Monday morning, North Avenue Beach looked more like one of MTV’s Spring Break reality shows than Chicago in May.
Summer-like weather and the Memorial Day holiday brought out beachgoers in droves—making it nearly impossible by noon to find a free spot on the sand near the water.
David Oliva found more space on the rocks closer to Oak Street Beach. He says he’s a regular at the beach—where he swims through the winter—and was surprised to see so many out so early.
“It’s picking up fast,” he said. “Usually they come at 2 in the afternoon because they spend all morning getting out of bed and looking for their towel and sunglasses and buying sun tan lotion and then they finally get here.”
Indeed, the crowds arrived early at Montrose Beach as well, where Chicago Police blocked the entrances at Montrose and Wilson by 11:30 a.m. due to overcrowding in the area.
Still, the beaches there weren’t nearly as crowded as those at Oak and North Avenue. Most of early arrivers were setting up picnic sites in the grassy areas of the park.
But even at the most crowded beaches, few were venturing into the 59-degree waters. Oliva said he’d already swum a mile, but Rachel Grizak from Naperville said, “Have you felt that water? It’s like 32 degrees. It’s crazy. There is no way I’m going in there.”
But friends Charity Ortega and Lauren Pesak were contemplating their second icy plunge.
“It’s really, really cold, like takes-your-breath-away cold but you have to try it, it’s the first day of summer,” Ortega said.
With that, Pesak flung herself in and announced, “It’s so cold but not as bad the second time.”
Visitors noted more police presence around beaches. One officer at North Avenue beach said there’d been a scuffle there.
All city beaches reported safe swimming conditions Memorial Day weekend, but Park District officials encourage beachgoers to check the district’s website for bacterial conditions at the beach before heading out. This year the city has expanded its real time bacteria tracking to nine major beaches.
Monica Eng is a WBEZ food and health reporter. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org