7 beaches near Chicago: Where to go for sun, sand, and surf
Situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, Chicago has hundreds of miles of waterfront within reach. That’s not to mention the thousands of lakes that neighboring Michigan and Wisconsin have to offer. For Chicagoans and most Midwesterners, spending time on the lake is an important way of life, especially in the summer. With wonderful swimming conditions and crystal clear water, Chicago has become one of the best places in the country to hit the beach.
What’s most impressive is how the Chicago Park District has turned these few stretches of pebbles into world-class city beaches. If not for the (admittedly) brutal winters and stubbornly-cold spring, Chicago might rival Miami as a beach city. But when the weather is right, heading to one of these beaches is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Many of these beaches are located near downtown and other bustling neighborhoods with a variety of nightlife and dining options, as well as some of Chicago’s best luggage storage facilities.
Here are the best beaches in Chicago to hit during your trip this summer:
Indiana Dunes National Park
Indiana Dunes has recently been upgraded to National Park status, and it’s well-deserving. This massive stretch of beach is located along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, with wild sandy terrain that’s ideal for both beach activities as well as hiking. The beachfront is about 15 miles long and features soft sand, dunes, and clear water. It's a popular summer destination for swimming, sunbathing, and beach activities, but the park’s dunes have visitors in the spring and fall for hiking.
Distance from Chicago
Indiana Dunes National Park is located approximately 45 miles southeast of downtown Chicago, or about an hour's drive depending on traffic. On weekends, you’ll want to get an early start to beat Chicago’s famously bad traffic in and out of downtown.
The park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with over 50 miles of trails, including the Dune Succession Trail, which showcases the different stages of dune development. The Cowles Bog Trail offers a glimpse into a unique ecosystem that is home to several rare and endangered species. Indiana Dunes has four campgrounds with over 400 campsites, including drive-up, hike-in, and group campsites.
Indiana Dunes has a few waterways where visitors can rent a kayak or canoe and paddle and explore the calm waters of the Great Marsh and the more challenging waters of Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan offers excellent fishing conditions for various fish, including salmon, trout, and perch.
The park has wide appeal for nature and science enthusiasts with The Paul H. Douglas Center for Environmental Education, which offers educational programs and exhibits about the park's history, geology, and wildlife.
The best time to visit Indiana Dunes National Park depends on what you want to do and see. Generally, the summer months from June to August are the most popular time to visit for beach activities and warm weather. However, the spring and fall months, from April to May and September to October, can be a great time for hiking and enjoying cooler temperatures. The winter months are far from ideal, with strong winds off the lake and cold temperatures making it inhospitable for hikers and campers.
Kathy Osterman Beach, aka Hollywood Beach
Located in the Edgewater neighborhood on Chicago's North Side, Kathy Osterman Beach, also known locally as Hollywood Beach, is a pleasant stretch of sand with views of the skyline and Lake Michigan. It's a smaller and more secluded beach than some of the larger and more popular ones like North Avenue Beach. It is a great spot for families looking to swim, sunbathe, picnic, and relax in a less crowded environment.
Distance from Downtown Chicago
You can take the CTA Red Line train to Granville station and then transfer to the 36 bus, which will take you directly to the beach. Chicago has an incredible network of bike lanes and a bike-sharing program called Divvy, which has several stations located throughout the city, including near Kathy Osterman Beach. You can bike along the lakefront trail to get to the beach.
The beach has a playground for kids, a fitness center, and several volleyball and tennis courts, making it a great spot for families and groups of friends. There are also several food and drink options available at the beach, including beachside cafes and bars. Hollywood Beach is located near several other attractions in the Edgewater neighborhood, like restaurants, shops, and historic homes, making it a great spot to explore and experience the local culture.
Like many other beaches in the Chicago Park District, Kathy Osterman Beach in Chicago is generally open from late May through Labor Day. It’s still charming to visit during the fall when the leaves change colors, and the view of the skyline is just as spectacular.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
One of the most popular destinations for weekend trips from Chicago, Lake Geneva is a lake in southern Wisconsin with several great beaches that are popular to visit during the summer.
Geneva Lake Beach is located in downtown Lake Geneva and is the most popular beach in the area. Williams Bay Beach is a smaller and more secluded beach located on the north shore of Geneva Lake. Fontana Beach is found in the village of Fontana on the west end and is known for its crystal clear water and picturesque views of the lake. There are a few restaurants and bars near the beach, like Chuck’s Lakeshore Inn and Gordy’s, that complete the Lake Geneva experience perfectly.
Distance from Chicago
Lake Geneva is located approximately 80 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The drive typically takes around 90 minutes to two hours.
One of the best ways to see the entire lake is by taking a boat tour. With several options available, including the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, these boat tours offer a variety of sightseeing tours and dinner cruises, and even booze cruise events for partiers.
One of the most popular activities is visiting the lake’s many historic estates. Lake Geneva has several historic estates that are open to the public, including the Geneva Lake Museum, Black Point Estate, and the Yerkes Observatory.
Summer is the peak tourist season, and the weather is warm and sunny, making it ideal for outdoor activities like swimming, boating, and hiking. However, it will absolutely be crowded and expensive. The fall foliage in the Lake Geneva area is beautiful, so it's ideal for scenic drives and photography. The temperatures are cooler but still pleasant, and the crowds are noticeably thinner.
Montrose Beach in Chicago is a spacious beach located on the city's far North Side. It's part of the tranquil Montrose Beach Park, which spans 22 acres. It’s one of the most family-friendly beaches and parks in Chicago, and it is especially dog-friendly. It’s more spaced out and much less crowded than North Avenue or Oak Street Beach, but there are plenty of amenities, like a beach house, grills, and a full staff of lifeguards.
Distance from Chicago
Montrose Beach is seven miles directly north of downtown Chicago. From downtown, you can take the CTA Red Line to the Wilson or Lawrence stop and transfer to the 78 Montrose bus, which stops near Montrose Beach. This will take you about 40 minutes.
Ideally, you can bike to Montrose Beach via the Lakefront Trail. This takes about 30 minutes and provides scenic views of the city skyline.
Montrose Beach has a designated dog beach area where your furry friends can run and play in the water. There are separate areas for small and large dogs. This is easily the most popular dog park in the city. Montrose Beach Park has miles of trails and walkways that are perfect for a leisurely stroll or bike ride. There are several picnic areas and barbecue grills available for public use at Montrose Beach. During the summer, you’ll find large groups of friends and families grilling and playing music on weekends. This is an intrinsic part of a Chicagoan’s lifestyle during the summer.
The beach is open between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend, but Montrose Beach and the nearby harbor are also gorgeous during the fall.
North Avenue Beach
With unbelievable views and an exceptional location, North Avenue Beach is the crowning jewel of the Chicago Park District. It's Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood along a wide stretch of sand sandwiched between the Lincoln Park Zoo and Lake Michigan. It’s a large and lively beach with a wide variety of activities and amenities, but the party atmosphere is its primary feature. There are food and drink options available at North Avenue Beach, including beachside cafes and bars, as well as picnic areas and barbecue grills for those who prefer to bring their own food. The nearby neighborhood of Lincoln Park has many superb restaurants and bars for post-beach refreshments and partying.
Distance from Downtown Chicago
North Avenue Beach is located approximately 3.5 miles north of downtown Chicago, making it easily accessible by public transportation, bike, or car. Because of limited parking, driving to North Avenue Beach is not recommended.
North Avenue Beach has 50 beach volleyball courts, so it's a popular spot for recreational and competitive play. Outdoor enthusiasts and active types can rent kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, jet skis, and more. Of course, North Avenue Beach offers stunning views of the Chicago skyline and lakefront.
North Avenue Beach hosts several special events and activities throughout the summer, with outdoor concerts being the most common. There are also frequent beach volleyball summer tournaments and events that bring huge crowds to an already crowded beach.
Ohio Street Beach
Ohio Street Beach is definitely worth visiting because it's located in the heart of downtown Chicago with great views of the skyline. Ohio Street Beach offers more than just stellar views, with various activities like volleyball, jet skiing, and kayaking all on offer. It’s worth noting that this beach turns into a party every summer, with twenty-somethings and students bringing their coolers, speakers, and energy to Ohio Street Beach.
Distance from Chicago
Ohio Street Beach is located in downtown Chicago, so it is very close to the city center. It's just a few blocks east of Michigan Avenue and the Magnificent Mile and easily accessible by foot, bike, public transportation, or car. There is no parking, so driving is not ideal for reaching Ohio Street Beach. The beach is located near the iconic Navy Pier, which can also offer hours of entertainment.
Ohio Street Beach is a popular spot for swimming, sunbathing, and beach volleyball. It offers an epic view of the Chicago skyline, making it a great place to take photos (every travel influencer has made a stop here for Instagram). In addition to swimming and sunbathing, you can also rent kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Ohio Street Beach also has a playground and a bike path that connects to the larger Chicago lakefront trail, so it’s great to rent a bike and stop at a few beaches.
Ohio Street Beach is open to the public from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. However, the beach is so close to the Loop that you can walk by any time of year to enjoy the views.
South Shore Beach
South Shore Beach is the most beautiful and expansive beach located on the South Side. It is known for its soft sand, crystal-clear water, and stunning views. The beach is relatively quiet and peaceful (compared to any north shore beach), so it's a great spot to relax and enjoy a picnic in the sunshine. Visitors and locals swim in the lake, play beach volleyball, visit the South Shore Cultural Center, and sunbathe on the sand.
Distance from Chicago
South Shore Beach is located about 10 miles south of downtown. You can take the Metra Electric Line from Millennium Station in downtown Chicago to the South Shore Station, which is just a few blocks from the beach. Alternatively, you can take the CTA bus route 6 or 26, which both run to the South Shore neighborhood. Driving down Lake Shore Drive or cycling down the lakeshore bike path are quick and easy ways to get here.
If you're feeling the need for speed, rent a jet ski and explore Lake Michigan from a different perspective. The beach is popular for fishing, with plenty of locals casting a line most days of the week during the summer. The beach offers absolutely stunning views of the sun rising and setting over Lake Michigan, you can also take a stroll or a jog along the scenic lakefront trail to enjoy impressive views of the skyline
South Shore Beach in Chicago is typically open from early June to early September. However, the beach hosts several events throughout the year (mostly during the summer), like concerts and festivals, so check the schedule.
It’s the middle of the summer, the sun is out, it’s a balmy 80 degrees out, and there’s a slight breeze off the lake. These are the afternoons that Chicagoans (and regular visitors) dream about. There are many more beaches easily accessible from the city that actually make some of the best weekend trips from Chicago. Additionally, these beaches are great ways to save money if you're traveling to Chicago on a budget. With so many great Chicago beaches, superb lakes, as well as a national park within reach, it’s no wonder why spending time on the water is so important for this city. There’s nothing like hanging out in the shadows of Chicago’s skyline on a sandy beach with friends, so drop the bags off at a Bounce luggage storage location and hit the beach.