Summer in the city: Chicago's downtown skyline rises up imposingly behind Oak Street beach.
  • Summer in the city: Chicago's downtown skyline rises up imposingly behind Oak Street beach.
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The Cubs. The Bears. The Sears Tower (actually, it's now the Willis Tower), Wrigley Field, elevated trains, deep dish pizza, Italian beef sandwiches, the Midwest, the beach....wait...what? The beach? This is Chicago we're talking about, right?

Hot and humid. That about sums up the weather situation I was dealing with on a recent trip to Chicago. Not to be deterred, I set out on foot to explore the city's downtown Loop area to do some touristy things: Millennium Park, The Art Institute, Al's #1 Italian Beef. You know, the "must-do's." A few hours into this little journey of mine, I was sweating profusely, downing bottle after bottle of water, and shuffling haggardly through the city.

To find some relief, I hopped in a taxi and asked him to take me to the closest or most popular beach. Just north of the Loop and Navy Pier is Oak Street Beach. This is where he dropped me off.

Having never been to Chicago, it seemed odd to me that there would be a “real” beach in the Midwest. Of course, I knew that Lake Michigan was very large and even had small waves, but in my mind I pictured a rock-filled shoreline with very little sand. It’s like when someone tells you that you can get great Mexican food in Fargo or Minneapolis – it doesn’t make sense.

It was bizarre seeing a body of water this big that’s not an ocean. Not being able to see the other side is something I had a difficult time wrapping my mind around. How can there be a beach in the middle of the country? It was amazing. There were hundreds of people in the water, laying out on the clean, sandy beach, walking along the boardwalk and enjoying the lake breeze.

A couple kept an eye on my phone and wallet while I took a quick dip. The water felt so refreshing on a day like this.

I spent a couple of hours looking down the shoreline and up at the Hancock Tower that hovers directly behind. Mostly, I spent my time people watching, chatting with some locals and hiding from the stifling heat.

Going to the beach was not even close to my list of things to do in Chicago, but I'm glad I found my way to Oak Street Beach. It’s a great spot to escape the heat, grab some grub at the little restaurant/cafe, sip on a cold cocktail and enjoy the beautiful views of Lake Michigan.

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Woodchuck Sept. 6, 2012 @ 10:28 a.m.

Johnny, I would suspect quite a few of us midwest transplants are living in this area. Lake Michigan was certainly a highlight from childhood summers. The ocean is ok, but fresh water and a little warmer water is terrific. The glaciers that formed the Great Lakes thankfully dumped massive amounts of fine sand all along the shore. If only something could be done about those winters and summer humidity !


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