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14 Best Cities and Towns Along Lake Michigan

| Updated Jun 16, 2023

Here are the best cities and towns to see all the way around breathtaking Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan touches four states and of all the eight states that touch the Great Lakes; Michigan – with 2,147 miles – has the most coastline.

To really appreciate the size of Lake Michigan, you need to be in the middle of it. It fills the horizon, as far as you can see in any direction, and is the only Great Lake entirely within the United States.

But first, a bit of fact and history…

The ice age strikes again; Lake Michigan was formed some 2.5 million years ago, just as with all of the Great Lakes. It is the:

  • 3rd largest Great Lake by surface area (22,404 square miles!)
  • 2nd largest by volume (1,180 cubic miles)
  • 6th largest freshwater lake on the planet.
  • Its deepest point is 923 feet.

Shared by four states, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. With its many glorious beaches, its shoreline is often referred to as “the third coast of the U.S.” after the Atlantic and Pacific.

The shoreline of Lake Michigan is home to the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world (more on that later) with more than 275,000 acres of dunes. And it may not be surprising that since it’s entirely within the U.S., it also has the most freshwater coastline of any U.S. state.

Who needs the oceans when you have glorious beaches, great swimming, fishing, and boating right here?

The Michigan Triangle

There is an area of Lake Michigan where unexplained happenings have left people scratching their heads that has been dubbed ‘the Michigan Triangle’ – similar to the Bermuda Triangle.

Such events have included unexplained ship disappearances and planes gone missing. North of the triangle near Traverse City, a strange, Stonehenge-like rock formation rests just below the lake’s surface. Some believe there is a correlation between this haunting rock formation and the disappearances.

Enjoy this video created by Discovery UK – all about it!

14 Notable Cities & Towns Along Lake Michigan (North to South)

There are so many wonderful places to visit along Lake Michigan but here are the most notable. We've conveniently listed them from North to South. And if you want some great tips on HOW to explore a new city — we got you covered, too.

Use this map to learn more about each stop along the way. Click on each number and explore even more.

Trip map created with Wanderlog, an itinerary planner on iOS and Android

1. Mackinaw City, MI

“Mack City,” as the locals call it (remember that weird spelling and pronunciation thing we talked about in our Lake Huron Fun Facts article), is situated on the south end of the waterway that joins Lake Michigan with Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge on I-75.

In the summer and fall, it’s a haven for vacationers heading to Mackinac Island. Its small downtown area is lined with shops, taverns, and tourists taking it all in.

Not only is this place known for its great beaches, but it also has the best fudge around. Try the Pancake Chef for breakfast.

2. Petosky, MI

lake michigan
You can find Petoskey Stones like this along the Lake Michigan beaches in Northern Michigan

As you head south on Highway 31, you’ll find this charming and very upscale resort community known for its natural beauty, Victorian homes, and Gaslight Shopping District.

Spend the day hunting for the famous Petosky stones, which are coral fossils washed ashore and when polished, are quite pretty. There’s a great State Park here, too.

3. Traverse City, MI

As we make our way down the northeastern shores of Lake Michigan on US-31, we hit this lovely lakeside town that is the gateway to the Sleeping Dunes National Lakeshore. It has all of the hallmarks of a great coastal town, with wonderful dining, shopping, cultural attractions, and delicious fudge shops!

Around the Traverse City area, vast cherry orchards thrive in the unique climate along the Lake Michigan coastline. There are many wineries here, too, especially on the Old Mission Peninsula, a narrow finger of land jutting out into the middle of Grand Traverse Bay.

4. Ludington, MI

lake michigan
Pere Marquette River Lighthouse at sunset.

This harbor town at the mouth of the Pere Marquette River is where we cross Lake Michigan on the lake ferry Badger going west, landing in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. In Ludington, there are numerous watery activities, where boating and fishing are just the beginning.

5. Manitowoc, WI

As we disembark here from crossing Lake Michigan, this city built 28 submarines for service in World War II. All told, more than 7,000 people worked around the clock, every single day for a year to build some of the best submarines in the Navy.

6. Two Rivers, WI

Just up the shoreline from Manitowoc, Two Rivers is a place of great historical significance. It is recognized by the Wisconsin State Historical Society as the REAL birthplace of the ice cream sundae.

Many other communities around the country have tried to claim that title. But the American language authority, columnist and author H.L. Mencken identified Two Rivers as the official birthplace of the sundae.

The claim is also supported by a 1929 newspaper interview in which the inventor recalls how the sundae came about.

7. Sheboygan, WI

14 Best Cities and Towns Along Lake Michigan 1

As we head further south along the western shores of Lake Michigan, Sheboygan is known as ‘the Malibu of the Midwest’. From breathtaking views of Lake Michigan and large sandy beaches to world-class sailing and premier charter fishing, this coastal community has a lot to offer.

The historic downtown district features unique shopping, dining, and entertainment that’ll satisfy the entire family. Sheboygan houses 34 beautiful parks!

8. Gibbsville, WI

Just 10 miles southwest of Sheboygan, we come to Wisconsin Cheese country. In the crossroads town of Gibbsville, the VanTatenhove family has been making Wisconsin cheese from happy cows for generations.

9. Milwaukee, WI

Following I-43 south near the western shoreline, Milwaukee is known for its breweries, many of which offer tours chronicling its role in the beer industry.

Overlooking the Menomonee River, the Harley-Davidson Museum displays classic motorcycles, including one of Elvis Presley’s. Nearby is the Milwaukee Public Museum, with its large-scale European Village and a recreation of old Milwaukee.

10. Chicago, IL

14 Best Cities and Towns Along Lake Michigan 2

The Windy City is a destination all its own, and it would be impossible to cover everything this great Midwestern metropolis offers. Suffice it to say that if you have a spare 4-7 days, you won’t be bored in Chi-town.

From great museums to the spectacular lake waterfront, to the best shopping and definitely the best pizza on the planet, it’s all here.

11. Michigan City, IN

Head east out of Chicago and around the bottom of Lake Michigan into Indiana, and you come across this great town on the south shore.

The Old Lighthouse Museum has exhibits on local maritime history and shipwrecks and offers tours of the nearby 1858 Michigan City Lighthouse. Washington Park has a rock garden and gazebo, plus a beach.

Washington Park Zoo is home to tigers, wolves, alligators, and grizzly bears. The grand Barker Mansion is a 19th-century merchant’s home.

12, 13, 14. Grand Haven, South Haven, and Saugatuck, MI

Right on Lake Michigan’s southeastern shore, this series of welcoming beach towns all have trendy shops and restaurants just a couple blocks east of the lake and make for a nice place to spend an afternoon.

Mike and Jennifer's Great Lakes Shoreline Tour (U.S. Side)

14 Best Cities and Towns Along Lake Michigan 3

Instead of the usual 7 Days that some of our other guides can be done in, with this one, we’re suggesting that you budget more time. This is why we are calling it a “Tour” instead of a 7-Day Guide! There are 86 pages in this new ebook.

In this new Great Lakes Shoreline Tour we cover in detail:

  • Notable U.S. Cities/Towns along each Great Lake (US side) like Watertown, Grand Island, Geneva-on-the-Lake, Vermillion, Mackinaw City, and so many more!
  • What to See/Do Around EACH Lake: Ocqueoc Falls Scenic Site, Les Cheneaux Islands, Antique Boat Museum, and many, many more places, including BONUS side trips!
  • And good Campgrounds for each Lake (US side) – at least 4 or 5 for EACH Lake! With all the info you need to set up reservations.

Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-11-11

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

2 Responses to “14 Best Cities and Towns Along Lake Michigan”

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