Explore America's park logoWhite sand. Blue water. Thrill-seeking wind surfers zigging and zagging beyond the breakers. The soaring skyline of the city of broad shoulders.




No one thinks of Chicago as a tropical paradise, but the city offers two dozen public beaches along the city's 26 miles of open and free lakefront on Lake Michigan, the only one of the five Great Lakes located entirely within the United States. Each beach has a vibe that reflects the neighborhood. Some are kid-friendly. Some are dog-friendly. Some provide access to the broad expanse of Lake Michigan for kite boarding or wind surfing or kayaking. All are a fine spot to wet your toes and sunbathe in the sand.


And if one beach gets boring, you can walk, jog, run or bike to another beach using the Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile paved trail along Lake Michigan.  



In the late 1890s, the Lincoln Park Commission built a breakwater to prevent erosion from North Avenue to Ohio Street. This project included a new sand beach at Oak Street.


Things to do

Beaches along the shores of Lake MichiganThere is swimming, of course. And sunning. But you’ll also see people being a little more active. The ability to run, bike and swim in basically one place makes the lakeshore a popular training spot for triathletes.


Surfing, boogie boarding and skim boarding is allowed at Montrose Beach and 57th Street Beach during the summer season. Surfing at other times of the year — for those nutty enough to try it — is at RainbowBeach, Montrose Beach and 57th Street Beach.


Access to Lake Michigan for kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, kite boarding and stand-up paddle surfing is available year-round at Leone Beach, Montrose Beach, Montrose Harbor, Diversely Harbor, 12th Street Beach, 63rd Street Beach, Jackson Park Inner Harbor, Rainbow Beach and Calumet Beach.


Dogs can splash in the lake at the designated dog-friendly areas at Belmont Harbor, the north end of Montrose Beach and the north end of Foster Avenue Beach.


Why you’ll want to come back

It’s an easy walk from the sandy beach to the Art Institute of Chicago or the Museum of Contemporary Art or the John G. Shedd Aquarium.


Flora and fauna

Several beaches are part of the 1,208-acre Lincoln Park where there are a number of bird sanctuaries. At the Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary, for example, more than 300 different species of birds have been observed in the 15-acre refuge.


By the numbers:

  • Website: Chicago Park District
  • Funky fact: If red flags are flying, there is a swimming ban due to hazardous weather or water conditions.
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.


Inset photo of the Chicago beachfront along Lake Michigan: wallyg/Flickr; MNN homepage photo: arch2452/Flickr