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Life can be a beach in Chicago this summer

This weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

The WISCH LIST

By Dave Wischnowsky

We’re two full weeks into July, and if you haven’t discovered your beach body by now, well, you’re probably not going to find it this summer.

Sorry.

But, hey, don’t sweat it. After all, surely you’re not alone. And with plenty of warm weekends still left on the calendar, don’t let a few pesky pounds keep you from enjoying fun in the sun. Or, even better when it comes to Chicago, the sand.

One of the most amazing things about the Windy City – and most shocking to those who visit from other parts of the country – is the beauty of its beaches during the summer. Until I moved to Chicago seven years ago, I never fully appreciated just how luxurious the strips of white sand along city’s lakeshore can be.

But I’ve since come to recognize that taking a summertime trip to one of Chicago’s beaches isn’t all that different from traveling to a coast – minus the price of plane ticket. And if you let your mind wander, you can even imagine that Lake Michigan’s enormous expanse is actually an ocean – minus the scent of saltwater.

So even if your home has a sandy riverbank right outside the door, I’d still encourage a visit to one of Chicago’s beaches. Here are my favorites with tips to help you pick the one that best suits you.

For the younger crowd: North Avenue Beach

From Memorial Day through Labor Day, North Avenue Beach – the city’s most popular and most crowded – is basically like Spring Break every day.

With the bustling Castaways Bar & Grill pumping out music and a youthful crowd lounging on blankets or playing volleyball, it’s the closest thing that Chicago has to Miami’s South Beach.

To reach it, exit Lake Shore Drive at the North Avenue and look for parking in the beach’s adjacent lot if you arrive early enough (by, say, 10 a.m. on a weekend). If it’s full, take North Avenue westbound and search for free street parking in the neighborhood past La Salle Street or park in Piper’s Alley pay garage on North just west of Wells. Once you’ve parked, it’s about a 15-minute walk to the beach.

For the relaxed crowd: Oak Street Beach

Not everyone, of course, is looking to find Miami in Chicago. And for those seeking a more serene scene than what North Avenue offers, Oak Street Beach is an excellent option.

Located off Lake Shore Drive, just north of Navy Pier, Oak Street is a smaller beach with sand that faces north rather than east, making the waters shallow well out into the lake and great for wading. Oak Street Beach also offers an outdoor lounge, giving you the unique opportunity to enjoy a drink and a bite with skyscrapers at your back and sand between your toes.

To reach the beach, it’s best to find a pay lot off of the Magnificent Mile (Michigan Avenue) in the Streeterville neighborhood and take a short stroll north to Oak Street.

For the family crowd: Montrose Beach

If you keep traveling north on Lake Shore Drive, exit at Montrose Avenue and drive eastbound, you’ll soon arrive upon the city’s largest beach.

Encompassing an enormous swath of sand that offers ample room for all activities, even on a busy day, Montrose Beach is very family friendly. However, “The Dock” – a cozy outdoor restaurant venue that opened last summer – offers a fantastic spot for adults to relax, too.

Montrose has many street spots near the beach as well as a large lot, but both can fill up quickly. So, parking on neighborhood streets west of Lake Shore Drive and walking over just might be your best bet.