The Chicago lakeshore is one of the highlights of visiting the “Windy City”. Though most first-time visitors only know the city for its iconic skyscrapers, colorful history and well-positioned music scene, Chicago’s locals love their home for its proximity to Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan is not a lake in the same sense that we have lakes in the United Kingdom. Shaped roughly like Sweden, Lake Michigan is nearly 500 kilometres long and nearly 200 kilometres wide. With that size in mind, it should be no surprise that the blue expanse of water extends far past the point your eyes can see. Even from a high-rise hotel with lakefront views, you won’t see the end of the water. For your short city break, find hotels near the shore in Chicago on Expedia here.
Where to Stay
Stay near the lakefront — that’s our best tip for you if you want to experience the city from its best side. Four- and five-star hotels such as the Hard Rock Chicago and the Embassy Suites Lakefront provide luxury rooms with a view of the water, and stunning glimpses of the city’s architecture from on high.
Additionally, staying near the lakefront puts you in an enviable location for transport to other sights and locations within Chicago. Lake Shore Drive is well-connected to other important city thoroughfares if you’re intent on driving yourself, plus the Downtown area (near Millennium Park on the waterfront) has the largest concentration of public transportation stops, including ones for the “L,” Chicago’s elevated train serving as a rapid transit system.
My image of Chicago before I visited was of jazz clubs, speakeasies and the academic buildings of Northwestern University and other places of higher learning. So I was surprised to learn Chicago has dozens of delightfully innovative outdoor areas for recreation. Several of the best parks in the city are located on the lakefront. Millennium Park was created recently when the city turned what had once been industrial property into a pleasant garden for everyone to enjoy.
Millennium is actually within the larger, versatile space of Grant Park, which stretches from the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago almost to the Shedd Aquarium, and encompasses the land on both sides of South Lake Shore Drive. Grant Park is a go-to place for Chicago festivals, performances and art exhibitions.
In addition to the Art Institute, Grant Park has several attractions both locals and visitors enjoy. For example, the Field Museum of Natural History and the Adler Planetarium are great stops when travelling with children.
Don’t miss another park on the lakeshore: the long Lincoln Park. Located in the area of the city with the same name, this park houses the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Chicago History Museum, as well as many acres of gardens dotted with statues of famous Chicagoans.
If you’re lucky enough to be travelling to Chicago during a spell of warm weather, head for the beach. The lake’s long beaches remind some travellers of California — though you’ll notice there’s less surf on these shores. Out of these beaches, Oak Street Beach is closest to the Magnificent Mile, while Belmont Harbour offers chances for running and cycling along trails as well as swimming. The busiest beach in Chicago, however, is probably North Avenue Beach.
Water temperatures in the lake range from freezing in the winter to pleasant in the summer, so you’ll need to judge for yourself at the time of your visit if it’s warm enough for a swim.
One of the signature features of the Chicago shoreline is the Navy Pier. Located in the Streeterville neighborhood, just along the shore from Millennium Park, this pier offers a full kilometer of entertainment options with enough diversity to satisfy even your most choosy travel companions. The pier hosts temporary shows and exhibitions, the Chicago Children’s Museum, an IMAX theatre and plenty of restaurants, cafés and shops. It was originally built for ferries, barges and other vessels to have a central location for docking in the city, and still offers opportunities for lake cruises and other water-based fun.
Chicago’s lakeshore is a place for sport, relaxation and entertainment. You may happily spend a day on Lake Michigan — or even your whole trip.