Chicago has 26 miles of public beaches, not including Evanston beaches immediately north of Chicago. Our beaches have been a wonderful respite this summer, as things are still not recognizable as “normal”. In many cases, the beach eaters have opened up for some level of dining, as well. Meanwhile, another crisis lurks… Lake Michigan’s water levels have risen significantly since 2013 due to climate change, putting the beaches are under serious threat. Here is the current scoop on our three favorite Chicago beaches.

What happened to Fullerton Beach?Airplanes in Chicago Air and Water Show

Fullerton Beach is known for its great view of the skyline from the north, volleyball, and as a great place to watch the annual Air & Water Show. It is even beautiful in the winter. Once less crowded than North Avenue beach and other beaches to the south, it is now defunct. Sadly, the rising Lake Michigan waters swallowed up Fullerton Beach, during the pandemic no less. As of September 2021, you’ll find it to be sandbags and boulders.

Sandbox Beach Café

One shining gem of Fullerton Beach remains. The Sandbox Beach Cafe has recovered from water damage and re-opened just in time for 2021’s abridged Chicago Air & Water Show. I find its menu brilliantly addresses almost all types of eaters with only a short list of delicious items.

Foster BeachFoster Beach in Chicago

Chicago still has many remaining beaches on which we may enjoy our precious summer weather. Foster Beach has all the traditional beach amenities and more. This beach was completed in 1958 as part of the 1950s landfill project. The landfill extends beyond the beach into much of Lincoln Park.

The Chicago Park District allows swimming when lifeguards are on duty from 11am to 7pm, although the beach opens at 6am. As with all Chicago beaches, swim conditions are updated daily on the Chicago Park District’s website. Conditions depend on weather, surf, and water quality (bacteria levels).

Reach the beach via an ADA-accessible beach walk to the shoreline. Along that is pay parking. At the northeast end of the beach is a dog beach. Additionally, the Lake Michigan Water Trail for sports such as kayaking, canoeing, paddling and other non-motorized water sports is accessible at the north end of the beach. Distance swimmers have from Center Tower to the north end of the beach, parallel to the short boat line.

Other beach amenities include:

  • restrooms
  • grills in designated areas
  • concessions
  • bicycle, beach chair, and umbrella rentals (may not be available in 2021)
  • WiFi
  • sand volleyball
  • great city views

Lighthouse Beach in EvanstonThe top of Gross Point Lighthouse

IL beaches are at their best not only in Chicago, but on the north shore too. There are six public Evanston, IL beaches for swimming. While Lighthouse Beach is not as close to the city as the well-rated South Boulevard Beach,  it is our favorite Evanston beach thanks to the lighthouse and its history.

Gross Point Lighthouse

The United States government hired Orlando Metcalf Poe to lead a team to construct the Gross Point Lighthouse. The finished in 1973. Residents had asked  for the lighthouse as a result of several shipping disasters nearby. Poe’s team constructed the lighthouse from concrete and Cream City brick. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources added it to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. You can visit the lighthouse or take a virtual tour on the the lighthouse’s website.

The surrounding land

The beach, like all Evanston, IL beaches, are free only to residents Saturday through Monday. The only exception is that babies under one are always free. Evanston and Skokie residents get a reduced pass rate, versus the $10 daily rate for a non-resident. You may purchase a day pass via the Viply mobile app, or in-person. Evanston beaches are clean and lifeguarded, and are a relaxing distance from the city. Lighthouse Beach has bathrooms and a rinse shower. There is a trail for exploring through the trees, and a viewing platform above the lake, as the beach is down a hill from the higher inland and lighthouse. The pavilion above the beach is available for rent, and is a lovely setting for a casual or moderately formal small-ish gathering. One downside is that the parking lot, while free, is quite small.Lighthouse Beach in Evanston IL

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