Chicago’s beaches are open, welcoming back summer after far too longon May 27, 2021 at 9:58 pm

The long-awaiting reopening of 22 city beaches on Friday lifts our spirits as it hints to us that Chicago summers are coming back.

Because of COVID-19, Chicago’s celebrated beaches haven’t been open to the public since Sept. 2, 2019, which seems so long ago. Wading or swimming along miles and miles of sandy shoreline feels like a distant memory.

But now the signs of summer are around us. After a year of hiatus, Buckingham Fountain’s spectacular displays are back. Navy Pier began a phased reopening on April 30. Strolling along the city’s Riverwalk beckons us. Lollapalooza will return to Grant Park in August.

Chicago summers are what make it worth enduring The Hawk as it blasts us with winter’s icy gusts. Summers are why we put up with autumns that turn frigid too soon and springs that are so reluctant to emerge from overcast skies and slushy sidewalks.

Summer in Chicago feels like a season-long holiday. Music, street fairs and festivals — and their accompanying aromas of varied and sumptuous food — brighten almost every neighborhood. Diners enjoy sidewalk cafes. Chicagoans wander through art fairs and farmer’s markets. Kayakers paddle along the North Branch of the Chicago River. Rooftop dining offers panoramic views of the city. Artists and organizations perform around the city in Night Out in the Parks. SummerDance brings music and dancing. You can picnic in a park or walk through the neighborhoods and get tacos or barbecue or pierogi or hang out to watch the Sox or Cubs in a bar, where the beers are cheaper than in the ballpark.

Illinois hasn’t yet beaten COVID-19. On Thursday, the state announced 891 new cases and 42 more deaths. But 66% of adult Illinoisans have received at least one shot of a vaccine, and the state and city are loosening restrictions.

Enforcement of beach closings was, shall we say, less than aggressive. But now beachgoers can frolic in the water again without worrying about running afoul of the law. They can take in the sights that amaze tourists: expanses of blue water or wavy days set against a city skyline, sailboats in the distance and cyclists, joggers and strollers enjoying the lakefront trails. Lifeguards will be back.

The beaches are open. Summers are returning. It’s a moment Chicago long has awaited.

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