While sunny days in Chicago often call for a cocktail and a rooftop bar, sometimes you can’t beat the feeling of the sand between your toes. Luckily, Lake Michigan has 300 miles of coastline for us to explore. Here, six Lake Michigan beaches so picturesque, you won’t believe they’re just a quick drive (or train ride) from the city.
INDIANA DUNES STATE PARK
Fact: No adult human spends enough time leaping off of sand dunes. Get your fill of dune dancing at Indiana Dunes State Park, which also offers 50 miles of hiking trails and plenty of shoreline. P.S. End your day at Carlson’s, one of the last remaining drive-ins in Indiana.
Distance from the city: 50 miles or about an hour outside Chicago
ILLINOIS BEACH STATE PARK
With camping grounds that boast electricity and showers, you could easily spend a weekend becoming one with nature at Illinois Beach State Park. Take a meandering walk through the black-oak forests then explore the six-plus miles of pristine Lake Michigan beach. The savannah-like landscape will have you in disbelief that you’re only an hour outside the city.
Distance from the city: 48 miles or about one hour outside Chicago
RAINBOW BEACH PARK
Need to keep it (hyper) local? Look no further than Rainbow Beach Park, a 61- acre sanctuary in the South Chicago neighborhood. Beyond the beaches, the public space boasts basketball, tennis and handball courts for all you sporty spices out there. If that’s not your style, get your daily dose of zen in Rainbow Beach Park’s public garden, which is one of Chicago’s oldest.
Distance: 12 miles south of downtown Chicago
SOUTH HAVEN, MICHIGAN
Known as the “Hamptons of the Midwest,” South Haven is the Midwest’s answer to the quintessential coastal beach town. With an abundance of adorable mom-and-pop shops and specialty cafés, you’ll want to grab a glass of wine or a homemade pastry after spending the day at one of the city’s seven local beaches. We recommend Channel Wine Bar—a perfect spot for splitting small plates and a couple bottles of rosé.
Distance from the city: 120 miles or two hours outside Chicago
NORTH BEACH PARK (RACINE, WISCONSIN)
You might feel the need to double check that you’re still in the Midwest once you arrive to this pristine stretch of beach. Boats docked in Racine Yacht Club’s marina add an extra nautical feel to the Lake Michigan beach, and you can rent your own personal watercraft at Pier 29 Water Sport Rentals. Pro tip: Take a leisurely stroll down the dock to the Wind Point Lighthouse, a still-functioning tower that’s more than 136 years old and and 108 feet tall.
Distance from the city: 78 miles and about two hours outside Chicago
We’ve got just two words for you: Dog beach. This quiet beach fences in a portion of its sandy scape for our four-legged friends. Unleash your pup and let her run around or, if you don’t have a dog, simply walk around as you take in the unbridled joy of man’s best friend. Plus: Kayak rentals, concessions and a crowd that doesn’t get nearly as rowdy as the one at North Avenue Beach.
Distance: 8 miles north of downtown