the beach scene in Chicago, Fullerton Beach is a beautiful spread of five smaller beaches separated by concrete piers jutting some 100-feet out into the water. Each of the small beaches has a very different feel and its own unique attractions. The northernmost two, adjacent to North Avenue Beach, are a bit too far from the beach amenities to make their spectacular views anything more than an interesting diversion while visiting. The other three beaches are the reason Fullerton makes this list.

Located just south of Fullerton Avenue and Lakeshore Drive, beach #1 is usually a bit crowded in the afternoons, but beach #2 and #3 are always open and have all of the amenities anyway. There is a restaurant called One Stick Puppy where you can get a bite to eat if you’re hungry and water fountains and restrooms next door if you need to use the facilities. Lifeguards are on duty in case of emergency, but as peaceful as this beach is that’s probably unnecessary. As an added bonus, this beach has spectacular views of the sunset as it sets behind the Chicago skyline. A photographers dream!

Montrose Beach

200 W. Montrose Harbor Drive
Chicago, IL 60613

Atmosphere: Not Too Quiet, Family-Friendly, Dog-Friendly, Can Get Busy

Another Lincoln Park favorite, Montrose Beach has everything a beachgoer could ask for and much, much more. Located adjacent to a beautiful natural area, migratory birds abound during certain times of the year, and several endangered plant species thrive here. It’s really nice to see so much wildlife amidst a city so largeand right next to an excellent attraction no less!

The list of amenities you can find at Montrose Beach could fill an article all by itself. There are numerous restaurants and food vendors (check out The Dock for excellent food and cold drinks) as well as watersport rentals and a separate dog beach for your four-legged friends. With great walking paths, lifeguards on duty, free Wi-Fi, and plenty of open sand to spread your towel, this is one beach you don’t want to miss! Oh, and did I mention plenty of free parking?

31st Street Beach

Bronzeville, Douglas
31st Street & Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60616

Atmosphere: Quiet, Family-Friendly, Never Busy

One of the quieter beaches in Chicago, 31st Street Beach is just what you need to make those long, hot summer days bearable. Beautiful white sand, clear blue water, and gorgeous views of the city’s one-of-a-kind skyline is what you can expect every time you set foot on the beach here. Friendly, eclectic people frequent this spot for the peace and quiet it provides. You can find them at the north end of the beach, well away from the watersports rental companies and the pier they inhabit. Bring a picnic lunch and make some new friends while you bask in the sun or play in the waves – or bring a good book and enjoy the serene sounds and soothing sunshine.

31st Street Beach has full-time lifeguards on duty and a spacious beach house with clean restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and water fountains. You can get a snack from an ice cream vendor or make your way to the Pier 31 restaurant for some excellent food and an ice-cold drink. Parking is plentiful but will cost $2.00 per hour if you stay from 9:00am to 9:00pm. Go on a Wednesday in late August and stay for the Navy Pier fireworks display!

Foster Avenue Beach

5200 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60640
(312) 742-5121

Atmosphere: Relatively Quiet, Family-Friendly, Can Get Busy

The last of our Lincoln Park offerings also happens to be the last beach on our list – Foster Avenue Beach. One of the favorites for Chicago families, as this beach seems to have it all in terms of amenities: free Wi-Fi, clean restrooms, food concessions, and waterspouts rentals just to name a few. There is plenty of parking and public transportation can deliver you a single city block from the sand!

With beautiful white sand and crystal clear water, Foster Avenue Beach is everything the more popular beaches are without the crowds and the parking issues. It even boasts the best beachside restaurant in Chicago – The Prairie Grass Cafe – where you can sit and relax while you grab a bite watching the water through the huge observation windows. It’s definitely worth staying late for the Navy Pier fireworks if you’re there on a Wednesday or Saturday evening. If you have a four-legged friend of the canine persuasion you might want to bring him along, since just northeast of this beach is Chicago’s #1 dog beach!

In the end, Chicago may not be Miami, but it does have its share of great beaches. All of them offer your average beach experience but with a twist that’s unique to each one. A big part of the fun in visiting them all is finding which one most perfectly fits your idea of a great day at the beach. And remember – there really are no wrong answers. No matter which Chicago beach you choose, you’ll always end up with a winner, so why not try them all?

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