Rainbow Beach and the surrounding Rainbow Beach Park totals more than 60 acres in the South Chicago neighborhood. Along with a dune habitat and beautiful shoreline, the park includes a gymnasium, fitness center, handball courts and a historic community garden. Distance swimming is allowed parallel to the shoreline, with lifeguards on duty each day. The park is home to sporting fields and playgrounds, and hosts an array of community events throughout the year.
Rainbow Beach Park History
Rainbow Beach Park began as two municipal beaches. The park is named for the U.S. Army’s 42nd Rainbow Division that fought nobly in World War I. The beaches were first established in 1908 by the Special Parks Commission, which looked to create recreational space in densely populated areas.
The beach was at 79th Street and Lake Michigan at the time, called Rocky Ledge Beach (which referred to the limestone ledge that served as the shoreline’s promenade). The beach was heavily used, and by 1912, featured bathrooms and changing rooms with electric lights. This allowed the beach to remain open until 9:30pm, which was ideal for working men and women of the era.
The city embarked on efforts to expand the beach in 1914, acquiring the land between 75th Street and Rocky Ledge Beach. The new site was dubbed Rainbow Beach in 1918. The smaller Rocky Ledge Beach served as a children’s beach until 1959, when the two were consolidated into the current layout.
The park still lacked recreational facilities until 1999, when the Chicago Park District built a large field house, designed by David Woodhouse Architects. Today, it still takes in the views of Rainbow Beach as well as the city skyline.
Rainbow Beach Park Details
Drive to Rainbow Beach and park at the pay-and-display parking lot. Or, take the bus on an array of CTA routes. Once you arrive, there’s plenty to do to spend the whole day. In all, the beach and park spans over 60 acres. A natural area features 9 acres of dune habitat.
In the park, enjoy one of the city’s oldest community gardens. There’s also a beach and comfort station as well as courts for basketball, tennis and handball. Several baseball diamonds are accompanied by two ADA-accessible playgrounds. The fields, gymnasium and multipurpose club rooms are available for rent.
The park also features a monument dedicated to its namesake. The 50th Anniversary of the Rainbow Division of WWI monument was constructed by a group of veterans in 1967. The large granite tablet honors the Rainbow Division, etched in a semi-circular piece of granite to reflect a rainbow.
The beach also features some innovative green initiatives. The Park District partnered with the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2013 to install a prototype stormwater filter. The filter cleans water that washed off on the parking lot onto the beach. It is an inground permeable reactive filter system aimed at reducing pollution on Rainbow Beach.
Rainbow Beach Park Events
Rainbow Beach park hosts an array of after-school programs throughout the school year. In the summer, it is home to the popular six-week day camp. Along with youth programs, it hosts special events throughout the year, including movie nights and family holiday events.
There’s plenty of recreation year-round for groups of all ages. There are youth and adult fitness classes, teen clubs, senior clubs and cheerleading and basketball leagues.