Okay, here’s the truth. Katie and I have been to North Avenue Beach more times than we can count, and based on those experiences, we were prepared to eviscerate this beach, to rage against its idiocy and to ridicule anybody who defends it. Too many horrible experiences of 11-year-olds asking me for weed; of underage kids drinking beer and playing misogynistic rap too loudly even though it’s pretty clear even they don’t like it; of overcrowding and sexual harassment and will someone please take responsibility for this child that has now kicked sand in my hair eight times?!
But Katie and I found the secret to enjoying North Ave Beach: remove all the people. It becomes a haven, a blessing, a wondrous refuge. How, you may ask, do I remove thousands of people from public property? Easy! Do what Katie and I did, and go to the beach during a violent thunderstorm! If you time it like we did, you’ll arrive just as the storm moves on to Lake Michigan, and the lifeguards will say it’s now safe to go back in the water. So you’ll find a fully functioning beach, just without those pesky people to get in the way.
Because we were able to actually walk around this empty beach, we were pleasantly taken with all of the amenities it has to offer. Beach chairs and umbrellas for rent, bike rentals, and even kayaks and jet skis are available. Without too many people screaming at them, the staff were super friendly and helpful. There were many tables available at Castaways, the bar and grill on the upper level of that beached boat you may recall from the Real World: Chicago. While the prices were predictably expensive, Katie and I were impressed with the range of food offerings, and in the case of non-food offerings, were thrilled that they had some fake cheese! The nachos were enjoyable, but there were many ways to experience the fake cheese; on a pretzel, on a hot dog, or I’m sure they’d even give you a cup of fake cheese for you to do with what you want.
Feeling bolstered by this surprisingly successful venture, we walked south to Oak Street Beach. Neither of us had been before, but we had heard that it was indeed preferable to North Ave., so we were stoked. We walked down the shore, taking in the beautiful skyline just steps away from us, and commented that this is the beach to bring your out-of-town friends to. Looking up at the tip of the John Hancock, the beginning of the Magnificent Mile, and the historic Drake Hotel, we really felt we were in a special place, until we made the horrible mistake of looking down. Trash. Everywhere. And the sand was incredibly rocky and uncomfortable.
Part of the reason for the trash may be the angle of the beach, as a lot of the refuse from people docking their boats downtown washes up on shore here, but still…gross. And what the hell, boat people! Stop throwing all your crap into the lake! I know you all think you’re high and mighty what with your “boat” and your “spare time to go boating,” but I’d just like to remind you that the reason you enjoy boating on this lake and not on a retention pond is because it’s clean and refreshing, and your empty boxes of Marlboro and cans of Red Bull do nothing to maintain that.
Anyway, back to Oak Street Beach. As we took pictures of a pathetic little dying palm tree that Katie decided is a metaphor for the entire Oak St Beach experience, I received a text from my husband instructing us to “seek shelter immediately” as another violent storm cell was coming through. We tried to make a run for it via the underground pedestrian paths, only to find they were flooded and impassable. Just a tip, if you’re ever on this beach and it’s storming, you’re basically stuck. Good luck and I hope you’re not wearing too much metal.
We started running to Navy Pier, the quickest way we could think of to find shelter and an above-ground way back across Lake Shore Drive. On the way, we quickly surveyed Ohio Street Beach. It’s tiny but cute—they also have a lovely dining area but the swirling winds and greenish skies had closed the restaurant, so we have no idea what foods they serve or how much they cost. I’m sure it’s fine. Another awesome feature of this beach is it has lane markers so you can go swimming (like real, Michael Phelps-style swimming) in the open water. It will be perfect for you to practice for that Iron Man triathlon you’re thinking of spontaneously signing up for. And, there are even lockers for you to store your stuff in while you do your laps. But that’s all the time we had for Ohio St Beach before we kept running to avoid any Auntie Em situations with this storm.
It was a day of surprises—surprised by our acceptance of North Ave, by our disappointment at Oak St, and by the fact that Ohio St even exists! (Not to mention, surprised by the multiple storm systems that moved throughout the city.) As much as we’d love to hate all of these beaches, their amazing views and locations do count for something, and we’ll probably be back sooner than we think.
Parking: Torturous. Use public transportation.
Atmosphere: North Ave, overcrowded party; Oak Street, tired but quiet; Ohio Street, busy but quiet
Food/Restrooms: Yes to both at all locations; bathrooms are “emergency only” quality
Overall Grade: North Ave, B-; Oak Street, C+; Ohio Street, B
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