Lake Michigan with Chicago’s glorious beaches is 2 miles east of my house. I run there every Sunday morning, year-round. And spring through fall, I try to get our family there often. It’s beautiful, clean, the sand is often newly combed, the water is calm, and we have a blast. When it’s cool, we play in the sand or play ball. And when it’s warm, we do those things plus swim and kayak. For any amount that we are there (even for my few miles running along the beach) it feels like vacation.

So many things to discover
So many things to discover

That said, it’s not unusual for a local friend to tell me she has rarely (or even never!) been to the beach. And I know people in the suburbs that hardly, if ever, head east. So, let me be blunt: Chicagoans, if you don’t make it to the beach this summer, shame on you. And the same goes to any of my other readers within an hour of a beautiful beach.

In shallow water, we tip more than we row

Today, I had an hour and half with Granola Baby before the older kids came home. We jumped on the bike, arrived at the beach within 20 minutes and spent 40 minutes playing in the sand. Sure, I had to give him a bath before bed, and now there’s some sand in our bike trailer, but for 40 minutes, the two of us were on vacation. And who could complain about a vacation to the beach?

A post-beach nap

Following are some beaches that we like:

  • Loyola Beach: This is closest to home, and all Chicago beaches are FREE(!), so we go here the most. It extends from Touhy to Pratt, and it’s very family friendly. There’s usually no problem finding parking, there is a playground and decent bathrooms. It’s vast enough, that there’s plenty of space to find a spot far away from any bathing beauties, if you worry about that kind of thing. There’s also a boat launch on the north end, near Touhy, where we launch our kayak.
  • Evanston beaches: We head to Evanston in the spring and fall for the beach because it’s the prettiest area that is still close to our home. We park near Dempster, where there is a fun park. There’s a great bike path and running path that heads up through Northwestern, although there’s some construction making this a little less attractive lately. Starting Memorial Day Weekend, beach bums need to buy a token, and with our family, the cost can add up. They offer season passes that are probably more reasonable, but I can’t justify paying for something when a pleasant, free beach is down the road.
  • Montrose Harbor: Park at Montrose to admire boats along a stunning harbor and to bike along Lake Shore Drive. We’ve even biked to the zoo from Montrose and made it a whole day. Parking at Montrose can get crowded, but we’ve always found a spot.
  • Indiana Dunes: Only a little more than an hour away, this National Park is incredible. Go for a hike through the natural sand dunes or park yourself on the beach and watch your kids (or spouse!) roll down the dunes. I’ve only felt sand this soft in the Negev desert.As long as you’re there, add berry picking at any one of the pick-your-own farms in the area (Lake County).

2 thoughts on “Guide to Chicago beaches

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