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The Unexpected Beach Destination: Northern Michigan

The Unexpected Beach Destination: Northern Michigan

While attending USC, most of my friends were either from the West Coast or the East Coast. These friends, like most people that haven’t visited Michigan, knew very little about my home state. The two most common assumptions I observed were that Michigan gets extremely cold (True) and that it is all farmlands (Partly true). One thing is for sure - luxurious beaches and rolling sand dunes are not things anyone expects to find in this Northern American state. 

While beach vacations often take travellers to places like Mexico or the Caribbean, there is a reason why, despite all the exotic beaches I’ve been to around the world, I always enjoy returning to Michigan beaches. The beaches of Lake Michigan are really only enjoyable for 3 months out of the year. But in peak season they are clean, breathtakingly beautiful, and peaceful in a way an ocean never truly is. 

So, if you are looking for an undiscovered beach destination, visit Northern Michigan and use these 8 amazing sites to help plan your trip!


The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park stretches 65 beautiful miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The shoreline is complete with rolling sand dunes, some of which get as high as 400 feet! One of the tallest dunes is named Empire Bluff and running to the bottom and climbing back up has always been one of my favorite summer activities. The signs at the top warn visitors that this climb can take two hours but I can say from experience that the hike to Lake Michigan that follows the primary Sleeping Bear dune climb can be much more strenuous. On my most recent visit, climbing Empire took 26 minutes and the Sleeping Bear hike took almost 3 hours round trip. I highly recommend both.


North and South Manitou Islands are additional spots in the National Park where Michigan’s beauty will take your breath away. These Islands are uninhabited and offer an escape for those seeking solitude in nature. For the more outdoorsy people, these islands can make the perfect camping destination. For people like me who want to spend time in nature but not sleep in it, the islands can make for a great day trip.


Once you are tired from all the hiking and dune climbs, take a scenic drive out on Old Mission Peninsula. Discover farm and food markets, picture-perfect overlooks, and vineyards where you can taste some Northern Michigan wine.


One of my favourite parts about Northern Michigan is the variety of character-filled small towns scattered throughout the region. A particularly great one is Leland. Leland has an assortment of shops selling everything from Michigan souvenirs to clothes, jewelry and even artwork. This small town includes Fishtown, a historic fishing village. Visit Leland and Fishtown to stroll in and out of cute shops and eat some delicious ice cream. This is also where you can catch the ferry to the Manitou Islands.


Craving some good food and drinks? Head over to Traverse City (my mom’s hometown!). Front Street is where you can find everything from food trucks to fine dining. A couple places to highlight are Brew and Morsels (both coffee shops), Red Ginger (upscale Asian restaurant), Georgina’s (Asian, Latin American fusion restaurant), The Little Fleet (a caravan of yummy food trucks), and Pangea’s rooftop deck (pizza with a view). Other activities include shopping, kayaking or paddle boarding on the Bay, or seeing a movie at the iconic State Theatre.


Michigan is known for its cherries. In fact, Traverse City is considered the Cherry Capital of the World! This demands a visit to the Cherry Republic, a store and restaurant where EVERYTHING includes cherries. The store is filled with samples and at the bar you can even do a free cherry wine tasting. The flagship store in Glen Arbor is the best location to visit for the full experience.


Suttons Bay is another character-filled small town that can make for a very fun afternoon. Just like Traverse City, you can kayak or paddle board on the Bay, but the town itself is much sleepier. If you are nearby, stop for some ice cream and some leisurely shopping through local stores.


The final Northern Michigan destination on this list of highlights is Mackinac Island. You have to go all the way to the top of the Lower Peninsula to catch a ferry there but if you have the time to make the drive it’s such a fun day trip. There are no cars on the island so once you get there I recommend renting bikes. You can take them all the way around the island for a very scenic ride. You can also visit museums and forts to learn about the island’s interesting history. Finally, walk around the town to try some of the famous Mackinac Island Fudge.

Northern Michigan summers are pretty magical but it’s hard to believe it until you see it! If you are interested in visiting please let me know, I’d love to hear about your plans and even help you map out your activities.

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