Illinois is one of four states that border Lake Michigan and with only 63 miles of shoreline, Illinois’ beaches are rather closely sandwiched together. Chicago, the Windy City, is a bustling metropolis with domineering skyscrapers galore and a surprising number of beaches. Because Chicago is so vast, the metropolitan area extends from downtown all the way to the Indiana border, which means that most of the best beaches in Illinois are in Chicago.
Head north towards Evanston and the Wisconsin border to find the rest of Illinois’ Lake Michigan beaches. Lake Michigan is one of North America’s five Great Lakes and covers an area of 58,030km². This list covers the best of Lake Michigan’s beaches and some hidden inland beaches too. What’s incredible about Lake Michigan is it’s so vast that you completely forget that you’re technically sitting at a beach in a landlocked state. Here are 20 of the best beaches to discover in Illinois.
- Illinois Beaches
- Best Beaches In Chicago
- 1- Oak Street Beach
- 2- Sunrise Beach, Lake Bluff
- 3- Margaret T. Burroughs Beach
- 4- 63rd Street Beach, Chicago
- 5- South Shore Beach
- 6- Ohio Street Beach
- 7- North Avenue Beach
- 8- Loyola Park Beach
- 9- Montrose Beach
- 10- Foster Beach
- 11- Rainbow Beach, Chicago
- 12- Kathy Osterman Beach
- 13- Centennial Beach, Naperville
- Other Illinois Beaches
- Best Beaches In Chicago
Best Beaches In Chicago
1- Oak Street Beach
If you’re searching for a beach with the best city views, then look no further than Oak Street Beach.
Located just over a mile from Navy Pier, Oak Street Beach has excellent views of the famous Willis Tower and skyscrapers.
In addition, this sandy beach is near to some of the best Chicago tourist attractions meaning you can easily add it to your city itinerary.
Oak Street Beach is the ultimate urban beach.
2- Sunrise Beach, Lake Bluff
31 miles north of Chicago, you will find Sunrise Beach in the Lake Bluff Park District.
Don’t be confused by the name Lake Bluff, they’re bluffing, this beach is still located on Lake Michigan.
This picturesque beach is a small crescent-shaped beach with a backdrop of luscious trees.
Sunrise Beach now has a rather helpful traffic light coloured flag system to indicate whether the swimming conditions are advisable or not.
The ‘don’t swim’ red flag is issued in the case of strong rip currents, high bacteria levels or heavy rains.
To enter Sunrise Beach, you will need to purchase a $15 beach pass and bring your photo ID.
3- Margaret T. Burroughs Beach
Margaret T. Burroughs Beach is nestled just above Chicago’s 31st Street Harbor.
You may be wondering who Margaret T. Burroughs is? Margaret was a Black American artist, writer and educator and was the co-founder of DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago.
In 2015 the beach was renamed in her honour following her death in 2010.
With distant views of the Chicago skyline, this beach is short but a good escape from the streets of the Windy City.
As well as several amenities, the beach also boasts an ADA playground (a playground suitable for children with disabilities).
The beach also has WiFi, so this beach is a great spot to get some work done for all you digital nomads out there.
Stroll along the beach and swim in the lake. Afterwards, you can wander around the harbour and admire some impressive boats.
4- 63rd Street Beach, Chicago
From 31st Street to 63rd Street Beach, this Chicago beach is in front of Jackson Park, just a couple of miles away from the University of Chicago.
Though 63rd beach now has a sandy shoreline, this wasn’t always the case.
In 1888 the beach was an unattractive area of paved granite.
At the time, Lake Michigan was the unfortunate recipient of the city’s sewage waste.
Stick with me, I promise this is a beach you should visit.
By 1899 the sewage waste began to be diverted, and by the 1900s, a beach replaced the concrete, becoming a popular spot for bathers and waders.
Today people with families like to head to 63rd Street Beach for a relaxing day by the sea (oh, I forgot, I mean lake).
In summer, you can enjoy some Caribbean food and cocktails at ‘Reggies On The Beach’, an excellent place to refuel before heading to your next destination.
5- South Shore Beach
The next beach along from 63rd Street Beach is South Shore Beach.
The beach is part of the South Shore Cultural Center, formally a country club, surrounded by a nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and a beach house.
Keep your eyes peeled and you may also see a four-legged member of the Chicago Police Department’s mounted division, who have their headquarters in the area.
The beach is open between 6 am and 11 pm, with swimming only permitted between 11 am and 7 pm.
6- Ohio Street Beach
Located just a mile south of our first beach Oak Street Beach, Ohio Street Beach is a stone’s throw away from Navy Pier.
Owing to its perfect city location, a warning must be issued here that this beach gets very busy!
Avoid public holidays, and arriving early is an absolute must.
Because of its north-facing location, Ohio Street Beach is a popular spot for open-water swimmers.
What’s better, there are restrooms, lockers, and changing facilities for those wanting to swim.
Arrive in your suit, squeeze into your wet suit and head straight to the lake.
7- North Avenue Beach
If you are visiting Chicago, a trip to Lincoln Park is probably pretty high on your to-do list.
After strolling through this beautiful park and visiting the free Lincoln Park Zoo and Lincoln Park Conservatory, you can head for a relaxing afternoon at North Avenue Beach.
The North Avenue beach house, shaped like an ocean liner, is a permanent addition to the coastline, which looks rather like its beached.
It is home to several amenities, including eateries, a lifeguard station, showers, chairs, bikes and volleyball equipment.
The beach is a popular spot for all those active-minded people, with many practising yoga on the beach on Sundays and runners frequenting the sands.
8- Loyola Park Beach
Most of the beaches found in Chicago are short, but Loyola is one of the longest beaches you can enjoy.
As well as this sandy stretch of beach, you can also explore the surrounding, Loyola Park.
Spend the morning in the park playing baseball, basketball, volleyball, or tennis, then head along the three-mile Loyola Park Beach walking trail.
You will find the rather rusty looking lighthouse at the end of the pier along the trail.
Loyola Park Beach is also home to several ‘Night Out in the Parks’ events, including cultural activities, live music, movies, theatre performances and nature programs, so there’s always something new.
9- Montrose Beach
Montrose Beach is a part of Lincoln Park in the north of Chicago and is one of the largest Chicago beaches.
Once you have explored the beach, there are plenty of things to do in the area.
Head to the candy cane shaped Montrose Harbor Beacon walkway for irresistible views of Chicago’s skyline.
Next, head to the Montrose Bird Sanctuary to enjoy the sight of many bird migrations during spring and autumn.
A 150-yard section of shrub within the bird sanctuary acts as an enticing spot for these migratory birds.
Once you’ve searched for purple martins, owls, and woodpeckers, visit Montrose Harbor.
10- Foster Beach
Next to Montrose Beach, Foster Beach is in the Edgewater area next to the Windy City’s Lincoln Park.
You may be surprised to know that Lincoln Park was previously a landfill, but during the 1950s, the park’s landfill extension was complete, creating a new beach at Foster Avenue.
Foster Beach is popular among dog walkers and open water swimmers.
11- Rainbow Beach, Chicago
One of Illinois’ most southern beaches and close to the Indiana border, Rainbow Beach is curved, sandy and steeped in civil rights history.
The shocking race riots of the 1960s that extended across America could also be felt in Chicago.
Black minority families found themselves the target of white supremacist ideals and were discriminated against in all walks of life, including access to public spaces.
On the 7th and 8th July 1961, demonstrators, many involved in the NAACP, staged a “freedom wade-in” at Rainbow Beach to protest their unlawful and inhumane treatment.
Despite a significant police presence, the demonstrators were heinously attacked with stones by white gangs.
Although many people might sit on Rainbow Beach unaware of its place in history, some look back gratefully at the NAACP protesters’ sacrifices and feel grateful that issues of race and equality have made progress, although nowhere near enough.
12- Kathy Osterman Beach
Located at the top of Lincoln Park in Edgewater, Kathy Osterman Beach is named after the public servant Kathy Osterman who died in 1992.
Kathy was a politician, served as public President of the Edgewater Community Council, and was a popular figure in the local community.
There are a series of dunes at the north end of the beach where you can explore the dune grasses, flowers and plants.
There’s also a Lakefront Trail for visitors to follow that snakes along the shoreline.
13- Centennial Beach, Naperville
Another of Illinois’ surprising and secret beaches is Centennial Beach in Naperville, a city in the Chicago suburbs.
Located on the DuPage River, Centennial Park hosts an array of outdoor activities and an “almost beach”.
I call it an almost beach because Centennial Beach is set at the edge of a stone quarry.
Craving the tranquillity of water, Centennial Beach and its swimming hole has long been a popular spot among Naperville residents.
Don’t arrive at Naperville expecting to see a barely used quarry because, like many things in America, this so-called beach and swimming spot has been commercialised.
But it’s worth a visit for those travelling to Chicago’s outer suburbs. Entering the beach costs $14 a day for non-residents and $9 for residents, with kids going for $12 and $7, respectively.
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Other Illinois Beaches
14- Lighthouse Beach, Evanston
From one lighthouse to another, Evanston is a college town in the Chicago suburbs and home to Lighthouse Beach.
The beach is backed by sand dunes that make for a good sledding spot in winter.
Located next to the prestigious Northwestern University, this beach is a popular spot among students at the university.
Grosse Point Lighthouse is not situated on the beach but is set just behind the beach.
The lighthouse opened in 1873 and was a welcomed addition to sailors and the local people, as Grosse Point had witnessed several sinking vessels.
In 1860 the passenger ship Lady Elgin crashed, and an estimated 400 people were believed to have died.
15- Greenwood Street Beach, Evanston
Located just under two miles south of Lighthouse Beach, Dempster-Greenwood Street Beach is another of Evanston’s great beaches.
Greenwood Street Beach is the perfect spot for swimming, sunbathing and boating.
Swimming is only permitted between August 23rd to September 6th from 9 am to 7.30 pm.
16- Clark Street Beach (next to Evanston)
Located on the other side of the boat ramp, south of Greenwood Street Beach, Clark Street Beach is another beach in the Evanston area.
This beach is a perfect spot for a game of volleyball and a picnic lunch and a dip or full swim in Lake Michigan.
Tokens must be purchased to use the beach. A daily token costs $8 and can be purchased from the Dempster Street Beach Office or the Clark Street Beach Office.
17- Lake Shelbyville, Shelby County
This beach is inland, away from Lake Michigan. Lake Shelbyville is 60 miles southeast of Illinois’ state capital, Springfield.
Although closed in winter, Lake Shelbyville’s beach opens during the summer months and is a haven for water sport enthusiasts.
There are several beaches to explore along the lake, including Dam West, Lithia Springs and Coon Creek in the south.
There’s Wolf Creek Beach in the middle of the lake and Sullivan Beach and Wilborn Creek Beach in the north. To access the beaches, it costs $5.
18- Glencoe Beach, Illinois
Glencoe Beach is a teeny tiny golden sandy beach north of Evanston.
This beach is a great little spot to escape city life and enjoy lakeside activities.
Rent paddleboards, kayaks or sailboards, swim in the water or participate in one of the many volleyball tournaments, Glencoe Beach has something for everyone.
If you arrive before 10 am you will almost guarantee a free parking spot on Park Avenue.
Head down the paved road to the beach either on foot or via one of the golf courses free shuttle carts if you are carrying a lot of beach attire.
For non-residents, it costs $10 for children and $14 for adults to enter the beach for the day.
19- Gillson Beach, Wilmette
The Gillson Park and Beach is a great place to relax, unwind and enjoy the lakeshore breeze in the summer sun.
Enjoy a spot of swimming at the beach and sailing and exercising along the fitness trail.
Day passes are $8 for residents and $14 for non-residents.
20- Illinois Beach State Park
Close to the border with Wisconsin, the Illinois Beach State Park stretches for six and a half miles along Lake Michigan.
With dunes, marshes, forests and shoreline, this relatively quiet spot provides hours of relaxing entertainment.
Unlike many beaches in America, the Illinois Beach State Park is free to enter, park and swim, so you may as well make a day of it and enjoy the surrounding nature free of charge.