Always remember to check the park district Web site before you head out to the beaches, which close periodically during the summer. There's nothing worse than getting out to the lakeshore on a hot day with a carload of kids, only to find out the water's off limits. For more information on all the Chicago beaches, visit chicagoparkdistrict.com.
Montrose Beach has concessions at the beach house, a dog-friendly area, a grassy area for picnics and accessible parking, bathrooms and beach walk (great for strollers and wheelchairs). There's also a nature area.
Montrose Beach, 4400 N. Lake Shore Drive (Montrose Ave. @ Lake Michigan)
Oakwood Beach might be your best bet for least-crowded beaches since it's fairly new. It has the requisite beach walk, parking and bathrooms, without the mobs of people.
Oakwood Beach, 4100 S. Lake Shore Drive (41st St. @ Lake Michigan, parking @ Oakwood Blvd.)
North Avenue Beach. If you can navigate your way across the busiest stretch of the lake path, North Avenue is the best the North Side has to offer. Yes, it's busy, but it's busy for a reason -- walkable from Lincoln Park and the zoo, the cute little footbridge over Lake Shore Drive (which is a great place to take in the sunset if you're out in the evening), and Castaways, the bar and grille with plenty of kid-friendly options. A word to the wise: Keep an eye out for errant volleyballs...and scantily clad twentysomething.
1600 N. Lake Shore Drive (North Ave. @ Lake Michigan)
31st Street Beach has a great skyline view, plus a playground, new harbor, green space and restaurant.
3100 S. Lake Shore Drive (31st St. @ Lake Michigan)
63rd Street Beach has a historic beach house kids can play in, plus a great fountain for kids to splash in if they don't want to swim in the lake.
6300 S. Lake Shore Drive. (E. Hayes Drive @ Lake Michigan)
South Shore Beach has tennis courts, a golf course, the South Shore Cultural Center with its Parrot Cage restaurant and a nature area.
7059 S. South Shore Dr. (71st St. @ Lake Michigan)
Rainbow Beach Park has baseball fields, football/soccer fields, handball/racquetball, playground, tennis and volleyball. Now you just need to fit in time to swim.
2873 E. 75th Street (75th St. @ Lake Michigan)
12th Street Beach is on the museum campus and right next door to Northerly Island's nature areas, so you can visit a museum, swim in the lake and ride your bike in the park all in one day. There's a paved lot next to the beach or park in the Adler Planetarium lot (you have to pay to park in either lot).
1200 S. Lynn White Drive (12th St. @ Lake Michigan, on Northerly Island)