20 Great Lakes Getaways | Midwest Living
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20 Great Lakes Getaways

From Minnesota to Ohio, towns along the Midwest's Great Lakes capture the summer vacation spirit. Here are some of our favorite Great Lakes getaways, with tips on exploring each one.

Charlevoix, Michigan

Families love Charlevoix, an easygoing beach town with a triple lakefront (Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix). visitcharlevoix.com

Five Fun Stops

1 The surprisingly quiet Fisherman's Island State Park encompasses a swath of Lake Michigan beach outside Charlevoix and is ideal for camping or picnics. michigandnr.com

2 Fantastic burgers, golden fries and creative specials make tiny, locally owned Roquette Burger Bistro a winner. Roquette Burger Bistro on Facebook

3 With curved roofs, deep eaves and cottagey stone walls, Mushroom Houses by native son Earl Young echo the Lake Michigan landscape and look like homes for fairy-tale creatures. Walking tours and self-guided driving tours available. charlevoix.org

4 Celeste Murdick's Fudge has been creating fudge on Charlevoix's Bridge Street since 1953. Try the classic chocolate. celestemurdicksfudge.com

5 Designed by local architect Young, the fieldstone Weathervane Terrace Inn overlooks Lake Michigan in the heart of Charlevoix. weathervane-chx.com

Chesterton, Indiana

This small Lake Michigan town offers easy access to the Indiana Dunes, plus tempting new lodging and dining options.

Five Fun Stops

1 Indiana Dunes State Park (pictured) draws visitors with its spectacular sand beach, plus interesting nature trails along the dunes and surrounding areas. in.gov/dnr

2 Small-town goodness is a main ingredient in all of Red Cup Cafe & Deli's homemade baked items, sandwiches and soups. Red Cup Cafe & Deli on Facebook

3 Chesterton's European Market attracts up to 150 vendors offering fresh produce, plants, artisanal breads and more each Saturday from May through October. chestertonseuropeanmarket.com

4 Near the lake, you'll find the amenities of a vacation rental with the flexibility of a hotel at the new Dunes Walk Inn. duneswalkinn.com

5 Creative burger varieties and delicious desserts make tiny Octave Grill worth multiple visits. Octave Grill on Facebook

Petoskey, Michigan

Set on a hill above Little Traverse Bay, Petoskey is a postcard-pretty town full of historic cottages and high-end shopping. (800) 845-2828; petoskeyarea.com

Five Fun Stops

1 The Little Traverse Wheelway bike trail (pictured) follows the Lake Michigan shore from Charlevoix 26 miles north to Harbor Springs. (231) 348-8280; trailscouncil.org

2 Sweeping Lake Michigan views and a sophisticated yet familiar menu have made Twisted Olive Cafe a welcome arrival on the dining scene. (231) 487-1230; twisted-olive.com

3 Victorian charm at the sprawling Stafford's Bay View Inn draws couples and girlfriends for memorable stays along the shore. (231) 347-2771; staffords.com

4 Housed in a 120-year-old church, Crooked Tree Arts Center has been home to northwest Michigan's cultural development for almost half a century, offering art exhibits, classes, and dance and music performances. (231) 347-4337; crookedtree.org

5 In Bay Harbor's marina, choose among 60-plus beer varieties in the fun, faux-nautical saloon Knot Just a Bar. (231) 439-2770; knotjustabar.com

Saugatuck, Michigan

This Lake Michigan shore town boasts more than 40 art galleries and outstanding beaches. saugatuck.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Long sandy beaches and dunes more than 200 feet tall draw nature enthusiasts, bird-watchers and hikers to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. michigan.org

2 Take thrilling rides up and down the steep dunes bordering Lake Michigan with Saugatuck Dune Rides (pictured). saugatuckduneride.com

3 Oval Beach has been recognized as one of the world's best beaches for its wide, sandy shore and clear water, but be sure to check out other area beaches as well. saugatuck.com

4 The southwest Michigan farm-to-table Delicious Drive Culinary Tour takes visitors to farms and foodie hotspots. hungryvillagetours.com

5 Saugatuck's Belvedere Inn features 10 guest rooms in a restored 1913 mansion; the window seat in the third-floor Windsor Room invites curling up with a book after a long day at the beach. thebelvedereinn.com

Door County, Wisconsin

Roughly 75 miles long and 10 miles across, the Door Peninsula offers more than 300 miles of shoreline to explore, along with charming small towns such as Ephraim, Fish Creek, Egg Harbor and Sister Bay. doorcounty.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Enjoy Door County islands and waters on a Shoreline Boat Cruise. shorelinecharters.net

2 A loyal theater community and enthusiastic summer audiences have made Peninsula Players Theatre an institution for more than 70 years. peninsulaplayers.com

3 White Gull Inn boasts one of the best-known fish boils: part dinner, part theater, all delicious. whitegullinn.com

4 The historic Eagle Harbor Inn offers both spacious whirlpool suites in cottages as well as nine bedrooms in a traditional B&B. eagleharborinn.com

5 Hiking, biking, boating, swimming, fishing, camping, golf, a nature center and the historic Eagle Bluff lighthouse are among the highlights of Peninsula State Park (pictured). dnr.wi.gov

St. Joseph, Michigan

This Lake Michigan town is revitalizing many of its historic buildings. Within an easy walk of the beach, downtown St. Joe is a popular spot to while away a summer afternoon. swmichigan.org

Five Fun Stops

1 Catch a concert, learn to draw, or view art at the turn-of-the-20th-century Box Factory for the Arts. boxfactoryforthearts.org

2 Head to Schu's for great burgers and potato soup enjoyed with a side of amazing views of Lake Michigan. schus.com

3 The restored indoor carousel (pictured) at Silver Beach Center brings the charm of a classic amusement park ride to a new generation. silverbeachcarousel.com

4 Caffe Tosi prides itself on good coffee and local produce; we loved the fresh bread. caffetosi.com

5 Guests at The Boulevard Inn & Bistro enjoy a French-influenced bistro with a spectacular wine list. Some guest suites have lake views. theboulevardinn.com

Duluth

As the gateway to Minnesota's North Shore vacationland, Duluth lures visitors who come for outdoor adventure, the glamour of 1900s-era lumber-boom mansions and breathtaking views of Lake Superior. visitduluth.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Explore themed gardens and climb the five-story tower at Enger Park Tower overlooking Duluth. engertowerduluth.com

2 Check out the freshwater critters (gigantic sturgeon, otters, trout) at the two-story Great Lakes Aquarium. glaquarium.org

3 Historical elegance melds with modern-day luxuries at the newly restored A.G. Thomson House Historic Bed and Breakfast, a 1909 Dutch Colonial. thomsonhouse.biz

4 At Valentini's Vicino Lago, you can eat breakfast bruschetta on a patio overlooking Lake Superior, grab a picnic for romantic lunches in the Leif Erikson Rose Garden next door, or linger over wine and from-scratch pasta for dinner. valentinisduluth.com

5 The beautiful Park Point Beach (pictured) lies on a sandy swath of land separating Lake Superior from the Duluth harbor. Watch massive 1,000-foot ore boats come and go or brave the lake's frigid temps and frolic in the water. visitduluth.com

Two Harbors, Minnesota

This small town about 27 miles northeast of Duluth provides a base for outdoor exploration along the North Shore. twoharborschamber.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Grand Superior Lodge offers lots of family activities, such as ATV rides and kayak tours. Chose from rooms, cabins or lakefront homes. grandsuperior.com

2 Superior Hiking Trail heads all the way north to the Canadian border; stop in the Two Harbors store and office for trail information and recommendations. shta.org

3 Everyone will tell you to stop for pie at landmark Betty's Pies. Everyone is right. bettyspies.com

4 Local specialties star at the Vanilla Bean Cafe, where you might have Norwegian crepes with blueberries and raspberries for breakfast, wild rice fish chowder for lunch or pan-fried lake trout for dinner. thevanillabean.com

5 Highlights of Gooseberry Falls State Park (14 miles northeast of Two Harbors) include an outstanding visitors center, waterfalls (pictured) and easy trails. It's one of eight fabulous state parks along the North Shore. gooseberryfalls-statepark.com

South Haven, Michigan

Shops and restaurants abound in the historic downtown area, while a paved trail with signs recounting the village's history follows the waterfront to the Michigan Maritime Museum, home of an 1810 replica sloop. southhaven.org

Five Fun Stops

1 Buy a box of fresh blueberries or pick your own at DeGrandchamp Farms, one of Michigan's largest blueberry farms. degrandchamps.com

2 Flower gardens surround Yelton Manor B&B, across the street from the beach and within a 10-minute walk to downtown shops and restaurants. yeltonmanor.com

3 At the top of a hill overlooking Lake Michigan, indulge in candy, cheesecake, fondue and ice cream at South Haven Trading Company. South Haven Trading Company on Facebook 

4 Indulge in sundaes, shakes, malts and waffle bowls at South Haven's throwback Sherman Dairy Bar. shermanicecream.com

5 Sail across the waters of Lake Michigan on Friends Good Will, a replica 1810 square topsail sloop (pictured). The ship travels from the Michigan Maritime Museum. michiganmaritimemuseum.org

Bayfield, Wisconsin

Lake Superior adventure awaits visitors to this town on the Bayfield Peninsula. bayfield.org

Five Fun Stops

1 Walking tours at Bayfield Heritage Tours offer insights into town history and its settlers. bayfieldheritagetours.com

2 Explore the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, a 21-island archipelago in Lake Superior known for its rocky hiking trails, lighthouses and sea caves. nps.gov/apis

3 Snuggle under duvets in all-white rooms with whirlpools and windows facing Lake Superior at the Bayfield Inn. bayfieldinn.com

4 Pick up a map at the visitors center and drive to any of 14 orchards, including Bayfield Apple Company and Blue Vista Farm, for fresh fruit, baked goods and locally made products. bayfield.org

5 Stop at Wild Rice Restaurant for a five-star dining experience; the prosciutto-wrapped beef with mascarpone mashed potatoes is a best seller. wildricerestaurant.com

Mackinac Island, Michigan

A short ferry ride transports visitors to famously Victorian and car-free Mackinac Island. mackinacisland.org

Five Fun Stops

1 Fort Mackinac and Mackinac Island State Park are part of Mackinac State Historic Parks, a collection of museums and parks in the Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island region. mackinacparks.com

2 Family-owned Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, a century-old company, provides horse-drawn buggies for a leisurely tour of the island. mict.com

3 Enjoy a waterfront setting, gourmet dining and elegantly appointed lodging at Hotel Iroquois. iroquoishotel.com

4 A comfortably casual restaurant, Millie's on Main serves well-prepared, locally sourced cuisine in a bistro setting. (906) 847-9901

5 Stay at—or at least visit—the Grand Hotel (pictured), a glorious Victorian-Era landmark, with its purportedly world's-longest 660-foot front porch overlooking the straits. grandhotel.com

Lake Erie shore, Ohio

Sandy beaches, coastal wetlands and a wealth of attractions draw visitors to Ohio's Lake Erie towns and islands. shoresandislands.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Cedar Point Amusement Park/Resort (pictured) in Sandusky has a mix of modern thrill rides (17 roller coasters!) and old carnival classics. cedarpoint.com

2 Attractions at Kelleys Island include the state park (for the rental yurts and fabulous beach), fishing spots and Victorian B&Bs. By ferry, 20 minutes from Sandusky or Marblehead. kelleysislandchamber.com

3 The bird-watching enclave of Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, 25 miles east of Toledo, has walking trails and observation towers. friendsofmageemarsh.org

4 Explore the original late-19th-century wine cellar at Port Clinton's Mon Ami Restaurant and Historic Winery, sample from a huge selection of estate and hand-selected wines, then stay for lunch. monamiwinery.com

5 Rent a kayak and explore on your own, or sign up for a tour with Kayak the Bay Ltd. in Put-in-Bay. kayakthebay.net

Holland, Michigan

This shore town reflects its Dutch heritage in restaurants and attractions. In the spring, Holland hosts one of the nation's largest flower festivals, Tulip Time. holland.org

Five Fun Stops

1 At Windmill Island Gardens, a 250-year-old working windmill towers above a garden-filled 36-acre island. cityofholland.com

2 Holland's favorite night spot, New Holland Brewing Company, serves award-winning beers and creatively topped pizzas. newhollandbrew.com

3 Eight miles west of Holland, Holland State Park has an expansive beach, great lighthouse views and access to Mount Pisgah's towering sand dune. michigandnr.com

4 Visitors stop at DeBoer's Dutch Brothers Bakery to pick up fresh breads and buttery kraklingen cookies or to nosh on pigs-in-a-blanket and pea soup. deboerbakery.com

5 CityFlatsHotel, one of the world's few LEED-certified hotels, sets a sleek tone, with ecofriendly decor, walk-in showers and tall windows. cityflatshotel.com

Grand Marais, Minnesota

This onetime fishing village between the North Woods and Lake Superior draws both outdoorsy types and a large community of working artists. visitcookcounty.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Learn basket making, canoe building, knitting and much more at the wonderfully wholesome North House Folk School (pictured). Classes offered year-round. northhouse.org

2 Angry Trout Cafe, a little fish restaurant with a big reputation throughout Minnesota, serves fresh, flavorful Lake Superior fish grilled, fried or in chowder. angrytroutcafe.com

3 Stay in sleek lakeside condos with fabulous Lake Superior views at East Bay Suites. eastbaysuites.com

4 Explore the region's Gunflint Trail—a 55-mile-long road running from Grand Marais to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness—and stop at the Chik-Wauk Museum and Nature Center, with exhibits on the trail and the area's natural history. gunflint-trail.com

5 Loon Lake Lodge, one of the Gunflint Trail's best-kept dining secrets, serves up classic resort charm and hearty fare in a small dining room. visitloonlake.com

Charlevoix, Michigan

Families love Charlevoix, an easygoing beach town with a triple lakefront (Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix). visitcharlevoix.com

Five Fun Stops

1 The surprisingly quiet Fisherman's Island State Park encompasses a swath of Lake Michigan beach outside Charlevoix and is ideal for camping or picnics. michigandnr.com

2 Fantastic burgers, golden fries and creative specials make tiny, locally owned Roquette Burger Bistro a winner. Roquette Burger Bistro on Facebook

3 With curved roofs, deep eaves and cottagey stone walls, Mushroom Houses by native son Earl Young echo the Lake Michigan landscape and look like homes for fairy-tale creatures. Walking tours and self-guided driving tours available. charlevoix.org

4 Celeste Murdick's Fudge has been creating fudge on Charlevoix's Bridge Street since 1953. Try the classic chocolate. celestemurdicksfudge.com

5 Designed by local architect Young, the fieldstone Weathervane Terrace Inn overlooks Lake Michigan in the heart of Charlevoix. weathervane-chx.com

Beaver Island, Michigan

A two-and-a-half-hour ferry ride from Charlevoix carries visitors northwest across Lake Michigan to a remote island as relaxed as any in the Caribbean. beaverisland.org

Five Fun Stops

1 Try the fresh Michigan blueberry pancakes at the Dalwhinnie Bakery and Cafe. mcdonoughsmarket.com/dalwhinnie

2 Overnight in the cozy log Shanoule Bed and Breakfast in the center of Beaver Island. shanoule.com

3 Owner of Beaver Island Ecotours, Eric Myers leads custom group excursions. Whether you’re into birdwatching, photographing landscapes, learning about endangered plant life or just seeing the island, he’s happy to oblige. (231) 448-2194; beaverislandecotours.com

4 Stoney Acre Grill serves fresh-caught whitefish and Michigan produce. stoneyacregrill.com

5 The Emerald Isle Hotel offers comfortable, no-frills rooms near downtown St. James. emeraldislehotel.com

New Buffalo, Michigan

A standout beach, boutique hotel, and easy access to inland fruit farms and wineries distinguish this Lake Michigan town. harborcountry.org

Five Fun Stops

1 The 55-room Harbor Grand Hotel encourages indulgence; enjoy 24-hour Ben and Jerry's ice cream delivery, free beach towels and beachside lounge chairs. harborgrand.com

2 The lighthouse and grassy dunes at New Buffalo City Beach create a scenic backdrop that makes this stretch of sand a cut above the rest. newbuffalo.com

3 The legendary ice cream shop Oink's Ice Cream and Yogurt (pictured) is the signature stop when you need a cool retreat from the beach. oinksicecream.blogspot.com/

4 Visitors to Lemon Creek Winery and Fruit Farm (22 miles northeast) can sample wines or enjoy the you-pick apples, berries and peaches. lemoncreekwinery.com

5 Cruise through towns with beautiful beaches, quaint shops and historic attractions along Red Arrow Highway. harborcountry.org

Traverse City, Michigan

Visitors will love the bustling, foodie-fueled restaurant scene, as well as sparkling waters and relaxing beaches. traversecity.com

Five Fun Stops

1 You'll find public beaches all along the shore, but Clinch Park, a 1,500-foot beach and marina, is just a couple of blocks from downtown. traversecitymi.gov

2 Celebrate local ingredients with from-scratch, seasonal dishes at Trattoria Stella (pictured). stellatc.com

3 We love the combined luxurious B&B and top-notch winery and vineyard at Chateau Chantal, on the Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City. chateauchantal.com

4 Grand Traverse Pie Company just opened a shop downtown; the home-style fruit pies (pictured) are among the area's best. gtpie.com

5 Among the most popular of the region's many farm markets, Gallagher's Farm Market and Bakery serves up an authentic country experience along with fresh cherries, baked goods and produce. gallaghersfarmmarkettc.com

Alpena, Michigan

One of northeast Michigan's bigger towns, Alpena borders Lake Huron and offers the top-notch Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center as well as a variety of dining options. alpenacvb.com

Five Fun Stops

1 Tucked in the cellar of a riverfront building in Alpena, The Cellar is a special-occasion gem serving pasta, seafood and meat dishes. thecellaralpena.com

2 Explore the rich (and often tragic) history of the Great Lakes' shipping industry at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center (pictured), part of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. thunderbay.noaa.gov/

3 A huge menu of healthy, flavorful sandwiches, wraps and salads makes Fresh Palate one of Alpena's best places to eat. (989) 358-1400; thefreshpalategourmet.com

Put on your explorer's cap and cross a bridge to Island Park and Wildlife Sanctuary, with trails, fishing docks and a surprising amount of wildlife, all in the middle of the Thunder Bay River. (989) 354-4158; michigan.org

5 Guests are made to feel like family at the North Bay Bed & Breakfast overlooking the New Presque Isle Lighthouse (18 miles north of Alpena). northbayinc.com

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio

Vintage boardwalk fun draws families to the summer resort town of Geneva-on-the-Lake, while the surrounding wine country offers upscale restaurants and fine wines to sample. visitgenevaonthelake.com

Five Fun Stops

1 The Lodge at Geneva-on-the-Lake, a resort near Geneva State Park, has contemporary country-inn appeal. A delightful 2-mile paved path links the lodge to the state park beach. thelodgeatgeneva.com

2 Patrons at Ferrante Winery and Ristorante sample hearty Italian dishes and wonderful wines made on-site, about 9 miles south of Geneva-on-the-Lake. ferrantewinery.com

3 A charming soda fountain and old-fashioned malts draw customers to Ree's Corner in downtown Geneva-on-the-Lake. reescorner.com

4 Try to visit South River Vineyard at sunset, when the views are spectacular. About 10 miles south of Geneva-on-the-Lake, this winery is housed in a classic, white-steepled church, where the sun streams into the tasting room through stained-glass windows. southrivervineyard.com

5 The Lakehouse Inn and Winery (pictured), one of the area's only wineries on the lake, features a glassed-in tasting room with great views of Lake Erie, as well as cottages, a B&B and restaurant. thelakehouseinn.com

Read more about exploring Great Lakes towns

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