We’re so spoiled living on big, beautiful Lake Michigan. Sure, the water is usually freezing, but nothing beats a day at the beach. All 28 miles of Chicago lakefront are managed by the Chicago Park District and are free and open to the public. Before you head out for the day, check out beach conditions at www.chicagoparkdistrict.com!

Here are my picks for the Top Chicago Beaches – guaranteed to make for an excellent lazy day at the lake.

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images))

North Avenue Beach

1600 North Lake Shore Drive

Sure, it can be crowded, but that’s what makes for the fantastic people watching. North Avenue Beach boasts amazing skyline views and a nice expanse of sand for sunning. Castaways, the beach house shaped like a boat, is your go-to place for a drink and a cover band. Bring your volleyball and jump into a game, or grab a beer and a sun visor and find a place in the crowd to catch the annual Air & Water show (August 20 – 21, airandwater.cbslocal.com). Watch out for the busy pathways: passerbys have been known to get caught up in oncoming bikers and rollerbladers.

(credit: BikeChicago.com)

Foster Avenue Beach

5200 North Lake Shore Drive

This beach is the kid friendliest of them all. Easy parking and a handicap access ramp to the beach makes it possible to drive the buggy right up to the lakefront. Foster Avenue Beach is less crowded with a family atmosphere and vigilant lifeguards. Outdoor showers mean you won’t drag the beach back into your car. At a hut steps from the beach house, you can rent bikes and boardwalk bicycles built for the entire family – a long and less populated pathway is perfect for riding on south to the next beach (Montrose Beach) and back. Bring some dollar bills for cotton candy and paletas (Mexican style fruity ice popsicles).

(credit: ExploreChicago.org)

Rainbow Beach

3111 East 77th Street 

Home of the tumultuous 1961 “freedom wade-in,” this peaceful beach captures the city skyline in its viewfinder. Not too crowded and never too crazy (a la North Avenue or Hollywood Beach) it’s another good choice for families. Metered parking and handicap accessible. Bring a picnic to enjoy under the shade of a tree at the adjacent Rainbow Beach Park.

(credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Oak Street Beach

1000 North Lake Shore Drive

Shop the boutiques on Oak Street then head to this beach, nestled in a lakeside corner of the Gold Coast. Enjoy the city’s architecture on one side and the seemingly never-ending lake horizon on the other. Another good spot for people watching, Oak Street Beach turns a yet little more South beach when the fake palm trees are installed early every summer.

Amy Bocchetta is a writer, a teacher, and a mom to two kids. She lives in the city and blogs at TiramisuMom.com.