5 kid-friendly beaches in Chicago

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the parenting column

If you want to hear your kids scream out with unbridled excitement, say these words to them: "Who wants to go to the beach?"

Chicago has several fantastically free beaches that are open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, and they each offer something a little different. Grab sunscreen, wide brimmed hats, lots of water and a couple of beach towels; then head to one of these sandy local destinations for some fun in the sun.

1) Loyola-Leone Beach, 7032 N. Sheridan Rd.
With water as far as the eye can see, this beach will entice little ones to ask, "What ocean is this?" Loyola-Leone Beach is Chicago's largest beach. It stretches eight blocks from Pratt Avenue to Touhy Avenue. Families will find a fishing pier here as well as a basketball court, softball fields and a nicely crafted playground. For foodstuffs and a stunning view, head on over to the Heartland Café-on-the-Lake.

2) Oak Street Beach, 1000 N. Lake Shore Dr.
Volleyball courts, a lengthy boardwalk, views of The Drake Hotel and the Chicago skyline, stretches of a clean and sandy beach and ice cream vendors are all reasons why the Oak Street Beach is a great choice for your family to hang out. This beach is just north of the Magnificent Mile, which makes it a desirable location should you want to fit in some shopping or a nice lunch.

3) North Avenue Beach, 1600 N. Lake Shore Dr.
This Lincoln Park beach is one of Chicago's most popular summer spots. Volleyball, biking, kayaking and paddleboard rentals are all available. This beach is full of excellent people watching. You can hear music playing from the Castaways Bar and Grill, which is an ocean liner-inspired building, located right on the edge of the beach. It offers ice cream and quick eats on the casual lower level and sandwiches, salads, deserts and drinks on the rooftop. If you're the type of parent that wants to feel young again or like you're hanging out on a party boat, then bring your kids here; they will love the thrilling chaos as much as you do.

4) Montrose Beach, 4400 N. Lake Shore Dr.
This beach, located near Uptown, is spacious and not as crowded as many of the other Chicago beaches. Parking might prove to be difficult, however, so get there early. Kids will love to see distance swimmers, kayakers and the dog-friendly area located at the north end of the beach. The other notable feature of this summer locale lies just south of the recreational shoreline; visit the natural area full of endangered plant life and migratory birds that flock there during the fall and spring seasons.

5) 31st Street Beach, 3100 S. Lake Shore Dr.
This gem of a beach, rated 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp, is located on the south side of Chi-town. Brilliant panoramic views, a nearby skate park, picnicking, public fishing docks and the new 31st Street Harbor are all highlights for any city sun-seekers' adventure.

Life's a beach. Live it up.