Headlands Beach State Park
Size & Sand: The beach is a mile-long "natural" stretch of sand. Weeds and rocks are frequent elements of the beach backdrop, but they only add to the natural milieu.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Crowds: Big -- as many as 10,000 can fill the beach on the weekends. The atmosphere is busy and fun, with families, singles, surfers, sand-castle masters, and more.
Water: 70F early summer, 80F late summer.
Best Features: The park is well outfitted with change booths, picnic tables, a concession area, and nice restrooms; the beach is big and sandy enough for volleyball and football; and the breakwall's a great spot to reel in smallmouth, rock bass, or yellow perch. Headlands Dunes State Nature Preserve, at the east end of the park, is one of the finest beach-and-dune communities in Ohio.
Worst Features: The undertow around the Headlands, which can increase after storms or on windy days.
9601 Headlands Road, Mentor; 216-881-8141
Edgewater Park Beach
Size & Sand: A 900-foot stretch of sandy land, raked weekly.
Lifeguards: Daily, noon to 7 p.m.
Crowds: City dwellers -- families, 20-somethings (and their pets), wind surfers, and bums. Expect about 3,000 on weekends.
Water: 70F early summer, 80F by August.
Best Features: The restrooms, drinking fountains, picnicking, and concessions (a stand selling snacks and drinks) have all improved in recent years; a pavilion and band shell are both for rent.
Worst Features: Bacterial problems -- it's close to the city's water-treatment plant. And in high heat, insects can be brutal.
8701 Lake Shore Boulevard, 216-881-8141
East Harbor State Park Beach
Size & Sand: 1,500-foot beach with soft beige-and-white sand, which is raked often.
Lifeguards: Daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Crowds: Big enough on weekends to make parking a problem.
Water: Chillier than at other beaches, East Harbor averages 72F in August.
Best Features: It's a beautiful bathing location (on a clear day, you can see Kelleys Island, South Bass Island -- even Canada), the new South Beach Trail, for walkers and bikers, runs along the shore; the picnic areas have gorgeous views; there's a full-service marina with a restaurant.
Worst Features: The lack of adequate parking and the bugs, which can be more than a nuisance in high humidity.
1169 North Buck Road, Lakeside-Marblehead; 419-734-4424 (park office), 419-734-5857 (camp office), 419-734-2289 (marina)
Size & Sand: There's a 300-foot guarded swimming area; the beach is made up of loose sand and small rocks, with a grassy bank in back.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Crowds: The beach only holds about 2,000 visitors.
Water: Temp reaches 74F in July and August; there's a good underwater visibility (4 to 5 feet).
Best Features: The beach is small and secluded, with a quaint, rural feel; it's two miles from nightspots in Geneva-on-the-Lake; 12 cedar cabins are for rent in the park, as well as guest rooms with lake views in the new lodge and conference center.
Worst Features: It's a small beach with few amenities -- like shower houses with flush toilets; boat traffic from the nearby marina can encroach on your peace and quiet.
Geneva State Park, 4499 Padanarum Road, Geneva; 440-466-8400 (park office), 440-466-7565 (marina)
Size & Sand: Extending about 1,200 feet along Bay Village's Huntington Reservation, the beach is bejeweled with soft beige sand, which will get the royal treatment this summer with the park's new beach-cleaner system.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Crowds: On weekends, up to 4,000 people.
Water: 52F to 70F (average 65F).
Best Features: The Honey Hut ice-cream-and-concession stand and a snazzy new volleyball court (on the beach, weekends); it's about three miles to Westlake and Bay Village.
Worst Features: The water is cold, with unpredictable currents, which are worse on the far west beach; the beach is closed when waves get too high (3 to 5 feet).
Huntington Reservation, Porter Creek Drive (off Lake Road); 216-351-6300
Size & Sand: The 400-foot beach is raked three times weekly and replenished every year; the mix of sand is fine and soft.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Crowds: Only around 300 people can fit on the beach, so get there early.
Water: 52F to 70F (average 65F); unusually clear -- at 5 to 6 feet, you can see to the bottom.
Best Features: Quarry Rock Café has good eats; there are decent restrooms with running water, a baseball field, and a picnic area; you can rent paddleboats and kayaks.
Worst Features: Did we mention that it's really, really small?
Mill Stream Run Reservation, Valley Parkway, Berea; 440-826-1682
Size & Sand: About 400 feet long, the beach is raked three times a week and topped off every year.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Crowds: The beach is moderately busy; the maximum draw is around 300.
Water: 52F to 70F (65F average); slightly murkier than at Wallace.
Best Features: There's Buzzard's Cove, which has an ice-cream stand and other food; inside Hinckley Park, there are picnic areas, a baseball diamond, and a reservation offering fishing, swimming, rock climbing (permit required), and miles of all-purpose and bridle trails. It's the Metroparks' most secluded and varied park.
Worst Features: The bottom of the swimming area is a bit rocky; water snakes have been known to visit.
Hinckley Reservation, Bellus Road in Hinckley Township; 216-351-6300
Crane Creek State Park Beach
Size & Sand: The spacious 3,500 feet of lake sand and zebra mussels runs along the coast for about half a mile, with steel groins every 500 feet.
Lifeguards: Daily, noon to 8 p.m.
Crowds: The beach can hold 8,000 visitors, but usually doesn't attract nearly that many.
Water: Mid-70s with minor fluctuation; the visibility is low -- about 3 feet max.
Best Features: It's remote and quiet, with no visible commercialism, and home to more than 300 kinds of birds, including herons, warblers, gulls, and magnificent bald eagles.
Worst Features: Facilities are almost nonexistent: restrooms are literally crappy and include vault latrines and Porta-Johns only. Running water is available only from a few small fountains on the beach. Pack your sandals -- you'll need 'em to brave the sharp mussel shells in the sand.
13531 West State Route 2, Oak Harbor; 419-836-7758
Villa Angela/Euclid Beach
Size & Sand: Villa Angela is a 1,000-foot swimming beach framed by a boardwalk trail, bathhouse, and fishing pier; it offers a sandy-smooth beachhead and is definitely the nicer of the two beaches. Euclid Beach offers a 650-foot swimming coast, which is pretty rocky.
Lifeguards: Daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at Villa Angela; none at Euclid Beach.
Crowds: Both beaches are rather quiet, with crowd capacities around 1,000.
Water: 70F to 80F.
Best Features: A one-mile paved fitness path connects Villa Angela with Euclid Beach on the west and with Wildwood on the east; Euclid Beach has some shaded picnic areas as well as a playground and a scenic-observation pier; a naturalist leads recreational activities and educational programs around both parks.
Worst Features: Unprotected and rocky, Euclid Beach offers a really mediocre shoreline. Being so close to the city, both beaches have occasional bacterial-water alerts.
Cleveland Lakefront State Park, 8701 Lake Shore Boulevard, NE; 216-881-8141