Michigan is a state located in the Great Lakes region of the United States. The name Michigan is derived from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning “large water” or “large lake.”
With over 11,000 inland lakes and over 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline, it’s no wonder that water plays such a significant role in Michigan culture.
Along with access to four of the five Great Lakes, that is a lot of incredible coastline to explore! Michigan is one of the best states to visit for a family lake vacation, but with so many marvelous beach towns to choose from, it can be hard to decide where to go.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxed and quiet getaway or a lively and vibrant town for a family vacation in the Midwest, Michigan has a beach town for you.
5 Best Beach Towns in Michigan
Saugatuck is a small town located in southwestern Michigan, about an hour from Grand Rapids. It’s a popular destination for tourists who enjoy the town’s quaint atmosphere and many shops and restaurants. Saugatuck is a thriving community with a strong sense of history and tradition.
Every year, the town hosts several festivals and events, which help to keep its small-town charm alive. Here are four things to do in Saugatuck:
1. Go to the beach: Saugatuck has several lovely beaches, but we think Oval Beach and Douglas Beach and the best beaches. Both are great for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the views, and Condé Nast Traveler has named Oval Beach one of the world’s finest beaches. Douglas Beach is a hidden gem for those who prefer a quieter afternoon.
2. Visit the Saugatuck Dunes State Park: With over two miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, hiking trails, and sand dunes reaching up to 200 feet high, it’s easy to spend the whole day at the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. It’s also an excellent place for picnicking, bird watching, and more.
3. Take a boat ride: A boat ride on the Kalamazoo River is a great way to see the sights of Saugatuck from the water. The historic Saugatuck Chain Ferry has been running since 1838 and is one of the last of its kind in operation.
4. Climb the stairs at Mount Baldhead: This is a popular spot for sunset-watching, but it’s also fun to climb the 282 steps to the top of Mount Baldhead for panoramic views of Saugatuck and the surrounding area.
Grand Haven officially became a town in 1867, though settlers had been living in the area for some time before that. The town is known for its “singing sands” because of the dunes’ whistling sound when people walk on them.
Many annual events take place in Grand Haven, such as the Coast Guard Festival and the art fair on the boardwalk called Art on the Riverfront. These are our favorite four things to do in Grand Haven:
1. Visit the Grand Haven State Park beach: The Grand Haven State Park beach is one of the most popular visitor attractions in town. All 48 acres of this park are beach sand situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. Most visitors come to enjoy the sunshine and water, but the park also offers camping and fishing.
2. Go for a walk or bike ride on the Boardwalk: The Boardwalk is a 1.5-mile-long path that runs along the waterfront and provides access to shops and restaurants. The Boardwalk is a popular spot for walking, jogging, biking, and rollerblading and leads you to the pier and two lighthouses.
3. Learn about lighthouses: The two lighthouses on the Grand Haven pier were established in 1839 and are still an active aid to navigation. Painted bright red, the lighthouse pair is a recognizable landmark and has become a symbol of the town, earning them a spot on the list of most photographed lighthouses in the Midwest.
4. Visit the Musical Fountain: The Grand Haven Musical Fountain is the largest in the world and puts on a spectacular show set to music every night in the summer.
This charming town shows off not one but seven bright white sand beaches with crystal clear water, making it one of the most loved beach towns in Michigan.
With thousands of acres of State Parkland, outdoor enthusiasts will revel in the abundance of campsites with modern and rustic amenities, sand dunes, picnics areas, hiking trails, and more.
If we had to pick just four things to do on your next visit, we recommend:
1. Go to Silver Beach: This is the most popular beach in St. Joseph, and for good reason! The wide, sandy beach offers a large dedicated area for swimming that is manned by lifeguards. You can also access the pier from Silver Beach, a great place for fishing or just taking in the views.
2. Visit the Curious Kids’ Museum: This hands-on museum is great for families with younger kids and has a variety of interactive exhibits. Kids can explore a lighthouse, crawl through tunnels, play on a water table, and much more.
3. Check out Warren Dunes State Park: With towering sand dunes that are over 250 feet high, this is a must-see when visiting St. Joseph. You can hike to the top of the dunes for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan and surf down on your sandboard (if you dare!).
4. Cool off at the Whirlpool Compass Fountain: This large splash pad with fun jets is a great spot to cool off on a hot day, perfect for kids to play and run around. The fountain shoots water up to 35 feet in the air every 15 minutes.
Ludington is a quaint town located on the shores of Lake Michigan with a population of just over 7,000 people.
The town is known for its annual Ludington Area Jaycees Freedom Festival, which has been celebrating the Fourth of July with a parade, carnival rides, and fireworks since 1874.
These are our favorite four things to do when visiting Ludington:
1. Tour a lighthouse: You can’t miss the beautiful black and white Big Sable Point Lighthouse when visiting Ludington. The lighthouse is over feet tall and offers tours from May to October. Be sure to climb to the top for a stunning view of Lake Michigan.
2. Visit Hamlin Lake: This large lake is perfect for swimming, boating, fishing, and more. There are several public beaches around the lake where you can relax in the sun, take a dip in the water or enjoy an amazingly colorful sunset with a picnic dinner.
3. Check out a working elk ranch: Amber Elk Ranch offers covered wagon ride informational tours to the public. The kids will love feeding the elk and seeing the animals up close while learning about the ranching operation.
4. Take in some art: Waterfront Park is popular with families at the edge of Lake Michigan. It has a large play structure, night lighting, restrooms, and an amphitheater for summer concerts that attract visitors of all ages. Take a stroll around the five-acre park’s scenic pathways and learn about history from the nine bronzed sculptures that dot it.
The largest Michigan beach town on our list, Traverse City, has over 15,000 people and is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, wineries, and being the Cherry Capital of the World.
These are our top four things to do when visiting Traverse City:
1. Go cherry-picking: The area around Traverse City is famous for its cherries, and there are several farms where you can pick your own. Be sure to try a slice of cherry pie or some other cherry-themed food while you’re in town – you won’t be disappointed!
2. Visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: This gorgeous area of Michigan features over 35 miles of pristine coastline along Lake Michigan and dune walks, camping, and picnicking. Don’t miss the climb to the top of the dunes for an incredible view.
3. Take a wine tour: With over 40 wineries in the Traverse City area, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to wine tasting. There are several companies that offer tours, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery while someone else does the driving. For one of the best wine tasting experiences, try Left Foot Charley.
4. Check out the Village at Grand Traverse Commons: This former mental hospital has been transformed into a unique shopping and dining destination. The buildings have been lovingly restored and now house boutique shops, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and more. Be sure to explore the grounds – they’re beautiful. For an immersive historical experience, go on a guided walking tour.
Michigan is known for its four seasons, forests, and outdoor recreation. And as you can see, even the beach towns offer more to do than just sand and swimming. So, whether you’re looking to relax or explore, a Michigan beach town is perfect for you. Did any of these on our list pique your interest? We hope so! Which will you visit first?
© Family Road Trip