It’s going to be getting hot and many will cool off on one of the great free beaches in Chicago. With summer just around the corner, it’s time for some volleyball, sunbathing and rollerblading along Chicago’s lakefront. Celebrate the opening of the 26 miles of Chicago’s free beaches this year, which open on Memorial day and don’t close until early fall. But which are the best? The official Chicago beach season of 2012 starts Friday, May 25 and goes through Monday, September 3 with operating hours of 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. — admission is free, swimming is permitted and lifeguards are on duty during these hours. Here’s our take on the top 10 free beaches in Chicago:
1. Oak Street Beach
Not far from the shops of the Magnificent Mile, this beach is one of our favorites to relax in the sun, bike ride, and rollerblade. You’ll be able to enjoy a captivating view of the John Hancock Center and lakefront with the sand between your toes. Be sure to check out the small restaurant called Oak Street Beach located on the south end of the beach. Umbrella and chair rentals are also available.
- Location: 1000 N. Lake Shore Drive at Oak Street
- Transportation: CTA Bus #151 Sheridan Northbound
2. North Avenue Beach
Many athletic types head to North Avenue Beach as volleyball courts, running, and bicycle paths rule the area. Visit Castaways, a central restaurant to get food and cold refreshments right on the beach. Shaped as a ship, this restaurant also has public restrooms and showers. Parking is available, but not recommended. This beach serves as a focal point for the Air and Water Show, too, so make sure to take public transportation if you’re planning a visit mid-August. Umbrella and beach chair rentals are available.
- Location: 1600 N. Lake Shore Drive at North Avenue
- Transportation: CTA Bus #151 Sheridan Northbound
3. Foster Beach
- Location: 5200 North Lake Shore Drive
This is a favorite with families due to the significant amount of open beach and green space in the kid friendly area. We love the easy parking and a handicap access ramp to the beach, which makes it possible to drive the buggy right up to the lakefront. Foster Avenue Beach is less crowded with a family atmosphere and vigilant lifeguards. Outdoor showers mean you won’t drag the beach back into your car. At a hut steps from the beach house, you can rent bikes and boardwalk bicycles built for the entire family – a long and less populated pathway is perfect for riding on south to the next beach (Montrose Beach) and back. Bring some dollar bills for cotton candy and paletas (Mexican style fruity ice popsicles)
4. Loyola Leone Beach
This eight-block-long beach runs from Pratt Avenue to Touhy Avenue, making it one of the city’s largest. It’s part of both Loyola Park and Leone Park. It boasts a fishing pier, picnic grounds, softball fields, a basketball court and a state-of-the-art wooden playground and a junior lifeguard program. Nearby is the Heartland Cafe-on-the-Lake, which offers a lake view and a vegetarian-friendly menu, open from about 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
- Location: 7032 N. Sheridan
- Transportation: CTA Bus #147 Outer Drive Express Northbound
5. Belmont Harbor
Home of Chicago’s Yacht Club, this beach is not only for parking your boats, but it’s the perfect beach to bring your pooch! It’s small and this little stretch of sand is guaranteed to make your canine companion happy. Located on the west side of the harbor, this area is fenced in, so you can take the leash off and let your babies roam and explore!
- Location: 3200 N. Lake Shore Drive at Belmont
- Transportation: CTA Bus #146/151 Northbound
Other Top 10 Beaches
- Montrose Beach. Has great open spaces and visitors can launch non-motorized watercraft from this site, like kayaks and canoes. There’s also a fenced in dog beach on the north end.
- 63rd Street Beach. This is a great south side spot featuring an eye-catching pavilion. This beach offers plenty of action for all ages: Let sibling rivalries play out in the sand with free volleyball-equipment rental, encourage kids to go berserk in the interactive spray fountain or give sporty teens the chance to try out kitesurfing—the Park District’s allowing it for the first time this year at designated sites, including nearby Jackson Park Harbor. Stella’s Market, an African-Caribbean snack shack in the arcaded beach house, serves up some great beach fare
- South Shore Beach. This beach is situated behind the South Shore Cultural Center, which was once the historic South Shore Country Club — a must-see for history buffs. The 65-acre site boasts a clean, uncrowded beach, the Mediterranean Revival–style clubhouse, plus a 2,700-yard, par-33 golf course complete with panoramic lake views. Grab a window seat at the clubhouse’s Parrot Cage restaurant and gaze out over the water while you dine on meals prepared by students from Washburne Culinary Institute
- Kathy Osterman Beach. 5800 N Lake Shore Dr Chicago, IL 60626 Great for families since it’s more shallow than many other beaches.
- Evanston Beaches. Just north of Chicago, Evanston is home to 5 beautiful beaches. Though there is a nominal entrance fee, they’re worth checking out if you’re interested in exploring sites nearby.