While going to the beach on a devastatingly hot day might sound like a logical choice, there are some days when you would be crazy to leave your comfortably air-conditioned home or office. The day Katie and I went to 12th Street Beach was one of those days.
I’m going to do my best to separate the stifling heat we experienced from our impression of the beach itself, but I feel it’s only fair to warn that this is not a hot-weather beach. You’ll want to find someplace bigger with more space to spread out and diffuse the noise (like Montrose, Hollywood, or Loyola) if you’re genuinely seeking to cool off.
Anyway, this beach is on the Museum Campus, between Northerly Island and the Adler Planetarium. In the summer, the area swarms with people who don’t know what they’re doing or where they’re going, so driving demands a little patience. (Try not to swear at the cars with Minnesota license plates. It’s not their fault they’re from Minnesota.)
When Katie and I drove in separately, we were disappointed to see that the beach parking area was closed off because they needed the space to prepare for some concert on Northerly Island, but we found the secret to getting through closed roads in Chicago: ask nicely if you can be let in. Katie went with the, “I’m trying to get to the building at Northerly Island!” excuse and was bumped right through; a few minutes later, I waved my hand at the guard and said “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” and he looked at me like I was crazy, so then I also mumbled something about Northerly Island. So we were let in and found tons of parking for $1/hour, but we’re not sure if it will always be that easy.
Just north of Northerly Island's meadows is the beach, which is rather small, but very nice. There is a dramatic curve to the beach, which Katie pointed out had the effect of making Lake Michigan seem like a smaller vacation lake. There isn’t a ton of sandy area, which contributes to that vacation-lake feeling. It is amphitheater-style, which is always a nice way to immerse yourself in the setting. However, the curved amphitheater also amplifies the noise, cutting down on the relaxation factor. The sand is good quality and the water is clean (believe us on this point—most of this review was written while knee deep). And if you position yourself just right, you won’t be able to see the factories on the Indiana shore!
For obvious reasons, the beach was crowded that day, mostly filled with day campers. I don’t know about you, but I get anxiety around large groups of children as a crushing burden of responsibility falls on my shoulders (people always think that I’m joking when I say this, but I’m really not!). Katie handled them pretty well, but if you’re anything like me (ok I know nobody else out there has this anxiety, but please just humor me so I can feel slightly more normal) you’ll want a beach with a bigger sand area so you can avoid the groups.
The concession stand is nicer than expected, and there are restrooms here, but they're only a step up from a nice-looking shrub.
The views of the Loop from 12th Street Beach (which should technically be 13th St Beach, but you know, superstition) are amazing, and the short walks to Northerly Island, Burnham Harbor, and three world-class museums make for a great day-trip. It’s a kid-friendly location, and one of those beaches that will still be a great destination even after beach season. Don’t forget to check out the area bike paths, too.
Until next time, be kind and hydrate!
Parking: It’s there, but you need to turn on the charm or brace for a long walk
Atmosphere: Kid-friendly, vacationlike
Food/Restrooms: Yes to both
Overall Grade: B+
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