Mackinac Island

8 Charming Great Lake Beach Towns

The Great Lakes in the Midwest region of the United States, namely, Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Lake Ontario, extend from Minnesota in the west to New York in the east, with Canada bordering to the north, and the states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to the south. Hundreds of beach towns sit along the 10,500 miles of beaches of these lakes. Some of the most mention-worthy hotspot destinations among them are revealed below.

Grand Haven, Michigan

Grand haven
Aerial view of Grand Haven on Lake Michigan.

Forty-five minutes north of Saugatuck, Grand Haven is an unbeatable beaches-galore destination that does not take its name lightly. It presents itself as a true haven to those looking to relax or engage in water fun on the sandy shores. The 745-feet Lake Michigan coast holds seven beaches with an accessible soft-sand shoreline and rolling dunes. The Grand Haven Boardwalk along the Grand River houses many shops, restaurants, and rental shacks. The nearby Grand Haven State Park, with a famed 1,151-foot pier, offers a close-up view of two lighthouses on Lake Michigan. These lighthouses are the most photographed landmarks on all of the Grand Lakes. 

Grand Haven, Michigan
The famous lighthouse in Grand Haven.

Known as the Coastal Guard City, Grand Haven showcases its marine style in everything, including the walkable heart of the town, sprinkled with stands that sell thematic art pieces, collectibles, souvenirs, crafts, and gifts. When one has had their fill of basking on the beach or desires an escape into serenity from the sun-kissed downtown area, a shaded heaven is only a stroll away to the nearby woods. The shady trails running through luscious forests are perfect for hiking or setting a picnic in a scenic spot at the edge. One can also engage in a downtown trolley tour, visit the historic train museum, or best yet, visit the world's largest musical fountain that puts on a captivating show of lights and sounds.

Fishtown, Michigan

Fishtown Leland
Fishtown, Leland, Michigan. Editorial credit: Thomas Barrat /

A forty-minute drive out of Traverse City will bring one to the historically rich small scenic town of Fishtown Leland, scenically set at the end of the Leland River at the edge of Lake Michigan on the Leland peninsula. Walking the docks to catch the glorious sights of weathered fishing shanties, smokehouses, commercial fishing boat tugs, and charter fishing boats offer a glimpse into Fishtown's past. The Native Americans discovered the rich fish supply in the waters, fishing to feed their families. However, the first European settlers who established the town in the 1850s, fished for trade. The tradition continues to this day, with Fishtown remaining one of the last working fishing districts on Lake Michigan. 

Still dependant on the fishing industry, it is understandable why so many tourist attractions are correlated with this craft, such as taking one's catch to a lake's smokehouse where it can be smoked to order in a uniquely upper Michigan flavor. The Carlson family fishery is one of the most photographed landmarks of the region that turned from a small dockside operation into a unique retail business on the dock. A favorite among the residents and popular with tourists, some of the highly-demanded dishes include smoked fish, whitefish sausage, and fish pâté. 

Holland, Michigan

Holland, Michigan
Aerial view of Holland on Lake Michigan.

The prominence of the Dutch culture can be felt in all pursuits while in Holland, Michigan. A prime landmark of the town, The DeZwaan Windmill that acts as an anchor to the Windmill Island Gardens, and grinds wheat and corn, was transported out of the Netherlands. Gardens and canals sprawl the 10 acres of The Nelis' Dutch Village. The downtown area is filled with Dutch-inspired activities, including outlets to buy wooden shoes, galleries for marveling at the scenic Dutch escapes, and traditional restaurants with authentic cuisine and brews. 

Holland Michigan windmill
The famous windmill and tulip fields of Holland, Michigan.

The iconic Tulip Time Festival takes place every spring when the Veldheer Tulip Gardens and Windmill Island Gardens burst in sensual flavors of colors and scents. The must-see lakefronts at Tunnel Park and Holland State Park, a lakeside boardwalk, dunes, and a charming downtown, make the town extremely photogenic. The Tunnel Park contains the only concrete tunnel of the state that was cut through a sand dune with an exit to the beach with the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. Mt. Pisgah at the Holland State Park with 239 steps to the top of a sand dune opens up in a fantastic waterscape of Lake Michigan, Lake Macatawa, and the Big Red Lighthouse. From there, one can continue along a scenic ridge trail to the woods to catch a glimpse at the region's flora and fauna. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island in the fall season.

The town of Mackinac sits on the namesake island and is easily reachable by a ferry ride from Mackinaw City, while the closest airport is in Traverse City. As a popular tourist destination and a getaway for those looking to decompress on a long weekend, it offers a car-free environment, which provides for endless walking and biking opportunities on the myriad of trails for the active.

Mackinac Island
Vacationers take on Market Street on Mackinac Island that is lined with shops and restaurants. Editorial credit: Alexey Stiop /

History and architecture aficionados are free to roam the middle of the streets, marveling at the abundant Victorian houses without having to watch out for traffic. One of the most visited landmarks of the town is the Arch Rock, while the lighthouses complete the charm and complement the scape of this marvelous waterside town. The pebbly beaches add to more photo-taking opportunities, along with the myriad of water activities to engage in, aside from basking in the sun. 

New Buffalo, Michigan

new buffalo
People explore the beach and harbor area in the town of New Buffalo in summer. Editorial credit: Page Light Studios /

Only an hour and a half away from Chicago, New Buffalo is popular among solitude-seekers with its white sandy beaches and calming waters to escape the worries of the daily being. The City Beach surf shop offers kayaks and paddleboards for rent to launch into the Galien River. The Warren Dunes State Park contains everything from walk-able sands along the 3-mile beach, to dunes for climbing, to camping at one of its cabins or campsites with showers and snack bars. The 45-acre Glassman Park comes inclusive with a labyrinth for some fun meandering, while the admission-free New Buffalo Railroad Museum Railroad will teach one about the town's history as a rail hub. 

The Galien River County Park is ideal for those wanting to be one-on-one with nature, including birds, blankets of flowers, and trees that spread their canopy for 300 feet over a walkway. There is also a marsh boardwalk and a 60-foot overlook tower to explore the upland and wetland habitats from another perspective. One of the most popular places to eat is the Beer Church Brewing Co., where craft beers and wood-fired pizza are served inside a building that was once a church. 

South Haven, Michigan

South Haven
Visitors stroll in downtown South Haven during the Blueberry Festival. Editorial credit: Susan Montgomery /

South Haven can suit any taste with its options for the active, containing the Van Buren State Park with sandy beaches and massive dunes and the Kal-Haven Trail, a 34-mile track for cycling. South Haven also brims with opportunities to discover, including the replicas and showpieces at the Michigan Maritime Museum, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum, and the Historical Association of South Haven. The Michigan Maritime Museum and 1810 replica Friends Good Will tall ship has seafaring exhibits such as shipwrecks. 

As a flourishing art community, the town proudly presents its line-up of shows at the South Haven Center for the Arts or Michigan Theatre, while the shores of Lake Michigan are lined with specialty shop, where one can find works by local craftsmen, including antiques, artwork, and souvenirs. To stay, one can choose anything from a cozy cottage, to a resort, to the scenically-set B&B between Lake Michigan and the Black River that has rooms with beach access, also perfect for spectating sunsets. Attesting as the Blueberry capital of the world, the famed Blueberry Festival takes place during the second week in August, where one can stock up on a year-worthy supply of vitamins or engage in pie-eating contests.

St. Joseph, Michigan

St. Joseph, Michigan.

St. Joseph is a city located on the shores of Lake Michigan at the St. Joseph River's mouth. Set scenically at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, Silver Beach County Park offers extensive views from the sand-bound pier, with lighthouses in the distance. The highly historical walk-able downtown area has modern outdoor sculptures. The pedestrian path to the beach takes one along distinctive Victorian homes, shops, and the Curious Kids' Museum, and the admission-free Krasl Art Center with over 30 sculptures. 

Traverse City, Michigan

Aerial view of Traverse city marina.

Set at the base of the Grand Traverse Bay's West Arm, an embayment of Lake Michigan, there is water any way one turns when in Traverse City. One can spend days upon days at the Clinch Park located right across the Downtown's main square. The park offers a rich choice of beaches to relax on, rent kayaks and paddleboards, and even catch a film at the movie theater, among other touristy pursuits, while fuelling themselves at the snack stands between the activities. A highlight of the town is a lighthouse, set on the tip of the 16-mile- (26-km) long Old Mission Peninsula extending northward into the Grand Traverse Bay from the city.

Traverse city, Michigan
People enjoying the wine tastings and relaxing atmosphere at the Chateau Chantal Winery in Traverse City. Editorial credit: PQK /

Settled in 1847 and named for the bay, Traverse City was once a humble timber town that turned into one of the nation's main producers for cherries and cherry products, as well as a famed year-round resort hub. It is no surprise that in this cherry capital of the northwest. The fruit is celebrated through the National Cherry Festival in July and takes the front stage of the summer North-western Michigan Fair at the stands. 

The sprawls of pristine beaches that can be found on the Great Lakes act as a magnet to tourists, making it no wonder that many towns have the word "Haven" in their name. The fortunate residents of these towns can vouch that Great Lake living provides for a relaxing past-time and a myriad of activities to engage in year-round.


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