Before I came to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, just 10 miles north of Chicago, I envisioned a quiet college town with long, snowy winters. I never considered my university a beach school – until a friend suggested going to Clark Street Beach next to campus.
It felt surreal when I took off my shoes, and my toes touched the sand. For a split second, I felt disoriented – as Lake Michigan’s waves gently lapped the shore, and the water stretched to the end of the horizon – and it did not feel like Chicago. The water body was so large that it felt as if I were looking at the ocean. The sand was warm, but I was surprised at how chilly the water was after dipping my foot inside.
For Midwest residents, oceans might seem far away. But when you need a beach vacation, you don't need to travel to the West or East Coast. Here are some amazing beaches in the Midwest.
A local's beach guide to Puerto Rico: Which beaches to visit, what to know in San Juan, Culebra and more
A local's beach guide to Uruguay: Which beaches to visit, what to know in Maldonado and Rocha
Park Point Beach, Duluth, Minn.
Stretching for 7 miles, Park Point is the longest freshwater sandbar in the world. One side of the natural sandpit looks out to Lake Superior, and the other faces Superior Bay. In addition to swimming and sunbathing on the beach, you could play beach volleyball and reserve pavilions and grills.
Summer vacation: 13 beach umbrellas that bring the style and shade
Are hotel reward programs worth it: Yes, but benefits are small for infrequent customers.
Bradford Beach, Milwaukee
About 10 minutes drive from Milwaukee’s city center, the beach has parking nearby, and many locals come to this urban beach to play sports and relax, especially during the summer. Even though the water is chilly, you could play and swim in Lake Michigan. If that isn’t for you, you could dine at The Dock, a waterfront bar and grill on the beach.
Oak Street Beach, Chicago
Only 2 miles away from Chicago’s Cloud Gate and flanked by skyscrapers, Oak Street Beach is a popular destination for Chicagoans who want to get away from the city hustle. Swimming is permitted during lifeguarded hours, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., but Lake Michigan’s water is relatively cold – even during the summer.
A local's beach guide to Mexico: Which beaches to visit, what to know in Cancún, Puerto Vallarta and more
Clinch Park Beach, Traverse City, Mich.
From Adirondack chairs commanding great views to a splash pad area where children and adults alike can play, there is something for everyone at Clinch Park Beach. You can rent kayaks and paddle boards to venture farther into Lake Michigan should you desire, or you can rent bikes to explore nearby trails.
Indiana Dunes National Park Beach, Porter, Ind.
On the southern shore of Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park offers 15 miles of sandy beaches, where you can watch birds and enjoy sunset strolls. But the park has an entrance fee of $15 per person or $25 per family-size vehicle.
'I have been made fun of by people young and old': Plus-size travelers face additional scrutiny at the beach
Headlands Beach, Mentor, Ohio
Less than an hour's drive from Cleveland, Headlands Beach stretches more than a mile, which makes it the largest natural beach in the state. Mid-July is a great time to visit because of the Headlands BeachFest, where you can compete in a sandcastle building contest and join other festivities.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Midwest beaches in Duluth, Milwaukee, Chicago, Traverse City, Porter