Aerial view of Saugatuck, Michigan

The Most Charming Lake Towns in Michigan

With countless miles of sandy beaches and access to four of the Great Lakes, Michigan is a water-lovers paradise. From sand dunes and lighthouses to glass bottom boat tours and Dutch-inspired villages, these charming Michigan small towns have plenty to offer. So whether you’re looking to get away for a day trip or want to spend a weekend beach hopping, there is no better place for it than the Great Lake State.


The Peterson Mill at Saugatuck, Michigan grist mill by the pond. Image credits: Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock

Saugatuck, Michigan is a friendly town on the shores of Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River. Tourists and locals alike rave about Saugatuck’s sparkling beaches, LGBTQ+-friendly community, and thriving art scene. During a visit here, be sure to take a ride on the hand-pulled chain ferry – the only remaining chain ferry in the US. After the charming ferry ride, hiking enthusiasts will want to visit the Mount Baldhead hiking trail. The 1-mile loop features a staircase that leads hikers to a gorgeous point overlooking the lake.

Next, enjoy a beach day at Oval Beach which was named one of the top 25 Beaches in the world by Condé Nast. Alternatively, beach lovers can head to Saugatuck Dunes State Park where they will find beautiful sand dunes, a beach on Lake Michigan, and various hiking trails. For art lovers, a trip to the Saugatuck Center for the Arts is a must. Here, enjoy several ongoing exhibits, live music, and educational programs.


Cheboygan Michigan Front Range Light lighthouse tower. Image credits: Dennis MacDonald via Shutterstock

Tucked neatly along the shores of Duncan Bay, not far from the beautiful Lake Huron, Cheboygan, Michigan is a water-lovers paradise. Those interested in exploring Cheboygan can do so by boat with a Nautical North Family Adventures tour. The local tour company offers glass-bottom boat rides, shipwreck tours, scuba diving opportunities, lighthouse tours, and boat rides that end in a spectacular fireworks display.

Those who prefer to explore on land can take a trip to Cheboygan State Park. Here, visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of Lake Huron from the many hiking trails scattered throughout the park. Other activities available here include hunting, swimming, camping, and skiing in the winter months. Finally, head to Aloha State Park for an afternoon of boating, swimming, and soaking up sparkling views of Mullett Lake.


Marquette Harbor Lighthouse, in McCarty's Cove. Marquette, MI.

Nearly 200 miles from Cheboygan lies the charming town of Marquette, Michigan. Marquette is a beautiful destination in any season and offers a wide range of things to see and do along the shores of Lake Superior. Start your Marquette trip off on the right foot at Presque Isle Park. The town's park is known as “Marquette's recreational crown jewel,” and for good reason. Visitors will be amazed at the postcard-perfect peninsula and the surrounding lake views. Activities in the park include hiking, picnicking, fishing, and driving down the scenic Peter White Drive. After a few hours in the park, head to the Upper Peninsula Children's Museum or the Marquette Regional History Center for a fun but educational afternoon.

Finally, take a quick trip to the nearby Dead River Falls – a collection of cascading water set in a rocky gorge. 

Grand Haven

Aerial view of the Grand Haven North and South Pierhead Lighthouse.

Beloved for its pristine beaches and charming boardwalk, Grand Haven is an ideal summer destination, especially for those looking to dig their toes in the sand. For the best beach day, head to either Grand Haven State Park or Grand Haven City Beach. At the state park, beach-goers can enjoy a stroll on the shop-lined boardwalk, swim at the beach, and soak up views of the Grand Haven South Pierhead lighthouse. The pier and lighthouse, which have been in operation since 1839, will have visitors feeling like they just stepped into a Wes Anderson movie.

Grand Haven City Beach, is also close to the south pier and is boasted as a good option for families with dogs. Those visiting Grandhaven between Memorial Day and Labor Day can enjoy free nightly shows at the Grand Haven Musical Fountain – a dazzling display of lights, music, and water.


Visiting Nelis' Dutch Village in Holland, Michigan, during Tulip Time. Image credits: Rachael Martin via Shutterstock

As it turns out, you don’t need to travel all the way to Europe for a taste of Holland tourism. Not far from the shores of Lake Michigan, travelers will find the unique town of Holland, Michigan. Spend some time here exploring the authentic Dutch windmill at Windmill Island Gardens. In addition to the windmill, visitors will find a gift shop filled with Dutch treats, walking trails, an antique carousel ride, and a little Netherlands display. During springtime, visitors will find thousands of tulips in bloom here as well.

Next, to keep the Netherlands vibes rolling, head to Nelis’ Dutch Village. Another hot spot for colorful spring tulips, Nelis’ Dutch Village offers Klompen dance lessons, various rides, an old-time village, and gift shops lined with wooden clogs. In the afternoon, be sure to check out Holland State Park where watching the sunset over the ‘Big Red’ lighthouse is sure to take your breath away. The park also features sandy beaches, hiking trails, campsites, and interpretive programs.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph, Michigan - the town, St. Joe river and thriving city.

St. Joseph, Michigan is another vibrant beach town, ideal for summer travels. Visitors can enjoy a day of swimming and basking in the sun when they visit Silver Beach County Park. The park features a long stretch of soft white sand and a section of swimmable Lake Michigan water that runs about 1,600 feet long.

Additionally, park visitors will find grills, volleyball nets, picnic areas, concession stands, and access to the picturesque south pier where a beautiful lighthouse can be admired. After a few hours at the beach head down the road to the Silver Beach Carousel for a relaxing, nostalgia-fueled ride. On especially hot days, visitors can check out the Whirlpool Compass Fountain – a massive compass that sprays waves of misty water.

Beaver Island

Beaver Island, Michigan. The Beaver Islander Ferry Boat moored in Lake Michigan. Image credits: Reel creative via Shutterstock

Beaver Island is the largest island on Lake Michigan and draws in thousands of tourists each summer. Beloved for its sparkling lake views and dark sky status, Beaver Island is the perfect spot to relax and try to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. While visiting the island, travelers can explore two historic lighthouses, take in a round of golf at Beaver Island Golf Course, and dig into the past at the Beaver Island Historical Society.

After that, it is time to fuel your nostalgia at the Beaver Island Toy Museum which is owned and run by artist Mary Scholl. Even without those activities, simply walking or biking around the island is an easy way to enjoy all the charm this area has to offer. 

In Conclusion

Between these seven charming small towns, travelers headed to Michigan will be spoiled with choices. Whether you choose to take a Europe-themed vacation in Holland or spend the day visiting the award-winning beaches in Saugatuck, you won’t be disappointed with what this state has to offer. So get those beach bags packed, it’s time for a Michigan getaway.


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