Family Travel Question:

Q | Where can we go in the Southeastern United States to beat the summer heat?

Can you suggest a place to go where we can get away from the heat? We are looking for somewhere with gorgeous views and cooler weather. -Debbie, Arkansas

A | Family fun on Michigan’s Sunset Coast

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For family fun and escaping the heat, I’d highly recommend a trip up to the Sunset coast of Michigan. Gorgeous beaches, swimmable Lake Michigan (at least from July-September!), great food, and plenty of family activities abound.

Lake Michigan Sunset

Here are some of my favorite spots along Michigan’s sunset (west) coast, from South Haven up to Traverse City. For activities (besides the beach), consider charter fishing, shopping, jet ski rental, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, ice cream, mini golf, and more. Of course, most activities revolve around the Big Lake (Lake Michigan). Keep in mind that the further you go north, the less warm the big lake will be. Still, you can swim up at Traverse City! Michigan is warm enough to swim (and some days can get downright hot), but being along the lake will bring you cooling breezes and plenty of swimming and family fun.

Saugatuck (my favorite):
Saugatuck offers several swimmable beaches, including Oval Beach, which has won several beach awards from MTV, National Geographic Traveler, and Conde Nast Traveler. There, the broad swaths of white sand beckon you. Swim on calm days, or catch the waves with a surf or boogie board on windy and wavy days. Climb up Mount Baldy and then run down the dunes to Oval Beach. In town, there are a variety of restaurants (try Su Casa, Chequers, Everyday People, or Uncommon Grounds), a boardwalk with huge sailboats from Chicago, and several museums (and plenty of shopping!). Stay at any of the B&Bs in and around town, or try for a cottage rental. There are a few hotels in the area.

Grand Haven:
Grand Haven features a nightly water laser show and a huge lighthouse, plenty of beaches (including a less populated one just north, in Spring Lake), and good food. There’s particularly good boutique shopping downtown on the river. Families will find many restaurants (Sub Shop is a long-time favorite) and places to stay. There’s even a surf shop here.

Manistee is the Victorian Port City! There’s plenty of history and culture in this area, as well as two free beaches on Lake Michigan (on either side of the channel). You’ll also find great restaurants, plenty of chain hotels as well as B&Bs. Look for several museums, a local theatre (and a local theater!), outdoor music, and lots of chartered fishing.

Just north of Manistee is Onekama, a really cute beach town. It’s friendly, has several good restaurants (the Blue Slipper was recommended in Gourmet Magazine), and a fantastic and free beach along a winding road just past the town.

Located 9 miles off US31, Frankfort is a gem. There’s a free beach, plenty of places to stay, a fantastic library, lots of shops and restaurants (try Fusion, for Asian cuisine), and a free beach downtown with a harbor (less waves when it’s super windy out).

Sleeping Bear Dunes:
A bit further north, near Empire, Sleeping Bear Dunes is a National Lakeshore Park and is really, really fun to climb. There is a Native American story that the Manitou Islands located off Sleeping Bear Dunes are the mama and baby bears that couldn’t make it to shore, in a fire. There’s plenty to learn and see here. If you like to camp, all along from Onekama north are family-friendly campgrounds, located both on and off the water (rivers and lakes).

Traverse City:
The biggest city along the Lake, Traverse City has so much to offer, including many, many beaches, a mall, plenty of hotel options (we love Great Wolf Lodge), hundreds of restaurants (we love House of Doggs!) and grocery stores, and a fantastic and active downtown. Catch theatre, movies, live music, outdoor events, and more.

All along Michigan’s Sunset coast are plenty of opportunities for family fun, from swimming, flying kites and playing at Lake Michigan; to plenty of water-related activities; to great food, superb fruit (it’s a fruit belt–try the blueberries at Krupka’s in Saugatuck, or peaches all along the coast, or cherries up in Traverse City, the site of the Cherry Festival!); and many, many outdoor activities. You can delve into culture (music, theater, the arts), local artist galleries, wineries, festivals, and be with people that just want to be outside and learning and loving life. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Jessie Voigts

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