The 10 Best Beach Towns in Michigan

From Holland to South Haven

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best beach towns in michigan jetty going into the water

You don’t need to pick a side in the East Coast vs. West Coast debate just because you love the beach. Instead, book a trip to the Great Lakes State for a fresh(water) beach experience, complete with plenty of sunshine and powder-soft sand. Here, a list of the ten best beach towns in Michigan that have all the natural beauty, pristine coastline and inherent charm you need to feel truly restored, vetted by travel writers, local residents and visitors like myself.

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1. Traverse City

Best for Foodies

Madonna, Michael Moore and Eminiem are just a few of the famous folks who frequently vacation in Traverse City, Michigan—and, having visited this charming city myself for a family reunion, I can personally attest to its many appealing attributes. For starters, downtown Traverse City is entirely walkable and replete with top-notch restaurants, breweries, boutiques and more. In other words, if you need provisions or entertainment before or after a long day at the beach, you’ll be wanting for nothing.

But let’s talk beach: Grand Traverse Bay has beautiful beaches that tourists flock to all summer long. Clinch Park is the beach to visit if you want to stay close to town, Haserot Beach is perfect for those wanting to escape the crowds and enjoy some peace and quiet, and the shallow waters at East Bay Park make it great for families with little kids in tow. Wherever you go, expect excellent fresh produce (it’s nicknamed the Cherry Capital of the World) and local wine. Bottom line: If you’re looking for all the amenities of a bustling, small city and a wide selection of beautiful freshwater beaches, Traverse City will not disappoint.

2. Holland

Best for Flower Lovers

This peaceful lakefront retreat is home to many beautiful dunes, including Tunnel Park—a beautiful and very cool dune that gets its name for the tunnel that runs through it. Holland State Park boasts a vast expanse of sandy shoreline on both Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa where beachgoers can spend a day in the sun or even enjoy a few days of camping. There are plenty of dining options and excellent breweries located nearby the charming lakefront communities of Holland, which born-and-raised resident Garret W. describes as “incredibly friendly and just accepting of all kinds of people.” Oh, and if you visit in May, be sure not to miss Tulip Time—a yearly festival that pays homage to the region’s Dutch heritage and features a rainbow of the namesake flowers, plus plenty of dancing and merrymaking.

3. St. Joseph

Best for Beachcombing

This gem in Southwest Michigan boasts seven gorgeous beaches, many of which occupy an expansive swath of State Park land where you’ll find campsites, playgrounds, picnic areas and hiking trails. St. Joseph’s pristine beaches have something for everyone, whether you’re a nature lover who wants to pitch a tent on the lakeshore, take a scenic hike and explore the natural beauty of Warren Dunes State Park, or a beach bum who just wants a few hours in the sun on Silver beach, where you’ll likely find plenty of beach glass and crinoids to add to your collection.

4. South Haven

Most Walkable Beach Town

Ranked as one of WorldAtlas’s 15 most beautiful towns in America, South Haven is a medium-sized beach town in Michigan that’s known for its long stretches of sandy beach, which are divided by the South Haven Pier and feature a picturesque backdrop, complete with a Norman Rockwell-esque bright red lighthouse. While the town center isn’t quite as hopping as Traverse City, the walkable downtown area of South Haven has plenty going on. Plus, anyone interested in exploring beyond the main beach will find numerous inland lakes, which are among the locals’ best kept secrets and boast equally beautiful shores, and those seeking outdoor recreation will find plenty of scenic hiking and biking trails at Van Buren State Park.

5. Grand Haven

Most Charming Beach Town

On the Eastern shores of Lake Michigan, you’ll find Grand Haven—a charming beach town in Michigan that has some of the most pristine beaches in the state, plus a lively boardwalk that’s lined with shops and eateries. If you’re looking for a quieter beach day, Grand Haven State Park is a beloved spot that boasts 48 acres of soft sand beach and postcard-worthy vistas featuring the area’s two iconic lighthouses. The state park also has a smattering of scenic trails and a playground or two, making it a perfect spot for families to enjoy a day on the shore and some water recreation, to boot.

6. Ludington

Best for Skipping the Crowds

When we asked travel writer Hannah Lukaszewicz of Getting Stamped to recommend her favorite spots, she pointed us to the family-friendly and oh-so-charming Michigan beach town of Ludington. This under-the-radar beach town is just slightly north of some of the more overcrowded vacation spots in the state, but still only a stone’s throw away from tourist hubs like Traverse City. (You can take a day trip there if you please.) There are also a ton of family-friendly attractions on offer, including the Children’s Sandcastle Museum, the unspoilt shores of Stearns Park Beach and, for the more adventurous folk, the option of taking a rollicking ATV ride through the sand dunes that are so unique to the Great Lakes State.

7. Saugatuck

Most Upscale Beach Town

According to Michigan native Garret W., Saugatuck is a little wealthier than some of the other towns on our list, which means it's got some pretty amazing places to eat “and you can see the water from almost every restaurant.” (Psst: Our local expert recommends Marro’s for top-notch Italian food and seafood so fresh that you’re basically guaranteed a meal you won’t forget.) Another neat thing about Saugatuck is that it’s easily accessible from Holland by private boat or public ferry, so you can kill two of the best Michigan beach towns with one stone, so to speak. There’s also plenty of water recreation to be had at this spot, so visitors are unlikely to get bored on Saugatuck’s blissful shoreline.

8. Charlevoix

Best Mix of Beach and City Life

Travel + Leisure ranked Charlevoix among the 15 best lake towns in America—and it’s not hard to see why, given that this Michigan beach town features six pristine miles of shoreline at Fisherman’s Island State Park and Beach, plus plenty of inland attractions, including farms with bucolic views and fresh food. (Word on the street is that Lavender Hill Farm and the historic Castle Farms are both worth a visit.)

9. Glen Arbor

Most Relaxed Beach Town

Home to the beloved Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park, this region occupies some of Michigan’s most treasured coastline. It’s a truly beautiful and amazing state park that will absolutely delight nature lovers and visitors who are seeking a quieter beach escape. Indeed, the area of Glen Arbor (and its neighbor, Empire) are, well, sleepy. Don’t expect to find a major dining or nightlife scene here, because it’s one of the quieter Michigan beach towns on the list. Nevertheless, the natural beauty is beyond compare and anyone seeking a true retreat from hectic urban life will fall in love with this spot.

10. Mackinaw City

Best for History Buffs

The main draw of Mackinaw City is Mackinac Island, which is easily accessible by ferry and contains Fort Mackinac—a historic landmark that was first occupied by the British during the Revolutionary War. Of course there’s also the iconic and oh-so-charming Mackinac Lighthouse, as well as a bustling main strip that’s boasts shops, eateries and (purportedly) “the most amazing fudge you’ll ever eat,” and looks like it’s out of a Western movie. In fact, our Michigan friend says Mackinac Island is one of the most beautiful places you can visit in the state, so if you don’t go here to satisfy your sweet tooth, definitely stop by for the beautiful stretch of beach, scenic views and old-timey carriage rides.

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