Picture the family vacation of the ’50s and ’60s, kids piled into the back of the station wagon, bikes on back. Everyone gathers to play board games before going out for ice cream and a drive-in movie. Add some stunning beaches and even a root beer float from a drive-in restaurant, and you have some of the best things to do in Frankfort, Michigan, one of the state’s most classic and scenic beach towns.

Beach Time

Soft sand about as far as you can see, benches galore and a pier for hand-in-hand strolling or dropping in a fishing line make Frankfort’s downtown beach hard to beat. Watch the sun set behind the 67-foot-high tower of the North Breakwater Lighthouse, or drive a couple of miles north to the beach and iconic lighthouse at pretty Point Betsie, a great spot for rock hounds and photographers, with the Manitou islands in the distance. You also won’t want to miss lesser-traveled Elberta Beach, where high bluffs lend a sense of privacy and you might catch a hang glider soaring above. 

On-Water Lodging

You’ve got options, but it’s fun to pick a place with a past. Rent a lodge room or cozy cottage on the bluff at circa-1930s Chimney Corners Resort, located on M-22 with views (and 300 feet of sandy beach frontage) of the turquoise-painted Crystal Lake. Or stay right on the Frankfort harbor at Harbor Lights Resort. The elegant condominium rentals are set on the spot where guests of yore arriving on steamships would once have spent their vacations at the Royal Frontenac Hotel—a grand dame that rivaled Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel from 1902 until 1912 when the Royal Frontenac was lost in a fire.


parking in Frankfort

Photo by Taylor Brown

Craft Beer

Stormcloud is more than a brewery—it’s a destination that goes well beyond craft beer. This Frankfort favorite holds an annual film series where dinner and brews match the flick being shown right next door at the Garden Theater. A curling league takes up the discs each winter on Stormcloud’s own ice rink and the regular menu features items like Thai One On pizza with curried shrimp and a peanut drizzle. Pop in the downtown location for some garlic Parmesan popcorn with your brew on the wide patio.

Fishing, Your Way

Charter fishing’s big here, so splurge on an outing if you have the time to spare, or just order in. The ship-themed restaurant Dinghy’s holds a fish fry on Friday and Saturday nights both, or head to Port City Smokehouse, where you can have your catch smoked or flash fried, or shop for lake trout, walleye, lake perch, bluegill or smoked meats that make great picnic fare.

On-Water Fun

Crystal Lake Adventure Sports can guide your paddle or pontoon adventure on Crystal Lake or Lake Michigan, or rent whatever gear you need to do it your way. Want to set sail? Frankfort Sailing Excursions holds twice-daily sails along the Arcadia bluffs and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on a 49-foot custom-built wooden sailboat.

northern michigan scenic spots
Road (or Trail) Trip 

Grab your bike (or rent one) and ride one of the state’s prettiest bike trails. Start in Frankfort and cruise the paved Betsie Valley Trail to the stunning blues of Crystal Lake where aggregate continues through Beulah and on to Thompsonville. Or, roll down the car windows and go for a spin on the state’s iconic M-22, named one of America’s most scenic fall drives by USA Today. The stretch of M-22 from Manistee to Leelanau County (Frankfort in the center of that route) is gorgeous in the fall, but any time of year you’ll gasp at the view from the top of the 120-step climb to Arcadia Overlook (pictured above).

Read Next: The Ultimate M-22 Road Trip

Unique Destinations

Not far from Frankfort, in neighboring Benzonia, tour the late artist Gwen Frostic’s still-working studio and store, which prints and sells her signature cards, journals and more featuring the frolicking forest creatures and plants that Frostic is famous for. Then, just down the road from the studio, visit the cute critters at Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm and Boutique. 

Photo(s) by Kris Riley