16 of the Best Michigan Coastal Towns to Visit

Sleeping Bear Dunes Trail
Sleeping Bears Dune Trail

Few places in the United States have more natural beauty, wildlife, lighthouses, and beaches than Pure Michigan! While most people think of a perfect beach on an ocean, have you ever experienced a lake beach?  Michigan is often called the Mitten State- well because if you look at a map, the lower peninsula looks like a left-hand mitten. Michigan has two massive peninsulas that touch the waters of four Great Lakes—Lake Michigan to the West, Lake Huron to the East, Lake Superior to the North, and Lake Erie to the South, making it North America’s lakefront champion for the most beaches and lighthouses. And because Michigan has over 100 beaches for you to enjoy, the Great Lake State also has some pretty awesome Michigan coastal towns for you to visit too.

Each of these Michigan Coastal Towns has its own attraction and vibe; some are upscale and cultural, vineyards, orchards, and farms surround others, some are old-fashion, and some are crowded and touristy.  With thousands of miles of coastline, you will stumble upon your favorite Coastal Town in Michigan and your favorite Michigan Bed and Breakfast to stay at. We’ve highlighted our favorites below, including some fun places to dine and a little bit of history. Book your stay today for a soul-enriching beach experience; with water sports galore, feasting on locally grown, organic farm-to-table fare and fresh seafood, and sampling local wines and craft beer reminds you that food should be an experience, and what better way to enjoy that then in your favorite Michigan Coastal Town.  We will not be surprised that after experiencing a Michigan Coastal Town getaway, you will quickly become a “lake person.” rather than your typical “beach person.”

So that’s decided; you’re off for your next Michigan vacation, right? But the question is “Where To Stay” and “Which Michigan Coastal Town will I enjoy most”?
Should you be Southwest and close to St. Louis and Chicago, or further north on the Lake Michigan side in wine country, or perhaps you are outdoorsy and want to explore the Upper Peninsula? If you live in Detroit, you may want to keep your driving distance down and explore the more rocky beaches on Lake Huron (perfect for rock hunting). You’ll find lots of information summarized below, along with links to book your favorite Michigan Bed and Breakfast. You can rest assured you will have a quality stay since all of our member inns are inspected with excellent hospitality and great breakfasts.

Aerial shot of Gran Haven
Aerial view of the South Haven Lighthouse on Lake Michigan

Grand Haven-SW

Aerial views are the best, and the above photo highlights the Grand Haven South Pierhead Lighthouses where the Grand River enters Lake Michigan. A lighthouse was first lit there in 1839. Here you will find pristine beaches within the Grand Haven State Park. You can also enjoy magnificent views of this beach from the rooms and patio of the member inn, Looking Glass Beach Front Inn.  This beach community has been awarded many Best Beach awards for being so picturesque, including Coastal Living magazine naming Grand Haven the “Happiest Seaside Town in America.”

You’ll find plenty of great restaurants and breweries in this Michigan Coastal Town. Local innkeeper Tony,  at the Washington Street Inn recommends visiting Great Armory Brewing which serves IPAs brewed from 100% Michigan-grown Centennial Hops and Odd Side Al. Some excellent local fare options include Clementines for seafood and pub fare, Pronto Pups for the best corndogs in town, Fricano’s Pizza Tavern for the most famous and original thin crust pizza in Michigan, and if you are looking for a cold-pressed smoothie after your busy day of water sports or hiking check out Bodhi Tree Juice Co.

Not to be missed- seeing the sunset from the lighthouse pier

A little bit of history– the seaside town of Grand Haven was founded around 1835 when a small sawmill was built beside the Grand River. Lumber was a lucrative business after the Chicago Fire in 1871 and ran for the next 60 years until the lumbar supply was depleted.

South Haven Beach in Michigan with numerous sunbathers and umbrellas. A lighthouse with a board walk is in the background
South Haven Beach-photo via SouthHaven.org

South Haven-SW

South Haven is a wonderful beach community midway up the coast of Lake Michigan. You’ll find a strong art and culture community, excellent restaurants, and fun shopping here. It also happens to be situated on one of the loveliest stretches of the Lake Michigan shore, with soft sandy beaches and sunsets that take the breath away. For some great bar bites on the coast, check out Captain Lou’s Boathouse and Grill- the best fish shack- their Cajun Perch Reuben & Fish Wraps are pretty tasty!

By day relax on the picturesque beach with views of the lighthouse and boardwalk. Afterward, stroll through town for lunch and find that perfect piece of artwork by a South Haven artist to bring home as a memory. Are you looking for some water sports during your Michigan getaway?  You’ll have plenty of opportunities to rent a boat or kayak or have your innkeepers sign you up for a chartered fishing expedition or a scenic cruise on a sailboat.

Check out Victoria Resorts Bed and Breakfast & Cottages in beautiful South Haven. They are a quality assured member with plenty of lodging options, and they have bikes for guests to use during their stay, which is a perfect way to explore this quaint lakeside community.

Not to be missed- try a show at Foundry Hall. This former piston factory is now a wonderful music hall and theatre.

A little bit of history– The town of South Haven was first founded in 1787 by Ottawa, Miami, and Pottawattamie tribes, and the area was christened “Ni-Ko-Nong” which translates to beautiful sunsets. This certainly is true and worthy of a visit!

 

Tasteful living room at the Wickwood
Comfortable and tasteful relaxation at the Wickwood Inn in Saugatuck

Saugatuck/Douglas-SW

Saugatuck is the sister town to Douglas, where both flank the Kalamazoo River and flow into Lake Michigan. Together they are known as the Art Coast of Michigan, and with good reason. The vibrant communities of Saugatuck and Douglas keep the calendar full of arts and cultural events, so there is always a good reason to come stay at one of the four award-winning Michigan Bed and Breakfast Inns in town- the Hotel Saugatuck, the historical Judson Health Colonial, newly remodeled Wickwood Inn, and the sassy and fun Sherwood Forest in Douglas.  Both towns are recognized as gay-friendly and host popular events such as Drag Queen Bingo and a Dune Diva competition.

Here you will enjoy historic architecture, upscale shopping, unique antique shops, and art galleries with fabulous farm-to-table dining. Tour the Michigan wineries and farms outside of town. Visit the many Michigan Lighthouses that dot the coast of Lake Michigan. Rent a canoe or kayak and float down the Kalamazoo River, or charter a fishing boat and catch a big one on Lake Michigan. Enjoy a beer at the Saugatuck Brewing Co.

No matter what you do, start by getting comfortable in a bed and breakfast. For MBBA inns just outside of the downtown areas, check out the beautifully restored Jade Estate Inn and the award-winning Kingsley House.

Popular galleries include Armstrong De Graaf International Fine Art Gallery in Saugatuck, and not to be missed is the Saugatuck Antique Pavillion- a boutique shoppers’ heaven. Enjoy outstanding and fresh dining at Everyday People Cafe, and check out the delicious falafels at Grow. Check out the floats at the iconic Root Beer Barrel if you love root beer.

Not to be missed- hike through Mount Baldhead Park and enjoy the sweeping dune vistas.

A little bit of history– Visit the Saugatuck City Hall, where you will learn about the lost town of  Singapore, now located under nearby dunes. What was once a booming lumber town was soon dismantled and buried into history shortly after the Great Chicago Fire.

Outdoor dining in Holland, Mi
Picture of downtown Holland via holland.org

Holland-SW

I bet you can guess- you’ll find plenty of tulips in Holland, Michigan.  In the springtime, the whole city celebrates by planting thousands of tulips in all sorts of colors around town. This celebration has been an annual event since 1929 to commemorate the town’s Dutch heritage. You’ll also learn about “klompen dancing”, a local tradition where the locals wear wooden clogs and dance through the streets.

Not to be missed is the Windmill Island Gardens which is home to a historic windmill- the de Zwaan windmill, which still grinds locally-grown grain into flour for purchase. Enjoy a stroll around the park while being serenaded by organ music from the town’s treasured antique Dutch street organ given to the City of Holland by the City of Amsterdam after World War II.  The Island is home to beautiful gardens that feature spring tulips followed by beautiful annuals and perennials throughout the summer.

Afterward, stroll the downtown cobblestone sidewalks, where you’ll find over 100 specialty shops, breweries, and restaurants.  Sample some beer and pub food from New Holland Brewing, relax in the outdoor dining area of Salt and Pepper Grill and Pub, and order their acclaimed Chichan gyro and perch tacos- pure heaven! After your day of exploring, come back to your comfortable bed and breakfast and enjoy a chat with your friendly and experienced innkeepers. Both member inns in Holland are long-time members of the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association- Inn at Old Orchard Road and Dutch Colonial Inn.

 

Holland Tunnel at sunset
Holland Tunnel at sunset. photo via holland.org

 

Not to be missed- visit the Big Red Lighthouse and the Holland tunnel at sunset.

A little bit of history– Did you know that the streets and sidewalks in the downtown area are heated?  The “Snowmelt Project” established pipes transporting warm water from the nearby power plant to travel underneath downtown to clear the streets and sidewalks in the downtown area of any snow.

Sleeping Bear Dunes at sunset
Sleeping Bear Dunes at Sunset

 

Empire and Glen Arbor-NW

Thinking of the Left Hand Mitten mentioned earlier, Glen Arbor and Empire sit just below the pinkie on the Leelanau Peninsula. In our humble opinion, this area is one of the most glorious spots in America. Here you will find the breathtaking Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore with beautiful vistas of Lake Michigan. The dunes range in color from burnt sienna to pale champagne and can be gently rolling or sharply carved. They can be quite small or reach 400 feet high.

In both Empire and Glen Arbor, you will find plenty of small-town charm with many areas to explore. This is a nature lover’s paradise with many secluded spots. You’ll also find dozens of small Michigan wineries in the area and farms and fresh produce in the summertime. You’ll find plenty of recommendations from the innkeeper at the popular Glen Arbor Bed and Breakfast.  Innkeeper Laura is also quite accomplished in the kitchen, and breakfast is quite a feast at the inn.

For in-town dining, check out Art’s Tavern for the world’s best burger, and for yummy chocolate and gelato, Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate, both in Glen Arbor. If you are in Empire, you’ll find great burgers and fries at Joe’s Friendly Tavern. 

For an old fashion bed and breakfast experience, check out Cotton Wood Bed and Breakfast in the beautiful and secluded Empire. They have comfortable rooms and several porches to rock life away at a much slower pace in this beautiful Michigan coastal town.

Not to be missed- Check out the Cherry Pie at the Cherry Hut in Empire.

A little bit of history-Look for the  Petoskey stones along Sleeping Bear shore. These fossilized colonial corals lived a good 350 million years ago.

Aerial shot of Grey Hare winery
Aerial shot of beautiful Grey Hare Inn in Traverse City

Traverse City-NW

Above is an aerial view of MBBA member inn- The Grey Hare Inn. This elegant country vineyard estate on Old Mission Peninsula in the heart of scenic wine country is a perfect example of the natural beauty of this North Michigan hamlet. However, a quiet hamlet does not describe what happens to this tourist area in the summer. Well worth the visit, but expect crowds as this has become a bustling tourist destination. Northern Michigan is known for its cherries; here you find orchards and vineyards, including a member inn- Chateau Chantal. This luxury bed and breakfast and winery sits on a 65-acre estate located high atop a ridge on the Old Mission Peninsula.

The waters here are so clear, and the sunrises and sunsets are breathtaking. Rent a bike to ride along the shoreline or enjoy a fabulous boat tour or sailing adventure. Everything in this area is about water and stunning vistas. Traverse City has recently received new accolades as one of the best beer towns in America. You’ll also find popular farm-to-table restaurants that pair perfectly with all the local wine in this area, including Farm Club, The Cooks’ House, and Taproot. For local fare and eclectic flavors, check out Poppycocks on Front Street.

Traverse City’s roots were established through the lumber industry. If you are a history lover, check out the beautiful estate and member inn, Antiquities Wellington.  Here you will find thirteen exquisite guest rooms and old fashion hospitality.

Not to be missed- Cherry season in July and the Cherry Festival.

A little bit of history– What started as Northern Michigan Asylum is now called Grand Traverse Commons, the most extensive renovation project in the country housing boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and shops. And yes, you can tour the property and tunnels!

Aerial view of Ludington Harbor
Aerial view of Ludington Harbor

Ludington-NW

One of the most fun ways to travel to Ludington is by car ferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on the great S.S. Badger ferry. The area has three historic Michigan Lighthouses, Lake Michigan’s largest charter fishing fleet, and miles of lovely beaches.

Guests coming to Ludington can explore the beautiful Ludington State Park, which includes a stretch of sand 7 miles long and watersports galore. Within the park, you’ll find warm, shallow waters at the Hamlin Lake Beach area, and just to the north is the 3,450-acre Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area. If you are a craft brew enthusiast, check out Jamesport Brewing Company for house-brewed beer and hearty pub fare.   For fine dining, check out Table 14; the chef/owner is formally from Charleston, so American cuisine with a nice Southern flair sets this restaurant apart. Looking for something a little more casual- check out Chuck Wagon for great pizza and sandwiches.

Laid-back Ludington includes four excellent bed and breakfasts: the historic Ludington House, the award-winning Lamplighter, the excellent hospitality at the Candlelite Inn, and the fun and eclectic Kalamazoo House in nearby Kalamazoo. All are MBBA quality assured and serve outstanding breakfasts. We at MBBA highly recommend all four.

Not to be missed- Explore Big Sable Point Lighthouse, and if your timing is right, enjoy a summer concert on the beach- check out this calendar- https://www.splka.org/big.html

A little bit of history– The SS Badger is the last coal-fired ferry of its kind still in operation today.

Manistee Harbor with a lighthouse and sailboat
Manistee Harbor

Manistee- NW

Beautiful Manistee on the coast of Northern Michigan includes gorgeous sandy beaches and a charming downtown area. Enjoy an after-dinner walk on the riverwalk and return to your charming and historic bed and breakfast- the Dempsey House.  All of the beaches in Manistee are public, making for an easy beach day experience. The downtown area is equally lovely, filled with historical buildings, fun shopping, and traditional dining fare.   Check out the Painted Lady Saloon, pub fare at The Fillmore, TJ’s Pub, and Bluefish Kitchen + Bar for fine dining.

Not to be missed- enjoy walking on the riverwalk, which will take you from the quaint downtown area to Lake Michigan.

A little bit of history– Manistee was one of the wealthiest towns in Michigan, home to many lumber barons in the 1800s that tried to one-up each other by building beautiful Victorian structures.

Mackinack Bridge
The majestic Mackinac Bridge at night

Mackinac Island & Bridge

Located where the waters of Lakes Huron and Lake Michigan meet and where one passes from the lower to the upper peninsula, traversing over the suspension bridge is quite an experience. You’ll find the treasured Mackinac Island close by, which can only be reached by boat. This tiny island is a step back in time and a perfect way to disconnect and relax. No cars are allowed on the island, so basic transportation is by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. Like many historic homes in Michigan, you’ll find a quaint downtown area lined with pastel-colored Victorian homes.   We think it’s a perfect Michigan coastal town getaway! Check out member inn,  Bay View Bed and Breakfast, which sits right on the water with stunning views and plenty of watersports at your fingertip.

 Craft Beer enthusiasts should check out Bière de Mac Brew Works for a cold beer on tap and relax while enjoying the views of Mackinac Bridge. For fine dining, consider a reservation at Audie’s Chippewa Room. Popular with locals,  Chef Nick brings a personal touch with specialties such as Rack of Lamb, hand-cut steaks, Elk, and fresh seafood.

Not to be missed- Sign up for the Mackinac bridge boat tour. The short cruise covers more than 100 years of history through illumining live narration on Native American folklore, local shipwrecks, and the history of the 5-mile bridge. Along the way, pass by famous landmarks, including Old Mackinac Point Light and Fort Michilimackinac.

A little bit of history– When the Mackinac Bridge was complete, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. It is now the fifth largest at 26,372 feet. The first private car to cross the bridge was a 1951 Chevrolet Styleline De Luxe station wagon driven by Al Carter of Chicago. That vehicle is on permanent display inside the Grand Rapids Public Museum.

Exterior of Dapple-Gray B&B, one of Michigan's Best Coastal Towns
Dapple-Gray Bed and Breakfast

 

Copper Harbor-UP

Are you looking for an adventure to the Upper Peninsula? Check out our friends and MBBA member at Dapple-Gray Bed and Breakfast in beautiful Eagle Harbor, which is very close to Copper Harbor.

Here you will find stunning beauty and brutally cold winters. We wanted to include Copper Harbor as while it’s not your typical beach town (or as we like to say, Lake-town), it is a beautiful outdoor paradise. You will find excellent hiking, mountain biking, watersports, and fishing here. Not to be missed is watching a sunset over Lake Superior from the popular restaurant Fitzgerald’s. They are known for their smokehouse barbecue, fine whiskey, and craft beer.

If you are looking for a unique stay at a lighthouse, check out member inn- Big Bay Point Lighthouse, which is not too far away. Here you’ll enjoy upscale lodging and magnificent views.

Not to be missed- Check out the nearby Maritime Museum, where you’ll learn about the dangers of navigating Lake Superior and waters close to the Keweenaw, where there were many shipwrecks in the past.

A little bit of history– The Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company, formed by John Hayes of Cleveland, Ohio, began excavating some pits near Haye’s Point in Copper Harbor in 1844. It was a small development at first, but its mine was modern for its time, and the company struck it rich in 1845. The Pittsburgh and Boston mine operations were some of the very first in the state of Michigan

Sunrise over Lake Huron at Huron House.
Sunrise over Lake Huron

East Tawas/Oscoda- NE

Now we are onto the Northeast side of Michigan, which is sometimes not recognized for its natural beauty and quieter Michigan coastal towns. Thinking of our mitten, we are now on the knuckle of our left-hand index finger. This area is known as the “Sunrise Coast,” and there is nothing more beautiful than waking up with your first cup of coffee and watching the sunrise over Lake Huron. It is a bucket list experience for sure! We have two member inns in the area, and both are mighty special.

Always a Holiday Bed and Breakfast is located in the affordable, quiet town of East Tawas. Here you’ll have easy access to Tawas Point State Park, on Tawas Bay which is a bird watcher’s paradise.  Further down the coast, you’ll find Huron House, an upscale bed and breakfast on the water. This treasured Michigan Coastal Town escape is only a 3-hour drive from Detroit. Canoe or kayak the famed Au Sauble River, or bring your fly rod to try your luck for brook trout.

Not to be missed- Reserve a seat on the Au Sable River Queen.

A little bit of history– Tawas City was founded in 1854 as the first city located on the shores of Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron.

Port Sanilac Lighthouse
Port Sanilac Lighthouse

Port Austin, Port Sanilac, and Lexington-SE

Thinking of our mitten, we are now moving to the tip of our thumb to the lovely small coastal town of Port Austin. There are ten lighthouses along the 93-mile shoreline of Huron County. The Port Austin Reef Light sits on a shoal 2.5 miles north of the Port Austin Harbor entrance.  Built-in 1878, the lighthouse played a vital role in the history and development of the thumb. Pointe Aux Barques Lighthouse and Harbor Beach Lighthouse are both within a short drive from the lovely and newly renovated Port Austin Bed and Breakfast. The town of Port Austin is filled with culture, art galleries, and summer performances.

Moving down the coast, consider staying at the comfortable Raymond House Inn Bed and Breakfast in the lovely Michigan coastal town of Port Sanilac.  If you are a scuba diver, consider checking out the shipwrecks nearby.  The 163-square-mile Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve was established to protect several historical wrecks, including the Regina, a 250-foot freighter that went down in a storm in 1913. In addition, our friends at the Port Sanilac Marina can help you reserve a day trip or a sunset cruise aboard Miss Port Sanilac, a 45-foot trawler. Or think about chartering a fishing trip to troll for trout and salmon or to cast a line for perch.

Lexington Harbor, one of Michigan's Best Coastal Towns
Lexington Harbor

Just a short drive away is the larger Lexington Harbor. The quaintness of downtown Lexington is a secret treasure for many Michiganders, located approximately an hour north of Detroit. Lexington has many events throughout the year, including Music in the Park, Margaritaville, and holiday celebrations. So if you like to boat, sail, swim, fish, golf, shop, ice fish, or sit and relax with a beverage while enjoying the magical freighters passing by, then Lexington is the ideal spot for you. Local bed and breakfast, the Lexington House Bed and Breakfast is a perfect place to stay that caters to boaters, providing taxi service to and from the local marina in downtown Lexington. Some of the innkeeper’s favorite restaurants include the Windjammer Bar and Grill, which overlooks a private marina, the restored Cadillac House, Village Pub, Sweetwater gourmet deli, and 3 North Lexington, which is a locally owned and operated brewery that specializes in serving farm-to-table bites.

Not to be missed- Check out the lighthouses in this area. A recent blog will give you all the details-

A little bit of history-“First settled in the 1830s, Lexington, MI, flourished as a shipping port. That success as a port came to a crashing halt in 1913 when the harbor was destroyed by the “Great Blow,” the most severe storm to ever pummel the Great Lakes.

This weather system occurs every year on the Great Lakes. It was made famous by Gordon Lightfoot’s reference to the “witch of November” in his excellent song Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald. It is the convergence, over warm lake water, of cold arctic air from the north and warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.

With the harbor gone, Lexington fell into a long decline. In 1970, the State of Michigan constructed a new artificial harbor. Tourism grew as people from Detroit came north to enjoy the picturesque village and beautiful beaches. Today, Lexington continues to be a popular destination and stop-over for cruising sailors.”- quoted from https://www.great-lakes-sailing.com/lexington_mi.html

Exterior of Port Austin Bed and Breakfast, one of the best Michigan Coastal towns to visit
Port Austin Bed and Breakfast

Best Michigan Coastal Towns

So now you have our suggestions on where to get your feet in the sand and how to experience the Best Michigan Coastal Towns, and where to stay. We love all of our MBBA member inns. Each one has something unique to offer. So if you are having a hard time choosing, feel free to give us a ring, and we would be glad to be your Michigan Bed and Breakfast Travel Agent. Rest assured that each inn cares deeply about your experience and offers the best in hospitality and quality assured accommodations.

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