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.

This article was featured in Vacation! Northern Michigan. Want more insider tips, road trips and the low-down on the best beaches and dining Up North? Get your copy.

A Beach for Everyone: Leelanau Beaches by Activity

Planning your beach day around an activity? From a day with the kiddos or skim boarders to cravers of solitude or rock hunters, Leelanau has a beach for you. Explore them all by activity below or keep reading for an overall view at the best Leelanau County beaches or Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Beaches.

Kids’ Pick: Bay Front Park, Northport

Located next to the marina in the heart of this beautiful Lake Michigan town, Bay Front Park has that storybook Gilmore Girls (read: Stars Hollow) feel. Find a swimming beach, picnic tables, playground, volleyball court and a gazebo. When they scream for ice cream head to The Tribune Ice Cream & Eatery around the corner.

Get there: From Shabwasung Street (M-22), turn right on Main Street, left on Bay Street.

For the Skim Boarders: North Bar Lake, Empire

Cool off in Lake Michigan after basking in the warm water of North Bar Lake, a small inland lake that drains into the big lake. The creek between North Bar and Lake Michigan was made for skim boarding, sand dams and general splashing around. Find restrooms at the paved parking area. National Park Pass required.

Get there: From Voice Road north of Empire take N. Bar Lake Road to Larahr Road.

North Bar Lake

Photo by Angela Brown

For the History Lovers: Glen Haven Beach, Glen Haven

Work a little maritime history lesson into your beach day at the Cannery Boathouse Museum and the Sleeping Bear Point Coast Guard Station (both a part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore). But no one would blame you if you skipped the history for the mile or so of sandy beach—with the Manitou Islands on the horizon—that runs from Glen Haven to Sleeping Bear Point. Find restrooms in Glen Haven and at the Coast Guard Station Maritime Museum. National Park Pass required.

Get there: From Glen Arbor, drive west on M-109, turn right onto Glen Haven Road.

Glen Haven Beach

Photo by Taylor Brown

Have a Beach Bonfire: Good Harbor Beach/Shalda Creek

Some folks call this the Copacabana of Sleeping Bear Dunes between Glen Arbor & Leland. This wide, sandy swath of beach can accommodate the crowds that flock to it. Views of the Manitou Islands on the western horizon and soft sand make this spot perfect for a sunset bonfire. Pro tip: Reuse a spot from a previous bonfire to keep the beach pristine. Wait, there’s more: Turn at the Bohemian Road beach and keep going until you see the sign for Shalda Creek, a slow-mo, shallow, sandy-bottomed dream that empties into Lake Michigan. Vault toilets. National Park Pass required.

Get there: Take either CR-669 (Bohemian Road) or CR-651 (Good Harbor Trail) from M-22, between Glen Arbor and Leland.

Good Harbor Beach

Photo by Taylor Brown

Rock Hunter’s Paradise: Van’s Beach, Leland

This beach gives you the best of all worlds: soft sand, views of the Manitou Islands, great rock hunting (including the coveted Leland Blue stone) and easy access to the food and drink hangouts of Leland and Fishtown. Find public restrooms at the Leland Marina.

Get there: Access at the west end of Cedar Street (turn at Van’s Garage).

Secluded Heaven: Christmas Cove, Northport

This half-moon stretch of sandy beach near the tip of the peninsula is a township park. A short downhill path leads to nirvana. Some parking and pit toilets are available.

Get there: From Northport, head north on CR-201 (N. Mill Street) for 1.5 miles. Jog left on N. Kilcherman Road until it turns into E. Christmas Cove Road. The beach is a mile down the way.

Best Beaches on Leelanau Peninsula

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 in 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!).

Daily Photo

Photo by Shea Haddad

Lake Michigan Beach Park in 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 cannonballs (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.

Glen Arbor Beaches with Public Access

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.

Suttons Bay Municipal Beach

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 Scoops-22 doesn’t hurt either.

suttons bay beach, beaches, leelanau county

Sleeping Bear Dunes 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 with views of Pyramid Point and Whaleback sand dune. Perfect location for an evening bonfire.

Sleeping Bear Dunes beaches

Photo by Taylor Brown

Glen Haven Beach

It isn’t often that you find a combination of a stunning beach and a 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 into 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.

Photo(s) by Taylor Brown