The official user's manual for sunshine

The Life Aquatic: Touring the lakefront in a Speedo

Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

By David Witter

No chlorine. No walls. No ladders. There is nothing like treading water over the rolling waves of Lake Michigan and looking up at Navy Pier, Lake Shore Drive, or the Chicago skyline while you do it. Take a mask or goggles with you and on a sunny day you can see schools of minnows, shiny green perch, skittering crawfish and the occasional big white carp hanging out on, under and between the rocks on the lake bottom. Or dive into the murky black water after nightfall, then open your eyes underwater to complete darkness.

Beach closings, a falling lake level, more aggressive lifeguards and reconstruction of shoreline walls make swimming in Lake Michigan more of a chore, but there are still great places to experience the urban wonder of actually swimming in the lake.
For good swimmers, (I was a lifeguard for eight years) the best way to experience Lake Michigan is swimming off Chicago’s numerous rocks and ledges. In our recent past, any area that was not a sand beach, from Grand Avenue to Rogers Park, was littered with jagged, broken and deteriorating cement walls. Many a summer’s day I have climbed, hung and contorted my body against crashing waves to dive off of a jagged rock into the lake. Entering is the easy part, as getting out usually requires crawling up a cement block covered with slick seaweed or finding a handhold of stone or rusted rebar. There are generally no lifeguards in these areas, and the people along the secluded shoreline are often too busy making out, drinking, smoking reefer or staring at the occasional topless or thong-wearing bather to help you, so don’t try this alone. But if you are young, adventurous and a good swimmer, there are still a few places left where you and a friend can dive in and swim for as long as you want in almost any direction. Read the rest of this entry »

Sun Worship: Beach-blanket bingo

Swimming & Beaches, User's Guide to Summer No Comments »

With more than 4,500 miles of coastline, the Great Lakes region offers the beach-bound a diverse selection for building sand castles. While a car ride of less than two hours will take you to several fantastic natural beaches carved out around Lake Michigan’s historic sand dunes, a walk or a bus is all it takes to reach Chicago’s rather extraordinary string of 28 lakefront public beaches. Chicago’s beaches, like the city itself, offer a lively ethnic mix of revelers, as well as a level of upkeep that ranges from excellent to sadly unkempt. Oak Street and North Avenue have fairly established reps, but here’s a sampler of some spots you might not have discovered, organized from south to north. Unless noted, beaches are guarded from 9:00am to 9:30pm daily from June to Labor Day, and have both changing facilities and concession stands. Read the rest of this entry »