Perhaps because winters can be brutal, Chicagoans take their summers seriously. In the warmer months, with the wide blue lake and the ample green parks, it's easy to think that the city is one big grown-up playground. Whether you prefer your activity in the water or on dry ground, you'll probably find it here. For information, contact the city's park district (tel. 312/742-PLAY ; www.chicagoparkdistrict.com); for questions about the 29 miles of beaches and parks along Lake Michigan, call the park district's lakefront region office at tel. 312/747-2474.
Public beaches line Lake Michigan all the way up north into the suburbs and Wisconsin, and southeast through Indiana and into Michigan. Beaches officially open with a full retinue of lifeguards on duty around June 20, though swimmers can wade into the chilly water from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Only the bravest souls venture into the water before July, when the temperature creeps up enough to make swimming an attractive proposition. Please take note that the entire lakefront is not beach, and don't go do anything stupid such as dive off the rocks.
Biking is a great way to see the city, particularly along the lakefront bike path that extends for more than 18 miles. The stretch between Navy Pier and North Avenue Beach gets extremely crowded in the summer (you're jostling for space with in-line skaters, joggers, and dawdling pedestrians). If you're looking to pick up some speed, I recommend biking south (once you're past the Museum Campus, the trail is relatively wide open, and you can zip all the way to Hyde Park). If you want a more leisurely tour with people-watching potential, head north (through the crowds). After you pass Belmont Harbor, the traffic lets up a bit. Ride all the way to Hollywood Beach (where the lakefront trail ends) for a good but not exhausting workout. For details and more trails: https://www.frommers.com/destinations/chicago/active-pursuits/biking
Divvy is the name of Chicago’s bike-share program (www.divvybikes.com) and, with nearly 600 stations and almost 6,000 bikes around town, it’s an ideal way for visitors to grab two wheels and go. A single ride on a powder-blue cruiser, which includes 30 minutes on the bike, is $3, or you can get a 24-hour pass for $15. With the latter, you can spend 3 hours on the bike before you need to return it to a dock (you can then take it out again or exchange it for another bike after you check in). Download the Divvy app to purchase your pass and you’ll get a code to unlock a bike. Just be sure to plan your route around Divvy stations, so you have one when you need it. Of the rides listed above, your best bet for Divvy station concentration is the Lakefront Path and the 606. Note: You’ll need to bring your own helmet.
For a sportier bike (and a helmet), head over to Bike and Roll Chicago (tel. 312/729-1000; www.bikechicago.com), which has staffed locations at Millennium Park and Navy Pier, and automated locations at the North Branch Trail and Dan Ryan Woods. Bike rentals start at $12.50 per hour and $35 for the day and feature shiny new Trek bicycles. The company also offers easy 2- to 3-hour bike tours of the lakefront and neighborhoods; tours start at around $45 for adults, $35 kids under 12. If you want to try something different, Bike and Roll also offers Segway tours of the lakefront and parks, at $75 for adults and $65 for people ages 12 to 20 for a 2-hour tour on the lakefront.
Both the park district (tel. 312/742-PLAY ) and the Active Transportation Alliance (tel. 312/427-3325; www.activetrans.org) offer free maps that detail popular biking routes. The latter, which is the preeminent organization for cyclists in Chicago, sells a much larger, more extensive map that shows routes within a seven-county area. The federation sponsors a number of bike rides throughout the year, including the highly enjoyable Boulevard Lakefront Tour, held in September, which follows the historic circle of boulevards that had their genesis in the Chicago Plan of 1909. It starts in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago campus.
A word of caution: Never head anywhere on the city's streets without first strapping on a helmet. Designated bike lanes have been added to many main thoroughfares, but most cabbies and drivers tend to ignore them. Bike with extreme caution on city streets (you can get a ticket for biking on the sidewalk), and stick to the lakefront path if you're not an expert rider. Locking your bike anywhere you go is a no-brainer.
For a major metropolis, Chicago has an impressive number of golf options within the city limits (not to mention many plush and pricey suburban courses).
To warm up your swing, head to the Diversey Driving Range, 141 W. Diversey Pkwy. (tel. 312/742-7929), in Lincoln Park just north of Diversey Harbor. This two-level range attracts all levels -- from show-off heavy hitters to beginners -- and is very popular on weekends with young singles who live in the surrounding apartment buildings. The price is right ($16 for a bucket of 100 balls), and the setting is pretty much perfect.
The Chicago Park District runs six golf courses in the city. One of the most popular is the 9-hole Sydney Marovitz Course, 3600 N. Lake Shore Dr. (at Waveland Ave.), which many Chicagoans simply call Waveland. Thanks to its picturesque lakefront location, it's always full on weekends, so make a reservation well in advance (and don't expect a quick game -- this is where beginners come to practice). Another good bet -- and usually less crowded -- is the 18-hole course in Jackson Park on the South Side (63rd St. and Stoney Island Ave.). These city-run courses are open from mid-April through November; for information on greens fees, location, and hours, call the Chicago Park District golf office (tel. 312/245-0909; www.cpdgolf.com).
For information about suburban golf courses, visit the website of the Chicago District Golf Association (www.cdga.org).
The city's premier skating destination is the McCormick-Tribune Ice Rink at Millennium Park, 55 N. Michigan Ave. (tel. 312/742-5222). The location is pretty much perfect: You're skating in the shadows of grand skyscrapers and within view of the lake. The rink is open daily from 10am to 10pm November through March. Admission is free, and skate rentals are $10.
The park district runs dozens of other skating surfaces throughout the city, along the lakefront and in neighborhood parks. Call tel. 312/742-PLAY  for locations. There's also a relatively small rink at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave. (tel. 312/595-PIER ).
Kayaking and Paddling
Where there’s water, there are water sports, and you can take a stand-up paddleboard class near North Avenue Beach at Chicago SUP (tel. 773/575-4787; www.chicagosup.com) for about $65 for up to 30 minutes of lesson time, plus an hour of paddle time. Urban Kayaks (tel. 312/965-0035; www.urbankayaks.com) rents kayaks by the hour ($30 per person per hour) and offers guided tours (starting at $45). You can choose to take in the skyline from Lake Michigan or paddle along the Chicago River. Urban Kayaks has two locations—at Columbia Yacht Club, 111 N. Lake Shore Dr., and the Chicago Riverwalk, 435 E. Chicago Riverwalk.
It seems a shame just to sit on the beach and watch all those beautiful sailboats gliding across the lake, so go on, get out there. Chicago Sailing, in Belmont Harbor (tel. 773/871-SAIL ; www.chicagosailing.com), rents J-22 and J-30 boats from 9am to sunset, weather permitting, May through October. A J-30, which accommodates up to 10 people, costs $105 to $125 per hour. If you want to take the boat out without a skipper, you need to demonstrate your skills first (for an additional fee). If you'd rather sit back and relax, you can charter a boat. Reservations are recommended.
The Chicago Park District maintains about 30 indoor pools for lap swimming and general splashing around, but none is particularly convenient to downtown. The lakefront is open for swimming until 9:30pm Memorial Day to Labor Day in areas watched over by lifeguards (no swimming off the rocks, please). But be forewarned: The water is usually freezing. If you're willing to take a dip anyway, a good place for lake swimming is the water along the wall beginning at Ohio Street Beach, slightly northwest of Navy Pier. The Chicago Triathlon Club marks a course here each summer with a buoy at both the quarter- and half-mile distances. This popular swimming route follows the shoreline in a straight line. The water is fairly shallow. For more information, call the park district's beach and pool office (tel. 312/742-PLAY ).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.