Finding them is easier than you think. Lake Michigan lays a blanket of sugar sand at your feet and beckons with appetizing sunset views. Pack your picnic gear and browse nearby towns like a gourmand. (But save alcohol for back home.)
In the Bridgman area, Warren Dunes State Park offers three miles of beach. The nearby Whistle Stop in Union Pier sells Round Barn wines, deli meats and Bit of Swiss breads, or try their house-made hot sandwiches and cold salads. Bridgman’s Weko Beach includes a park, campground and concert series. Buy pastries from Beachside Bakery/Kat’s Hot Cakes.
Try the spectacular waterfront Parent Magazine calls one of the Top 10 Family Beaches in the United States: Silver Beach in St. Joseph, complete with a historic carousel. Enjoy a gourmet panini and cappuccino at Golden Brown Bakery on State Street, or order a Muffaleta sandwich with buckwheat salad to-go from Caffe Tosi.
Grand Haven State Park and South Pier are among Travel & Leisure Magazine’s Best Secret Beaches on Earth. At Anthony’s Kicked Up Catering, Bakery and Deli, pick up a house-brewed tea with mint and honey, Grouper Fish Tacos or a boxed lunch of Pastrami on Rye with a side of Kick Butt Beans. Build your own sandwich with fresh fare from Fortino’s, a third-generation, family-run Italian deli, grocery and old-fashioned candy store.
Stop in Muskegon before heading to the three-mile-long beach at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. Bag a Multigrain Batard at Ryke’s Bakery and top with a slice of specialty cheese from The Cheese Lady, or spread with American Spoon Food’s Ripe Olive Relish or Sleeping Bear Farms Dill Mustard from Maggie’s Gourmet Food & Gifts. Easier still, order from Mia & Grace’s daily-changing sandwich selections, like Duck Bratwurst or a Pork Belly Reuben.
Follow County Road 651 north of Traverse City to Leelanau County’s Good Harbor Beach. Stop in Pleva’s Meats for cherry smoked and dried-cherry filled patties and links, Cedar City Market for Trish’s Dishes sandwiches and Osorio’s authentic tortillas and salsas, and Bunting’s Cedar Market, where blue mittens mark all Michigan-made products.
On your way to Thorne Swift Nature Preserve in Harbor Springs or the hidden beaches of Sturgeon Bay, swing by Bay Harbor’s Galley Gourmet for a Sonoma Club Sandwich, Sweet Potato Salad and Ricotta Cheesecake. Grab smoked whitefish and regional beer and wine at Toski Sands Market, Petoskey. Crooked Tree Breadworks, on M-119, offers baguettes, loaves and rolls. Don’t leave without their Orange Balsamic Pecans and Addictive Granola Cookies.
Still hungry? Good Hart General Store makes a mean whitefish pate (Lake Michigan-caught) and smokes their turkey.
Don’t forget your blanket.
Where to shop on the way to the beach
STURGEON BAY AND THORNE SWIFT NATURE PRESERVE
Just 3½ miles north of Harbor Springs, between Lower Shore Drive and Lake Michigan, this 30-acre wildlife sanctuary includes a nature center and sandy beach. 6696 Lower Shore Dr., Harbor Springs; (231) 526-6401.
Galley Gourmet, Harbor Springs (galleygourmet.com)
Good Hart General Store (goodhartstore.com)
Crooked Tree Breadworks, Petoskey (breadworks.com)
Toski Sands Market, Petoskey (toskisandsmarket.com)
GOOD HARBOR BEACH
Serene and sandy, this inviting stretch of Good Harbor Bay less than 10 miles northeast of Glen Arbor (take S. Bohemian Road/County Road 669 off of M-22) offers clear views out to the Manitou islands.
Cedar City Market, Cedar (cedarcitymarket.biz)
Bunting’s Cedar Market, Cedar (Facebook)
Pleva’s Meat Market, Cedar (plevameats.com)
P.J. HOFFMASTER STATE PARK
From Muskegon, travel south on U.S. 31 to Pontaluna Road. Turn right (west) and follow the signs to the park entrance. If traveling north on I-96, take Exit 4 and follow signs to the park, which features three miles of pristine Lake Michigan beaches and the renowned Gillette Visitor Center (gillettenature.org).
The Cheese Lady, Muskegon (thecheeselady.net)
Maggie’s Gourmet Food & Gifts, LLC, Muskegon (maggiesbaskets.com)
Mia & Grace, Muskegon
Ryke’s Bakery, Muskegon
GRAND HAVEN CITY BEACH AND SOUTH PIER
Cited as one of Travel + Leisure Magazine’s 2012 “Best Secret Beaches on Earth, Grand Haven’s city shore is a hot spot for sand sculpting, soccer and beach vault competitions, as well as catching waves and sunsets (101-213 N. Harbor Dr., Grand Haven; 616-842-3210).
Anthony’s Kicked Up Catering, Bakery and Delicatessen, Grand Haven (itsnobull.com)
Fortino’s, Grand Haven (fortinos-gourmet.com)
SILVER BEACH, ST. JOSEPH
Located below the bluff downtown on Lake Street, this destination stretch of family-friendly shore is home to the Shadowland Pavilion and a favorite for myriad activities (sjtoday.org).
Caffe Tosi, St. Joseph (cafetossi.com)
Golden Brown Bakery, St. Joseph (goldenbrownbakery.com)
WARREN DUNES STATE PARK
Starting 12 miles north of the state border in southwest Michigan, this park includes a rugged dune and more than two scenic miles of Great Lake shoreline. From I-94, take Exit 16 and follow Red Arrow Highway south to the park.
Beachside Bakery/Kat’s Hot Cakes, Bridgman (Facebook)
Whistle Stop Grocery, Union Pier (whistlestopgrocery.com)
Freelance writer Pat Stinson resides in Leelanau County.