The sun is shining and Lake Michigan’s crystal-clear water is sparkling. On the picturesque Leelanau Peninsula, home to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the coastline beckons for swimming and playing, an endless stroll or simply toes in the sand and a good book in hand. Here’s your guide to Leelanau Peninsula beaches. Discover your slice of beach heaven.
Beaches in Town
The beauty of these in-town Leelanau County beaches is the ease with which they can be enjoyed. Usually within walking distance from ice cream, dinner joints and easy parking, these shoreline escapes are the heart of Northern Michigan’s towns and villages.
Van’s Beach, Leland
Located in the lakeside village of Leland, a short drive north of Traverse City on the famed M-22, Van’s Beach is known for its unparalleled sunsets and views of the Manitou Islands. The water stays fairly shallow for awhile, making it a perfect family beach. Additionally, its close proximity to the shopping and restaurants in Leland—don’t miss Fishtown!—ensure that the perfect beach day transitions easily into the perfect summer evening. Van’s Beach is also known for its blue stones, which are only found in Leland (here’s how to find them!).
Lake Michigan Beach Park, Empire
This really is the ideal family beach. On one side of the large paved parking lot (complete with restrooms, changing house, picnic tables and grills) lies Lake Michigan and on the other, the small inland South Bar Lake, which is shallow, warm and ever popular with the under 12-year-old set thanks to a dock perfect for launching cannon balls (there’s plenty of spots to search for frogs and turtles, too). Both sides have playground equipment, and proximity to the village of Empire allows for easy pickup of picnic materials or post-beach ice cream cones at Tiffany’s Cafe.
Public Access Beaches, Glen Arbor
Not far from the Sleeping Bear Dunes, the town of Glen Arbor is the embodiment of a Northern Michigan escape. With art galleries, gourmet eateries and boutiques, the town is replete with activity. However, it is Glen Arbor’s proximity to Lake Michigan that really makes it noteworthy. Two downtown public outlets to Lake Michigan make transitioning from shopping to beaching seamless. At the end of South Lake Street, off Western Avenue, is a long expanse of clean sand ideal for evening strolls. This isn’t the only public access though—head down South Manitou Boulevard for a second, just as gorgeous, in-town beach.
Municipal Beach, Suttons Bay
Part of the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay, about 15 miles north of Traverse City on M-22, the municipal beach of Suttons Bay is a perfect place to spend the day. This Lake Michigan bay stays shallow for an incredibly long distance out, almost as if it were designed for wading and splashing around. Playground equipment, volleyball nets, picnic facilities, restrooms and ample parking only increase the allure of this local favorite. Of course, its distance of about two blocks from the Ice Cream Factory doesn’t hurt either.
Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Beaches
Called the “Most Beautiful Spot in America,” Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore is not to be missed. Visiting any one of these Lake Michigan beaches makes a trip to Northern Michigan slightly closer to a trip to Nirvana—so grab the SPF, a good book and prepare to bliss out. (Don’t forget your National Park pass when parking at these beaches.)
Otter Creek at Esch Road Beach
This beautiful, tranquil Lake Michigan beach is located at the mouth of Otter Creek. Both adults and children will enjoy walking up the warm and shallow creek bed to see a stunning display of Northern Michigan wildflowers. More remote and tranquil than Good Harbor or Van’s, Otter Creek is a perfect place to recenter. The Beach is located on Esch Road, about three miles south of Empire on M-22. There is parking along the road and convenient bathroom facilities.
Good Harbor Beach
Find a little peace and quiet at this slightly secluded Lake Michigan beach. Located right on M-22, a little south of Leland, Good Harbor features a spacious paved parking lot, bathrooms, and a “dogs welcome” side of the beach. Ancient remnants of the docks, which, in the days of the settlers made this beach a functional harbor, bridge the gap between past and present. What has remained unchanged is the clean sand, the always aquamarine water and the amazing sunsets over views of Pyramid Point and Whaleback sand dune. Perfect location for an evening bonfire.
Glen Haven Beach
It isn’t often that you find a combination of stunning beach and historical museum. But then, Northern Michigan isn’t your run-of-the-mill place either. The Cannery Boat Museum in Glen Haven is located right on the Lake Michigan beach, featuring views of the Manitou Islands and the pilings remaining from the old Glen Haven docks. Take a long stroll down this somewhat remote and natural beach, picturing what is looked like in the early 1900s when it was a bustling port. Modern conveniences such as restroom facilities and paved parking make this trip to the past extra comfortable. This is also a great spot to hook up to the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail, should you wish to bike from the beach to nearby Glen Arbor.
Platte Point Beach
One of my personal favorites, I have innumerable memories of long summer days at Platte Point. And I am most certainly not alone—this beautiful beach is the place where the Platte River flows into Lake Michigan and is a busy, busy place in the height of the summer season. Every day, tubes, canoes and kayaks make the trip down the shallow and rapidly flowing river before emptying out in to the vast lake. For those not interested in making the voyage, a walk along the river or sunbathing on the banks is the perfect way to enjoy the merging of these two waters.