In the bleak midwinter, we’re all dreaming of a beach vacation.
The sun, the waves, the sand…
And the crowds, the noise, the overpriced tourist traps, and greasy junk food. Not to mention the mouthful of saltwater when those waves come crashing on you.
There’s a better way to experience a great beach vacation, one that offers plenty more to do and see than even the most popular beach destinations found on the east or west coasts.
Enter pristine – dare we say, perfect – lakeside beaches.
While Finland is nicknamed the “land of a thousand lakes,” if there’s any other place in the world that can compete for that title, it should be Michigan. And, let’s be honest, when will you get to Finland?
Not only are Michigan’s numerous waterways great for all sorts of activities year-round, but Michigan is full of small towns where you’ll find amazing local cuisine at farm-to-table establishments (they come second only to California in being agriculturally diverse) and lots of mom-and-pop specialty shops.
You’ll find the true beauty of God’s design and a peace you never imagined with a visit to any of Michigan’s lake towns.
A little-known gem for families…
Ludington, Michigan is just what you would imagine when thinking of a quiet lake town perfect for a family vacation.
It is home to several beaches that offer a step back in time. Many families have returned here for generations because it’s that perfect little escape.
Stearns Park Beach not only has a beautiful shoreline, but also grassy areas for picnicking in the shade or lounging in the sun while reading a great book. You can pack a cooler and take advantage of the on-site grills or buy some beach snacks at the concession stands.
Kids will love the miniature golf, playgrounds, and skate park – and there’s even shuffleboard. (Portions of the beach require a permit inside the park, but this shoreline is seven miles long, so there are lots of little beaches outside the park to visit free of charge.)
Since no visit to the lake is complete without a lighthouse, visitors can hike up to North Breakwater Lighthouse for an amazing view.
There’s also Hamlin Lake Beach with its shallow waters, making it perfect for letting the little ones wade or float in an inner tube. And Charles Mears Beach is popular for its extensive camping lots.
Perhaps the best of the lakeside parks is Silver Lake State Park, where you can access both Silver Lake and Lake Michigan.
Here you’ll find 2,000 acres of sand dunes, where the winds blowing off the water are constantly changing the landscape.
This is one of the only places in the U.S. where you can freely ride the dunes in your own off-road vehicle. And they are always great for a romantic walk or letting the kids burn off some energy with climbing and exploring – and of course, taking in Little Sable Point Lighthouse.
The dunes are open for that off-roading daredevil experience from April through October, but are breathtaking in every season.
Ludington is also home to many unique museums, including Historic White Pine Village. Stroll through dozens of buildings depicting the culture and life of the early townspeople.
There’s also a maritime museum, interactive children’s museum, and lots of art fairs and concerts throughout the year.
And when beach season is over, many of the surrounding state parks still offer snowshoe hikes, ice skating, and winter festivals. It’s one of those little towns you’d see in any good, sappy Hallmark movie.
You call that a sand dune?
If you thought the dunes at Silver Lake were impressive, try the ones at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near Traverse City. The locals refer to the dunes as their own little mountain range.
Sleeping Bear is part of the national park system, nearly 65 miles of dunes and freshwater beaches that are popular with outdoor enthusiasts who know the fishing, hiking, and camping here can’t be matched.
The parks are perfect for year-round activity. If you can’t get there in the warmer months, there’s still plenty of opportunity to take in the stunning scenery and do a little ice-fishing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing – you name it.
Nearby Traverse City is one of those hip little towns that perfectly combines the past and present.
Downtown is chock-full of cute little restaurants and cafes where you can sit outside and enjoy the breeze coming off the water.
Even before hipster millennials popularized the “farm to table” craze, Traverse City was a foodie destination. In fact, it was named one of the top foodie towns by Bon Appetit in 2010.
With its beautiful scenery, year-round opportunities for outdoor fun, concerts, festivals, great food, and little shops, it’s no wonder it was also once named the Greatest Town in the Midwest by Midwest Living Magazine.
How can you beat that?
Michigan has too many perfect little towns to count, but one of the most famous is Mackinac Island.
This place really is like taking a trip back in time, just like Christopher Reeves did in the cult-classic, Somewhere In Time. Like his character in the film, you’ll wake up praying you were back there again.
Besides its physical beauty, the town provides a unique experience to take a step away from the frenzy of the modern world. Cars are not permitted in most of the town, so horse-drawn carriages offer a most romantic way to travel.
There are lots of trails for bikers and pedestrians to take in the scenery or stroll through this magical place to grab a bite to eat or browse the unique shops and art galleries.
Mackinac Island State Park and several local museums offer a glimpse into the local history and culture, along with two forts captured by the British during the War of 1812. Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes are both open for tours.
But the most recognizable part of Mackinac Island is the world-famous Grand Hotel. It has been visited by numerous heads of state, writers, and even Presidents – as well as being the location of the aforementioned movie loved by women everywhere, Somewhere In Time. (Ladies, you can even take part in themed events about the movie!)
Book a stay and enjoy one of the several concerts and art shows, or have a picnic and some wine (or some of the island’s famous fudge) while you watch the carriages and tourists go by. (But even one night here is a bit pricey, so save your pennies and book your stay well in advance.)
Mackinac Island really is a picture-perfect escape from reality – and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
In fact, Proud American Traveler previously named it one of the best Main Streets in America!
Soo, not salt.
Sault Ste. Marie – otherwise known as ‘The Soo’ – is on the northeastern end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (Or U.P. for Michiganders. You know, the little part of the state that doesn’t look like a mitten.)
Its sister city by the same name in Ontario is much larger, but shares much of the same history and culture.
The area was originally settled by the Chippewa and then colonized by the French, so you’ll find lots of streets and lakes with beautiful French and Native American names – and lots of places to learn about their history.
The settlement was a popular fur trading post and still retains lush wilderness, waterfalls, rapids, and other incredible scenery.
This history helped Sault Ste. Marie earn its nickname as “Michigan’s First City,” and has plenty of great dining and shopping opportunities after a long hike on foot or snowshoes, bike or snowmobile ride.
Get lost in the “Barmuda Triangle” (see what we did there?), aptly named for its over a dozen bars within three blocks, or visit one of the local mom-and-pop shops for ice cream or a great cup of coffee.
The town hosts several annual Hallmark-worthy events like the Ice Festival and the I-500 – not the Indy itself, but inspired by it – which is a snowmobile race that draws thousands from all over the world each year.
Meanwhile in the U.P.
Near Munising, Michigan is Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with more than 15 miles of sandstone cliffs created by colorful layers, quiet beaches, and more sand dunes.
Waterfalls, rapids, and lush forests are magical any time of year, making this park a favorite of outdoor adventurists.
And how’s this for a once-in-a-lifetime experience? You can even take a tour of centuries-old shipwrecks in a glass-bottom boat. That’s saying something about how clear the water is here.
You can even take a Riptide Ride on a real Navy Seal vessel and hiking and whitewater tours are available in the warmer months by professional outdoorsy people.
In the winter, there is no shortage of places to cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowmobile, ice skate, or sit in a scenic lodge with a cup of hot chocolate – spiked, of course.
The temperature is perfect in the summer with breezes off the lakes, the fall color is glorious in many of its parks, and the towering evergreens covered with snow will make you feel like you’re on the set of a movie.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is breathtaking any time of year. Nearly every town is historic and picturesque, and you’re never more than a stone’s throw away from a tranquil lake or secluded hiking trail.
There are so many hidden lakes and little towns, you can spend a few days taking in a some of the more secluded spots or plan a trip to one of the more well-known beaches along the Great Lakes.
Whether you want to pitch a tent, rent a cabin, stay in a mom-and-pop Bed and Breakfast, or even take out a second mortgage for a week at Mackinac’s Grand Hotel (it’s totally worth it!), a beach trip to Michigan will not disappoint.
Either way, it’s so picture-perfect, you may never come home!