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Lake Michigan beach towns, Michigan

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Did You Know … ?

  • Winds and pounding surf have created the world’s largest freshwater dune system on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore.
  • Michigan is America’s top producer of blueberries and tart cherries.
  • A ghost town called Singapore sits under the dunes near Saugatuck.
  • On about 10,000 acres, Michigan produces just under 21 million pounds of asparagus a year.
  • Michigan has more than 3,200 miles of freshwater coastline, more than any other U.S. state.

Sunset Coast

Michigan, northern state that it is, boasts a Riviera of sorts on its southwestern shore, facing Lake Michigan. Its beaches are known for sugar sands that stretch north from the Michigan-Indiana border for 200 miles. This coastline and the water itself have lured tourists since the 19th century. Spectacular sunsets over the lake have given the area a nickname: Sunset Coast.

This is a prime growing area for selected fruits and vegetables. In addition, sand dunes cover 2,000 acres between Lake Michigan and the inland Silver Lake. Most dunes are in the Silver Lake State Park. Different sections are designated for self-drive adventures, hiking and dune drives provided by a vendor.

On-the-beach, in-the-water and on-the-water pursuits are largely confined to dates in or close to summer, but at other seasons visitors cycle, hike and, in winter, go cross-country skiing, drive snowmobiles and the like. Most of the beach towns feature in one of Michigan’s water trails for paddlers.

Key towns, from south to north, are:

  • St. Joseph is a quaint harbor town, noted for its lighthouses and other maritime associations, good for a vacation at the beach or attached to a fishing rod.
  • South Haven, with a maritime history of its own, is home to the Michigan Maritime Museum and calls itself the world’s blueberry capital.
  • Saugatuck, another town where visitors may focus on water — the lake and a river, also offers wineries and a brewery for touring.
  • Holland has the de rigueur beach and sailing choices, but other attractions reflect its Dutch history. The story is nicely epitomized by the Tulip Time Festival. This is the only U.S. site where Delftware is made.
  • Grand Haven is a place for beaches, biking, hiking, riding a schooner, but especially for fishing. It boasts one of the lake’s largest charter fishing fleets.
  • Muskegon, with a maritime story illustrated in lighthouses and historic boats, also developed around the lumber business, with lumber barons’ homes among its museums.
  • Silver Lake is the small beach town closest to the Silver Lakes Sand Dunes, the most notable sand piles on the Sunset Coast (though dunes appear elsewhere on the lakeshore).

Things to do for Venturers

  • There are numerous options for sailboat charters, with or without a crew, on the big lake. Find one that suits your style.
  • Plan a canoe or kayak trip following one of Michigan’s water trails. One is the Lake Michigan Water Trail Southwest, which takes paddlers from the Michigan-Indiana state line north on the lake to Holland. Others follow rivers that empty into the lake.
  • Hike or ride to the top of the Silver Lake Sand Dunes for memorable views of Lake Michigan and the farms and towns that abut it. Visitors can hike in the dunes’ center section or drive their own or rented off-road vehicles to the north.
  • Stretch your legs on a self-guided biking tour. Muskegon County has 60 miles of recreational trails. Grand Haven boasts more than 100 miles of paths and trails in its neighborhood.
  • In winter in the Silver Lake area, give ice fishing a try — or even snow golf. Also, with enough snow, snowmobiling on the 33.5-mile South Haven-Kalamazoo Kal-Haven Trail is an option.
  • Compete in the Queen’s Cup Race, an overnight yachting event across Lake Michigan that departs from Milwaukee and takes participants to a port on the Michigan side (it varies). Amateurs as well as expert sailors enter the competition.

Things to do for Centrics

  • At Grand Haven, charter a boat for fishing on Lake Michigan.
  • Tour wineries in the Saugatuck area and taste the goods. Do the same thing for beer, at the Saugatuck Brewing Company.
  • At the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, sail on Lake Michigan aboard a replica 19th century tall ship called Friends Good Will. Overnight options are available.
  • Get married at the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph.
  • Learn a few steps of Holland’s traditional klompen dance and otherwise experience aspects of the Dutch culture as seen in the aptly named town of Holland. Sites include the Holland Museum and Settler House, DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory plus the Nelis’ Dutch Village. Besides, there is a spring Tulip Time Festival.
  • Tour a World War II submarine and a Prohibition-era Coast Guard cutter at the USS Silversides Submarine Museum in Muskegon. Continuing a nautical theme, visit the SS Milwaukee Clipper, a retired passenger ship and auto ferry, also in Muskegon. A U.S. National Historic Landmark, it offers tours on some days.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Schedule some on-water time at Saugatuck. Choices include a glide down the Kalamazoo River on a sternwheeler. For something quite different, cross the river at Saugatuck on the last working hand-cranked chain ferry in the U.S.
  • Look for the lighthouses, starting with Big Red at Holland where the Coast Guard still maintains the light. Or take a tour inside the Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington and take in memorable views of Lake Michigan from there. Another possibility would be the North Pier Lighthouse at St. Joseph.
  • Relax on any of the area’s beaches facing on Lake Michigan.
  • Come to South Haven in summer for the Blueberry Festival. Or, celebrate the vegetable at the Asparagus Festival in Hart.
  • If traveling in autumn, plan a fall foliage tour in southwest Michigan.
  • Ride the historic Coopersville and Marne Railway between Coopersville and Marne (near Grand Haven). During the hour-and-15-minute trip, the conductor highlights points of interest against the backdrop of piped-in 19th century music, and wildlife sightings could include deer and eagles or even cougars and mustangs.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Travel Michigan at www.michigan.org