Beaches throughout the Great Lakes are monitored for fecal indicator bacteria (typically Escherichia coli) in order to protect the public from potential sewage contamination. Currently, there is no universal standard for sample collection and analysis or results interpretation. Monitoring policies are developed by individual beach management jurisdictions, and applications are highly variable across and within lakes, states, and provinces. Extensive research has demonstrated that sampling decisions for time, depth, number of replicates, frequency of sampling, and laboratory analysis all influence the results outcome, as well as calculations of the mean and interpretation of the results in policy decisions. Additional shortcomings to current monitoring approaches include appropriateness and reliability of currently used indicator bacteria and the overall goal of these monitoring programs. Current research is attempting to circumvent these complex issues by developing new tools and methods for beach monitoring. In this review, we highlight the variety of sampling routines used across the Great Lakes and the extensive body of research that challenges comparisons among beaches. We also assess the future of Great Lakes monitoring and the advantages and disadvantages of establishing standards that are evenly applied across all beaches.