How to Tolerate North Avenue Beach


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.

Locations: North Avenue Beach, 1600 N.; Oak Street Beach, 1000 N.; Ohio Street Beach, 400 N.

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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  • While it is easy to presume that boaters are the ones who throw trash into the water, you will find it hard to find any boater who does. They like clean water too. Garbage in the water gets into water cooling intakes for engines and is dangerous (having an overheating engine coming into a harbor) and expensive to repair. The next time you are there for a rainstorm, which generally come in from the West or Southwest winds, watch the trash of Chicago getting blown across the parks, across the beach and into the water. This is how most trash ends up in the water. I was at Montrose Beach yesterday, and pulled many plastic bags out of the water that were rolling right in the waves right at the shore. There 's millions of people to the West, and only hundreds or thousands of boaters on the water. All marinas have lots of garbage cans to dispose of garbage once we get back to shore and we use them.

  • In reply to Glenn McCarthy:

    Good points. Thanks for cleaning up the shoreline!!

  • Did you seriously just suggest that boaters are the ones tossing trash into the lake? While I’m sure there is the occasional drunk idiot on a boat tossing some garbage into the lake, the majority of the trash comes from those on shore. Slobs leave their garbage on the beach, on the rocks or in the park and it is then blown into the water. Along the shoreline, Belmont to Fullerton, you can watch people sitting there drinking and tossing empty bottles and cans into the lake. It’s disgusting. Generally it’s the lowlife thugs and gangbangers, but I’ve seen others do it as well. Even in the rare instance when trash does come off a boat it’s generally a guest of the owner of the boat who has had one too many and doesn’t understand that throwing ANYTHING off a boat can not only cause expensive damage to the boat, but if you are caught by the CPD or Coast guard you get a ticket and a fine that isn’t cheap. $1500 fine first offense and possibly having your boat impounded because some moron threw something over the side. One of the reasons I generally hate blogs is because the authors usually don’t have a clue what they are talking about and that seems to be the case in this instance as well.

  • In reply to Mr_windycityxxx:

    Yes, I've seen many people on the shore discarding their garbage in the water too. I think the reason we suspected that boaters were responsible for much of the garbage is because the day before, we had seen dozens of party boats in this location, and we saw many of those boaters (more likely, people who had hired someone else's boat) dumping their empty cups and cigarette butts overboard.

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    I think its awful that you IMMEDIATELY want to blame boaters for the trash out there. You must really hate wealthy people. Look around again and I will wager good money that there are a bunch of lazy, hippie, dope smokers out there dropping the majority of the trash. As stated above, boaters love the water and respect their surroundings. Maybe you should make friends with someone who HAS a boat and they might invite you aboard and you can see how much they care about their surroundings. Oh, and I see you have the 'me first' mentality, as in 'get rid of all the people on the beach so my friend and I can enjoy it'. Everyone is disappointed in Oak St with that pathetic palm tree and all the self entitled yuppies that think they own the beach and stop wherever/whenever they want on the bike/jogging path.
    And as for your 'We've been there so many times we cant count' comment, it is really a SHAME that you didnt know the Ohio St beach existed. You, your hubby, and your friend need to get out of your cushy condos and out from behind those computer screens and explore this city more before you blog about it. I am sure you will find better things to blog about...or maybe even stop blogging..(I wish!)

  • In reply to Robert Wrobel:

    Sorry, I can tell from this comment and others that what was meant to be a facetious and lighthearted jab really angered you and others. I knew I was making a generalization when saying that, but hoped that the "joke" behind it was clear. I do, though, find it ironic that you were so upset by my generalization and then proceeded to make a few (completely false) ones about me...hmm... :)

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    Sorry. This sounds lame. Perhaps like some unfortunate suburbanite offering a view from from a safe distance, even if you are from the city. I run along this area 4 days a week stopping at NAB to hang and relax. This doesn't ring true. Try a walk in the woods.

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    I agree with Paul. Could you sound any more miserable and helpless? You're trip in from the suburbs must have been horrible. There are 8 beaches from 31st to Edgewater.

    You want to know the secret to enjoying our beaches? A bicycle. I'm not sure why you wouldnt mention that especially when you're talking about North Ave beach. It's over a mile long. The time it takes you to take mass transit, exit at Clark, walk under LSD, look for a spot (without all those awful 14 year old druggies begging you for weed or 5 year old sand kickers), secure your spot and set up, I will already have gone for a swim and played 2 games of volley ball.

    Bicycles are the answer. If you dont like North Ave beach its a 5 minute ride to Oak, or 10 minute ride to Montrose.

    Instead of going on about how your advice to "Go to the beach during a thunderstorm and hang out in the pedestrian tunnel if it rains" is absolutely the most pathetic rant about a "CITY ON A LAKE WITH 8 FREE BEACHES", I'm gonna end it here.

    If you're from the burbs this was quasi-forgivable, but if you're a local then I'm gonna chalk it up to the lazy, miserable, single woman rant trying to sound funny.

    It wasn't.

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    In reply to Fresh:

    After seeing that you have been to the other beaches I noticed that your reviews of them were much more positive and an enjoyable read.

  • In reply to Fresh:

    Thank you very much. This post on North Avenue was meant to come off as lighthearted, but apparently it didn't. I hate that I came across as miserable and helpless when I was just trying to poke fun at a place my friends and I have joked about dozens of times before. Your bicycle tip is a good one!

  • You wanna know how to REALLY enjoy North Avenue beach from a 48 year old lifelong Near North beach and lakefront aficionado?
    1. Don't go. Watch it from a highrise across the drive. This is by far the safest and most pleasurable option.
    2. Go and enjoy it but leave before the Amish miscreants arrive. Caution: 3:00 pm is somewhat safe. 2:00 pm is much safer.
    3. Leave your iThis and iThat and iEverything at home. This is common sense. Actually leave anything of value at home. If you MUST have a cellphone bring a cellphone you can part with. Like the prepaid ones you can buy at CVS or Walgreen's.
    4. Bring your best game face. The patented Chicago city dweller face that says, "I want to stab your little Amish miscreant body 20 times very quickly because I am psychotic and just for kicks."
    5. Women, your purse is worn across your body not casually slung over your shoulder.
    6. Pepper spray. Know how it works first. Keep it hidden from view until you need to use it. The kind that attaches to key chains is great. Carry it in your hand when walking past any pack of Amish miscreants only if you HAVE TO PASS THEM.
    7. Don't pass a group (no matter how small) of Amish miscreants unless you have NO other choice.
    8. If the Amish miscreants say anything to you or ask you anything, do your most convincing sentence of anything in French, German, Dutch.....anything but English, and KEEP WALKING BRISKLY.

  • In reply to cityonthemake:

    Haha, yikes! I wouldn't mess with you at NAB!

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