People on the beach in Chicago, IL

Neighborhood News: Memorial Day Weekend at Chicago’s Beaches

People on the beach in Chicago, IL

As Chicago moves into summer, Memorial Day Weekend means one thing to beachgoers:  it’s time to discover (or re-discover) the greatest 26 miles of beaches off of Lake Michigan! From Loyola Beach in Rogers Park to Oak Street Beach to Rainbow Beach on the South Side, there’s a stretch of sand and water fit for everyone in your family. And often, a cocktail or beach picnic! 

Beach season runs from the Friday before Memorial Day (May 26,) through Labor Day.Swimming is only permitted when lifeguards are on duty, from 11am to 7pm, in designated swim areas. And then, at your own risk. Water temperatures run pretty cold right now. According to  the temperature is currently right around 56°F. Brrr… 

Are Chicago’s Beaches Real? 

Chicago’s entire 28-mile Lake Michigan shoreline is man-made, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago History. As they tell it, the original sand dune and swale topography has been dramatically altered by erosion and severe weather conditions. Today, step-stone and rubble revetments and offshore breakers withstand wind, waves, and the freeze/thaw of the seasons. Beach sand is held in place by groins or armored with revetments or sea walls. In the 1860’s, as commerce grew  accommodate the Illinois Central Railroad, breakwaters were built and the lake filled in, extending the lakefront from Michigan Avenue almost to its present-day shoreline

Public Beach History 

Beaches were often privately owned, or were the property of hotels and businesses. According to The Encyclopedia of Chicago, the city opened its first public bathing beach in 1895 in Lincoln Park, at the shore between Fullerton Avenue and Diversey Parkway, primarily as a response to the efforts of the Free Bath and Sanitary League (formerly the Municipal Order League) According to, the group began as a women’s reform organization. But the organization didn’t have recreation in mind: The push for public beaches was motivated by hygienic concerns, like public access to the lake for washing off. One element of the campaign involved persuading the city and state governments to designate certain spaces as beaches for public use. The second element involved ensuring that the city would clean up and maintain these beaches so that city residents could enjoy the benefit of access to clean water. 

While the primary motivation of middle-class reformers in opening the bathing beaches was to improve the health and sanitary habits of the working class, the campaign also demanded that city dwellers have recreational use of the lake.

Today:  The Lakefront Trail

As Yoda might say, “Recreation, it has.” As Choose Chicago tells us, the Lakefront Trail is an 18.5-mile, multi-use path along the shores of Lake Michigan. Run, walk, bike, or skate from its northernmost point at Ardmore Avenue south to 71st Street, touring diverse and vibrant neighborhoods such as Lincoln Park, Streeterville, the Loop, and Jackson Park as you go.

Today: Doggy Paddles and Recreation 

As WTTW and Choose Chicago note, two of Chicago’s beaches, Montrose Beach and Belmont Harbor Beach, have reserved dog-friendly areas for canines to “kick up some sand!” 

The Montrose Harbor Dog Beach, located at 4400 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, is a 3.83-acre area open year-round where dogs can roam leash-less. 

At the eastern end of Montrose Beach is 11 acres of dedicated natural habitat referred to as Montrose Beach Dunes. Dunes began to naturally form at this location. The Dunes supports state-listed and locally-rare plant species, and over 150 bird species.

The fenced-in dog beach at Belmont Harbor is much smaller, requires dogs to be leashed and may be a bit more crowded. It’s located at Belmont & Lake Shore Drive. 

North Avenue Beach

Rent a powerful WaveRunner at Jet Ski Chicago, or hit the waves with a wave board or paddleboard at Great Lakes Board Company, according to Choose Chicago. Or do a little outdoor yoga with Sun and Moon Beach Yoga. And if you love volleyball, the Chicago Sport and Social Club runs the largest volleyball league in the world. 

Happy Trails, Everyone! Enjoy summer at the beach! 

Alison Moran-Powers and Dean’s Team Chicago