Unlike other coastal cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Honolulu, it’s totally free to park alongside the Lake Michigan shoreline in Milwaukee County. From South Milwaukee to Fox Point—and plenty of spots between, including downtown Milwaukee—there are opportunities to swim in the water or simply lounge on the beach, or maybe hike alongside a pretty vista. None charge admission fees and all of the beaches are Milwaukee County-owned and open to the public.
Best times of year to visit the beaches are May through October. During the other months it can be chilly but then again, the Polar Plunge on January 1 every year proves that there is never a bad time to visit the beach!
Within the last decade, this East Side beach (accessible between East North Avenue and Kenwood Boulevard, along Lincoln Memorial Drive) has experienced a renaissance in that food and beverage options (including a custard stand called Northpoint Custard, operated by The Bartolotta Restaurants), as well as equipment rentals, finally became available. The downside is that crowds have increased. And there might be a pro-volleyball tournament happening during your visit. Still, don’t leave without sipping a fruity drink from the thatch-hut Tiki bar.
Big Bay Park
While not a beach for swimming, this gorgeous 6.7-acre spot in Whitefish Bay--about a 15- to 20-minute drive north of downtown Milwaukee--is perfect if you want a beach view while you stroll or wish to snap stunning photos of the shoreline. Access the park via Palisades Road, just north of Lake Drive.
Where East Capitol Drive meets Lake Drive is a popular beach with families and swimmers. Look for the playground equipment in a five-acre park and then take the stairs down to the sand. Or, keep an eye out for a sculpture (“Spillover II’ by Jaume Piensa) of a metal torso with gaps in the design that reveals the blue water behind it.
South Shore Beach
Attached to the park of the same name, South Shore Beach is within a residential part of the Bay View neighborhood two blocks east of South Superior Avenue. (And Saturday mornings during summer the park hosts the South Shore Farmers Market.) Locals like to walk their dogs, bicycle or take a lakeside stroll on the paved path from the park down to the beach. While a small beach, it offers a different kind of backdrop (marina) as well as, if you glance to the left, a shot of downtown Milwaukee’s skyline. Bonus: there's a beer garden in the pavilion in case you get thirsty.
Klode Park is one of the area’s best family-friendly beaches and it’s very well-maintained. While no lifeguard is on duty, it’s a great spot to swim. Access the beach from the far eastern edge of Klode Park by descending down a staircase or a paved path. Changing facilities and restrooms are on site. The view from street level is stunning—you’ll swear you’ve been transported to the Pacific Coast or the Caribbean! Be sure to pack a picnic or drop by Sendik's on Silver Spring Drive for some snacks because the grassy space is huge and boasts Lake Michigan views.
Grant Park Beach
If you want to get away from it all and not deal with crowds, then this is your beach. Part of the 381-acre Grant Park, this South Milwaukee beach is an easy 30-minute car ride south of downtown Milwaukee. Parking is plentiful and it’s recommended you bring your bicycle or hiking boots because the forested area is gorgeous and easy to access thanks to a paved path. Are you a golfer? Consider renting golf clubs or bring your own as the park boasts a golf course.
Below the park—named for Dr. Schneider, who practiced medicine in Milwaukee before his death in 1927—is a beach shoreline that’s about a half-mile hike from the parking lot but so worth the trek. While a small beach, it’s the kind of quiet cove that is a great spot to sit and reflect, or relax with a book. To learn more about the park and companion beach, visit this page published by Doctors Park Friends, tasked with protecting the park and keeping it accessible to all.