We may be far from the Atlantic and the Pacific here in Michigan, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have access to some of the most stunning beaches in the country. That’s right, each of our Great Lakes provides miles and miles of shoreline worth exploring, providing a much-needed respite from the summer heat.
That’s why we’re going on a coastal tour of some of the must-visit beach towns lining Lake Michigan, each of which is accessible with a reasonable drive from Ann Arbor! These charming beach towns have historic downtown areas lined with cafes and boutiques, sand dunes and hiking trails aplenty, and of course, expansive sandy beaches for splashing and sunbathing.
Add one or two of these desirable Lake Michigan beach towns to your summer itinerary. You could head there from Ann Arbor for a quick day trip or make a whole weekend out of it!
The small town of Grand Haven is known for its sandy beaches, picturesque lighthouse, and seasonal fountain synchronized with music and lights. Stretching for 1.5 miles along the Grand River, the Grand Haven Boardwalk is lined with a variety of restaurants, shops and other local businesses. It passes by the spectacular Grand Haven Musical Fountain (open from Memorial Day to Labor Day) and leads to Grand Haven State Park beach, which is home to a 1,151-foot pier and the historic 1839 Grand Haven Lighthouse. The historic Grand Haven downtown area has additional specialty shops, boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants and more, plus the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, which tells the story of this beloved beach town and the surrounding area.
Take a trip to the Netherlands without even booking a plane ticket by traveling to Holland, Michigan, an adorable beach town honoring the Dutch heritage. Although it is technically located along the shore of Lake Macatawa, it is a short drive to the shores of Lake Michigan. Many know the town for the annual Tulip Time Festival, which celebrates Dutch heritage, the local community, and of course, one of nature’s most beloved flowers: the tulip. But there is so much to do in Holland all year long, especially in the charming downtown area lined with cobblestone sidewalks and filled with locally owned shops, cafes, boutiques, art galleries and more. Don’t miss the frequently photographed Big Red Lighthouse, the centuries-old windmill at Windmill Island Gardens, and Holland State Park, which is one of the most-visited state parks in Michigan!
Situated on Lake Michigan at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River, Ludington is a harbor town with fewer crowds than some of its neighbors. The nearby Ludington State Park is just north of Ludington, and offers 5,300 acres to explore, including sand dunes at the north and south ends of the park. Ludington is also home to the Historic White Pine Village, which has 30 historic nineteenth-century structures from the area’s first settlements, including the original county courthouse, a trapper’s cabin, an authentic turn-of-the-century steam locomotive, and more. To act like a true local, park along what’s called the “First Curve” on M-116 and hike to the shore for a pleasant day on the beach. Before you leave town, make sure you stop for ice cream at The House of Flavors, which is in the Guiness Book of World Records for the “longest ice cream dessert!”
Home to the largest beach in West Michigan, Muskegon is considered one of the most beloved destinations in the state — and even won the “Strongest Town” award in 2018! This award-winning town has it all: outdoor recreation, historical attractions, beaches, seasonal festivals, excellent local businesses, and more. The town rests along Muskegon Lake, but visitors can easily access Lake Michigan, especially at the pristine Pete Marquette Beach, a well-maintained public beach with white sand and clear blue water, with views of two lighthouses. For even more adventure, head to Michigan’s Adventure, the largest amusement park in the state with more than 50 rides!
Saugatuck and the nearby Douglas are often grouped together as one, as they are just 3 minutes away from each other, despite being separated by the Kalamazoo River. The sister cities are known for their thriving arts culture and opportunities for outdoor recreation — especially at Oval Beach, which was named one of the top 25 shorelines in the world by Conde Naste and one of the top five beaches in the country by MTV! The beach is backed by rolling sand dunes and offers a panoramic view of the lake. For more dune exploration, head north to Saugatuck Dunes State Park, a 1,000-acre lakefront park with mighty dunes reaching as tall as 200 feet. Both Saugatuck and Douglas have a variety of art galleries and other arts-focused attractions, including the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. And if you’re hunting for treasure, look no further than the Saugatuck Antique Pavilion, a renowned antique and vintage destination encompassing 24,000 square feet. End your visit to Saugatuck and Douglas on a sunset cruise with the Star of Saugatuck Boat Cruises!
Originally called “Ni-Ko-Nong,” which means “beautiful sunsets,” South Haven is a must-visit beach town in Michigan. The town is known for its walkable downtown, pristine beaches, maritime district, and — believe it or not — blueberries! The lakefront Van Buren State Park is lined with sandy beaches and towering dunes, and in the heart of town, North Beach is a popular destination for beachgoers, offering white sand and views of the pier and lighthouse. One of the major attractions in South Haven is the Michigan Maritime Museum, which has five buildings with exhibits about the maritime history of Lake Michigan and the state of Michigan. It is also home to a massive replica of the Friends Good Will ship, which was built in 1810. As the blueberry capital of Michigan, South Haven has plenty of blueberries to taste, in the form of jam, salsa, syrup, salad dressing, and more. And if your visit falls in August, don’t miss the Blueberry Festival!
Lovingly referred to as “The Riviera of the Midwest,” St. Joseph is an enchanting resort town with brick streets, Victorian-era homes, and stunning freshwater beaches. In fact, St. Joseph is home to seven exquisite beaches, including the ever-popular Silver Beach, which has a restored 1910 carousel and a pavilion. Just steps away, the historic heart of the city has breweries, tasting rooms, eateries, boutiques, bookstores, and more to explore, plus the Curious Kids’ Museum. Arts-focused destinations abound in St. Joseph, home to Krasl Art Center and the Box Factory for the Arts, both of which are free and open to the public! If you’re looking for further outdoor exploration, head to the nearby Warren Dunes State Park, which is packed with sand dunes and campsites for lakefront camping.
Nestled at the base of Grand Traverse Bay’s West Arm lies the ever-so-popular beach town of Traverse City. There’s so much to do here, from shopping along the historic Front Street, sipping wine at the many vineyards along the Old Mission Peninsula, visiting a lakeside park, eating at a farm-to-table restaurant, sipping beer at a craft brewery, and so much more. There are plenty of ways to experience the outdoors in Traverse City, along the 60 miles of trails winding through the area, including one that goes right through town. The nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers miles of sandy beach, bluffs reaching 450 feet, clear inland lakes, lush forests, and miles of hiking trails. Fun Fact: Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of the World, as it produces more than 75 percent of the world’s tart cherries!
What Lake Michigan beach town is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below!