12 Must-Visit Towns Along the Shores of Lake Michigan

Written by Sarah Barkley
Published: September 18, 2023
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The top 12 must-visit towns along the shores of Lake Michigan offer beautiful places to explore. You can enjoy watching the sunset over the lake, go for a swim, or find other ways to embrace the water. Plus, there are also many other things to do in these must-visit towns along the shores of Lake Michigan.  

From water activities, food, shopping, art, and history, there’s something for everyone, and you’re sure to embrace different aspects of each location. Each town has its own vibe, so check out as many as possible.  

1. South Haven  

If you’re into history, South Haven has the Michigan Maritime Museum and a replica of the Friends Good Will ship. You’ll enjoy the exhibits on seafaring and shipwrecks and then ride in the replica ship.  

There are many beaches to explore, each with beautiful scenery. You can also check out the Kal-Haven Trail, which has a covered bridge over the Black River. If you visit South Haven in August, you can attend the Blueberry Festival at the Blueberry Capital of the World.  

Sunset Over Lake Michigan
South Haven offers some of the best sunset views near the South Beach pier. 

©Better Planet Media/iStock via Getty Images

2. Holland  

Holland is a Dutch-inspired must-visit town along the shores of Lake Michigan. You can choose from different beaches, including Holland State Park and Tunnel Park, perfect for swimming and other water activities. Going downtown, you’ll notice shops, restaurants, galleries, and more in brick buildings.   

Visiting Holland offers a unique chance to see the Windmill Island Gardens, where a windmill from the Netherlands still grinds corn and wheat. You can explore Nelis’ Dutch Village, which offers opportunities to see Dutch-inspired gardens and canals.   

While you’re there, you can also learn klompen dancing skills or purchase wooden shoes. Holland also celebrates the largest tulip festival in the United States.  

Wooden Windmill in Holland Michigan
Holland showcases wooden windmills from the Netherlands and hosts a yearly tulip festival.  

©csterken/iStock via Getty Images

3. Saugatuck  

Saugatuck is an essential place for artists or art lovers to visit. You can explore galleries, sculptures, and other inspiring pieces. Visiting Oval Beach will provide a sweeping shoreline with dunes, or you can hike at Mount Baldhead Park.  

Nautical Scene with Fall Leaf Colors-Saugatuck,Michigan
Saugatuck has glorious sights leading out to Lake Michigan, even in the fall, making it an ideal place to visit.

©William Reagan/iStock via Getty Images

4. Muskegon  

Muskegon is a must-visit town along the shores of Lake Michigan for the entire family. From Pere Marquette Park, you can see two lighthouses while swimming or enjoying other beach activities. This park also has many sand volleyball courts and a dog beach.  

Taking the Lakeshore Trail bike path can ensure you see Muskegon Lake. This path also takes you downtown for shopping, dining, and more.  

Muskegon also contains a World War II-era submarine and museum called the USS Silversides. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also visit Michigan’s Adventure, an amusement park with roller coasters and a water park.  

Gorgeous Sunset Beach On Lake Michigan
From hiking trails to sandy beaches, Muskegon has something for everyone.  

©ehrlif/iStock via Getty Images

5. Traverse City 

Traverse City offers plenty of beaches and areas to paddleboard or kayak during your visit. The town has many breweries, wineries, and farm-to-table restaurants to try, and you’re sure to enjoy many of them. You can also explore Traverse City galleries and museums before watching the sunset over the bay to round out your perfect day.  

Traverse City is one of the oldest cities in Michigan, and you can find many historical sites that offer learning opportunities and chances to explore. If you go at the right time of year, you can attend their yearly Cherry Festival to fully embrace the vibe of the area.  

Traverse City also has a unique cave at Mari Vineyards, where wine is stored and aged for the best flavor. You can tour the wine caves, taste wine, and explore the vineyards during your visit if you don’t want to stay at the beach all day.  

Traverse City Michigan , Sleeping Bear Dunes
You can see the Sleeping Bear Dunes from Traverse City while exploring trails along the beach.

©Gary Ennis/iStock via Getty Images

6. Grand Haven  

Grand Haven has beautiful Lake Michigan beaches and the boardwalk stretches along the Grand River for more sightseeing and adventure. On the boardwalk, you can visit restaurants, breweries, shops, and other fun activities that make your trip memorable. You can also view the Grand Haven Musical Fountain at dusk for a synchronized water and light show unlike any you can see elsewhere.  

Dawn Grand Haven Lighthouse
Walking the pier in Grand Haven is a memorable experience that can leave you a little wet if the waves are high enough, but you’re sure to enjoy the moment.  

©Dean Pennala/iStock via Getty Images

7. St. Joseph  

When visiting St. Joseph, you won’t want to miss the incomparable modern sculptures in Silver Beach County Park. While you’re there, you can also enjoy the sandy beaches while embracing the sights of and visiting the pier and lighthouses. It’s an experience you won’t get anywhere else, and you’re sure to love the environment as it allows you to embrace the nautical experience. 

Downtown St. Joseph is easily walkable and near the beach, so you can go from town to the lake without an issue. While you’re in town, you can shop, visit a new restaurant, or enjoy the view of the unique Victorian homes lining the streets.  

Another must-see place in St. Joseph for artistic people is the Krasl Art Center. Entry is free, and the art center contains more than 30 sculptures.  

St. Joseph Sunset
Lighthouses are one of the best parts of visiting the shores of Lake Michigan. 

©Kenneth Keifer/iStock via Getty Images

8. Ludington  

Visiting Ludington offers the chance to view the Big Sable Point Lighthouse. You can see this lighthouse from Stearns Park and Ludington State Park, both offering tons of shoreline. Those aren’t the only beaches worth visiting in Ludington, so make sure you explore and find your favorite spots.  

You can visit the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area for a unique scene. Aside from the wilderness, you’ll also find plenty of sand and lighthouses in this area, so you won’t run out of places to explore. Afterward, you can go to town for drinks, food, shopping, and more.  

Sunset Beach
The shoreline of Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park is incomparable, and you’ll find peace viewing the natural scenery.   

©ehrlif/iStock via Getty Images

9. Mackinaw City  

Mackinaw City is unique because you can visit both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron while you’re there. This town is where the two lakes meet between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. Aside from visiting these two Great Lakes, you can also find delicious places to eat and fun places to shop for a well-rounded experience.  

Don’t forget to visit the Mackinac Bridge to see where the lower and upper peninsulas connect. You can also take a boat to Mackinac Island, an island free of motorized vehicles, so you won’t be able to get there by anything other than a boat. On the island, you’ll see horse-drawn carriages and lots of bikes, and you’ll find plenty of places to eat and shop.   

Aerial view of the Mackinac Bridge
When visiting Mackinaw City, don’t forget to visit the Mackinac Bridge and the Old Mackinaw City Lighthouse for the full experience of this town. 

©Laurent Fady/iStock via Getty Images

10. Manistee  

The beaches in Manistee are all public locations and offer plenty of space to spread out and enjoy your trip. The town is full of historic buildings, giving it a charming feeling that can’t be beaten anywhere else. It also has riverwalks, bridges, marinas, and other beautiful sights for a more meaningful experience.  

Manistee River Trail suspension bridge in late fall over river.jpg
Don’t forget to walk along the Manistee River Trail suspension bridge.

©Nicholas Klein/iStock via Getty Images

11. Glen Arbor 

Glen Arbor is one of the Michigan towns associated with Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It has huge dunes you can climb, many beaches, and a river that flows into the lake for countless water activities. You’ll also find trails that offer unforgettable sights as you hike along.  

Hiking Trail at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan
Finding trails to hike at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is easy, and they often lead to the beach or the Dunes. 

©csterken/iStock via Getty Images

12. Charlevoix  

Charlevoix is well-known for its many beaches, including those along Lake Michigan and on Lake Charlevoix. You can find Petoskey stones, which are exclusive to Michigan and are actually fossilized coral rather than a rock.   

Another idea is to visit the largest island in Lake Michigan, Beaver Island, giving you a full Lake Michigan experience. The island contains many hiking trails and is popular for kayaking.  

Charlevoix is also full of boutiques and galleries, so don’t miss checking them out. Charlevoix is an artsy place, and you’ll enjoy the vibe while walking downtown.  

Summer in Northern Michigan
Round Lake in Charlevoix is another spot to check out during your visit.

©Laurent Fady/iStock via Getty Images

Summary of 12 Must-Visit Towns Along the Shores of Lake Michigan  

Rank Lake Michigan Shoreline Town 
South Haven 
Traverse City 
Grand Haven 
St. Joseph 
Mackinaw City 
10 Manistee 
11 Glen Arbor 
12 Charlevoix 

The Featured Image

Sunset on Lake Michigan with Adirondack Chairs-Dennis Michigan
Sunset on Lake Michigan with Adirondack Chairs-Dennis Michigan
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