Chicago’s charm goes beyond skyscrapers, museums and restaurants. What truly elevates the Windy City into a land of magic is the lake it’s built on. Along its shores, you'll find 26 miles of scenic waterfront with more than 20 free-to-access beaches.

There’s more than just sunbathing and swimming on offer on the city’s sandy shores. However, for those who want to dive in, beaches are open from 6am to 11pm and swimming is only permitted when lifeguards are on duty. Here’s our guide to the best beaches in Chicago. 

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Rainbow Beach 

Best beach for wildlife

Located in the city’s South Shore neighborhood, Rainbow Beach serves up more than 60 acres of nature. Besides the sandy shore, there’s a dune habitat sustaining a wide range of wildlife and the city's oldest community gardens.

Kayak, canoe or sun yourself with the city skyline as a backdrop, then stop for a burger, nachos, hot wings or a snack at Hot Girlz Grill, a concession stand owned by six young Chicago women between the ages of 17 and 21.

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63rd Street Beach

Best beach for live music

Live music, drinks, cabana rentals and spectacular sunsets await you at the 63rd Street Beach in the Jackson Park area – all thanks to Reggies on the Beach. And even if this popular restaurant, bar and music venue is closed for the season, there’s still plenty to do. 

Try a visit to the beach house, a Classical Revival-style building erected in 1919 but only completed in 2000; it features interactive water fountains and is perfect for history and architecture buffs. Bikes are available to rent here and bird watching is a popular activity in the area.

A woman walking in the shallows at 57th Street Beach in Chicago
With Jackson Park as a backdrop, it's easy to forget you're in the city at 57th Street Beach © James Andrews1 / Shutterstock

57th Street Beach

Best beach for families

At the northern end of Jackson Park and next to the massive Museum of Science and Industry, the 57th Street Beach is a quiet place to reflect on the beauty of the Windy City. It has a low-key vibe and on warm days families pepper the shoreline. Stop at any of the concession stands along the lakefront or go for a walk into Hyde Park to pick up a bite to eat; Plein Air Cafe is a favorite among locals.

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Margaret T Burroughs Beach/31st Street Beach

Best beach for dancing

The 31st Street Beach (also known as Margaret T Burroughs Beach) is one of the city’s most popular beaches thanks to a regular program of house music parties and dance events.

It’s named after the artist and community activist, Margaret T Burroughs, who founded the DuSable Museum of African American History. The beach features a picnic area housed above an indoor parking garage, an ADA-accessible playground and a public fishing dock.

View over North Avenue Beach from the viewing deck at 875 North Michigan Avenue
Looking towards North Avenue Beach from the viewing deck at 875 North Michigan Avenue © tupungato / iStockphoto / Getty Images

North Avenue Beach

Best beach to party 

If you’re looking to party, head to North Avenue Beach. This neighborhood beach in Lincoln Park skews towards a younger crowd who are out for a good time. On-site is Castaways, a 22,000 sq ft bar designed to look like an ocean liner. North Avenue is a popular location for volleyball and summer sports.

It’s also home to NAB Sports, a one-of-a-kind facility where roller hockey, dodgeball and fitness classes are just some of the activities on offer. Chess, yoga and people-watching are other things to do at the beach – the vibe here is “see and be seen.”

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12th Street Beach 

Best beach for free concert

Tucked away beneath the watchful eye of the Adler Planetarium in the Museum Campus precinct sits the 12th Street Beach. The small swatch of land offers a sweet reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city and its busy sights.

If you time your visit just right, you might be able to catch a free concert without having to pay for a ticket, as Northerly Island, an open-air concert venue, sits immediately adjacent to the beach. Concession stands and bathrooms are available.

Palm trees lining a sandy stretch of beach. Many people in swimwear are in the water.
Oak Street Beach, at the edge of downtown, is popular all day long © christopherarndt / Getty Images

Oak Street Beach

Best beach for dining

Oak Street Beach is located on the Gold Coast, the city’s ritziest neighborhood, and activities abound. Popular diversions include bike rentals, volleyball and a wide range of dining options beyond the usual concession stands.

Whispers bills itself as “the only restaurant and beach bar in Chicago that is situated directly on the water” and the menu includes such seafood favorites as ahi tuna nachos, salmon ceviche and poke salad. Expect to see an older crowd and plenty of families in the area.

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Ohio Street Beach

Best beach for swimming

The Ohio Street Beach is a favorite among locals from nearby high-rise blocks who come here to unwind. Expect to see people swimming laps in the open water. The beach's unique location allows people to be just feet from the seawall in shallow water at all times.

The beach is small and it fills up in the summer, so if you plan to soak up the rays, arrive early – the sun typically moves behind the high-rises by around 3pm. It's located next to Navy Pier and the Jane Addams Memorial Park. 

Kitesurfers out at sea with large colorful kites flying above them against an orange sky
Kitesurfers head for Montrose Beach © by Ken Ilio / Getty Images

Montrose Beach

Best beach for kiteboarding

Montrose Beach is the only shoreline spot where kiteboarding is permitted, and it’s a perfect beach for active adventure seekers. Surrounded by fields of green, visitors come to play soccer, paddleboard, kayak, run and keep active. This North Side spot has a designated dog beach along its northern edge, and local vendors roam the boardwalk selling goods.

At the opposite end is a nature area that acts as a sanctuary for migratory birds, with a dune habitat that’s home to endangered plant life.

This article was first published February 2021 and updated May 2022

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