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Is this… sunshine outside? Is summer truly around the corner? When the answer is “Yep, seems like it,” there’s only one question left to ask: Which beach should I visit first? We’ve rounded up 10 of our favorite sandy shores, some of which are in the city proper, with other winners a short drive away in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. So get your sunnies and read on for the best beaches in and near Chicago. Spoiler alert: It turns out all the lakes around here are pretty great.

Editor’s note: Please remember to follow all social distancing guidelines and to check that beaches are currently open before visiting.

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1. Osterman Beach on Hollywood Ave and Lake Shore Drive, Chicago

If you like the hustle and bustle of a busy beach day, you probably already know that Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach are the places for you—no judgment here! But if you’re looking for a beach that’s still a place to see and be seen, yet with a more peaceful vibe, check out Edgewater’s Kathy Osterman Beach (also referred to Hollywood Beach). There, you’ll find both a festive sense of community and plenty of room to recline on the sand.

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2. Margaret T. Burroughs Beach on 3100 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago

Your beach selfies can’t get a better backdrop than Margaret T. Burroughs Beach, where you can take your pick of skyline views, the blue waves of Lake Michigan, or—if your selfie game is really strong—both at once. Named for the founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History (among her many other accomplishments), this beach is a leisurely stroll away from other picturesque places, such as the McCormick Place Bird Sanctuary (about a 20-minute walk to the north) and the sculptural La Ronda Parakata Gathering Space about 15 minutes to the south.

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3. Indiana Dunes in Porter, IN (50 minutes from Chicago)

Ready for a different slice of Lake Michigan? Scoot over to the east to Indiana Dunes National Park, where the water may be the same, but the surroundings are decidedly different than what we get in the city: the park’s namesake dunes bring dramatic height to the shoreline. (See if you can handle the 3 Dunes Hiking Challenge, featuring the tallest peaks.) More in the mood to lounge in a sunbeam? There’s plenty of room to do that on the beach, whether you’re sunbathing or fishing for smelt.

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4. Oval Beach in Saugatuck, MI (2.25 hours from Chicago)

We’re not here to argue with Conde Nast Traveler, which named Saugatuck, Michigan’s Oval Beach one of the 25 best beaches in the world in 2015. Here, you’ll find there’s still plenty of dune buggy-riding action to be had, if that’s your thing, as well as ample soft sand to toss your beach blanket upon. Want to travel across the water and back in time all at once? Treat yourself to a ride on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, which glides riders over the waves with help from a chain-and-pulley system—the last of its kind in America.

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5. Delavan Lake in Delavan, WI (1.75 hours from Chicago)

We’ve already sung the praises of Delavan, a charming small town in Wisconsin with a surprising circus history—but we’d be remiss not to mention its lake of the same name. Get your fill of sunning and swimming at Lake Lawn Beach (or see if you can score entry to one of the private beaches scattered around the shore). While you’re in the area, swing by the lakeside Johnson House and Fred Jones House, because let’s face it: you can leave Chicago anytime you like, but you can never leave Frank Lloyd Wright structures behind.

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6. Bradford Beach in Milwaukee, WI (1.5 hours from Chicago)

Fans of bustling urban beaches, this one’s for you. Bring your volleyball to this favorite Milwaukee spot, but be careful with your serve—you don’t want to knock anybody’s drink over at the beach’s open-air tiki bar. If you’re in the mood for something more unexpected, pack your wetsuit: Bradford Beach is also a popular surfing spot. (Surfing on Lake Michigan? We were surprised, too.)

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7. Lake Geneva in Lake Geneva, WI (1.5 hours from Chicago)

Whether you’re in Lake Geneva, WI for the first or the fortieth time, it can be difficult to tear your eyes away from the palatial lakeshore homes and remember that oh, yeah, there’s a lake there. Our favorite spot to enjoy the waves (and a little bit of forest while we’re at it): Big Foot Beach State Park, which boasts sandy beaches, wooded walking trails, and campsites for rent, just in case you’re that outdoorsy.

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8. Lake Maxinkuckee in Culver, IN (2 hours from Chicago)

Stake out a sandy spot in Culver Park on the shores of Lake Maxinkuckee, the second-largest natural lake in Indiana. Rent a kayak and paddle along the shore to the east, where the stately buildings of Culver Academy loom over the lake, and then return to your beach blanket to enjoy a frosty root beer float from The Original Root Beer Stand, whose charming neon signage shines from just across the street.

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9. Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, IL (1 hour from Chicago)

Pop on up to the Wisconsin border to enjoy Illinois Beach State Park, where the beaches themselves may be on the rockier side in spots, but the views are well worth the short trip from Chicago: imagine wildflowers galore, prickly pear cactus in the wild, and more opportunities for Lake Michigan fishing. Just as important: Don’t forget that the Mars Cheese Castle on I-94 is just a 25-minute drive to the north, and well worth the extra time to stock up on fresh, squeaky cheese curds, not to mention the precious suds of New Glarus beer, sold in Wisconsin only.

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10. Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, WI (3 hours from Chicago)

Devil’s Lake State Park is Wisconsin’s most popular state park—and, you guessed it, there’s a lake there. Take your pick between the north and south beaches (or the smaller, pet-friendly beach at the southwest side), and prepare to be gobsmacked by the scenery everywhere you turn. Part of the Ice Age Trail, Devil’s Lake State Park is home to towering rock formations and lush, diverse plant life. Everywhere you look is a stunner.

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