Travel the Western Michigan Coastline to Sleeping Bear Dunes
Michigan has the longest freshwater coastline in the U.S. and the second longest coast line overall (losing out the top spot to none other than Alaska). If all you think about are Maize and Blue Wolverine football, the city of Detroit, or giant mounds of snow when you think about Michigan, you would be very surprised to learn that there are absolutely beautiful beaches that stretch across Michigan’s western coastline. I highly recommend that you give these Michigan Beachtowns a try and make sure you also visit Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Fun Things to do on a Western Michigan Road Trip
When we made this drive, our favorite hotels bookended the trip. On the southern end of the route, we really enjoyed the downtown area of Grand Rapids and the huge, entertaining, and educational Grand Rapids Public Museum. In Grand Rapids I highly recommend two downtown hotels: Amway Grand Plaza, Curio Collection by Hilton if you’re looking for historic charm and modern comforts, or Homewood Suites Grand Rapids Downtown if you’re looking for a little more space for kids.
We started our western Michigan road trip in the small town of Saugatuck. Equipped with one of the most unique attractions that entertained both adults and kids alike, the town is home to the Saugatuck Chain Ferry. This working piece of nostalgia is a 19th century ferry operated completely by underwater chains, pulleys and a hand crank. (Yes, it is cranked by the ferry’s operator, which for us was a high-school aged boy who practically worked his deltoids off.)
You can ride the ferry across the Kalamazoo River for $1/person to reach Oval Beach, which has been ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and one of the top two freshwater beaches in the U.S. by National Geographic Traveler. It has fine grain sand, crystal clear water, clean public restrooms, outdoor showers, a reasonably priced snack shack and convenient parking. The water will be cool no matter what time of year you visit, but that makes it extra refreshing when the sun is blazing.
Our favorite meal in Saugatuck was breakfast at Pumpernickel’s Eatery. Our kids loved all the baked goods, especially the cinnamon rolls. They also have several breakfast deals that include a couple items plus coffee for a great price. We really enjoyed the laid back feel of Saugatuck and our girls absolutely loved riding on the ferry.
As you travel north along the coast, keep that breakfast theme in mind. As you pass through Holland, Michigan, make sure you stop by deBoer Bakkerij for breakfast. Even if you don’t have time to sit down for a proper breakfast, at least stop by here and grab something from the bakery. (I recommend the sugar bread at a minimum.) The de Boer family has been hand making artisan breads, buttery pastries, and delicious cookies in Holland, Michigan since immigrating from Kollum, Netherlands in 1956. They also roast their own coffee, so if you’re anything like me, now you’ve got two very important reasons to stop!
Continuing north along Michigan’s beautiful coast, you run through two great beach towns. In Grand Haven you will find Grand Haven State Park. This 48-acre park includes soft, clean sand along the shore of Lake Michigan on the west side of the park and the Grand River along the north side of the park. The park provides scenic views of Lake Michigan and the walkable Grand Haven pier and lighthouse.
Further north in Ludington is where Stearns Park and Beach is located. We spent a great afternoon here. The beach offers soft sand, small dunes to climb (and roll down), a nice playground, two sets of clean public bathrooms, a little snack shop, a walkable pier and a light house. What more could you ask for? There was plenty of free parking too.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
As you near the northwestern corner of the Michigan coastline, you reach Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. These immense sand dunes look like they belong somewhere in the bone dry Sahara desert but they are overlooking the crystal clear waters of Lake Michigan. The dune overlooks at the Sleeping Bear and Empire and Pyramid Point bluffs are about 400 feet above Lake Michigan which provide amazing vistas and photo opportunities. The best way to see all the park has to offer all whilst making sure you don’t miss the spectacular sand dunes is by following the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, which is absolutely stunning.
After a little outdoor activity in the park, I recommend continuing north along M-22 for about 35 minutes until you reach the small town of Leland, Michigan. This is where you will find a hidden gem that has the most incredible sandwiches, the Village Cheese Shanty. They are open every day April through October and can easily make your sandwich selection a bag lunch if you want to explore somewhere else.
Their hand-crafted artisanal sandwiches are phenomenal and they have daily specials posted on their Facebook page. Both the chicken with truffle goat cheese and balsamic vinaigrette on their fresh pretzel bread and the Lake Effect baguette sandwich are definitely in my top 10 sandwiches!
After eating what I believe are some of the best sandwiches in the U.S., stroll over to Main Street and visit the local (and independent) bookshop, Leelanau Books. It is owned by our lovely neighbors from Ohio! If you visit in the summer months, please tell Diana “hi” and give McGee, their darling golden retriever, a nice pat on the head for us!
On the northern end of our trip, we stayed at Hampton Inn Traverse City. This wonderful hotel was located across the street from beautiful Lake Michigan. I highly recommend visiting Clinch Park along the lake and the fantastic downtown area including the original Grand Traverse Pie Company location. Their Michigan ABC Pie and Grand Traverse Cherry Crumb pies are absolutely heavenly…so heavenly that we have them shipped to us in Florida!
And while you are there, do yourself a favor and buy a “Stay Fresh” Pie Cutter Combo. It is the best $11 investment you will ever make! I’m not going to lie, I have three of them and they are the absolute BEST for portioning, cutting, serving, and saving any pie at home. If you forget to pick one up or want to see what all my fuss is about, you can also buy them online for a few extra bucks more, plus shipping. And since the two-day shipping is a flat rate (for up to 2 pies and/or anything they sell online), you might as well do yourself an extra favor and add a cherry pie to your Pie Cutter Combo. After all, you’ll need something to cut with my absolute favorite pie server.
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- 7 Fun Things to do in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with Kids
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Amy grew up in Southern California but has lived all over the globe. Her latest move brought her to Panama City, Florida, where she lives with her…