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Explore Michigan: beach towns on the west coast that are closer than you think

A map of places to visit on Michigan's west coast.

A map of places to visit on Michigan's west coast.

Graduate students, do you ever find yourself wondering what there is to do in this town or in the entire state of Michigan? Although a rare occurrence, some of you may find yourself with a little bit of free time and you’re out of ideas on how to spend it. As a native Michigander, I have explored many areas in Michigan, and one of my favorite destinations is the west coast. Western Michigan boasts some of the most beautiful, sandy beaches in the state, making it an ideal place for a summer road trip. Better yet, Lake Michigan has no sharks and it’s unsalted. In this post, I list a few of my favorite towns in western Michigan, which all have great beaches, and I describe what makes each one unique:

Holland

A Dutch town and home to the New Holland Brewing Company and the annual Tulip Time Festival (early May). One of the many highlights of this town is Windmill Island Gardens, where you can tour the only authentic Dutch windmill in operation in the United States.

Muskegon

A gorgeous camping location. At Muskegon State Park, you can set up your tent in a lush hardwood forest and walk over to the sandy beach in less than five minutes. In the wintertime, the state park has a luge track and ¼ mile ice skating trail open to the public.

Ludington

Port town where you can take the SS Badger ferry to Wisconsin. Originally built to transport train cars, the SS Badger is a behemoth at 410 feet long and 6650 tons. On board, there’s an enormous deck, a museum, a movie room, and just about anything else you can think of. The state park in Ludington boasts some of the best hiking trails in the state, with eight different trails to choose from. The terrain ranges from paths that skirt the lakeshore and trails that forge deep into the woods.

Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore

Okay, so not exactly a town. But of every place listed in the post, this is the one must-see. All along Lake Michigan’s shoreline, you will find breathtaking sand dunes that stretch for miles beyond the water, but the sand dunes in Sleeping Bear are undoubtedly the best. Named after a famous legend in Michigan, the wonder of Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes is unsurpassed by any Lake Michigan town.

Traverse City

One of the most iconic tourist destinations in Michigan. Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival in early to mid-July. You don’t have to go for the Cherry Festival to have a great time, though. U-pick cherry farms are all around the area and are open as soon as the cherries are ripe. In addition, there are a multitude of wineries in the surrounding peninsulas.

Petoskey

Much quieter than Traverse City if you’re looking for a town a little off the beaten path, but also the longest drive of any of the places mentioned above. Petoskey is one of the best places to go for a scenic drive; just north of town is M-119, known as the Tunnel of Trees because of how the trees have grown in to create a covering over the road.

Obviously, this just gives a taste of what Michigan has to offer the traveler, but I hope that this post can serve as a starting point for anyone looking to go on a trip in the near future. For me, vacations (especially in the summer) are a must. They give me a much-needed break from my work and allow me to tackle my projects from a fresh perspective when I return. In fact, a recent article in the National Parks Magazine titled “A Prescription for Nature” discusses this very topic. The article, written by a physician, describes the benefits of outdoor activities on physical well-being. The physician even describes her method for actually prescribing activities in nature for some of her patients. So take this as my prescription to you to get out there and explore the great outdoors of Michigan!