I still find it hard to believe that a lake has beaches…and waves! Growing up by the English coast, it’s a given that the sea comes with sand and a tide. Lakes are usually surrounded by mud and grass, but not Lake Michigan! The sheer size of it is crazy. It’s 307 miles long and 118 miles wide, it has a total shoreline of 1640 MILES. Putting this into perspective, the whole coastline of the UK is 7723 miles! Lake Michigan borders 4 US states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Each state is home to various Lake Michigan beaches and beach towns that you should visit!
Best Lake Michigan Beach Towns
I collaborated with other Midwest travel bloggers to bring you some of the best Lake Michigan best towns!
Kenosha, Milwaukee, Sheboyban
Muskegon, Saugatuck, Silver Lake, South Haven
Lake Michigan Beaches in Wisconsin
Simmons Island Beach in Kenosha
90% of Kenosha’s shoreline is public accessible. There are a couple of different beaches but the largest being Simmons Island Beach. There’s a large parking lot with public toilets and a grassy area with play equipment. During the summer a tractor was ‘grooming’ the beach early in the morning before the crowds arrived.
The beach is in a great location. It’s close to the Southport Light Station and the Kenosha History museum, both GREAT attractions. My personal highlight is walking out on the pier to the North Pier Lighthouse. It doubles up as an art gallery with colourful murals (you can’t miss it, it’s bright red!)/ The end of the pier also offers great views of the beach!
For those that like to get their 10,000 steps in, the route around Downtown Kenosha starts in Simmons Island Park. It goes around the harbour as far as Eichelman Park Beach (a smaller beach but still with toilet facilities and a playground), before looping back round, through the heart of Downtown and finishing back at the starting point. It took me around 3 hours to complete the loop. Common Grounds coffee shop is a great little coffee shop not far from Simmons Island Beach, I recommend their smoothies!
Recommended by Janet from Go Learn Things
Milwaukee may not be the first “beach town” that comes to mind. However summer and fall in Milwaukee are packed with festivals, colours, flavours, adventures and joyful citizen’s revelling in the wonderful weather. Milwaukee is a beautifully green city abounding in parks and lakefront experiences. Lincoln Memorial Drive stretches for several miles along the lakefront.
Anchored by the Henry Maier Festival Park to the south and Lake Park to the north, the city offers a string of places to enjoy and recreate on the Lake Michigan lakefront. The lakefront is dominated by green spaces and beaches. Veterans Park, McKinley Marina, McKinley Beach, Bradford Beach and Lake Park offer water sports, walking/biking trails, piers, picnics, concerts, beach volleyball and even a historic water tower and lighthouse.
Dining opportunities range from the post Harbor House or Lake Park Bistro, to the chill Colectivo Cafe or the casual Northpoint Custard Shop. If you want an “amphibious assault” then hop on the Milwaukee River where many restaurants and bars have hop off docks and tie-ups for boaters and kayakers. Wisconsin has tough winters. So when the sun shines and the temps rise Milwaukeeans frolic with abandon on their beautiful beaches.
Deland Park in Sheboygan
Recommended by Lori from Lorilovesparis.com
Deland Park in Sheboygan, Wisconsin located along the Lake Michigan shore is THE beach spot in this city north of Milwaukee. In summer the beach is filled with locals looking to cool off. The park also has sand volleyball courts, a playground for the kiddos, and a colorful bathhouse.
Did you know that Sheboygan is known as the Malibu of the Midwest? From September to March when the winds kick up, you can find surfers from all over riding the waves along the shore. Wait! Surfing when it’s cold? Definitely! Because Sheboygan juts out about 5 miles into Lake Michigan, the cold winds that sweep over the warmer lake in winter, come from all directions. This makes for some awesome waves during the winter months. That’s what made Sheboygan rather famous in the surfing world. In fact, the Dairyland Classic, a surfing and paddle competition held every Labor Day weekend, draws people from around the world.
Hungry? Take either a short walk on the beautiful Riverwalk or drive over to the riverfront area and enjoy a variety of eateries. My favorite, Parker Johns BBQ and Pizza offers Some of the best BBQ in the area! I’m partial to the pulled pork sandwich with sweet potato fries! Stop in on Sundays is when they have live music. It’s the perfect spot to relax after a day at the beach.
Lake Michigan Beaches in Illinois
Gillson Beach in Wilmette
Recommended by Melissa from A Little Time and A Keyboard
Gillson Beach in Wilmette, Illinois provides some of my favorite views of Lake Michigan. The beach certainly has that fun summer vibe in warm months including views of sailboats often with brilliant sails and kites flying high above. The swimming area has a beach house with a changing area and concessions. For families, there is a playground on the beach and another playground a short away which is convenient. Tennis courts and other park amenities are nearby.
Adjacent is the dog beach where you will find many a dog enjoying a little splash. We often sit in that area and enjoy watching the dogs live their best lives! The sailing beach area has kayaks, paddleboards and small sailboats for rent if they are not being used in classes. Overall, Gillson Beach is a stunning beach and perfect spot for a nice respite on Lake Michigan.
Oak Street Beach and North Avenue Beach in Chicago
Chicago may not have the biggest beaches along Lake Michigan but it doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve a mention! There’s a pedestrian/cycle trail along the shores of Lake Michigan which is a great way to enjoy the waterfront!
If travelling by the CTA trains, Oak Street Beach (closest to camera in the photo above) is closest to Clark/Division on the red line. The station is a 10 minute walk away. It’s also close to 360 Chicago. This observation deck on the 94th floor of the John Hancock tower has some great views of Lake Michigan!
North Avenue beach (the next one up in the picture) is closest to the Sedgewick stop. This is on the purple and brown line, it does come with a 20 minute walk though. It is the bigger beach out of the 2. But the water levels were quite high during my visit so there wasn’t exactly much of a beachfront. The beach backs on to Lincoln Park, home of the Lincoln Park Zoo. It is worth a visit and free to enter! Chicago offers various ways to enjoy the water, from kayaking tours, stand up paddle boarding and different types of boat tours.
Lake Michigan Beaches in Indiana
State Park Beach in Chesterton
Only 45 miles of Lake Michigan’s shoreline is in Indiana. 15 miles of that is protected by Indiana Dunes National Park! The State Park Beach in Indiana has a large parking lot with more parking available in other areas of the park. There is a pavilion which dates back to 1930. It has full service restaurants as well as a small store, a snack stand umbrella rental, lockers and toilets.
While in Indiana Dunes State Park, the 3 Dunes Challenge is a fun 1.5 mile trail. It takes in the 3 highest dunes in the park. The trail can be started from along the beach. Or you can drive and park next to the nature centre and do the looped trail from there! Once you complete the challenge, make sure you pop into the visitor centre. It’s just outside of the state park and you can get a free sticker and postcard to show you did it!
Lake Michigan Beaches in Michigan
Muskegon Beach in Muskegon
Recommended by Janet from Go Learn Things
Lake Michigan is bordered by Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan. Of these four states, Michigan has the greatest number of shoreline miles. As a matter of fact, Michigan has more freshwater shoreline than any other state in the lower 48 states. Shorelines mean beaches and the Muskegon region is replete with beaches.
The prevailing winds blow from west to east, the warmer water of Lake Michigan is pushed to the Michigan side. So by late summer and early fall, Michigan’s water is warm for swimming and playing. Those prevailing winds also create an interesting erosion process. The rocky cliffs of Wisconsin are swept across the expanse of water and land in Michigan as sand. The upside of this erosion process is lovely stretches of white sand beaches and massive dunes all along Michigan’s coast.
A visit to the beachtown of Muskegon must include Pere Marquette Park, home to Muskegon Beach. When you need a break from the luscious stretch of beach, you can visit the pierhead light, the USS Silversides Museum, or find fun refreshments at The Deck. Muskegon Beach and Heritage Landing are the sites for special events all summer long. Events like Burning Foot Beer Festival and the Michigan Irish Musical Festival.
Oval Beach & Saugatuck Dunes State Park in Saugatuck
Recommended by Erin from The Epicurean Traveler
Located along Lake Michigan in West Michigan, Saugatuck offers beach vacationers two fantastic options: Oval Beach and Saugatuck Dunes State Park.
Oval Beach’s easy access is perfect for beach-goers who want to build sand castles, sunbathe, splash around, or watch the sunset. Before heading to the beach, I recommend stopping by the Farmhouse Deli & Pantry for mouthwatering sandwiches, desserts, and deli salads. Pack a picnic lunch, and enjoy your food with a Lake Michigan view!
For more adventurous beach seekers, follow the hiking trails through the woods to the sand dunes along Lake Michigan at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. You can run straight down a dune into the Great Lake!
Beyond the beautiful beaches, visitors will find fun activities for all ages, cozy bed & breakfast lodging, and delicious culinary experiences in Saugatuck and neighboring towns, Douglas and Fennville.
From wild rides across the sand dunes to a relaxing sail or cruise, there are plenty of ways to enjoy Saugatuck’s waterfront. In the artsy downtown, stroll between art galleries and boutique shops with an ice cream cone or an Uncommon Coffee Roasters latte in hand. For culinary treats, head out to Fennville. Here you can sample a pie flight at Crane’s Pie Pantry, taste dry ciders at Virtue Cider, and enjoy farm-to-table dining at Salt of the Earth.
Less than an hour’s drive from Grand Rapids and two hours from Chicago, Saugatuck is a charming destination for a relaxing getaway along the Lake Michigan shore.
Silver Lake State Park in Silver Lake
I absolutely love the town of Silver Lake. It’s a lovely little beach town which makes for a great Michigan beach vacation! Silver Lake is a bit different from your typical Michigan beach. The shear amount of sand between the town and the lake is HUGE. Silver Lake Sand Dunes is like one giant beach and Lake Michigan is SOMEWHERE on the other side of them!
There are several beaches around the smaller ‘Silver Lake’. But to reach the Lake Michigan shores, you’ll either have to hike through the dunes, or have an ATV and go through the ORV (off road vehicle) area. The ORV area is so much fun. People will often pull up on the shores of Lake Michigan for a rest.
In Silver Lake town, you can expect to find various hotels and campgrounds. Along with attractions such as mini golf and go-karts. If you’re after a more relaxed Michigan beach experience, head down to Little Sable Light Station on the edge of town. Here you’ll find a small parking lot with long drop toilets and a small beach. During my visit, families had taken along sleds and even pieces of cardboards and the kids were sliding down a small nearby dune! The Light Station is sometimes open for tours. Here you can climb to the top and get views across the beach and Lake Michigan.
Recommended by Megan from Olio In Iowa
If you’re looking for the quintessential beach town experience look no further than South Haven, Michigan. Located on the southeast shores of Lake Michigan, South Haven is the perfect getaway for anyone looking to take in all pure Michigan has to offer. Stroll the boardwalk to the city’s iconic red lighthouse or lounge on the beach in the summer sun. Wander the shops in downtown or hop on your bike for a ride along the Kal-Haven Trail.
No matter how you prefer to vacation, no trip to South Haven is complete without a visit to Sherman’s Dairy, a staple of locals and tourists alike that has been in business since 1916. The lakeside community is also known as one of the nation’s biggest producers of blueberries and celebrates the beloved berry each August with the National Blueberry Festival.
Thank you to my Midwest Travel Blogger friends for their contributions and Midwest knowledge of Lake Michigan Beaches!