Note: The following is a guest post by Michelle Philippon
When I first moved to Michigan from Ohio for college, I didn’t really know what to expect besides colder winters and a lack of Buckeye paraphernalia. I soon learned that Michiganders show you where you’re from using their hand—there’s a reason Michigan is called the “Mitten”—and are fiercely proud of their home state.
Shortly into my first month there, I went on a weekend trip to a coastal town right on Lake Michigan. All of my classmates told me how beautiful it would be.
“It’s just like the ocean,” they said.
“Sure,” I replied skeptically, thinking of Ohio’s own Great Lake, the polluted waterhole known as Lake Erie.
We went to Silver Lake, and I gasped when I saw huge sand dunes instead of the ugly pebble beaches I’d become accustomed to in Ohio. As we climbed up the dunes and reached the top, Lake Michigan lay below us, sparkling, pristine, and as blue as the sky.
To the bemusement of the Michiganders, I couldn’t stop “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing about how beautiful it was throughout the rest of our weekend there. Despite the fact that I hailed from Michigan’s arch rival and little-loved lower neighbor, this Ohioan fell quickly for the Mitten state and would spend the next eight years there, and during that time, my love for West Michigan’s beaches only grew.
West Michigan: Best-Kept Secret of the Midwest
West Michigan is one of the Midwest’s best-kept secrets. Let’s be honest: unless you’re from there, what do most people think of when they think of the Midwest (if, indeed, they even do so at all)? Cornfields, probably—endless fields of corn as far as the eye can see. Football. Farmers. Friendliness. Tornadoes. Bankrupt, decaying former industrial towns.
The Midwest is rarely given its due, and I think it’s high time that we change that. To put it simply, there are some areas that are ridiculously gorgeous. West Michigan is one of them. All the way down the westernmost coast of the Lower Peninsula, one can find fantastic towns with some of the country’s prettiest beaches.
Here’s some of the best beaches in West Michigan from North to South:
At the top of the northeast portion of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan is another nearly 30-mile peninsula replete with majestic sand dunes, miles and miles of nature trails, some of the best vineyards in the Midwest, and the beautiful Traverse City, known for its delicious cherries and fudge. The Leelanau Peninsula is rightly considered to be one of the most scenic parts of the state. Make sure not to miss the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, home to towering dunes, verdant forests, and miles of white sandy beaches. For wine-lovers out there, check out the Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail, which has 25 wineries that make wines such as Pinot Noir, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and Chardonnay.
Regardless of the time of the year, Ludington is a great city to visit if you’re looking for good food, good wine, and the best that nature has to offer. Visit its charming downtown or go to the one of the city’s beaches for a day of relaxation. For lighthouse-lovers out there, you’re in luck: Ludington is not only home to one, but two beautiful lighthouses. It’s also a great place to go fishing, boating, swimming, or kayaking. Lastly, definitely go to Ludington State Park, which encompasses almost 5,300 acres of sand dunes, forests, and vistas.
Silver Lake State Park
Of course, I have to mention Silver Lake State Park in this list. Even though I’ve ventured to other parts of Michigan since my first visit there, I still consider this to be one of my favorite places in all of the state. Located near the town of Mears, Silver Lake State Park is home to 2,000+ acres of giant sand dunes. From atop the dunes you can see both Silver Lake and the Great Lake itself: Michigan. It’s a popular destination for people who like to go dune cruising across the dunes. Nearby, you’ll find some of the best fruit in Michigan; the fresh peaches, strawberries, and blueberries from this region are unsurpassed.
Muskegon, like many other lakeshore cities, is a perfect getaway for anyone who loves the outdoors. There are several parks and beaches close by that are worth visiting—Pere Marquette, Muskegon State Park, and Hoffmaster State Park, amongst many others. There are miles of dunes, forests, lakes (both Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan), and rivers to explore. The downtown has also been experiencing a revitalization in recent years and is now home to several good breweries, restaurants, and other venues.
Grand Haven is perhaps best known as “Coast Guard City USA.” Every summer, thousands come to the city for the annual Coast Guard Festival. Definitely don’t miss downtown Grand Haven, the wide, sandy city beach, or the pier. In many ways, Grand Haven represents all that a small Midwestern beach town should be, and its quintessentially Midwestern attitude—relaxed, quaint, local, and fun—permeates every inch of the town.
South of Grand Haven, you’ll find Holland, a city with a rich Dutch heritage that lives up to its name. For a peak into the past, check out Nelis’ Dutch Village, the Holland Museum, or the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory. Every spring, the town is filled with a colorful array of tulips for the yearly Tulip Time Festival. Like its northern neighbor of Grand Haven, Holland also has a large city park right on the Lake with a pier and a welcoming downtown filled with stores, bars, and restaurants. Lastly, make sure to visit the Big Red Lighthouse.
Since the 1800s, Saugatuck has been known as a haven for artists. It also is a very popular destination for Chicagoans and is known as being one of the most LGBT-friendly places in the Midwest. In addition to the arts, Saugatuck is also known for its beaches, some of which have been noted to be the most scenic in the state. Saugatuck Dunes State Park, for example, is over 1,000 acres and offers 2.5 miles of coastline. And definitely do not miss out on Oval Beach, which has consistently been rated as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world on an international scale.
Michelle Philippon works in business development in Toledo, Ohio, home of the Mud Hens, Jeep, and a bunch of deer. She lives 15 minutes from the state of Michigan and makes sure to visit her “second home” as much as she can, especially the best beaches inWest Michigan. Although her travels nowadays consist of going to local wineries or metro parks, she recently spent a year abroad in Madrid, Spain, where she and the Lauren Salisbury of this blog spent many an afternoon drinking endless cups of café con leche and lamenting about their lack of #cashycash on an auxiliar budget. Follow her on Instagram, where she takes faux-artsy photos of trees, coffee, and cats. Or her melancholic musings on Twitter, which she never updates.