There’s one thing you have to do if you are in Chicago for the summer, and it’s totally free: GO TO THE BEACH! After talking to students still on campus for the summer, it has come to our attention that very few students have actually been to a beach in Chicago. It can be easy to forget that these beautiful spots exist in our city (infamous for its winters), but we live in one of the best summer spots in the country.
One big reason why students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) don’t go to the beach is that they are perceived to be overcrowded. While this is absolutely true about the beaches downtown (like Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach), some of the beaches south and north of downtown — like Kathy Osterman Beach near Edgewater and 31st Street Beach located in Burnham Park — are rarely crowded and feel like getaways. The 12th Street Beach, though small, is (amazingly) never crowded and is still relatively close to campus. With 27 beaches to choose from, it can be difficult to pick the right one for your needs.
Based on tips from students at SAIC (as well as some seasoned Chicago beachgoers), we’ve compiled a list of our five favorite beaches in Chicago, along with our favorite corresponding activities. Read on for useful insider tips.
Kathy Osterman Beach
Overwhelmingly, those who frequent Chicago beaches point to Kathy Osterman Beach, sometimes also called Hollywood Beach, as Chicago’s best-kept beachy secret. Located north of downtown off the Bryn Mawr Red Line stop, this beach is known for the beautiful people who sunbathe and play volleyball there and the immaculate, white sand. The water also just seems cleaner at this beach. There is a small concession stand with food and beverages (including alcoholic), but we recommend taking a picnic and setting up camp in the soft, white sand to watch good-looking people play volleyball. This beach also boasts one of the best views of any beach in Chicago.
12th Street Beach (otherwise known as “That Beach Next to the Planetarium”)
This beach is perfect for: People who live in the Buckingham dorms; people who have a few hours to kill between classes; people who hate busy beaches; people who don’t really need to swim; people who love skyline views
If you have a morning class (9 a.m. to noon) and night class (6 to 9 p.m.) on the same day, this beach provides the perfect way to fill your gap. Ride your bike or take the 146 bus from State Street and Monroe Street to the Planetarium. This beach is just a tiny crescent shaped area of sand that’s easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. Despite being small, there are food stands and a ton of teenage life guards. This beach isn’t really that great for swimming, but if you just need a break and some water to stick your feet in during a hot day, it’s perfect. There’s also a sloping hill to lie back on and enjoy the view. Take a book and enjoy the seclusion!
31st Street Beach
This beach is perfect for: People who live south of downtown; people who love to ride long distances on the lakefront trail; people who like to hear live music at the beach; people who hate crowds.
Students who live south of downtown recommend 31st Street Beach because you can actually find some peace and quiet there. While the sand at this beach isn’t great, the feeling of having your own space without kids kicking sand in your face makes up for it. One reason this beach isn’t as busy is because it is hard to get to using public transit. If you have a bike, a ride down the lakefront trail with a stop here to soak up the sun is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. There are also live bands and DJs at the beach house in the evenings Wednesday through Sunday.
This beach is perfect for: People who love dogs; dogs who love beaches; people who like to have a lot of space at the beach; people who don’t mind children; people who want to use kayaks or non-motorized boats.
For those who live in the neighborhoods of Uptown, Ravenswood, North Center, and North Lakeview, this beach is the easiest one to get to. The sand is not that nice here, and the beach is more family-friendly than the other beaches, meaning that there are tons of children running around. On the plus side, if you love dogs, there is a huge dog beach area on the northern side of the beach. If you are trying to get here using the CTA you will be walking for at least 15 minutes, so we recommend taking your bike instead. Take advantage of the huge park (the Montrose Park bird sanctuary, which sits inside the park, is home of the rightfully famous “Magic Hedge”) and marina located adjacent to the beach to have a nice walk or to get away from the heat in the shade.
North Avenue Beach
This beach is perfect for: People who want to go to a beach close to downtown; people who don’t mind crowds; people who want to pretend they are at a spring break party all summer.
Okay, so this beach is crowded, but there’s a reason it is the most popular beach in Chicago: In addition to beautiful sand and stunning skyline views, it is the largest beach in the city. We recommend coming on a weekday and going as far north on the beach as possible to avoid the most intense party people (unless you like that kind of thing). If you’re not a fan of sitting in the sand, there are chairs and umbrellas for rent. Don’t feel like paying? Ask someone who is leaving if you can use their chair for the rest of the day. Typically people don’t mind, and you can pay it forward by offering the chair to someone else when you leave.