City Guide / Chicago

A Local’s Guide to the 15 Best Beaches in Chicago

By Kailey Hansen | Sep 7, 2022
One of the best beaches in Chicago, Illinois, with towering skyscrapers in the background.

On a hot summer day, there’s nothing better than setting up shop at a sandy beach. For Chicagoans, access to the ocean is not a requirement to indulge in those supreme vacation vibes. Don’t be fooled by cold winters and Midwest living—you can find a ton of amazing lakeside beaches across the Chicagoland area!

Grab your sunglasses and your favorite read, because these 15 Chicago beaches will have you enjoying peak rest and relaxation:

The best beaches in Chicago

Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline

Bordering the gorgeous Lake Michigan, Chicago is unique in that it offers a collection of beaches scattered along the coastline. During swim season, you can go for a dip between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week when a lifeguard is on duty.

Many of the Windy City beaches offer access to the Lake Michigan Water Trail, a launch for non-motorized boats such as kayaks and canoes. While some beaches include paid parking options, admission to the beach itself is free!

Check out our top picks for the best beaches in Chicago below:

1. North Avenue Beach

Chicago skyline from North Avenue Beach

As one of the most popular waterside destinations in the area, North Avenue Beach features an impressive 22,000 square footage and includes a cute beach house, amazing views, and a walking path along the shoreline. Experience outdoor yoga available three times a day, rent a kayak or jet skis, and feast on tropical fare at Castaways Bar and Grill.

North Avenue Beach is situated in Lincoln Park, one of Chicago’s trendiest neighborhoods, meaning you’re not far from other fun activities. If you need a break from the sun and sand, take a walk to Lincoln Park Zoo or indulge in some tapas and sangria at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba!

2. Montrose Beach

Montrose Beach in Uptown Chicago during the Summer with the Edgewater Skyline

Unlike other beaches in the city, thrill-seekers can enjoy kiteboarding on Montrose Beach. Once you’ve satisfied your need for speed with this watersport, access the Lake Michigan Water Trail to enjoy kayaking or canoeing.

Located in the bustling neighborhood of Uptown, this beach offers designated areas for grilling or hanging with your dog. You’ll also find tasty concessions, a gorgeous view of the skyline, and sand volleyball courts.

Plus, catch a glimpse of the Montrose dunes, a nature area with rare plant species and a thriving bird sanctuary during fall and spring.

3. Oak Street Beach

Aerial view of Oak Street Beach Park in downtown Chicago, on Lake Michigan.

Soak up the sun in the upscale Gold Coast neighborhood, located in the heart of Downtown Chicago. This area of the city is brimming with gorgeous architecture and spectacular city views. There is quick access to the Magnificent Mile, the Windy City’s long-standing premier shopping district, and plenty to do nearby before or after your visit to the beach.

This popular hotspot offers chair rentals, bike rentals, and refreshments at the Oak Street Beach Café. Oak Street Beach does not have access to a boat launch but is home to summertime volleyball leagues and an awesome art mural.

“There’s no shortage of beaches on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Ohio Street Beach is perfect for families, Oak Street Beach is a must-see if you’re from out of town, and North Avenue Beach is pure party territory.”

Landing member Becca, “Tales of a Digital Nomad: How I Spent the Summer Living in Chicago

4. Belmont Harbor Beach

Belmont Harbor aerial Chicago IL

Once you’ve had your fill of brunch at one of Lincoln Park’s many dog-friendly patios, head over to Belmont Habor Beach. This waterfront has a fenced-in area where canines can roam off-leash, allowing them to soak in the sun with their humans! If you are traveling with your pup by car, note that parking for this beach is $10 on Sundays and free the rest of the week.

5. Rainbow Beach

Located in the South Shore neighborhood, Rainbow Beach spans over 60 acres of land. It’s right beside one of the oldest community gardens in the city and also includes a fitness center, baseball diamond, and handball courts. This massive waterside park is not only popular recreationally, but is used for seasonal sports leagues and family-friendly events.

6. Kathy Osterman Beach

Nestled in Edgewater along Lake Shore Drive, Kathy Osterman Beach (more commonly known by locals as Hollywood Beach) is a thriving oasis that’s perfect for soaking up the sun. Here, you will find scrumptious concessions, a beach house, and outdoor movies during the summer.

Osterman Beach is home to Chicago Paddle Project, where you can rent paddleboards, canoes, and kayaks. For those who want to post their beach pics ASAP, Wi-Fi is also available here.

While dogs are not permitted on this beach, it’s worth noting that you can enjoy time with your pup at the Edgewater Dog Park just blocks over.

7. Foster Beach

Lakefront Trail heading towards Foster Beach with Lake Michigan

At Foster Beach in Edgewater, enjoy a dip in the lake or grill out with friends. This beloved beach attracts both families and a younger crowd, as it is easily accessible by car or public transit. Concession options can be found at the Prairie Cafe, and bike rentals are available for those interested in sightseeing along the lakeshore.

8. Ohio Street Beach

Chicago cityscape across the sand of Ohio Street Beach on Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive in Illinois USA

Ohio Street Beach is a pint-size sandy shore located next to Chicago’s iconic landmark, Navy Pier. The Pier itself is not pint-size, as it juts 3,300 feet into Lake Michigan and features plenty to do for all ages—including shopping, dining, theater, a beer garden, a children’s museum, and a towering Ferris Wheel.

Nestled in the vibrant and urban Streeterville neighborhood, Ohio Street Beach offers plenty to do both on and off the grounds—we recommend trying a seafood dish at Caffè Oliva!

9. 12th Street Beach

12th street beach in Chicago at sunset

While many beachgoers leave Downtown Chicago to find tranquility, 12th Street Beach is a public lakeshore residing in Northerly Island Park. This 119-acre park is home to Chicago’s renowned museum campus, an outdoor concert venue, and some pretty great nature paths that feel criminal in the middle of a large city.

These walkways include an array of plants and wildlife and are just far enough away from busy streets to find some peace and quiet. 12th Street Beach is home to taco joint Del Campos, which provides the perfect combo of delicious eats and waterside views.

The best beaches in the Chicago suburbs

Quarry Lake view in Naperville Town of Illinois

Venturing a short drive or Metra train ride away, the suburbs also boast spectacular lakeside offerings. The beaches below range from 25 minutes to an hour away from the city, and can be the perfect destination for those wanting to spend a day outside of Chicago’s hustle and bustle.

Check out our favorites below!

10. Centennial Beach

Residing in the popular suburb of Naperville, Centennial Beach is a historic quarry-turned-swimming zone that’s a favorite among locals. It includes a sandy shore for relaxing, with water going from zero to 15 feet in depth.

Centennial Beach attracts families with its swim lessons, grill space, and charming neighborhood atmosphere. Paddleboats, paddleboards, and kayaks are also available for rent for those wanting to set sail through the Paddleboat Quarry, along the neighborhood’s treasured Riverwalk. Admission is $14 for adults and $12 for kids over the age of two. Admittance after 5 p.m. is $6 for all.

You will find Centennial Beach situated on the outskirts of Naperville’s award-winning downtown district, where visitors can easily stroll for a bite to eat, shop their way through boutiques, or grab a sweet treat from a local confectionary.

PSA: There are multiple options for Chicago-style deep-dish pizza around here, too!

11. Glencoe Beach

Sunrise at Glencoe beach on the lake michigan shore line in Illinois

Many of the north shore suburbs, like Glencoe, offer great beaches off the coast of Lake Michigan. This oasis is complete with cart service, volleyball courts, a splash park, and paddleboard, sailboat, and kayak rentals. Chairs and umbrellas that offer maximum lounge opportunity are also available at the beach.

Throughout the summer, Glencoe Beach puts on a series of events, including “Beer on the Beach” for adults, “Doggie Dip” for dogs, and youth sailing lessons. Admission is $20 for non-residents. While pets are prohibited during summertime, you can opt to bring your pup to Glencoe Beach after Sept. 15.

12. Paulus Park Beach

Lake Zurich is situated 50 minutes outside of Chicago. This quiet, family-oriented town is home to a great beach lining the shores of—you guessed it!—Lake Zurich. This body of water resides within the neighborhood and is a hotspot for locals and visitors.

With property spanning 47 acres, this beach offers unique amenities like a splash park for kids and the Wibit inflatables, supersized rafts with built-in slides and activities. Guests can chill out in the 400-foot beach area, play volleyball, picnic on beautiful grounds, or enjoy a snack at concessions.

Indoor showers and lockers are available at Paulus Park. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for youth, and free for children aged three and under.

13. Lee Street Beach

Situated along the coast of Lake Michigan, Evanston boasts six public beaches as well as an adorable downtown area with shopping and dining. Swimming is allowed at all of these spots during open hours, but it’s good to note that these shores are not pet-friendly. Admittance to Lee Street Beach, a scenic lakeside oasis, is $10 per person.

The North Shore neighborhood of Evanston resides just outside of Chicago. In fact, the L train system gives quick access to this urban-but-still-suburban town!

14. Gillson Park

Autumn colors in a beautiful park in Illinois

The affluent suburb of Wilmette is also located on the north shore of Lake Michigan. One of the town jewels is Gillson Park, a beautiful area spanning 60 acres, complete with a fitness center, tennis courts, a kid’s play area, and more.

Sailboat and kayak rentals are available on weekends, with the ability to reserve a boat for rent one week out. Enjoy a picnic (there is a covered pavilion for those opting for a bit of shade) and bring your furriest family member to enjoy the park’s dog beach.

While dogs are not permitted to swim or roam through the property in full (a leash is required), there is a special dog area that requires a permit. In this particular section, dogs are free to go off leash to play!

Admission to Gillson Park is $15 per person.

15. Three Oaks Recreation

Find reprieve from the city’s bustle in Crystal Lake, a northwest suburb just over an hour away by car. This quiet and peaceful neighborhood is home to Three Oaks Recreation, serene property with fishing, boating rentals, a spray park for kids, a wakeboard park, and recreational swimming.

You can also find a number of walking trails open year-round, and a restaurant called The Cottage that serves up delicious burgers, sandwiches, and tacos. Guests can utilize the Lake House for well-kept locker rooms, showers, and first aid. Three Oaks Recreation also offers scuba diving classes for those interested in learning how to scuba dive recreationally.

Admission for swimming is $10 per adult, $6 per senior/youth, and free for children aged three and under.

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If you’re looking to spend the summer exploring Chicago’s many beaches, read more about Landing member Becca’s experience living in downtown Chicago during the summer months!

Kailey Hansen

Kailey Hansen is a freelance writer and communications professional based in the land of deep-dish pizza. She has lived in both the city and the suburbs of Chicago and enjoys writing about the amazing things the Windy City has to offer. When she's not dishing about the best places to grab a slice of deep-dish, you can find her writing (and obsessing) about binge-worthy TV shows for BuzzFeed and why cats are the best (and absolutely outlandish creatures) for Rover's blog, The Dog People.