Aah, the beach! Michigan has some of the best anywhere. Come along to Great Lakes towns where you can walk from main streets to irresistible stretches of sand. Build sand castles, splash in the surf, skip stones, or read a novel beneath a rippling umbrella—all with sand sifting between your toes! Here are more great beach getaways.
New Life for Glen Haven
Surrounded by prairies of dune grass and the billowing sands of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the little town of Glen Haven prospered a century ago along one of the busiest shipping routes on the Great Lakes. Everything from lumber schooners to steamships traveled the passage between the Leelanau Peninsula and the Manitou Islands.
After years of being not so busy, Glen Haven is being rebuilt, with restoration and reopening of the town’s post-Civil War general store, blacksmith shop, cherry cannery and other buildings, many of which house historic exhibits. The cannery showcases a collection of Great Lakes boats.
The town’s Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum documents the history of Great Lakes shipping. Exhibits include early lifesaving boats and other rescue equipment. Demonstrations bring to life the work of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, forerunner of the U.S. Coast Guard, which operated a station here in the early 1900s. The lifesaving station (originally located a few miles west) performed more than 300 rescues. Hundreds of ships foundered in the shallows of a sandbar that ran more than a mile offshore.
For more information, contact the Sleeping Bear Dunes Visitors Bureau.
A 2.5-mile boardwalk links downtown to Lake Michigan in this resort community 30 miles west of Grand Rapids. Everybody streams along the walkway beside the Grand River, where sleek pleasure boats putter toward the river’s mouth and open waters of the big lake.
The boardwalk takes you past inns and restaurants such as popular Snug Harbor. Diners ordering drinks and dinner fill the deck by early afternoon. The path loops past a Coast Guard station and out toward a long stone pier, where a stout light that’s guided mariners since 1905 signals your turnaround point.
At Chinook Pier near the base of Washington Avenue downtown, the farmers market bustles beneath a bright blue canopy (Wednesdays and Saturdays June–October). Nearby, charter boats rock gently in their slips before setting out on trout- and salmon-fishing expeditions. Downtown shops sell nautical gear and Michigan artists’ works.
After the sun dissolves into Lake Michigan, you can watch the nightly half-hour summertime show of Grand Haven’s musical fountain along the river.
For more information, contact the Grand Haven Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
A tragedy on another Lake Michigan shore put Manistee on the map and in the history books. This busy lumber port 90 miles north of Muskegon supplied lumber to rebuild Chicago after the Great Fire in 1871.
On a walking tour, you’ll see the wealth amassed during that prosperous time. Ironically, much of Manistee burned the same day as the Chicago fire. City fathers rebuilt many of the town’s buildings in brick, hiring the leading architects of the day. You’ll discover the ornate Ramsdell Theatre, a church with authentic Tiffany windows and a neighborhood full of Gothic Revival homes and frilly Victorian “painted ladies.”
Downtown, the mile-long Riverwalk weaves between busy shops and the Manistee River, ending at Lake Michigan. The National Register of Historic Places lists the entire shopping district. You can hop aboard the Water Bug docked along the river for a narrated historical tour that takes you into Manistee Lake and out to the billowing dunes and lighthouse guarding the mouth of the river.
Miles of sand reach to the horizon north of the river. For a glimpse of true wilderness, head south of town into vast Huron-Manistee National Forest. Waves splash the empty shore at Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area, a 3,450-acre swath of untouched dunes and dune forest. The federal government set aside this area as the Lower Peninsula’s only designated wilderness.
Stroll Hancock Street in Pentwater, and you may feel like you’ve been cast in a movie. Along the main street in this tiny, old resort town 45 miles north of Muskegon, clapboard storefronts line the walks, shaded by sturdy maples. On Thursday evenings, band concerts play on the public green, a tradition for more than half a century.
You can browse shops including the Brass Anchor Ships Store, where weathervanes and nautical gear compete for space with old diving helmets, spotting scopes and other nautical antiques. Linger over a walleye sandwich at outdoor restaurants such as Gull Landing. Swans glide near shore in the pretty park beside the marina along Pentwater Lake, linked to Lake Michigan by a bustling boat channel.
Side streets lead to quiet neighborhoods, where stately inns--including The CandleWyck House Bed & Breakfast, overlook sunny lawns. You can follow the channel a few blocks west from Hancock Street, where Lake Michigan waves wash the sand at Charles Mears State Park, a prime spot to hone your bodysurfing skills.
Farther up the shore, teens play beach volleyball. Bicyclists set out on the Hart-Montague Trail, a converted railroad bed that begins just south of Pentwater and winds south 22 miles through farm fields and orchards. If you make it all the way to Montague, reward yourself with a root beer float at the old-fashioned Dog ‘n’ Suds along White Lake.
For more information, contact the Manistee County Convention & Visitors Bureau.