5 Must Visit Beaches in Michigan

by | Apr 23, 2024 | Family Adventures, Midwest, USA

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Driving north in the summer, my dad is at the wheel, and I’m riding shotgun. We are heading to one of the most beautiful beaches in Michigan- my grandparents’ home rests near it – it’s almost as far north as one can go in Michigan. 

 

The further north we go, the more my dad seems to relax. 

 

We are heading to the Upper Peninsula – the Keweenaw. 

On US-41, my dad rolls the windows down, making my red hair take flight. My freckled arm rests on the door, and my fingers thread through the wind. I close my eyes. 

All that wind whooshing around inside the car makes it too loud to talk. 

Which is okay. 

Because it’s nice just to be together with our car slicing a path through the dense pine trees. 

We are heading to what might be the tiniest beach in Michigan which sits at the foot of my grandparents’ house. 

An old wooden dock stretches from that rocky little beach and, from a weathered rope, swings a single black inner tube.

Because this is our beach, and because inside that beach house, my grandmother is baking the most delicate and perfectly sweet blueberry pie, this is the most perfect beach in all of Michigan.

This beach is my secret. But I can share some others that are almost as nice. 

The truth is that all through The Great Lakes State, there are beaches. Beautiful, sandy beaches. Here are a few of my family’s favorites…

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

 

Along M-109 (endearingly known as Dune Highway), Sleeping Bear Dunes dips her sandy toes into the sparkling cobalt blue water of Lake Michigan. Swimmers splash in the cool waters up and down the coast of this National Lakeshore. This 65-mile beach makes up the majority of what is called The Leelanau Peninsula, the tiny “finger” that juts out of Michigan’s lower peninsula into Lake Michigan. This beach is generally calm, and its shallow water makes it one of the best places for families with young children. 

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is known for its massive coastal dunes – some are over 450 feet high! A view from the top of the dunes provides visitors with a perfect place to view Lake Michigan. It is possible to hike the dunes, but keep in mind that while the hiking trail through the dunes, while only 3.5 miles around, is made up entirely of sand. Bring sturdy shoes to avoid raw feet, and don’t forget to drink plenty of water, especially on hot summer days.

The Philip A Hart Visitor’s Center is a great place to stop. Every newcomer to the area should put it at the top of their itinerary. There, visitors will learn the rich history of this special place.

All along these miles of shoreline are charming towns like Glen Arbor and Leland. Both towns are in the heart of Michigan’s Wine Country, known for its Rieslings. They are part of what is called The Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, which includes 20 award-winning wineries. 

If chance or careful planning brings visitors in late June or early July, be ready to drive 30 minutes to nearby Traverse City. June means cherry time in Traverse City, and no one who loves summertime, Michigan, small-town charm, or cherries should miss it. 500,000 people swarm this sweet city every June and July for the Traverse City Cherry Festival. Do check the website for dates, as they change each year.

 

Pro-Tip: Want the dune experience but don’t want to drive so far north? Warren Dunes State Park is often called The Sleeping Bear Dunes of Southwest Michigan. Only a little over an hour and thirty-minute drive from Chicago makes this a popular beach for those explorers who want to squeeze in a Michigan Beach and a trip to The Windy City. 

 

Where to Stay By Sleeping Bears Dunes

Empire Lakeshore Inn provides easy access to the best sites. It is a 3-minute walk to The Philip A Hart Visitor’s Center and a 4-mile drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The modestly priced inn (rooms are around $100 per night) is an excellent value. The light and airy decor, along with the fragrant gardens, will quickly put visitors in vacation mode.

 

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes begs for a sand sled. Is that such a thing? @Shutterstock

 

Grand Haven State Park Beach

 

Located on the west coast of Michigan, this hopping public beach is known for its picturesque Grand Haven pier and red lighthouse. Don’t miss the photo opportunities on the pier that the spectacular sunsets over Lake Michigan provide. It’s free and happens every evening! 

Grand Haven State Park Beach is made up of 48 acres of soft sand. It’s one of Michigan’s best beaches for sunbathing, swimming, and beach volleyball. There are 7 amazing beach volleyball courts to check out here. Basketball fans won’t feel left out because there are plenty of indoor and outdoor basketball courts in Grand Haven. Coast Guard Park is home to a favorite outdoor basketball court near the beach and is very close to the Grand Haven Splash Pad where the little ones can extend their fun in the sun.

This state park offers many amenities for families, including a playground, a large picnic area with picnic tables, and an extensive campground (with electric hook-ups.) The park loans track chairs, which can be used to navigate the beach’s sandy shores and shallow water. 

 

Where to Stay At Grand Haven

 The Harbor House Inn is near the beach and within walking distance of the downtown area. Some rooms come with a fireplace and jacuzzi tub—be sure to ask! Guests will love the clean yet cozy lake house vibe. The modestly priced rooms (around $130 per night) give guests all the comfort of home in the middle of one of Michigan’s most popular beach towns.

 

Grand Have Lighthouse

This is not a painting. It’s real. It’s in Grand Haven, Michigan! @Shutterstock

 

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Discover breathtaking beauty along the shores of Lake Superior at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Rent a kayak to admire the towering cliffs, colorful sandstone formations, and clear waters that Pictured Rocks is known for. Kayaking along the coast gives you the best views of the colorful rock formations, but if you’re not experienced, make sure you’re with a guide.

Wear comfy shoes because the hiking trails here offer some of the most Instagram-worthy views you can imagine, especially at Miners Castle and Chapel Rock

Don’t forget your camera, and pack layers since the weather can be a bit unpredictable. Lastly, book your accommodations early, especially if you’re planning a summer visit; it gets busy!

 

Where to Stay By Pictured Rocks

Roam Inn, once a lumber baron’s mansion, puts guests near the rocky lakeshore and in the hands of locals who will treat guests like royalty. It is an 18-room boutique hotel, so guests are guaranteed a unique and peaceful retreat. The rooms’ decor is rustic, yet comfortable and clean. One night costs around $150, but guests say that the service and location make the cost worth it. 

 

Michigan Beaches

The best way to explore these rocky shores is by kayak. @Shutterstock

 

Oval Beach

Conde Nast Traveler voted Oval Beach in Saugatuck one of the top beaches in the world. It is renowned for its sugary sand and breathtaking Lake Michigan views – especially its glowy sunsets. This laid-back beach offers a public parking lot, concessions, and an inviting picnic area. Water sports are encouraged here. You will see swimmers, paddlers, skiers, boaters… you name it. Be advised – along with being at the top of many “best beaches” lists, come visitors. Lots of them.

Escape the crowds from one of Michigan’s most popular beaches and immerse yourself in nature at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. With miles of unspoiled beaches, rolling dunes, and 13 miles of hiking trails, this hidden gem offers a serene retreat for beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts alike.

 

Where to Stay By Oval Beach

The Hotel Saugatuck Luxury Bed and Breakfast is a destination within a destination. With in-room gourmet breakfasts, king-sized beds, and hydrotherapy tubs, it will be a challenge to ever leave the hotel! This is one of the higher-priced accommodations at around $250 per night, but remember, you are staying next to what National Geographic has called the United State’s very best freshwater beach!

 

 

Petoskey State Park Beach 

Petoskey State Park Beach is a gem! Nestled between Petoskey and Harbor Springs on Little Traverse Bay, this beach is famous for more than just its stunning views of Lake Michigan. It’s all about the Petoskey stones. These unique, fossilized coral stones, found only in this area, turn this beach into a treasure hunt. 

But it’s not just about the stones; the beach itself is gorgeous. Fine, soft sand, crystal-clear waters, and lush dunes make it a perfect spot for a day of sunbathing or playing. With its blend of natural beauty, unique geological finds, and tranquil atmosphere, Petoskey State Park Beach is a must-visit.

 

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Where to Stay By Petoskey SBP

Stafford’s Perry Hotel  has been a Petoskey Landmark since 1899. It’s a modestly priced hotel right on the water, with rooms costing only around $130 per night. The comfortable “library” offers guests reading and playing options—families can be found here playing board games like Monopoly and Chess in the evening hours.

From the rugged beauty of Pictured Rocks to the sun-soaked shores of  Ludington State Park, Michigan’s beaches offer something for every beach lover. Pack your sunscreen, grab your beach towel, and get ready to explore these top beach destinations in the Great Lakes State.

 

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Steffy McCourt is a mom to three active and awesome boys, two budgies, one cockatiel, and a mischievous corgi. Currently an ELA Teacher in Plymouth, Michigan, she also writes for parenting magazines and education websites. She just recently launched her own travel website, www.mifamilytravel.com; a tribute to the state of Michigan. She has an MS in Educational Leadership from Butler University and a BA in English from Indiana University.