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If you’re devoting your entire Chicago visit to museum-going, eating and shopping, then you’re missing out on one of the city’s hotspots: Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan, Chicago | Mr & Mrs Smith

Don’t be deceived by the bright blue waters and happy swimmers – this is no tropical Caribbean island. Chicago’s long shoreline surprises visitors, but locals and savvy travellers know how to make the most of Lake Michigan.

The city has 26 miles of public beaches, all open year-round and each with its own character. We especially love Oak Street Beach, and not just because it’s a couple blocks from both Public Chicago and The James Chicago; this sprawling expanse of sand next to the Gold Coast neighbourhood has events and food while the warm weather lasts, and always makes for a fun, only-in-Chicago picnic spot. And, just this summer, the city announced free WiFi at five beaches – including Montrose and North Avenue – with more to be added next summer.

No matter what time of year you’re there, you’ll find the 18-mile Lakefront Trail busy with cyclists, runners, roller bladers and sun-seekers. Get a full cross-section of the city by borrowing bikes from your hotel and cycling from end to end. Stop at shady spots like Promontory Point Park, pictured above, for a swim or a picnic.

And everyone knows that the best views are always from the water, so take in Chicago’s signature skyline and diverse architecture from the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s river cruise. Held daily mid-April through mid-November, the 90-minute tours are led by docents from the Architecture Foundation, so you’re definitely getting more than your average boat ride.

Has your Chicago wanderlust been sparked? Check out our full collection of Chicago hotels to find the right one for your stay.

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