Shop 'til you swim in Elk Rapids. Just down the street from the 19th-century downtown and its charming shops you'll find hundreds of feet of sandy beaches. Rainy day? Shop 'til you read – in the library tucked on an island in Elk River.

Pack your swimsuit and cruise down U.S. 31 to find Elk Rapids, one of the coziest beach towns on the Chain. Park where you wish – everything, including the beach, is within walking distance. If your crew includes kiddies, grab beach grub at The Moose (127 River St., 231-264-9266). Load up on chips, soda and slushes, or nab some made-to-order subs. The honey baked ham, Swiss cheese, veggies and Vidalia-peppercorn dressing on a white sourdough bun, is a tasty bet. Then, duck into Little Treasures (115 River St., 231-264-6885) for beach toys to keep tiny hands happy.

Left the brood at home? Peruse the grownup offerings in the Elk Rapids Wine Shop (100 River St., 231-264-9000). Peek into the cooler for wine, sparkling water and microbrew beers, and then grab a hunk of gourmet cheese and loaf of artisan La Brea bread. Sweeten the experience with a sack of cherry-filled cookies from Elk Rapids Sweet Shop & Bakery (108 River St., 231-264-9732).

March west down River Street until you see Lake Michigan unfold to your right. Hit the beach, and weigh your options: swimming, volleyball, jungle gyms, tennis courts and, of course, tons of blond sand to sprawl out on. Walk arm-in-arm on the pretty white footbridge over Elk River, or let the wee ones splash around in the warm shallows where the river flows into the lake. And, after all that sun and surf, head back into town for a final treat – a creamy scoop of custard from George's Frozen Custard (103 River St., 231-264-5585). With summery flavors like raspberry, cherry and Georgia peach, it's a fitting finish to such a sweet day.

Emily Bingham is assistant editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.

Note: This article was first published in May 2006, and was updated for the web February 2008.