Best Lake Towns in Michigan

Are you wondering about the best lake towns in Michigan to visit this year? You are in the right place. Michigan, often celebrated for its picturesque landscapes, is a treasure trove of natural beauty, with its myriad of lakes and charming lakeside towns painting a serene picture of tranquil life by the water. The state, surrounded by four of the Great Lakes, boasts a rich history and a deep connection with these vast bodies of water that play a crucial role in both its economy and leisure activities. 

Michigan’s lakeside towns, each with their unique allure, offer a blend of natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and cultural significance, making them perfect destinations for those looking to explore the quintessential American lakeside living. This post lists the 15 best lake towns in Michigan to consider putting on your travel bucket list.

15 Best Lake Towns in Michigan

The best lake towns in Michigan presents its own set of unique experiences and stunning natural parks. Featuring charming stretches of sandy beaches, quaint downtown areas, and a plethora of outdoor activities, you’re guaranteed an enjoyable vacation once you find the perfect town that suits your preferences!

1. Traverse City

Traverse CityNestled on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City is a vibrant embodiment of Michigan’s scenic beauty and cultural richness. Known as the Cherry Capital of the World, this lively town is not only a hub for agricultural bounty but also a gateway to some of the state’s most stunning natural landscapes, including the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve offers breathtaking vistas of towering dunes and azure waters, making it a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.

The National Cherry Festival, held annually in July, celebrates the region’s cherry harvest with parades, fireworks, and cherry-picking tours, drawing visitors from across the globe. For those inclined towards water-based activities, Traverse City’s crystal-clear waters are perfect for sailing, fishing, and kayaking, offering a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Beyond its natural wonders, Traverse City is a culinary haven, boasting a plethora of wineries that dot the landscape, offering tours and tastings of some of Michigan’s finest wines. The town’s commitment to farm-to-table dining is evident in its array of restaurants serving up fresh, local produce, ensuring a gastronomic adventure for food lovers.

Related Read: Largest Freshwater Lake in the World

2. Charlevoix

Positioned uniquely between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, the town of Charlevoix is a picturesque enclave known for its captivating natural beauty and architectural wonders. The town is famed for the Earl Young Mushroom Houses, whimsical stone cottages that seem straight out of a fairy tale, offering a unique blend of art and nature.

Castle Farms, a historic French Renaissance-style castle, offers a glimpse into the past with its beautifully maintained gardens and museum, making it a popular venue for events and tours. For those seeking adventure on the water, Charlevoix provides ample opportunities for boating, whether it’s a leisurely sail on Lake Charlevoix or an exhilarating day out on the open waters of Lake Michigan.

The Charlevoix Venetian Festival, a highlight of the summer season, brings the community together with boat parades, live music, and fireworks, celebrating the town’s maritime heritage. Outdoor enthusiasts will find solace in Charlevoix’s parks and nature preserves, which offer serene landscapes for hiking, bird watching, and immersing oneself in the tranquil beauty of Michigan’s great outdoors.

3. South Haven

South Haven

Nestled along the shimmering shores of Lake Michigan, South Haven offers a picturesque escape with its sprawling sandy beaches that beckon visitors from far and wide. This charming lakeside town is not just about the sun and sand; it is steeped in maritime history, as evident in the Michigan Maritime Museum. The museum offers a deep dive into the region’s rich nautical past, including historic shipwrecks and the life of sailors on the Great Lakes. Adding to the town’s allure are its historic lighthouses, such as the iconic South Haven Light, which stands as a beacon of the town’s maritime heritage and provides a picturesque backdrop for sunset views.

South Haven is also known for its vibrant festivals, with the National Blueberry Festival leading the charge. This annual event celebrates the region’s bountiful blueberry harvest with parades, live music, and, of course, an abundance of blueberry treats. It’s a testament to the town’s agricultural roots and a highlight for both locals and visitors.

For those looking to engage with the waters of Lake Michigan, South Haven is a haven for water sports enthusiasts. The town’s beaches offer the perfect setting for surfing, paddleboarding, and relaxing beach outings, providing a blend of adventure and relaxation for families, couples, and solo travelers alike.

4. Grand Haven

Grand Haven offers a comprehensive vacation experience, boasting a variety of beaches and a bustling boardwalk brimming with exceptional dining options.

Indulge in a shopping spree in the downtown district, followed by a delightful trolley tour of the town for a leisurely interlude. Additionally, you can engage in mini-golf or experience the unique “Musical Fountain” show. These 20-minute performances, harmonizing light, music, and water, provide an unforgettable way to conclude a day’s adventures. Grand Haven is well-equipped to fulfill any vacation aspiration.

Situated just across from the Grand Haven boardwalk, its prime location is unmatched. Being a bed and breakfast, it offers the perfect start to your day with homemade cinnamon rolls, freshly brewed coffee, and a selection of fruits. After spending your day exploring, unwind with a book or a board game from the on-site library, or relax amidst the serene beauty of the gardens.

Also Read: Pawna Lake Camping

5. Petoskey

Petoskey, a gem nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, is famed for its breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky with vibrant hues, best viewed from the town’s scenic waterfront. The historic Gaslight District, with its quaint streets lined with gas lamps, offers a charming backdrop for a leisurely stroll, shopping, and dining. This district reflects Petoskey’s rich history and invites visitors to step back in time.

Unique to this area are the Petoskey stones, fossilized coral native to the region, which have become a symbol of the town. Hunting for these stones along the shoreline is a favorite pastime for both locals and tourists, offering a tangible piece of Petoskey to take home.

Outdoor activities abound in and around Petoskey, with numerous state parks providing trails for hiking, spots for fishing, and slopes for skiing in the winter. The natural beauty of the area is unparalleled, offering endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.

For those seeking a touch of luxury, Petoskey does not disappoint. The town boasts an array of boutique shops offering unique finds, from local crafts to high-end fashion. The dining scene is equally impressive, with fine dining establishments serving gourmet dishes that highlight the region’s freshest ingredients.

6. Saugatuck


Saugatuck is a beacon of artistic heritage and culture on the shores of Lake Michigan. Known for its vibrant cultural scene, the town is a hub for artists and art enthusiasts, boasting a plethora of art galleries and studios. The annual Saugatuck Douglas Art Festival is a testament to the town’s commitment to the arts, drawing artists, and visitors from across the country to celebrate creativity and community.

Oval Beach, with its pristine sands and clear waters, offers not only a perfect spot for relaxation but also opportunities for dune rides, providing a thrilling way to explore the natural landscapes that surround Saugatuck. These dunes are a significant part of the town’s natural beauty, offering panoramic views of the lake and beyond.

Saugatuck’s artistic flair extends to its waterways, with boat tours along the Kalamazoo River offering a unique perspective on the town’s scenic beauty and wildlife. These tours provide a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the tranquility of nature.

Together, South Haven, Petoskey, and Saugatuck represent the diverse experiences Michigan’s lake towns have to offer. From the historical and maritime adventures in South Haven to the stunning natural beauty and luxury of Petoskey, and the artistic and cultural richness of Saugatuck, each town offers its unique charm, making Michigan a quintessential destination for those seeking the tranquility and beauty of lakeside living.

7. Holland

Holland offers an ideal retreat for outdoor enthusiasts, boasting extensive paved trails perfect for walking or cycling, alongside an award-winning downtown area.

This town is home to several beaches, providing ample opportunities for soaking up the sun. A standout is Tunnel Park, spanning 22 acres with a distinctive tunnel that cuts through a dune, making it an excellent location for sunbathing, swimming, or enjoying a sunset.

An all-day adventure awaits at Holland State Park, a renowned lake state park. Don’t miss the Big Red Lighthouse, where you can camp overnight or simply enjoy a sunset view over Lake Michigan.

For those considering accommodation in Holland, the Hampton Inn Holland comes highly recommended. It features positive reviews, a swimming pool and hot tub, and even a basketball court. Situated just a 13-minute drive from the lakeshore, its location offers convenience and makes it an appealing choice for your stay.

Read More: Lindeman Lake Hike

8. Marquette

Perched on the rugged shores of Lake Superior, Marquette stands as a testament to Michigan’s unparalleled natural beauty and adventurous spirit. The town’s picturesque setting is complemented by its lush landscapes and the expansive blue waters of the largest of the Great Lakes. Marquette is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a myriad of recreational activities set against a backdrop of stunning natural scenery.

Hiking the Iron Ore Heritage Trail provides a unique journey through 47 miles of Marquette’s history and natural beauty, tracing the route once used to transport iron ore from the mines to the shore. Meanwhile, Presque Isle Park, with its winding trails and serene viewpoints, offers a natural sanctuary for those looking to immerse themselves in the tranquility of the outdoors.

Marquette’s rich history is showcased at the Marquette Maritime Museum, where visitors can explore the maritime heritage of Lake Superior, including tales of historic shipwrecks and the brave keepers of the Marquette Lighthouse. The museum offers a deep dive into the town’s connection to the lake that has shaped its past and present.

Seasonal sports thrive in Marquette, with the warm months inviting kayaking and paddle boarding on the lake’s clear waters, while winter transforms the landscape into a snowy wonderland ideal for skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. This year-round adventure playground ensures that Marquette remains a vibrant destination across all seasons.

9. Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is a world unto itself, where the passage of time slows to the rhythm of horse hooves on cobblestone streets. The island’s unique car-free environment preserves its historic charm and offers a peaceful retreat from the modern world. Visitors are transported back in time, exploring the island by bicycle, horse-drawn carriage, or on foot, allowing for a truly immersive experience.

Fort Mackinac stands as a historic sentinel on the island, offering insights into the life of American soldiers and their families in the 19th century. The fort’s panoramic views of the Straits of Mackinac are a bonus, blending history with natural beauty. The annual Lilac Festival celebrates the island’s floral heritage, filling the air with sweet fragrances and the town with vibrant colors, music, and parades.

Nature’s artistry is on full display at Arch Rock, an iconic limestone formation offering breathtaking views over Lake Huron. The Butterfly House & Insect World provides an enchanting escape, inviting visitors to wander among hundreds of butterflies in a lush, tropical setting.

Mackinac Island’s culinary scene is as delightful as its scenery, with famous fudge shops offering an irresistible treat that has become synonymous with the island. The fudge, alongside dining experiences ranging from casual to fine dining, and the charm of horse-drawn carriage tours, ensures a visit to Mackinac Island is not only a step back in time but a feast for the senses.

10. Leland

Leland, affectionately known as “Fishtown,” is a charming fishing village nestled on the Leelanau Peninsula, where the Leland River meets Lake Michigan. This historic town offers a glimpse into Michigan’s maritime past, with its weathered fish shanties, smokehouses, and docks that now house unique shops, galleries, and eateries. Leland’s harbor serves as a gateway to the Manitou Islands, part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, providing opportunities for day trips and exploration of unspoiled natural beauty.

Recreational fishing remains a popular activity, paying homage to the town’s heritage. Visitors can charter boats for a day on the water or simply enjoy the fresh catch of the day at local restaurants. Leland’s beaches are picturesque and serene, perfect for a day of relaxation or a sunset stroll along the shore.

The Leland Wine and Food Festival, held annually, celebrates the region’s burgeoning wine industry and local cuisine, attracting foodies and wine enthusiasts alike. This event showcases the best of Leland’s local flavors against the backdrop of its stunning natural scenery.

Read Also: The Best Times To Visit Salt Lake City

11. Ludington

Ludington stands out as a premier destination with one of the Midwest’s highest-rated beach parks, making it an ideal spot for your holiday! Spanning 7 miles along Lake Michigan, it offers numerous activities like camping, boating, fishing, swimming, and hiking.

No matter your location in the vicinity, you’re never far from the sandy shores of Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake. Ludington State Park is a must-visit, or you could venture to the stunning Silver Lake Sand Dunes for a day trip.

If you have a keen interest in history, the S. S. Badger Car Ferry, the largest of its kind on the Great Lakes, and the town’s two historic lighthouses are worth exploring. Consider a cruise on the S.S. Badger to conclude your Ludington adventure in style!

For a stay filled with neoclassical splendor, the Cartier Mansion Bed & Breakfast is unmatched, maintaining its historical elegance. This B&B even offers the chance to volunteer with local charities – a unique touch.

12. Tawas City/East Tawas

Tawas City

Tawas City and its neighbor, East Tawas, sit on the shores of Lake Huron, offering a blend of natural beauty and small-town charm. These twin towns are known for their vibrant community, beautiful beaches, and the iconic Tawas Point Lighthouse, which guides vessels through Tawas Bay. Tawas Point State Park, often referred to as the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” boasts some of the finest sandy beaches in the region, inviting visitors to swim, sunbathe, and enjoy watersports.

The area is a haven for birdwatchers, especially during the spring and fall migrations. Tawas Point Birding Festival is a highlight event, drawing enthusiasts eager to catch a glimpse of rare species. For those looking to stay active, the Tawas Bay Pedestrian and Bike Path offers scenic views while connecting Tawas City and East Tawas.

Downtown East Tawas buzzes with activity, featuring a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes. The Tawas Bay Art Gallery and local theaters provide cultural experiences, while the annual Tawas Bay Waterfront Fine Art Festival celebrates the area’s artistic talents.

13. Frankfort

Frankfort, situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, is renowned for its picturesque beauty, historic lighthouse, and pristine beaches. Point Betsie Lighthouse, one of the most photographed lighthouses in the United States, offers stunning views and a peek into the area’s nautical history. Frankfort’s beaches are a draw for visitors looking to relax on the sand, surf the waves, or watch a magnificent sunset over the lake.

Outdoor adventures abound in and around Frankfort, with the Betsie Valley Trail offering miles of pathways for biking and hiking through diverse landscapes. In the winter, the area transforms into a snowy playground, with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails available for outdoor enthusiasts.

The town’s vibrant arts scene is on full display during the Frankfort Art Fair, which brings artists and craftsmen from across the region to showcase their work. Culinary experiences in Frankfort range from casual eateries to gourmet dining, with a focus on locally sourced ingredients and fresh seafood.

Also Read: Things To Do in Lake Powell

14. Muskegon

The historical city of Muskegon offers a rich array of attractions for every type of visitor! The city is home to two historical lighthouses and a number of maritime vessels from the past, now repurposed into museums.

Explore the largest open-air market in West Michigan at the Muskegon Farmer’s Market, or visit the Western Market chalets. The micro pop-up shops provide a delightful way to support local businesses! Additionally, thanks to its prime location near the Muskegon Rivera and Lake Michigan, visitors can enjoy a wide range of aquatic activities.

When visiting Muskegon, don’t miss out on a trip to Grand Haven State Park, just 17 miles from downtown Muskegon. This 48-acre park offers beautiful views, a superb beach for swimming, and an enjoyable boardwalk.

The accommodations by the lake feature rooms with fireplaces and balconies offering picturesque views. Guests also have the option to rent kayaks or bicycles directly from the inn for an unparalleled experience.

15. Escanaba


Situated in the Upper Peninsula, Escanaba ranks as a top-notch beach destination along Lake Michigan, appealing to travelers of all interests. The town boasts a variety of attractions, from museums and historic lighthouses to farmers’ markets and inviting sandy shores, ensuring your itinerary remains packed.

Indulge in paddleboarding, kayaking, swimming, or hiking to immerse yourself in the breathtaking landscapes of Michigan’s upper peninsula. Horseback riding enthusiasts will find Escanaba particularly appealing.

For those who don’t mind a short distance from the center, the Terrace Bay Hotel, with its stunning views of Little Bay de Noc and spacious rooms complete with picturesque balconies, is an excellent choice. The on-site restaurant is well-regarded, offering convenient access to scrumptious meals without the need to venture too far.


From the adventurous soul of Marquette to the timeless charm of Mackinac Island, the best lake towns in Michigan offer a rich tapestry of experiences that captivate and enchant. Each town, with its unique features, from natural beauty and outdoor adventures to rich history and cultural celebrations, beckons travelers to explore and immerse themselves in the diverse landscapes and lifestyles of Michigan. Whether you’re seeking the tranquility of lakeside retreats, the thrill of outdoor adventures, or the warmth of small-town hospitality, Michigan’s lake towns promise unforgettable journeys. I encourage you to venture into these destinations, where the beauty, culture, and adventure of Michigan come to life, offering experiences that linger in the heart long after the journey ends.

FAQ’s – Best Lake Towns in Michigan

In this part, we respond to commonly asked questions about the best lake towns in Michigan. This includes information on the most scenic and beautiful beaches, comparisons of the lake’s shores to determine which is superior, and details on the cities that encircle Lake Michigan.

What are some of the best lake towns to visit in Michigan?

Explore towns like Traverse City, Charlevoix, Saugatuck, Marquette, Petoskey, South Haven, Ludington, and Frankenmuth for a memorable lake town experience.

What is the nicest beach on Lake Michigan?

It’s hard to make a mistake when choosing a beach on Lake Michigan, but Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore stands out as one of the most beautiful beaches on the lake.

What cities surround Lake Michigan?

The primary cities situated around Lake Michigan include Chicago in Illinois, Milwaukee, and Green Bay in Wisconsin, along with Muskegon in Michigan.

Which side of Lake Michigan is better?

When considering the east versus west sides of Lake Michigan, one expert, Leinbach, offers insight into why the Michigan side might have an advantage. The prevailing winds in the United States typically move from west to east, effectively pushing the warmer water towards Michigan’s shoreline during summer. This results in warmer swimming conditions and more enjoyable beach activities on the Michigan side.

Which side of Lake Michigan is better?

The Michigan side of Lake Michigan is often favored due to its warmer water temperatures, charming towns, and versatile vacation spots, making it a prime choice for visitors seeking a range of recreational activities.

What is the cleanest lake in Michigan?

Michigan is rich in various water bodies, from minor ponds and rivers to expansive lakes that define both the state and the country’s landscape. Globally, water covers over 70% of the Earth’s surface, including a mix of small to large seas and lakes, contributing to the natural beauty and ecological diversity of our planet.

Is it OK to swim in Lake Michigan?

Exercise caution while swimming in Lake Michigan due to its irregular bottom, characterized by holes and steep declines. These nearshore depressions pose significant risks to young children and those who cannot swim. West Beach is the sole location equipped with lifeguard supervision.

Which Michigan Lake-town is the best for family vacations?

South Haven and Traverse City are highly recommended for families, offering kid-friendly beaches, parks, and activities.