From staying in an exquisite mansion to following a beacon to the beach, Ludington is calling. Take a step back in time with this fully immersive historical Ludington tour.

Time travel? It’s possible in Northern Michigan—with a history lovers’ guide to a Lake Michigan shore town with architecture walks, a floating national landmark, enchanting lighthouses and a Victorian-era brewpub. Here are some highlights to craft a captivating living-history getaway in Ludington. And a bonus, history buffs: Ludington is celebrating its sesquicentennial all summer long in 2023. Find the full calendar of events at

Stay in a Lumber Baron’s Mansion

Built of Roman pressed brick, trimmed with Bedford limestone, and sporting intricate woodwork, five fireplaces, and walls dressed in silk and leather, the three-story neoclassical-style Cartier Mansion B&B lets guests live like one of Ludington’s earliest lumber barons—or at least like one of his sons. Warren Cartier, son of lumberman Antoine Cartier, built the massive luxury home for his own family in 1905, leaving behind the elegant but smaller Victorian that Dad had built next door to his own home (now the Ludington House B&B, another lumber baron mansion to lay your head at) as a wedding gift for Warren and bride Kate in 1888. Warren’s manse is rich in turn-of-the-century “modern” touches, period antiques and Cartier-clan history, but we love it just as much for its (and its renovated carriage house’s) lovely location: walking distance of Lake Michigan, restaurants, shops and the S.S. Badger.

Cartier Mansion from the outside

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Immerse in a Historic Village

Lace-up your comfy shoes. Going back in time to tour Historic White Pine Village, a turn-of-the-19th-century town of 30 historic buildings—host to multiple exhibits and thousands of authentic artifacts and archives about the area’s ag and lumber roots—requires roughly two hours of foot-forward momentum. But neither you nor the kids will notice, what with a steam locomotive, working sawmill and oodles of activities, events and even live interpreters appearing throughout the village’s May–October season.

Historical photo of a parade on Ludington Ave.

Photo by Mason County Historical Society

Say Bon Voyage to (or hop aboard!) the S.S. Badger

Did ya know the Great Lake port town of Ludington is home to the last working coal-fired steamship in the entire United States? The S.S. Badger passenger ferry—and floating National Historic Landmark!—sails its 70th season in 2023, with up to 600 passengers and 180 vehicles making the “shortcut” across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, daily in season. How best to while away the four-hour cruise? Sipping a decked-out Bloody Mary and joining your travel mates for a convivial round of Badger Bingo.

SS Badger at sunset

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Follow a Beacon to the Beach

Whether it’s a lunchtime climb or a sunset stroll, Ludington’s two historic lighthouses beg to be explored. The lovely little 1924 Ludington North Breakwater Light in Stearns Park is accessible via a half-mile walk down the pier, and boasts a bright green glow from its tower. This downtown light is open seasonally (May 23–Sept. 3) for both tours and tower climbs (an $8 donation gets you climbing to the top; $5 for students 17 and under).

Then head to Ludington State Park, where the payoff for a two-mile sandy hike to get to Big Sable Point Lighthouse is the lofty, black-and-white circa 1867 light with its inspiring views of Lake Michigan. Rising 112 feet off the shore, it’s the second tallest light on Lake Michigan’s eastern coastline and one of the oldest continuously working in the state. Big Sable is open seasonally (May 9–Oct. 22) and also offers visitors the chance to climb its 130 wrought-iron steps for $8, or $5 for students 17 and under. Inside the light, browse the gift shop and interpretive displays and enjoy a short video on the light’s fascinating history.

Note: A Michigan State Park Recreation Passport is required to enter Ludington State Park and can be purchased at the park entrance. Admission to the lighthouse is $5 adults; $2 children 12 and under, and children must be 40 inches tall to climb the lighthouse steps.

Family at Ludington Breakwater

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Ludington lighthouse at sunset

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Stroll the East Ludington Historic District

If you want to unlock the magic of our Northern Michigan coastal small towns, park the car, slip down the residential streets and close your eyes. Take in the scent of lilacs and old-fashioned tea roses, and imagine the era of the lumber barons, the old Victorian homes bustling with life—murmured conversation from sweeping front porches, lemonade served with the clink of glasses on a tray, the sound of laughter as children push wicker doll carriages down bumpy sidewalks.

Ludington visitors are welcome to stroll the streets and marvel at the stately old homes and buildings via the newly approved East Ludington Avenue Historic District. The district consists of 41 historic homes (65 buildings in all) in a five-block area of Ludington from Delia to Staffon streets, including a Carnegie library and the grand Mason County Courthouse, and flanked by lumber-baron strongholds (like the Cartier Mansion) as well as elaborate Queen Anne builds and handsome Prairie School–style homes. The best way to enjoy starts with a walking tour—look for signage at both ends to help call out district boundaries and highlights. To really revel in the past, spend the weekend in the district at one of the mansions-turned-lodging options: Cartier Mansion or Ludington House B&B.

Ludington House Bed and Breakfast

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Sip at an 1890s Saloon

In 1890s Ludington, Great Lakes sailors bellied up to the bar at Red Andrews Saloon, owned by Swedish brothers “Red” Andrew Johnson and Axel Johnson. Today, the late-Victorian building, home to Jamesport Brewing Co., is still a go-to spot for those in need of a cold beverage and a hearty meal. (The original bar, now restored, is a focal point in the banquet room.) Watch the tap list for a celebratory beer in honor of Ludington’s birthday: a session IPA, the Sess-Qui-Centennial.

What to order: Jamesport’s Jen Tooman loves these pairings: The Blueberry Wheat is “by far the most popular beer on the board,” Jen says. Pair it with a turkey goat cheese panini. If you’re craving fish & chips, sip a Kolsch. And Jen’s personal fave: The West Coast IPA and a bacon habanero burger.

More Ways to Explore Ludington’s History

Get Outside at Ludington State Park: This gorgeous 5,300-acre park has 25 miles of trails, seven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and four campgrounds. It’s also home to Hamlin Lake, the iconic 1867 Big Sable Point Lighthouse, a Lake Michigan Beach House built in 1935 by Camp Ludington Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members and three stone trail shelters done by the CCC.

Drive the Mason County Cultural Trails: These six self-guided driving tours highlight the region’s heritage and culture. Scan a QR code at each stop to learn about the location’s significance. Themes include agriculture, barn quilts, lumber heritage, maritime, music heritage and sculpture.

Tour the Mason County Research Center: This downtown welcome center is the ticket office and gift shop for the Mason County Historical Society’s two museums (Historic White Pine Village and Port of Ludington Maritime Museum) and houses the society’s research library and archives. Go behind the scenes and see how the team protects thousands of artifacts and archival documents. Tours are offered daily at 2 p.m. from Memorial Day thru Labor Day.

Visit the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum: Located in a restored 1934 U.S. Coast Guard Station, this interactive museum showcases Ludington’s maritime heritage, sharing the past with artifacts, photographs and voices of those who shaped the region.

Book a Historic Room: Built in 1903 by lumber baron Justus Stearns as Ludington’s first major hotel, Stearns Hotel has been greeting guests for more than a century. While updated substantially since then, Stearns remains true to its 20th-century heritage with a grand ballroom that continues to host weddings, holiday parties and celebrations. Or, stay at Ludington House Bed & Breakfast, a Queen Anne-style house built in 1878 that was the home of Antoine Cartier, a direct descendant of Jacques Cartier, the French navigator known as the first European to find and map Canada.

Ludington Maritime Museum.

Photo by Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Photo(s) by Todd & Brad Reed