The beaches along Lake Michigan—not to mention the lake itself—are huge draws for Chicagoans and millions of other visitors each summer. But be warned: Once the kids are out of school, finding a parking spot at the beach on a nice sunny day can be a big challenge. While much of the lakeshore is dotted with beaches, they tend to fill up quickly—and so do the nearby parking options. Advance planning can make Chicago beach parking, not to mention using public boat launches, almost as pleasant as a day in the sun.
The Chicago Park District manages the city’s 26 miles of lakefront, which features dozens of beaches large and small. Having the big-city skyscrapers behind you at the beach is something you don’t find very many places, and it’s breathtaking. At several spots along the lakeshore, you can go to the beach and then walk a couple blocks to find nice restaurants, shopping and countless other places to visit. The admission to many of them is free, and they make for a great way to spend a sunny day in the city if you know where to find Chicago beach parking.
Some of the most popular beaches are on the northern lakeshore. Oak Street Beach is very close to many other attractions and activities, and is one of the most popular beaches. North Avenue Beach offers some of the most spectacular views of the skyline. The stretch from Fullerton Avenue to North Avenue Beach draws a younger crowd. Some days it’s elbow-to-elbow on the beach, and that means parking fills fast.
The most important parking advice is to get to your beach parking spot early. If you want a shot at a space in the North Avenue Beach on a weekend, be there by 10 a.m. On weekday, if you’re on the beach by 11 a.m., you should be able to find a spot. If you go to the northern beaches on a busy day, try parking at the Wilson Avenue lot. But on the Air and Water Show event days, all bets are off. Traffic here will be congested before 9 a.m.
If you want a less crowded shore, try the Ohio Street Beach, which is close to Navy Pier. It’s a smaller beach, so it’s often more quiet. The Ohio Street Beach is oriented to the north, rather than the east, and the waters are shallow a long way out into the lake.
Beaches north of Fullerton Avenue, toward Foster Avenue and Loyola Park, tend to be more family oriented. For those of you who consider your dog part of the family, there’s the Montrose Dog Beach in the Uptown neighborhood. Beaches toward the south are wonderful too. Be sure to visit 31st Street Beach, which is convenient to McCormick Place and Soldier Field events, as well as their parking resources.
No matter which beach you choose, ample beach parking is available and much easier to find if you don’t mind walking a bit.
The same is true for finding public boat launches. Boating on Lake Michigan is extremely popular, and public boat launches are available up and down the lakeshore. You’ll find public boat launches as far south as 95th Street in Calumet Park and up north to Diversey Parkway. There’s also one at 33rd Street and Western Avenue on the canal.
However you choose to enjoy the lakeshore, if you plan to drive, be sure to investigate parking options first. Even if you have a favored “secret spot” on the beaches, the interactive parking locator will help you find convenient beach parking at excellent prices, so you can enjoy the sun, sights, surf and sand without unnecessary parking hassles.