Chicago boasts terrific beaches from the south side to the north side and beyond along Lake Michigan and even inland. This link gives an alphabetical list of them all including directions and information. Hyperlinks to each beach are included on this website so you can see pictures and learn more about each beach, including current water conditions; at times, the water may be too tumultuous for swimming or the water quality may not be safe; these things are vital to know before going to the beach if you’re planning to be in the water. Lifeguards are available at these beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. You can still swim off-season, at your own risk.
Some beaches have bands and special events all season. North Avenue Beach has volleyball tournaments and other games plus Castaways, a fun restaurant/bar in a structure that looks like a beached ship where a predominantly young, sporty crowd gathers to play. Beware: The tropical-style drinks are delicious but deceptively strong. There are DJs spinning music through Labor Day (September 4).
North Avenue Beach is also where the Chicago Air and Water Show happens, which is coming right up August 19 and 20, although you can see — and you will definitely hear — the planes from many other locations in the city, including the day before when they are practicing. If you can’t get to the lakefront that weekend – or perhaps you want to avoid the crowds – try to find a rooftop or high window view overlooking the lakefront from where you can watch the show.
The Dock at Montrose Beach (not the actual Montrose boat dock but a restaurant/bar) features live music on stage in the summer. This is a pleasant place to enjoy live music with good food and drinks as the sun sets and is low-key compared to Castaways at hyper-popular North Avenue Beach.
Also worth mentioning: Adjacent to 12th Street Beach is Huntington Bank Pavilion, hosting big name artists all season. Outside the pavilion, in the park and on the beach, is like a party where people come to enjoy the lakefront, hang out and listen to the music. Sometimes officials close the beach during these concerts, but there’s plenty of room to spread out in the park. 12th Street Beach has a good taco place that has expanded into a sit-down restaurant with live music at times.
In case you missed it this year (it was in mid-July), be sure to be a part of this charitable beach event next year: Paws Chicago Beach Party. This is a very good cause: To help homeless animals. Your pets are welcome at this event! There is no reason any animal should ever be put down just because they find themselves homeless. Let’s become a humane civilization! Plan on this event next year, and in the meantime, you can donate the this important cause here.
Choose your beach to fit your taste – or try them all! While some of Chicago’s beaches (Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach) are almost like pick-up spots for the tanned and toned, others are more family-oriented, like Grand Avenue Beach (almost secretly tucked away nearby Navy Pier) and 12th Street Beach. Some are small, some are crowded. Montrose Beach is huge and sprawling where you can really spread out and not feel hemmed in.
Back in the day, Meigs Field was adjacent to 12th Street Beach, a small airport for private planes that was shut down after 9/11. It used to be kind of a thrill to watch planes fly in and out while laying on the beach. But now, 12th Street Beach is quite peaceful, except during concerts at Huntington Bank Pavilion, and a good spot to find sea glass.
A good day can be had bicycling to 12th Street Beach; a great route for this is via the lakefront along the backside of the Shedd Aquarium — and while you’re in the area, cycling down at Burnham Harbor (where you can fish – be aware of the rules and that you’ll need an Illinois fishing license, about $5 – $15 for a day; get it here) and around Northerly Island, a beautiful nature preserve from which you can also enjoy the Chicago skyline.
Northerly Island, just one of Chicago’s many parks, also features special events, even camping. See other Chicago Park District events at several locations throughout the city here.
Worth mentioning are a couple of not-to-be-missed pay venues for your summer entertainment:
Through September 13, Wednesday evenings – Take in some jazz along with a stupendous view of the skyline at Shedd Aquarium’s Jazzin’ at the Shedd. It’s $20 for tickets, unless you’re a Shedd member in which case entry is free. For $60 ($46 for members), you can upgrade to Jazzin’s happy hour which includes open bar plus hors d’oeuvres and allows access to the Aquarium, including the hottest new exhibits.
Through September 17 – Take a trip outside the city to experience Ravinia Park, the classic, original, one and only Ravinia, an especially magical venue for concerts. They host famous musicians from classical (accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) to almost every type of music including famous modern bands.
You can sit in the pavilion — but what’s really popular is to stretch out on the lawn. Ticket prices vary per show; season passes are available. Pack your most elegant picnic-ware, including candles, vases with flowers and tablecloths: Ravinia is a one-of-a-kind setting where folks go all-out classy.
Heads up: For more popular performers, be sure to get there early (before doors to the park open) to claim a piece of land and get parking closer in. Be prepared, during super popular concerts to wait in long lines of traffic – from every direction – to get into the Ravinia parking lot (which costs $25). Sometimes the lots fill up, in which case parking is available at a nearby train station. Parking there yields a charming walk through the woods to Ravinia – but if weighted down with chairs and tables and coolers, the walk may seem arduous, especially at the end of the night in the darkness, although with the memories you’ll take away from Ravinia, it will be worth it.
You need never have a dull time in the city of Chicago if you know where to go. Nor do you need much money to enjoy Chicago in any season, especially summer! Follow my blog and I’ll keep you informed, with helpful insider tips only a savvy Chicagoan would know.