We found countless coastal spots in Northern Michigan that offer the perfect place to journal, paint or photograph—or simply let the muse arrive.

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A dog at Esch Road Beach

Photo by Kandace Chapple

On a Friday summer afternoon, I take my golden retriever, Cookie, out to Lake Michigan. We drive from Lake Ann to the last stretches of Benzie Country Road 610, where it dumps us out on the rutted, barely paved Esch Road to Lake Michigan.

I settle in with Cookie on a blanket. We are alone on this magnificent beach except for one bald eagle making its way directly over us. For years I have threatened to do this—take off and just create. I never dared to; it just seemed too indulgent. But once I am quieted, the muse likes it. Cookie finishes her swim and enjoys the breeze coming off the lake. I take out my journal and begin.

Here’s a short list of places for artists of all mediums to find inspiration:

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Empire

An artist with their easel is a common sight at the Lake Michigan Overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. In fact, every August, Glen Arbor Arts Center (GAAC) hosts their “Plein Air Weekend,” where artists are invited for a “Paint Out” to capture the villages, overlooks and lakes in the area. The pieces are then sold as a fundraiser to support GAAC. Other places along the lakeshore that inspire: Empire Bluff trail (see every shade of green to blue in Lake Michigan from above) and Glen Haven beach (paint or photograph the historic Cannery Boathouse Museum—a beautiful red building against the blue water).

Downtown Traverse City

Crooked Tree Arts Center (in Traverse City and Petoskey) also offers a “Paint Grand Traverse” plein air event each year. Plus, there’s a secret spot to create on the docks behind Morsels, a bakery and coffee shop in downtown TC, along the Boardman River. As the bustle goes on above, you’re down on the water’s edge under shady trees. Get a bite-sized pastry from Morsels to complete the rapture.

Old Mission Peninsula in Traverse City

A scenic pullout/overlook along Center Road on Old Mission (about 8 miles up the peninsula) offers an amazing view of the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Here, you’ll have the choice of painting the bay as well as sunsets, cherry orchards, apple orchards, wineries and farmhouses.

Fishtown in Leland

Weathered fish shanties and historic tugboats along the Leland River and a narrow maze of wooden docks and shops make the perfect destination for painters and photographers.

Bayrfront Park in Petoskey

This stretch of land along Little Traverse Bay includes the Petoskey Marina, lighthouse and breakwall, and a park with several grassy areas and picnic tables at which you can set up for the day and work. Bayfront Park is known for its perfect sunset view, so plan to come in the early evening. Climb the stairs to reach Sunset Park above, offering a higher perspective and overlook of the bay.

Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort

This is easily one of the most iconic lighthouses in Michigan, depicted in photographs and paintings many times over—and quite possibly the setting for a few star-struck lovers in a book or two. The serene white-washed buildings make for a striking contrast to the roar and roil of Lake Michigan. Perch on the bluffs to paint or write. Stay until dark and wait for the Milky Way galaxy to present itself in the night sky—it doesn’t get any better than that when it comes to sparking creativity.

Blue skies at Point Betsie Lighthouse

Photo by Kandace Chapple

Photo(s) by Kandace Chapple