A Summer Guide to Chicago Beaches and History

After two years as an ambitious, over-worked entrepreneur, I have decided this summer to make summertime fun in Chicago a top priority. But I still have history and guidance on my mind, even when relaxing. So here’s a guide to visiting some Chicago beaches.

63rd Street Beach

This is the beach of Jackson Park, which stretches from 59th to 64th. This beach was the site of a radical move by Dr. Rosalie Ladova, who in 1913 stripped off her bathing skirt and took a dunk in her bloomers. Gasp! She was arrested for indecency and disorderly conduct. “I believe in swimming, but women cannot swim in skirts,” she stated. The arrest captured international news attention, and a newspaper in England reported that they found the Chicago police to be “fussy and tyrannical” with Ladova’s attempt to swim in less restrictive clothes. Ladova, pictured here, certainly sounds like an interesting character from history.Chicago Beaches Rosalie Ladova

Today 63rd Street Beach has Chicago’s biggest and oldest beach house. It’s the most active beach on the South Side, with food concessions, bike rental, and the fountain pictured below. Running around the water spouts of the fountain is a favorite activity for kids, and it makes a miniature version of the scene at Crown Fountain in Millennium Park.63rd Street Beach Chicago

31st Street Beach

First of all, if you are coming from the North Side of Chicago, the bike ride on the lakefront past the Museum Campus is pretty spectacular to get here. This beach is part of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, which envisioned the recreational fantasy of a sculpted lakefront between Jackson Park and Grant Park downtown. Located in what is now called “Burnham Park,” this beach was designed for the 1933 Century of Progress, Chicago’s second world’s fair.

Many Chicagoans consider this beach to be the most beautiful in the city. The sand is clean, it’s never crowded, they have a decent concession stand, and you get a striking view of Chicago’s skyline. We often point out the bathing opportunities there on our Chicago Neighborhoods and Cultural Diversity Bus Tour.

Montrose Beach

Some people don’t prefer this beach because the sand feels a bit dirty. Not dirty like polluted – dirty as in the dirt of the earth. And lots of families with lots of kids come here, and of course kids tend to make a mess. However this beach comes with bonuses: a fantastic view of Chicago in the distance, kayak rentals, and a good variety of Mexican food. One guy wanders around selling his wife’s home-made churros, which are plain or filled with custard. He’s a staple of Montrose Beach. You have to get lucky for the mini taco cart. And you’ll always find a particularly plentiful variety of paletas (Mexican popsicles), many of which are actually made fresh in Chicago.Montrose Beach Chciago

North Avenue Beach

I avoid this beach at all costs. If you’re idea of Chicago North Ave Beachfun is MTV Spring Break, this is your beach for summertime in Chicago. While there may be some good people-watching, the muscle-flexing, drunken yelling, and exaggerated giggles gets old pretty quick for probably anyone over the age of 25. Guests often get a laugh from this description of the North Avenue beachgoers on the Chicago Highlights Detour 101 Bus Tour.

Oak Street Beach

You have to love this beach for its easy access from downtown. It naturally attracts a diverse crowd, and it’s always full during good weather. Bonus: Beach-side restaurant with a bar (food not spectacular, 1/2 off glasses of wine on Wednesdays). Downside: Atrocious public bathrooms in the beach-access tunnel that goes under Lakeshore Drive.

Some Tips for Visiting Chicago Beaches

Pack well. Not all beaches have cafes or stands that sell water and snacks. Remember water!

Smokers beware. Since the 2008 smoking ban, you can get a fine of up to $500 for lighting up on the beach. People tend to use the sand like an ashtray, so this regulation helps keep the beaches of Chicago looking pristine.

Disguise your beer, wine, sangria, Malort, or whatever your drink of choice may be. Drinking alcoholic beverages at the beach is considered drinking in public if you aren’t at a designated beach-side bar. You risk the penalty of a $100-$500 fine, six months in jail or both. The only public park that is an exception to this rule is Millennium Park and the Pritzker Pavilion.

Summertime is the time to enjoy our windy city’s vibrant culture. Beaches are a prime spot for relaxing in a city known for its Midwestern work ethic. If you tour Chicago beaches regularly, feel free to add comments on other beaches you like. Maybe I’ll see you on the volleyball courts!

— Amanda Scotese, Executive Director

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Ellen

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There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

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With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

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Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

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As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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Amanda Scotese

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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