Best Lake Towns in Michigan

Michigan, known for its Great Lakes and numerous inland lakes, offers some picturesque lake towns that are popular for their scenic beauty, recreational activities, and charming communities.

Each of these towns has its unique charm and offers a variety of activities, from beach lounging and boating to exploring local culture and history. They are great destinations for both short visits and extended stays.

In no particular order, here are our picks for the best lake towns in Michigan:

Traverse City

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City is known for its beautiful beaches, vineyards, and as a hub for arts and culture. Traverse City is an accessible Northern Michigan lake town with a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural richness, and economic vitality.

Traverse City is the county seat of Grand Traverse County and extends into Leelanau County. It is the largest city in Northern Michigan and plays a pivotal role in the region. The city is located at the head of the East and West arms of Grand Traverse Bay. The 17-mile-long Old Mission Peninsula divides the bay and is a defining feature of the city’s geography. For more details, visit Traverse City’s official website.

Traverse City is renowned for its cherry production, being the largest producer of tart cherries in the United States. The city is also a key player in the viticulture industry, contributing significantly to wine production in the Midwest.

What To Do:

Tourist Attractions and Notable Landmarks

  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: A breathtaking expanse of beaches, dunes, and forests, offering a range of outdoor activities and stunning views. This national lakeshore is a must-visit for its natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
  • The Village at Grand Traverse Commons: Once a historic hospital, now a unique shopping and dining destination, this site offers a mix of architectural beauty and modern conveniences.
  • National Cherry Festival: An annual celebration that showcases the city’s cherry heritage with parades, concerts, and cherry-themed activities.

Outdoor and Recreational Activities

  • Seasonal Activities: Traverse City offers a variety of activities throughout the year, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing in the winter, and hiking and biking in warmer seasons.
  • Scenic Trails: The area is known for its picturesque biking and hiking trails, offering opportunities to explore the natural beauty of Northern Michigan.

Food and Culinary Scene

  • Diverse Dining Options: Traverse City’s culinary scene is rich and varied, with numerous restaurants offering everything from local specialties to international cuisines. Waterfront dining and outdoor eateries provide picturesque settings to enjoy meals.
  • Wineries and Vineyards: The region is known for its excellent wineries and vineyards, making wine tours a popular activity for visitors.

Cultural Events and Festivals

  • Annual Events: The city hosts a range of events throughout the year, including the Traverse City Film Festival and various cultural festivals that reflect the vibrant community spirit.
  • Seasonal Celebrations: Traverse City’s seasonal events, such as Beer Week and Pride Week, offer unique experiences for both locals and tourists.

Accommodation and Hospitality

  • Wide Range of Accommodations: From luxurious resorts to cozy bed and breakfasts, Traverse City offers a variety of lodging options to suit different preferences and budgets.
  • Hospitality Services: The city’s hospitality industry is known for its warm and welcoming service, enhancing the overall experience of visitors.

FAQs Section

  • What is the best time to visit Traverse City?
  • A: Traverse City is a year-round destination, with each season offering unique attractions. Summer is popular for the Cherry Festival and beaches, while fall and spring are ideal for quieter visits.
  • Are there family-friendly activities in Traverse City?
  • A: Yes, the city offers numerous family-friendly activities, including beaches, parks, and children’s museums.

Traverse City, with its mix of natural beauty, cultural richness, and diverse activities, is a destination that caters to all tastes and preferences. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a cultural experience, this city in Northern Michigan has something special to offer.


This small town, situated between Lake Michigan and the smaller Lake Charlevoix, is known for its unique architecture, beautiful marinas, and vibrant downtown. Charlevoix’s unique location offers a rare blend of waterfront beauty, making it a popular destination for both relaxation and adventure.

Designed by Earl Young, the Charlevoix “Mushroom Houses” are whimsical stone houses contribute significantly to the town’s fairy-tale charm.

What To Do:

Charlevoix’s Natural Wonders and Outdoor Activities

  • Majestic Beaches and Waterfront: Charlevoix has some of the best Michigan beaches along Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, perfect for swimming, sunbathing, or enjoying a sunset.
  • Boating and Water Sports: With its location between two lakes, Charlevoix is a haven for boating, sailing, and water sports enthusiasts.
  • Trails and Parks: Explore scenic trails and parks, such as the Fisherman’s Island State Park, offering hiking, biking, and nature observation opportunities.

Architectural and Cultural Highlights

  • Earl Young’s Mushroom Houses: Discover the unique Mushroom Houses designed by Earl Young, a highlight of Charlevoix’s architectural landscape.
  • Historical Venues and Museums: Visit the Charlevoix Historical Society Museum and other historical sites to delve into the town’s rich past.
  • Art Galleries and Cultural Events: Enjoy the vibrant arts scene with numerous galleries, art fairs, and cultural events throughout the year.

Dining and Culinary Experiences

  • Local Cuisine: Savor the flavors of Charlevoix with a variety of dining options, from upscale restaurants to casual eateries, many offering fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.
  • Farmers Markets and Local Produce: Experience the local farmers markets, showcasing the region’s agricultural bounty and artisanal products.

Accommodations and Hospitality

  • Diverse Lodging Options: Charlevoix offers a range of accommodations, including charming bed and breakfasts, lakeside resorts, and cozy inns, catering to all preferences and budgets.
  • Welcoming Atmosphere: Known for its friendly community and hospitable services, Charlevoix ensures a memorable stay for all visitors.

South Haven

A popular summer getaway, South Haven is located on the shores of Lake Michigan and is famous for its lighthouse, sandy beaches, and blueberry farms. It is one of Michigan’s most famous lake towns and is known for its bustling harbor and status as a tourist destination.

South Haven’s location on Lake Michigan endows it with stunning beaches and waterfront views. The surrounding areas offer a mix of forested dunes, blueberry fields, and open spaces, enhancing the city’s natural appeal.

South Haven’s history is deeply connected to Lake Michigan, with a rich maritime heritage that includes historic lighthouses and a storied shipping past. Over the years, South Haven has evolved from a shipping port to a beloved tourist destination, retaining its charm and historical significance.

Things To Do:

Outdoor Activities and Recreation in South Haven

  • Beaches and Waterfront Activities: South Haven is known for its beautiful beaches along Lake Michigan, great for swimming, sunbathing, and beach volleyball. North Beach and South Beach are among the most visited.
  • Boating and Fishing: The city offers excellent opportunities for boating and fishing. Charter services are available for fishing enthusiasts.

Cultural Attractions and Events

  • South Haven Lighthouse and Maritime Museum: The iconic red lighthouse is a must-visit landmark. The Michigan Maritime Museum offers insights into the area’s nautical history.
  • Annual Festivals and Events: South Haven hosts various events like the National Blueberry Festival. Art fairs and summer concerts add to the city’s vibrant cultural scene.

The Culinary Scene of South Haven

  • Local Cuisine and Dining: The city boasts an array of dining options, from casual eateries to upscale restaurants. Fresh seafood and locally sourced ingredients are highlights.
  • Wineries and Breweries: South Haven is home to several wineries and breweries. Wine tasting and brewery tours are popular activities.

Shopping and Leisure in South Haven

  • Downtown Shopping District: The downtown area features a variety of shops, boutiques, and galleries. Unique local products, art, and apparel can be found here.
  • Recreational Parks and Trails: The Kal-Haven Trail is a notable attraction for hiking and biking enthusiasts.

Accommodations in South Haven

  • Wide Range of Lodging Options: From cozy bed and breakfasts to lakeside resorts, there are accommodations for all preferences. Many establishments offer picturesque views of Lake Michigan.

FAQs Section

  • What are the best beaches in South Haven?
  • A: North Beach and South Beach are among the most popular, offering ample amenities and beautiful sandy shores.
  • Is South Haven suitable for family vacations?
  • A: Yes, with its family-friendly beaches, parks, and various recreational activities, South Haven is an excellent destination for family vacations.

South Haven, Michigan, is a treasure trove of natural beauty, cultural richness, and leisure activities. Whether you are seeking relaxation by the lake, cultural experiences, or outdoor adventures, this charming lakeside town offers a memorable getaway for all.


Nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is a gem of the Midwest, renowned for its picturesque landscapes, rich cultural scene, and welcoming community. This artsy town is nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan and is known for its dune-backed Oval Beach, art galleries, and a charming downtown area.

Saugatuck is often celebrated for its small-town charm blended with a vibrant arts scene and stunning natural beauty. The town is a favorite for tourists seeking a blend of relaxation, art, and outdoor activities. From its award-winning beaches to its thriving art galleries, Saugatuck offers a diverse range of attractions.

Saugatuck, along with its neighboring town Douglas, has evolved into a popular tourist destination since the 1970s. It’s known for being an inclusive community, welcoming visitors from various urban areas in the Midwest. The town’s history is intertwined with its development as a cultural hub, hosting numerous artists and creatives. Learn more about Saugatuck’s history on the Saugatuck/Douglas Visitors Bureau website. Saugatuck has been featured in numerous prestigious publications, highlighting its appeal as a tourist destination such as from magazines like Conde Nast Traveler and TV programs like “Under The Radar – Michigan”.

Things To Do:

Outdoor Adventures

  • Beaches and Waterways: Saugatuck’s beaches, notably Oval Beach, are renowned for their beauty and offer a perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, and beach activities. The Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan provide opportunities for boating, kayaking, and fishing.
  • Parks and Nature Trails: The natural landscape is rich with parks and trails, such as Mount Baldhead Park, ideal for hiking and enjoying panoramic views.
  • Outdoor Recreation: Saugatuck’s diverse landscape caters to all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts, from serene nature walks to adventurous dune rides.

Art and Culture

  • Art Galleries: Saugatuck’s vibrant art scene is reflected in its numerous galleries, showcasing works from local and regional artists.
  • Performing Arts: The town is home to venues like Mason Street Warehouse, offering high-quality theatrical performances.
  • Cultural Events: Saugatuck hosts a variety of cultural events, including art festivals and exhibitions, that celebrate its artistic heritage.

Culinary Experience

  • Local Cuisine: The town’s culinary landscape is marked by a range of dining options, from cozy cafes to fine dining restaurants.
  • Breweries and Wineries: Saugatuck takes pride in its craft breweries and wineries, which offer tastings and tours.
  • Farm-to-Table: Emphasizing fresh, local produce, many restaurants in Saugatuck provide a farm-to-table experience, highlighting the region’s agricultural richness.

Festivals and Events

  • Seasonal Festivals: Each season in Saugatuck is marked by festivals and events, such as the winter markets and summer arts fairs.
  • Music and Entertainment: Regular music events, from outdoor concerts to intimate gigs at local venues, are a staple in Saugatuck.
  • Special Celebrations: The town hosts unique events throughout the year, including holiday celebrations and themed weekends.


Located on the shore of Lake Michigan’s Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey is known for its Victorian architecture, historic Gaslight District, and the nearby Petoskey stones found along the beaches.

The town’s history is marked by entrepreneurial figures like Amos Fox and Hirem Obed Rose, who were instrumental in its development during the 19th century. The town has experienced quite the change from from a lumber and goods trading hub to a bustling tourist spot. You can learn more about Petoskey’s rich history on the Little Traverse Historical Museum website.

Petoskey has also been recognized as one of the best small towns to visit in the USA, a testament to its allure and charm.

Things To Do:

Petoskey, nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, is not just a scenic destination but a hub of vibrant activities and attractions. From its picturesque outdoor settings to its rich cultural offerings, Petoskey has something for everyone.

Outdoor Adventures

  • Beaches and Waterfront: Petoskey’s location along Lake Michigan offers a plethora of beach activities. The shores are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and enjoying the stunning lake views.
  • Parks and Trails: The region is dotted with parks and nature trails ideal for hiking, bird watching, and immersing in the natural beauty. The Bear River Valley Recreation Area, with its winding river and dense forest, is a notable example.
  • Winter Sports: In winter, Petoskey transforms into a snowy wonderland. The nearby ski resorts, such as Nub’s Nob and Boyne Highlands, offer skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing opportunities.

Cultural Attractions

  • Historic Gaslight District: A stroll through the Historic Gaslight District is like stepping back in time. The area is renowned for its quaint shops, galleries, and beautifully preserved architecture.
  • Arts and Theater: The Crooked Tree Arts Center serves as a cultural hub, showcasing local art, hosting performances, and offering art classes.
  • Ernest Hemingway’s Legacy: Literature enthusiasts can explore the haunts of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway, who spent significant time in Petoskey. A visit to the Little Traverse Historical Museum provides deeper insights into his connection with the area.

Culinary Delights

  • Local Cuisine: Petoskey’s culinary scene is a delightful mix of local and international flavors. Restaurants offer dishes made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, highlighting the region’s agricultural bounty.
  • Wineries and Breweries: The Petoskey Wine Region is home to several vineyards and wineries, such as Petoskey Farms Vineyard & Winery, offering wine tasting and tours. Breweries in the area also offer a taste of local craft beers.

Festivals and Events

  • Seasonal Celebrations: Petoskey’s calendar is filled with festivals and events throughout the year, celebrating everything from the arts to local cuisine.
  • Music and Entertainment: The town hosts various music events and concerts, especially during the summer months, offering a lively atmosphere for residents and visitors alike.

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, a jewel nestled in the Great Lakes, is a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture. The island is characterized by its stunning waterfront, limestone cliffs, and lush forests. This picturesque island, devoid of cars and replete with horse-drawn carriages, offers a serene escape from modern life’s hustle and bustle.

The entire island has a ban on motor vehicles – much of the island’s charm is enhanced by getting around by horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. When visiting the island, renting a bicycle for your stay is a must. Getting to the island requires taking the ferry from Mackinac City or arranging your own means of transportation by boat.

Mackinac Island has a storied past, from its indigenous roots to its pivotal role in early American history. The island reflects a blend of Native American, French, and British influences. Historical highlights include Fort Mackinac, Arch Rock, and the famous Mackinac Island fudge. Learn more about each feature on the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau website.

Things To Do:

Outdoor Adventures

  • Natural Landmarks: The island is home to Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch that provides stunning views of the surrounding area. Visitors can explore this and other natural wonders throughout Mackinac Island State Park, covering over 80% of the island
  • Biking and Hiking Trails: With over 70 miles of trails, the island is a paradise for bikers and hikers. The lack of motor vehicles makes it an ideal place for leisurely bike rides or peaceful walks.
  • Water-Based Activities: The island’s location offers opportunities for kayaking, sailing, and fishing. Visitors can enjoy the serene waters while engaging in these relaxing activities.

Cultural and Historic Sites

  • Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes: These historic forts offer a glimpse into the island’s past, with reenactments and exhibits that bring history to life
  • Museums and Historical Buildings: The island boasts a number of museums, such as the Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, which provide insights into its rich history and culture
  • Historical Tours: Guided tours, including those on horse-drawn carriages, offer an informative and unique way to learn about the island’s past.

Unique Island Experiences

  • Butterfly Houses: Explore the enchanting world of butterflies at the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World or Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory
  • Horse-Drawn Carriages: Experience the island’s traditional mode of transportation with a leisurely carriage ride, offering a charming way to see the sights.
  • Fudge Tasting: No visit to Mackinac Island is complete without sampling its famous fudge. Numerous shops offer a variety of flavors, each more tempting than the last.

Culinary Delights and Shopping

  • Local Cuisine: The island’s dining scene features a mix of American and international flavors, with seafood and local specialties taking center stage
  • Shopping Experiences: From quaint boutiques to art galleries, shopping on Mackinac Island is an adventure in itself, offering unique souvenirs and handcrafted goods


On the shores of Lake Michigan, Frankfort is known for its beautiful beach, historic lighthouse, and proximity to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Frankfort captivates visitors and residents alike with its serene waterfront and dynamic community culture. This charming town, woven with rich cultural threads, offers a perfect blend of scenic landscapes and a lively, welcoming atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for those seeking both tranquility and community engagement.

As a tourism hotspot, Frankfort boasts a wide variety of recreational opportunities, both on and off the water. Its proximity to rivers, lakes, and Lake Michigan, coupled with nearby forests, makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Frankfort is home to pristine beaches like Frankfort Beach and Crystal Lake, offering serene spots for relaxation and recreation. The Betsie Valley Trail and surrounding natural areas provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and exploring the great outdoors.

The Point Betsie Lighthouse and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum are not only historical landmarks but also serve as gateways to understanding the maritime history of the region.

The Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts stands as a testament to Frankfort’s commitment to promoting diverse art forms. It hosts educational programs, workshops, and exhibits that showcase the talents of local artists across various mediums. Frankfort’s historical sites, such as its lighthouses and museums, provide a glimpse into the town’s rich heritage and its connection to Lake Michigan’s maritime past.

Things To Do:

Outdoor Activities

  • Beach and Lake Adventures: Frankfort Beach and Crystal Lake are not just scenic vistas but also hubs for various water activities. Whether it’s a tranquil day of sunbathing or an adventurous kayaking session, these locations provide the perfect backdrop
  • Trails and Hiking: The Betsie Valley Trail offers miles of paths that wind through some of the most beautiful parts of the region. It’s an ideal spot for hiking, biking, and observing the local flora and fauna.

Cultural Exploration and Historical Significance

  • Lighthouses and Maritime History: The Point Betsie Lighthouse and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum are cornerstones of Frankfort’s maritime heritage. These landmarks not only offer historical insights but also stunning views of Lake Michigan
  • Artistic Heart of Frankfort: The Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts is a cultural gem, showcasing a diverse range of art forms. Regular workshops, exhibits, and educational programs here promote local talent and engage visitors in the artistic pulse of the community

Food and Drinks

  • Local Breweries: Stormcloud Brewing Company is a must-visit for beer enthusiasts. Known for its Belgian-style beverages and award-winning brews, it’s the perfect spot to unwind after a day of exploration
  • Diverse Dining Options: From the cozy Crescent Bakery to the exquisite offerings at Birch & Maple, Frankfort’s culinary landscape caters to all tastes and preferences

Shopping and Local Businesses

  • Unique Finds and Art Galleries: Explore the various specialty shops in downtown Frankfort along the maple-lined streets. Visit art galleries like Ellie Harold Art Studio & Gallery to see the creative spirit of Frankfort’s local artists

Accommodation Options

  • Resorts and B&Bs: Whether you prefer the luxurious Harbor Lights Resort or the quaint charm of Hotel Frankfort, the town ensures a comfortable and memorable stay for all visitors

Tawas City/East Tawas

Situated on the shores of Lake Huron, these neighboring towns are known for their beautiful beaches, Tawas Point State Park, and a quaint downtown area. The town presents a blend of natural beauty and small-town charm. The town’s history is intertwined with Michigan’s lumbering past and maritime heritage. Tawas Point Lighthouse is a significant historical site, offering insights into the town’s maritime past.

The local economy is bolstered by tourism, retail, and services, with a focus on leveraging its natural and cultural assets. East Tawas offers a range of accommodation options, including cozy bed and breakfasts, hotels, and vacation rentals. From chartering a sailboat to enjoying a game of golf, East Tawas caters to all sorts of recreational interests. The Tawas Bay area is particularly known for its warm waters, ideal for water sports.

The town hosts various local events and traditions, and activities throughout the year:

Things To Do:


  • Tawas Point State Park and Lighthouse: A gem in the region, the park offers stunning waterfront views, sandy beaches, and the historic Tawas Point Lighthouse. Ideal for a family outing, it combines natural beauty with manmade fun.
  • Outdoor Activities: The area is perfect for birdwatching, hiking, and various water sports. Its location along Lake Huron provides ample opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and swimming.
  • Saginaw Bay Birding Trail: This trail is a highlight for nature enthusiasts, showcasing a diverse range of bird species in their natural habitat.

Shopping and Dining in East Tawas

  • Newman Street: The heart of East Tawas’s retail experience, featuring boutiques, tea shops, and charming restaurants. It’s a picturesque street lined with trees, perfect for leisurely strolls.
  • Local Dining: The town boasts a variety of dining options, from casual eateries like Mr. Jack’s Sports Bar & Grill to upscale choices like Mangos Mexican Cuisine and Tequila Bar.


Leland is uniquely located halfway between the Equator and North Pole, marked by a sign on M-22. M-22 is the primary road connecting Leland to surrounding areas, including Northport and Glen Arbor.

This historic fishing village on the Leelanau Peninsula, also known as “Fishtown,” features rustic shanties now housing shops and galleries, along with beautiful views of Lake Michigan. Looking in the opposite direction is North Lake Leelanau, a popular inland lake for boating and fishing. Boaters can navigate all the way to South Lake Leelanau or take their boats into the town of Leland itself.

Leland is home to the Leelanau Historical Society and Museum and the Leland Township Library, both located on East Cedar Street. The town has several Michigan historical sites worth checking out, including the Walter Best Women’s Club, Riverside Inn, and the historic Fishtown district​

Things To Do:

Recreational Activities and Outdoor Adventures

  • Hiking and Biking Trails: The area around Leland is filled with scenic trails perfect for hiking and biking enthusiasts. Trails like the Leelanau Trail and Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail offer breathtaking views and a chance to explore the natural beauty of the region​​​​​​.
  • Charter Fishing and Manitou Island Ferry: For those interested in fishing, charter services offer an authentic Lake Michigan experience. Additionally, the Manitou Island Transit provides ferry service to North and South Manitou Island, a must-visit for nature lovers​​​​.

Leland’s Culinary Scene and Accommodations

  • Dining Options: Leland’s culinary scene boasts a range of options from casual eateries to upscale dining. Highlights include The Cove, known for its stunning views and seafood, and other local favorites offering a variety of cuisines​​​​​​.
  • Accommodation Choices: Visitors to Leland can choose from a variety of lodging options, including cozy inns, lakeside lodges, and rental properties. Each offers a unique experience of the town’s charm and hospitality​​​​​​.

Shopping and Leisure in Leland

  • Shopping Experience: Leland’s quaint downtown area is home to a variety of shops and galleries, perfect for those looking for unique local crafts, art, and souvenirs. From handmade jewelry to charming bookstores, Leland’s shopping scene is a treasure trove for visitors​​.