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Beaches beyond the city

Easy-going alternatives for a last summer hurrah.
By Elisa Drake |

Gillson Park
(Lake Ave at Lake Michigan, Wilmette; 847-256-9660; From its inhospitable beginnings as 22 acres of dense blue clay, Gillson has morphed into a 59-acre recreation destination with trees, sailboat rentals (847-256-9662), tennis courts, a pirate-ship-themed tot lot, sand volleyball and a smallish beachfront (about a half-mile long) that makes it easy to keep an eye on frolicking wee ones. No noshes allowed on the sand, but picnicking and grilling are allowed on the grass (get permits at the beach house). There’s a snack shack behind the beach, too. Open through September 5.
Entry fees
$8.50 (6–8pm $3); residents $4.25 (6–8pm $1.50). If you don’t snag a free on-street spot (east of Michigan Avenue off Sheridan), daily parking permits are $10 ($12 on weekends).

Paddock Lake (75th St and 236th Ave, Paddock Lake, WI; 262-843-2713) This petite public beach about 60 miles north of the city over the Wisconsin border has a rural country feeling. A shady lawn, barbecue grills and tables make picnicking a cinch, though you do need your own provisions as there are no vendors. Lake temps are generally comfy, and you’ll have no worries about waves dunking little ones on the quiet water. Newish restrooms, a playground, weekend lifeguards and an off-leash dog park round out the offerings. Open through September 5.
Entry fees
$10 per car (residents $5); walk-ups or cyclists $1.

Centennial Beach
(500 W Jackson Ave, Naperville; 630-848-5092; Unless you’re a resident, you probably don’t know there’s a beach in downtown Naperville. Formerly a quarry, the six-acre lifeguarded facility, about 30 miles west of the city, actually doubles as a pool, with two acres of chlorinated water, three diving boards, floating rafts, a waterslide and lap lanes. Tots can get toes wet in the zero-depth end, while big kids practice cannonballs in deeper parts. Water features spout and spray, and the sandy shore is a good place for shovels and pails. A concession stand sells hot dogs, burgers, shaved ice and smoothies, and paddleboat rentals are available next door. Open through September 6.
Entry fees
Nonresident admission is $10 or $3 after 5pm; parking is free.

Independence Grove
(16400 W Buckley Rd, Libertyville; 847-968-3499; This spectacularly scenic 1,145-acre prairie and woodland area features hiking, biking, boating, bird-watching, fishing and swimming in a 115-acre manmade lake. Oh-so-warm compared to Lake Michigan, it also has a graded sandy beach with roped-off swimming space, beach house with showers and café, and a nearby accessible playground. Lifeguards are on duty 10am to 6pm, and chairs and umbrellas are available for rent. Open through September 5.
Entry fees
$7 ($4 after 3pm); Lake County residents $4 ($2). Parking Mon-Thu $5, Fri-Sun and holidays $10, free for Lake County residents.

West Beach, Indiana Dunes (North County Line Rd, Portage, IN; 219-395-1882; There’s no battling for blanket space at this vast beach on the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, about an hour southeast of the city. The no-frills attitude (it does have a bathhouse and lifeguards, but not much else) makes it ideal for old-fashioned family frolicking. If the kids get bored with the sand and surf, there are 5 miles of trails to tire them out. Hike up the Dune Succession Trail (but be prepared for a steep, 25-step staircase) for a scenic lake overlook. Open through September 5.
Entry fees
$6 per vehicle.

Elisa Drake is the author of Day Trips from Chicago (Globe Pequot).

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