Beaches? In the Midwest? You bet. In direct contact with four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is full of prime waterfront getaway possibilities. Sure, the waters may be a little colder than their Floridian, Caribbean, and Mexican counterparts—but they’re no less scenic and certainly brim with opportunities for recreation, relaxation, and fun.
St. Joseph and Benton Harbor
These two neighboring Lake Michigan beach towns are popular with Indiana- and Chicago-based visitors thanks to their easy accessibility. St. Joseph is home to several lighthouses and the lovely Silver Beach County Park (where you can find a glorious, old-fashioned carousel). Benton Harbor is more residential in nature, but the Jean Klock Park offers a quieter beach setting to explore and a playground for the kids.
The sugary-sanded lakefront defines South Haven’s parks and beaches, making this a busy summer destination for water recreation, picnics, fishing, hiking, biking, and camping. Of the seven public beach access sites, North Beach and South Beach are the largest and offer the most amenities. Check out the historic South Haven Lighthouse, which stands sentinel near the mouth of the Black River. Round out a trip by exploring charming downtown shops, restaurants, and seasonal farm markets.
Rooted in the Dutch culture of its founding fathers, Holland maintains a namesake state park that features the Black Lake Boardwalk and views of the Big Red Lighthouse. You can find smaller beach sites as well, including Laketown Beach and Kouw Park. The 22-acre Tunnel Park promises breathtaking glimpses of Lake Michigan sunsets, while Kirk Park thoughtfully provides an off-leash area for four-legged friends.
Step back in time to a beach town brimming with retro Americana. The 1.5-mile-long Grand Haven Boardwalk skirts the Grand River, inviting leisurely strolls punctuated with stops for food, drinks, and shopping. You’ll have to walk the length of the pier for the best lighthouse views, or snag a spot on the sand to enjoy the bustling beach scene at the 48-acre Grand Haven State Park. Don’t miss the nightly Musical Fountain shows at Waterfront Stadium throughout the summer.
The former “Lumber Queen of the World” attracts boaters and beachgoers alike with its network of inland waters and 26 miles of beach-dotted shoreline. Maritime attractions like the USS LST 393 and the USS Silversides museums provide even more incentive to visit, and the Lake Express ferry easily transports visitors and their vehicles across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee.
Recognized as one of the top salmon ports in Lake Michigan, laid-back Ludington charters fishing expeditions for ambitious anglers hoping to land the big one. The region is also home to three picturesque lighthouses: Big Sable Lighthouse in Ludington State Park, Little Point Lighthouse in Silver Lake State Park, and North Breakwater Light at Stearns Park Beach. Venture a few miles down to nearby Pentwater for a thrilling Mac Woods Dune Ride, a local summer tradition since the 1930s.
With 10 beaches, three harbors, and 25 miles of shoreline to play with, Manistee County offers a friendly vibe backed up by big, natural beauty. Also known as the "Victorian Port City," the town of Manistee itself is known for its history, culture, and architecture. Be sure to visit the North Pierhead Lighthouse, which guides boats to the Manistee River channel and into town.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Home to some of the most breathtaking lake vistas in the state, Sleeping Bear Dunes encompasses a wide swath of northwest Michigan. Here you'll find several beaches, the quaint villages of Empire and Glen Arbor, and the Heritage Trail for hiking and bike rides. Further north, tiny Leland boasts an intriguing backstory as a commercial fishing town with rustic shanties and smokehouses.
Traverse City and Suttons Bay
Winding roads lead through the bucolic cherry orchards and wineries of the Leelanau Peninsula, which is buffeted by West Grand Traverse Bay's unbelievably clear aqua waters. Linked by the M22, Suttons Bay and Traverse City offer a one-two punch of gorgeous views, boat docks, a wealth of diverse dining options, and water recreation galore. Summer crowds tend to congregate at Clinch Park Beach in Traverse City for fun in the sun.
Head to Petoskey State Park or Magnus City Park Beach to hunt for the distinctively honeycombed Petoskey stones at the water's edge, or seek out the protected Pitcher's thistle plant. If that's not your thing, there are plenty of other beachy adventures to enjoy as well, including kayaking, camping, swimming, fishing, and biking.
Mackinac Island and St. Ignace
You have your pick of rocky and sandy beaches here: All offer jaw-dropping views of Mighty Mac. At five miles in length, the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world links lower Michigan to the Upper Peninsula. No cars are allowed on Mackinac Island, assuring peaceful Lake Huron beach visits. Kayak tours provide a unique vantage point that seamlessly merges land and water views.
In the stunning Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore on Lake Superior, Miners Beach serves up a relaxing respite amid waterfalls and rugged rock formations. Stop by the nearby Miners Castle landmark for a highly coveted photo opportunity.
A paradise for rock collectors in Grand Marais on Lake Superior, Agate Beach Park teems with colorful quarry waiting to be discovered. There’s an art to hunting these prized stones; do a little research before you go to improve your odds.
On Lake Huron, the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse near Rogers City marks a commemorative spot, as remains of the Joseph S. Fay shipwreck are still visible in the off-shore sand. Lakeside Park is where you’ll find the city’s swimming beach, volleyball courts, and stand-up paddleboards.
Tawas Point State Park
Swimmers flock to this Lake Huron-facing beach early in the season because the shallow waters usually warm up quickly once summer arrives. Tawas Bay is a popular spot for sailing and fishing, and because it’s a stopover point on migratory trails, the park is also a big draw for birdwatchers.