One thing winter is good for is making summer plans. Whether you’re holed up next to your heater in your thickest parka or still wearing your flip flops (ahem, California), the earlier you plan your vacation, the easier it will become reality. Lost on where to go? Help keep your dreams alive during the coldest months by planning a visit to some of Michigan’s most immaculate beaches and the towns they call neighbors. Here Tripping.com has collected seven favorite cities to cruise through this summer.

Where to Visit in Michigan: The 7 Best Lake Vacation Destinations

1. Saugatuck

Saugatuck, and nearby town Douglas, have quickly become the home of the booming arts community in Michigan. Nicknamed “The Great Art-Doors,” the lakeside town is chock-a-block full of art schools, galleries, and boutiques for creative-minded visitors. You can drink in all Saugatuck has to offer while antiquing with loved ones who appreciate a fine armoire desk, or while luxuriating at Oval Beach. Celebrate your hard-earned vacation at Saugatuck Brewing Company, a functioning microbrewery where you can concoct your own beer with their Brew On Premise System (for the 21 and over demographic, of course). The process takes 4 hours and you’ll need to return in 2-3 weeks to retrieve your batch, so this is great for summer vacationers and less so for the business travel types.

Where to Eat in Saugatuck

Grab some coffee and an egg bake at Uncommon Coffee Roasters, or if you’re feeling a bit peckish, the pork chops and the drunken shrimp sambuco at Everyday People Café in Douglas. The Southerner serves up some fantastic cinnamon rolls that might trigger your childhood nostalgia, and the thin-crust slices at Pizza Mambo in Douglas are good for those on the go. Salt of the Earth in Fennville, 15 minutes outside of Saugatuck, makes some tasty hanger steak, pork belly, and Brussels sprouts, so if you’re in to splurge, go all out there. Treat yourself to this beach city’s sweet cuisine!

Visit Saugatuck!


2. Holland

Holland is a quaint beach town on the southeastern half of Lake Michigan, just outside of Cedar Rapids. The city sits on the Holland State Park Beach, which abuts Lake Macatawa, but while the beach is definitely part of the appeal, Holland is very well known for its Tulip Festival, started in 1929 and held every May in honor of the Dutch settlers who founded the town. (This year’s dates are May 7-14, 2016 and comedian Bill Engvall is scheduled to make an appearance.) While there, stop at Windmill Island Gardens and take time to smell the proverbial roses. If Michigan in May is not in the cards, the Tunnel Park is open year round, where people can travel through a tunnel embedded in a dune. Equally beautiful is the Red Lighthouse.

Where to Eat in Holland

For the 21 and over set, New Holland Brewing features the perennially popular Dragon’s Milk, infused with chili oil, Mad Hatter India Pale Ale, and pepperoni wheels. For those with families, El Huarache and Windmill Restaurant are popular destinations. In your spare minutes, take a look around at CityFlatsHotel and see if the LEED Certified eco-architecture floats your boat, or stop in for victuals at CityVū Bistro, a penthouse affair with a sweeping rooftop view of the town, CityBrū café, or CitySēn lounge.

Visit Holland!


3. Grand Haven

Grand Haven tops the list as one of the casual tourist’s favorites for its variety of activities. Like many of the lakeside beach towns, it has a stunning lighthouse pier known for it’s awe-inspiring sunsets and breath-taking photo opportunities. Some fun features for kids are the musical fountain, harbor trolley, and Spring Lake Wooden Boat Show. Grand Haven has fun-packed festivals going on year round, including the Feast of the Strawberry Moon, the Salmon Festival, and the Michigan Pirate Festival, which are perfect for young kids starting to explore and learn about their world. For those outdoorsy types, there’s tons of camping at Grand Haven State Park, and if you brought your dog Fido along, the Grand Haven City Beach is a perfect opportunity for your pooch to stretch his or her legs.

Where to Eat in Grand Haven

Peppered with truly top-rated restaurants, Grand Haven has a corner on the food market, including Pronto Pup, Elegance of the Seasons, Arturo’s Tacos, Morning Star Café, Righteous Cuisine, Fricano’s Pizza, The Grand, Snug Harbor, and Jack’s Waterfront Bistro + Bar. Grand Haven is a popular location for individuals and families, so definitely make the time to check out this thriving beach town!

Visit Grand Haven!


4. Muskegon

Muskegon is a diner’s haven, sporting Courses, a restaurant run and staffed by students at the Culinary Institute of Michigan. Experience is the best teacher, and these students know it, serving a three-course prix fixe menu à la DineLa, only year-round and for insanely affordable prices. If you’re a fan of the learning process, definitely give this place a go. Of course, you can always visit The Handsome Hobo Pizzeria or Fatty Lumpkins Sandwich Shack just for the sheer enjoyment of their names alone, or to truly get your lunch on. After overdosing on domestic and international dairy at The Cheese Lady, take a stroll down the pristine Pere Marquette Beach (it’s certified clean!) or take your pup for a romp at Kruse Park. Check out Art Cats Gallery in the Lakeside Business District if you’ve got jewelry and crafting inclinations.

Where to Eat in Muskegon

After a leisurely meander, make sure to kick back and enjoy the Tower of Beer at Pints and Quarts or take advantage of an afternoon snack at El Tapatio’s Taco Tuesdays. Of course, if you feel like you’ve conquered Muskegon, you can always road trip to Silverlake Sand Dunes to catch the Blessing of the Duners or go kayaking near Little Sable Lighthouse, and if you’re there at the right time of year, some pretty neat festivals. Some fun favorites include The Bluegrass Festival and the Apple and BBQ Cook Off. Make sure to add Muskegon to your list!

Visit Muskegon!


5. Traverse City

Located on the northeastern side of Lake Michigan a bit inland is Traverse City, a town rife with exploring opportunities. With a bustling downtown, Traverse is a cicerone’s delight, hosting a slew of well-reputed breweries including The Filling Station, 7 Monks, Right Brain Brewery, and Rare Bird Brew Pub. If you’re looking to get your coiffure cut and imbibe a bit to take the edge off, check out the barbershop Grand Traverse Salon Saloon inside Right Brain. (Hopefully, they’ve left out the quartets, unless you’re into that kind of thing.) If you prefer stronger fare than beer, Grand Traverse Distillery boasts some chocolate vodka that would make La Maison du Chocolat blush. For the fervent foodies, Trattoria Stella should whet your appetite and appease your palate, as the resident chef has been nominated for the culinary Oscars five times! (Check out the James Beard Foundation for more info.) About half an hour away from the 450-foot sand dunes of Sleeping Bear Dunes State Park, and just a short drive from Empire City’s dog beach, Traverse is hardly out in the middle of nowhere. A quick jog over to the nearby city of Elberta in May will feature an asparagus festival and pig roast, so make sure the check it out if you have the opportunity and a vegetable inclination!

Visit Traverse City!


6. St. Ignace, Mackinaw, and Mackinac Island

Nestled smack-dab between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan in a land formation that resembles the Bering Strait, the Mackinac Bridge connects St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, two popular lakeside towns. Before heading over to St. Ignace from Mackinaw, check out Enchanted Knights Gift Shop and Mackinaw Crossings, a small area near the bridge bursting with color featuring a gazebo a ton of local flavor. Once making the journey across the bridge, you can always take a peek at Bridge View Park, which plays host to ample historical information about the bridge. St. Ignace hosts some phenomenal fireworks that have gained the city some reknown. They’re visible during the summer on Moran Bay. Swing by Clyde’s Drive-In and grab a burger to consume while you’re planted on Kiwanis Beach watching the show. For intrepid explorers, take the ferry to Mackinac Island and take a tour in one of the horse-drawn carriages in a wistful tribute to days gone by; cars are not used on the island. Once you’re done perusing, take a breather at Chippewa Hotel’s Pink Pony, an iconic shrine to neon horse-related kitsch that’s perfect for a night of relaxation and revelry. Don’t forget to down their well-liked calamari and whitefish dip! Yachting enthusiasts can enjoy yearly 300-mile Chicago to Mackinac Race hosted by the Chicago Yacht Club, which dead-ends on the island. If you feel as if you’ve seen what there is to see in these cities, a quick road trip north to Paradise, Michigan serves avian admirers gathering during the vernal and autumnal seasons to gape at bird migrations. Once you’re done stretching your amateur ornithologist muscles, make sure to check out The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in the Whitefish Point Lighthouse. Some other day trip options are: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Seney National Wildlife Refuge (with a host of swans and loons for wildlife-spotters), the Tahquamenon Falls State Park Logging Museum, and Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry.

Visit Mackinac Island!


7. Manistique

Manistique, on the northwestern side of Lake Michigan, has a myriad of different activities for the casual traveler, which is why it made the list. Though is does boast a wonderful beach, there has to be something to do after dark, or once that sunburn has chased you away and your kite has taken off! Manistique hosts the ghost town Fayette, an abandoned town that closed in 1891. The Jackson Iron Factory, which was the largest employer in Snail Shell Harbor at the time, closed abruptly due to the rapidly dwindling iron ore industry. The town now exists as a museum, open from May until October, and features 22 buildings preserved meticulously to re-create the environment of the time. Other fun activities include the purportedly haunted Seul Choix lighthouse and Palms Book State Park, where the stunning Kitch-iti-kipi natural spring resides. At 40 feet in depth and holding 10,000 gallons of water, this is an excellent opportunity to peer into the “Mirror of Heaven.” There is an interesting (albeit slightly depressing) legend attached to the spring. Make sure to ask the rangers about it!

Visit Manistique!


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This article was written by Lindy Tolbert.