6 of the Best Michigan Beach Towns

Boasting more than 3,200 miles of freshwater shoreline, Lake Michigan attracts millions of visitors every year to beaches that are as welcoming as they are beautiful. Considered one of America’s “third coasts,” the lake’s beaches offer everything from freshwater dunes to secret beaches and even a 250-year-old windmill. Here’s a guide and map to six of the best beach towns on Lake Michigan and some bonus lake beaches in Michigan state.

6 Beach Towns to Visit on a Lake Michigan Vacation

  1. Pentwater
  2. Grand Haven
  3. Holland
  4. Saugatuck
  5. South Haven
  6. St. Joseph
Use the above map of Michigan beach towns to pick which to explore during your next family vacation.

 

1. Pentwater, Michigan

Home to the 50-acre campground that is the majority of Charles Mears State Park, Pentwater features idyllic tree-lined streets and charming Victorian homes that disguise what is really a virtual playground for kids and adults alike.

Start at Pentwater Beach, located inside Charles Mears park, for a swim or a game of volleyball, or walk or bike the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail. This recently repaved 22-mile rail trail covers 225 acres of rural farms, woodlands, waterways and cherry and apple orchards and offers picnic stops and scenic outlooks along the way. Alternatively, saddle up near Rothbury, Michigan, for a horseback ride. Restrooms and water are available along the path.

Families can also take advantage of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes’ nearly 2,000 acres of living sand with Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, beginning daily at 9:30 a.m. through summer, and 10 a.m. in fall through early October, and ranging from $12 to $18. A tour guide narrates the 7-mile ride with fascinating facts about these natural wonders while you enjoy panoramic views of Silver Lake and try to spot fulgurites, hollow glass tubes formed when lightning strikes sand at a temperature of at least 3,270 degrees.

If you’re craving aquatic adventure on one of several area lakes and rivers, stop by Pentwater Outfitters to rent a kayak, canoe or paddleboard for half-day, full-day or weekly rates starting at $35. Shuttle service to and from the water is available.

Michigan Beach Activities Kayaking in Pentwater, Michigan.

To reach Pentwater, drive about:

2. Grand Haven, Michigan

When seeking a classic beach vacation, complete with a 3-mile round-trip boardwalk, historic lighthouses and sugary-sand shores, look no further than the charming town of Grand Haven. Though widely considered one of the best Michigan lake towns, its low-key vibe earned it a spot on the “Best Secret Beaches on Earth” list from Travel + Leisure magazine in 2017. This iconic stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline also showcases a lively downtown.

Michigan Beaches: Grand Haven Pier Grand Haven Pier, Grand Haven, Michigan.

Explore Grand Haven for less than $2 on the historic trolley, which runs daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, then settle in for a 25-minute synchronized water and light show at the Grand Haven Musical Fountain, presented each night in the summer.

After a photo op of one of the town’s celebrated sunsets, relax with a burger and some craft beer or cider at Odd Side Ales, whose brewpub is located in an old piano factory.

To reach Grand Haven, drive about:

3. Holland, Michigan

Seeking the cultural enrichment of an international excursion but with a domestic price tag? Consider a visit to the historically Dutch town of Holland, where you’ll find a variety of beaches and a dose of Netherlands culture, too.

Start at one of Holland’s beaches, like Holland State Park, one of Michigan’s most popular parks. Purchase a day pass to fish, hike, boat, camp or simply enjoy the views across the channel of the Big Red Lighthouse, which dates back to 1870. Alternatively, Tunnel Park could be your best Holland beach bet. Named after the tunnel that cuts through a sand dune to access Lake Michigan, this 22-acre beachfront park is a unique Michigan family vacation spot. After the kids climb the dune inside the park’s playground, hike up the park’s dune stairway together as a family and admire the sun’s reflection in the lake, keeping an eye out for ducks, swans, robins, hawks and even bald eagles.

Nelis’ Dutch Village Windmill Island Gardens in Holland, Michigan

Continue your adventure inland at Nelis Dutch Village to explore a 10-acre reproduction of an 1800s village in the Netherlands, full of authentic architecture, artisanal trade demonstrations like cheese making and wooden shoe carving, performances of the traditional klompen dance and themed rides like the zweefmolen, a carousel chair swing.

No trip to Holland would be complete without an afternoon at the spectacular, 36-acre Windmill Island Gardens. Earn an incomparable view of seasonal flowers and canals after a five-story trek up the 250-year-old De Zwaan windmill, the only authentic Dutch windmill operating in the country.

Finish your day with a true taste of the Alps at the relaxed fine-dining restaurant and café, Alpenrose, in downtown Holland. Experiment with classic central European dishes like Jäger schnitzel and petite filet au poivre, or people-watch on the patio over a latte and éclair before window-shopping at the boutiques along Eighth Street.

To reach Holland, drive about:

4. Saugatuck, Michigan

Saugatuck is home to Oval Beach, which consistently ranks among the best beaches in Michigan — and the country — thanks to its wide, white shores and clear, warm water. If you’re craving an outdoor adventure on and off the beach, head to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Here you can explore more than 1,000 acres, including 2.5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and freshwater coastal dunes more than 200 feet tall.

Michigan Beach Towns Docks in Saugatuck, Michigan.

This Michigan lake town’s appeal can also be found on canvas. Known as the “great art-doors” or the “art coast,” Saugatuck is a serene harbor village overflowing with dozens of art galleries, art schools and shops. Park at St. Peter’s Church, where a free shuttle will bring you to the complimentary Friday Night Open Studios, held from 7:30 to 10 p.m. on select Fridays in the summer. View work and demonstrations from the students of Ox-Bow, a century-old summer art school and artists’ residency. Or check out Saugatuck Center for the Arts, which always has a full calendar of exhibitions, musicals and concerts. Event prices vary, and gallery access is free.

To reach Saugatuck, drive about:

5. South Haven, Michigan

With seven public beaches, South Haven has ample shoreline for visitors to enjoy. The same can be said for its rich history, which draws knowledge seekers from all over the state.

Begin your education with the HarborWalk walking tour, which features informative markers along the Black River from pier head to pier head. When you hit Dyckman Avenue, stop by the Michigan Maritime Museum to immerse yourself in all things nautical. Open daily at 10 a.m., the museum is spread across five buildings, where visitors can explore historical exhibits, take classes on boat building and sailing skills, and partake in festivals like the annual fish boil. Take your experience to the open waters with a ride on Friends Good Will, an operating reproduction of a 19th-century tall ship, which is available for day sails, private charters and educational events. Cruises begin at $35.

Lake Michigan Beaches: South Haven Bay South Haven Bay, South Haven, Michigan.

If you’re lucky enough to be in town during the second weekend of August, the National Blueberry Festival is a must-do. Celebrating Michigan’s storied blueberry heritage, the annual festivities include live music, sporting events, a parade and, of course, a blueberry pie-eating contest.

To reach South Haven, drive about:

6. St. Joseph, Michigan

This growing resort-style town is making a name as the “Riviera of the Midwest,” thanks to picturesque sand dunes, lush orchards and the beloved Silver Beach. Parents will appreciate a highly walkable downtown and a slew of kid-friendly activities.

Michigan Beach Activities Playing on the beach at Lake Michigan

Ranked as one of St. Joseph’s top attractions by TripAdvisor, the Silver Beach Carousel features 50 hand-carved, hand-painted animal figures and chariots; while kiddos are entertained by 1,000 twinkling lights and organ music for just $3 a ride, adults can admire historic photographs along the carousel border. Open year-round, Silver Beach also offers swimming, hiking and camping (with running water and electricity) on Lake Michigan. Across the street from the popular carousel is the Curious Kids’ Museum, with imaginative exhibitions like a simulated apple orchard, a play veterinary clinic and even a machine that will encase children in a gigantic bubble. Admission is $6.

Refill hungry bellies at Silver Beach Pizza, a pizzeria in a historic Amtrak depot that routinely appears on “best of” lists. Kids will love the playful atmosphere that includes a Superman phone booth perfect for pictures. Adults can unwind with the super-frosty beer known as an “ice-cold schooner,” whose popularity helped launch the restaurant.

To reach St. Joseph, drive about:

More Michigan Lake Beaches

Want to explore beyond the beaches of Lake Michigan? Consider these three lake spots for your family vacation in Michigan.

Tawas Point State Park

Nicknamed the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” this park offers travelers excellent bird-watching opportunities and shallow, family-friendly beaches on the shores of Lake Huron.

Torch Lake

Revered for its Caribbean-like turquoise waters, Torch Lake is also known as Michigan’s longest inland lake, which makes it an excellent destination for water skiers. Enjoy 48 points of access along the lake’s 41 miles of shoreline.

Walloon Lake

Fans of Ernest Hemingway might enjoy fishing in Walloon’s clear blue waters as much as the American author did during summers at his family’s cottage on the lake’s shore. Cast your reel, boat or swim in the lake’s 100-foot-deep waters while vacationing in this northwestern part of Michigan.

Can you swim in Lake Michigan?

The answer varies drastically depending on the weather. Check the Recreational Beach Forecast before diving in to ensure you are not in any danger.

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About the Author

Kara Wyar is a writer and editor based in Dallas, who has been published in The Dallas Morning News, D Magazine, D CEO, D Weddings and the Houston Chronicle, among others. Despite being a passionate Ohio State fan, one of her favorite vacation spots is Oval Beach on Lake Michigan.