Five Favorite Places for Kids on the Sunset Coast, Michigan

by Dr. Jessie Voigts /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
Jul 12, 2017 / 4 comments

Kids and water go together - it's a natural fit. And what better place to play, than along Michigan's Sunset Coast? The Sunset Coast is aptly named - being on the west side of the state of Michigan, and all along Lake Michigan. You'll find beachs galore, lots of swimming, and, of course, gorgeous sunsets. Pack a picnic, your swimsuits, a kite, digging tools, and sunscreen. Look at the sparkling water, the soft sand, the beach toys, and the wide selection of beach carts from various families.

Playing, Michigan's sunset coast

Playing at Lake Michigan

Here are my top five places for kids along the Sunset Coast...

5 favorite places for kids to play, along Michigan's Sunset Coast (warning: beach goodness awaits!)

1. Saugatuck Area

There are many beaches here, so follow your preference. The most beautiful and popular beach is Oval Beach - named as one of the best beaches in the world by Conde Nast Magazine! You can play on the north side, where there is a wide  beach, and where most people park their towels. On the south end of the beach, you'll find less crowds and more room to fly kites or play with your dog. There are changing rooms in the restroom, and a small concession stand in the summer. Daily admission fee (or yearly permit).

Further south of Saugatuck by a few miles are two great beaches. Head to Pier Cove, a tiny (10 parking spots!) free beach that is beloved by locals. What makes this great for kids is the creek running into the Big Lake. If you've got littles, you can watch them play in ankle-deep water in the creek, gather rocks and driftwood, and be safe from the waves in Lake Michigan. Beware as you climb down the steps to the beach - there is poison ivy under the south side railing.

Pier Cove Beach, Michigan

Pier Cove Beach, Michigan

A few minutes south of Pier Cove is the West Side County Park - admission fee, and plenty of space for picnics, gatherings, volleyball, etc. It's located in a forest, and you'll head down to the beach and be pleasantly surprised.

Oval Beach, Saugatuck

Oval Beach, Saugatuck

2. Grand Haven, Michigan

There are three fantastic beaches in Grand Haven - Grand Haven State Park, Grand Haven City Beach (Good Morning America-Travel Mom recommended the Grand Haven beach as one of the top 5 in the country), and North Beach Park in Spring Lake, a few miles north. What draws families here is the Grand Haven Musical Fountain. Shows run nightly from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Note the synchronized display of lights and water; watch it from the south shore of the Grand River. Expect plenty of oohs and aahs from your kids - and beware the huge crowds on the 4th of July. 

Spring Lake Beach

Spring Lake Beach

Grand Haven, Michigan

Grand Haven, Michigan

3. Manistee, Michigan

Called the Victorian Port City, Manistee has a fantastic library and theater. They also boast two beaches - both free - 1st street (south of the channel) and 5th Avenue (north). 1st street is the most popular – lots of playground equipment, volleyball nets, a well-used boat launch with ample parking area for boat trailers, a pier for fishing, bathrooms, and plenty of parking (especially handy during carnivals). But my favorite is 5th Avenue, which is used more by swimmers (also boasts clean bathrooms, a concession stand, and a pier). Bonus if you're there for the 4th of July fireworks! 

Manistee, MI

5th Ave Beach, Manistee, Michigan

4. Sleeping Bear Dunes

It's a National Lakeshore, and an amazing place to stop. This is a national park, with a HUGE set of dunes to climb. If you can make it, the beach is worth a swim (to cool down!). It is particularly interesting in the off-season, when there is NO one around! The sand is firmer and you can climb the dunes more easily. National Park fees apply. Read The Legend of Sleeping Bear by Kathy-Jo Wargin, beautifully illustrated by Gijsbert Van Frankenhuyzen, before you go. It'll make your entire visit more powerful! 

Sleeping Bear dunes in fall

Sleeping Bear dunes in fall 

5. Traverse City, Michigan

You've got it all here - an indoor waterpark (Great Wolf Lodge), a plethora of beaches, great food, excellent libraries, and shops galore. Don't forget to visit the State Theater downtown, to see what's playing, and stop at Popkies for all kinds of crazy flavored popcorn. Traverse City was ranked by AOL Travel News in the #8 spot of America's Top 10 Beach Towns. There's a free monthly events paper for families - look around in restaurants and hotels or at the library for this. We LOVE Traverse City! 

Great Wolf Lodge

Great Wolf Lodge

flying a kite, Traverse City

flying a kite, Traverse City


What are your favorite places along Michigan's Sunset Coast for kids? I'd love to hear!

Michigan Sunset


This is part of a global blog carnival from Families on the Move. Check out these great posts on 5 things for kids to do in cities around the world!

New York City, USA - Diya Luke - A Minor Diversion

London, UK -- Theodora Sutcliffe -- Travels with a Nine Year Old

South Australia - Amy Page - Livin On The Road

Antigua, Guatemala -Lainie Liberti - Raising Miro

Seattle, WA, USA- Keryn Means- Walkingon Travels

Vancouver, B.C. Canada-Jess Farrugia - With 2 Kids In Tow

Kingston, Ontario, Canada-Jennifer Miller-

Lake Chapala, Mexico - Alisa Lybbert - Living Outside of the Box

Washington, D.C. U.S.A. -Susan Verbeeck

Chiang Mai, northern Thailand - Barbara - The Dropout Diaries








Comments (4)

  • Dominique-Midwe...

    12 years 6 months ago

    You've included several of my favorites here!

    I also particularly enjoy the Riverwalk in Manistee-a great, and accessible, boardwalk along the river and harbor there.

    Loved the picture of the rock cairns. I've seen a number of those every time we've visited the beach at Leelanau State Park and took a whole batch of photos of them for a future story :)

  • Julie Royce

    12 years 6 months ago

    I'm in total agreement with your picks!  Your article left me a bit nostalgic and ready to make another trip to Lake Michigan. Ah, wait, I'd best schedule that between June and August if I want to enjoy the simple pleasures you recount.

  • jennincat

    12 years 2 months ago

    What a fantastic list! I added it to my Michigan pin board.

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    12 years 2 months ago

    Thanks, Jenn! Michigan has so many beautiful places!


    Jessie Voigts, PhD


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