There are dozens of beaches in the (near) naked city. Most Chicagoans already know about the sultry pleasures of Oak Street Beach or the dog-friendly area at Montrose Beach. Here are six other top-notch destinations for a sunny summer day.
Sand blast: North Avenue Beach
Nestled in an alcove between the bike path and Olive Park (about 400 north on the lakefront), the Ohio Street Beach provides swimmers with an uninterrupted stretch of water marked by buoys that extend 150 yards from the shore. Lane dividers prevent swimmers from bumping into one another while also keeping frolicking kids away. And because the water is shallow, tired swimmers can stand up when they need a break (312-742-7529; for a map of the site, a favorite of aspiring triathletes, visit the Chicago Tri Club at chicagotriclub.com).
Situated beneath craggy, tree-covered bluffs, the 30-acre Forest Park Beach in Lake Forest offers both sandy and grassy areas, a wide range of water and beach activities (including playgrounds for the kids), grills, and covered pavilions. A Forest Park is situated at the east end of Deerpath Road; 847-234-6700. Parking is restricted to cars with a Lake Forest vehicle sticker, though residents can buy a one-day parking permit for their guests. Consider taking the Metra Union Pacific North Line to Lake Forest. The train stops about a mile west of the beach, and you can often take your bike along for the ride. (Go to metrarail.com for more information.)
With the Baha'i Temple as backdrop, Wilmette's lovely 60-acre Gillson Park offers opportunities for sandcastles and swimming, as well as sailboat rentals, tennis, and cycling. Nonresidents must pay a daily $7.50 beach admission fee; residents pay $3.75. Nonresident beachgoers must purchase permits to use the grills or rent an outdoor shelter. A Situated at Lake Avenue and Sheridan Road, Gillson provides parking for residents and nonresidents on the upper road between the park's south entrance and the Washington Street exit; a village sticker or daily parking permit is required in all other parking areas. The Linden Avenue stop on the CTA's Purple Line is about half a mile from the park.
Attracted by the shallow water and the gorgeous sand, families have descended on Osterman Beach for decades— though recently its southern half has become a favored hangout for gay and lesbian sun worshipers. A Be forewarned: There is no parking at the beach, which sits at the east end of Ardmore Avenue (5800 north); take the CTA's 36 (Broadway) or 151 (Sheridan Road) bus to Ardmore, or walk to the beach from the Thorndale Avenue stop (5900 north) on the Red Line. (For information about Chicago beaches, call 312-742-5121 or go to chicagoparkdistrict.com.)
Rainbow Beach (on the lakefront between 75th and 79th streets) offers lots of sand, a spectacular view of the city skyline, and a snazzy nine-year-old beach house (by David Woodhouse Architects) that has contributed to the site's rejuve- nation. A Though there is a relatively good-size parking lot, public transportation remains an option. Get off at the Cheltenham stop on the Metra Electric Line, or take the CTA's 6 (Jackson Park Express) or 71 (71st/South Shore) bus.
Surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and shielded from sight of the steel mills by stands of tall cottonwoods, Gary's Miller Beach is a hidden, three-and-a-half-mile stretch of pristine shoreline. And it's not all that far from downtown Chicago: Take the Skyway east to the Gary East exit, and then follow Routes 12/20 east for two miles. Turn left onto Lake Street, which dead-ends at the beach.
HOW-TO: Our Castle's Strength
Ted Siebert, the lead sculptor for the Woodstock-based Sand Sculpture Company (815-334-9101), offers a few tips on how to build castles in the sand.
1. Building on dry sand is asking for trouble. Choose a level surface, clear away any loose sand, and pour water over the building area to create a strong foundation.
2. Build a solid base. Cut the bottom out of a five-gallon bucket, screw the wider end into the ground, and pour in dry sand and water. "You can't get the sand wet enough," Siebert says. "You want it to be the consistency of pancake batter." When the bucket is almost full, tap the sides and lift it straight up.
3. Use the right tools. Filling a pipe with dry sand and water makes a great turret, and palette knives help block out the proportions. Use bamboo skewers to carve details and small brushes to clear loose sand.
4. Avoid direct sunlight. Without shadows, all the details of your castle will disappear. Build facing away from the sun for the best results. For more information, visit sandsculpting.com or pick up Siebert's book, Sandcastle in a Box (Running Press; $12.95).