The Ultimate Guide To West Michigan
West Michigan, hugging the shoreline of Lake Michigan, is home to a diverse array of spectacular natural landscapes & quaint beach towns!
The western part of Michigan often referred to as “West Michigan,” is a fascinating landscape featuring gorgeous sandy beaches, sand dunes, stunning lake vistas, and some of the best beach towns of the Nation!
Michigan, surrounded by four Great Lakes, is divided into the Upper Peninsula and the Lower Peninsula and is often referred to as Upper & Lower Michigan. The Upper Peninsula is surrounded by three great lakes – Lake Superior on the north, Lake Michigan on the south, and Lake Huron on the southeast, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan sits between three Great Lakes – Lake Michigan on the west, Lake Huron on its northeast, and Lake Erie on the southeast part of the state. The western part of Lower Michigan, situated along the shores of Lake Michigan, is referred to as “West Michigan” and is popularly known for its natural beauty and is a popular road trip and fall color destination!
West Michigan, though there are no official designations or boundaries, refers to the shoreline and cities located along the shores of Lake Michigan stretching from Benton Harbor in southwest Michigan to Petoskey, in the northwest section of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Lake Michigan, although it’s called a lake, is colossal and the third largest of the five Great Lakes of the US by area and is shared by four states – Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. However, some of the best features of Lake Michigan lies on its eastern shore, which is part of West Michigan!
Undeniably, Lake Michigan’s beautiful shoreline and beaches are West Michigan’s most popular attractions, but there’s a lot more to see and do in western Michigan!
West Michigan, featuring nearly 300 miles of stunning shoreline, is home to gorgeous sandy beaches, massive sand dunes, lighthouses, several state parks, and campgrounds and is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts! However, West Michigan is also home to several quaint beach towns, a few excellent museums, parks, and woodland areas, which are a must-see on a trip to West Michigan! However, like most of Michigan, West Michigan has snowy and long winters and is best visited during the summer and fall months.
Here is my ultimate guide to West Michigan, featuring essential trip-planning information, major attractions, West Michigan attractions map, things to do, and recommendations on hotels and restaurants in West Michigan!
Planning Your Trip To West Michigan
Visiting outside the winter & spring months, flying into Detroit or one of the regional airports, renting a car, and staying in the beach towns is the best way to explore West Michigan!
Best Time To Visit West Michigan: Though West Michigan is accessible year-round, due to the long and brutal winters in Michigan, winter and spring are not the best time for sightseeing, beach, and outdoor activities in western Michigan. Summer with warm weather is the best time to explore West Michigan, and fall, especially mid-September through mid-October, is the best time to see spectacular fall colors in West Michigan.
Time Required In West Michigan: With several beaches, state parks, sand dunes, quaint beach towns, gardens, and museums, I recommend spending a minimum of 5 days to see the major highlights of West Michigan. However, if you’re pressed for time, you could make multiple trips and see a few places on every trip, but make sure you see them all, as every attraction in western Michigan offers an unparalleled experience and has its own charm, and it’s quite challenging to pick one over the other!
Getting To West Michigan: West Michigan is accessible via a couple of international and regional airports, but exploring all of western Michigan does involve a good amount of driving. Alternatively, you could also take a train or bus to Grand Rapids, rent a car and then embark on your West Michigan road trip.
- Flight: Most people fly into Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), in Detroit, Michigan, and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD), Chicago, Illinois, which are served by several major airlines and are approximately 150 miles from West Michigan, depending on where you wish to start you venture. Alternatively, you could fly into Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR), Grand Rapids, Michigan, which is less than 50 miles from Lake Michigan’s shoreline.
- Train: Grand Rapids Amtrak Station, located at 440 Century Ave SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the major Amtrak station in West Michigan.
- Bus: Greyhound offers bus services to two cities in West Michigan – Benton Harbor and Kalamazoo, from where you would need to rent a car and drive to your desired destination in western Michigan.
Parking & Transportation In West Michigan: Parking isn’t a problem in West Michigan, as every attraction, including beaches, towns, and parks, offers onsite parking. Though a few counties and cities provide public transportation in West Michigan, I highly recommend renting a car when visiting western Michigan.
Lodging & Dining In West Michigan: While you may not find luxury resorts and boutique hotels near every attraction in western Michigan, there are quite a few good hotels and bread & breakfasts located close to all major attractions in West Michigan. Camping is also a popular activity in western Michigan, and there are several campgrounds along the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Though dining options may be limited in certain areas, especially inside a park or wilderness areas, you will find a decent amount of restaurants and eateries in the major cities in West Michigan. I have reviewed the lodging and dining options in West Michigan in detail in the later section of this post.
Things To Do In West Michigan
West Michigan Attractions Map
West Michigan, starting at Benton Harbor in the southwest and stretching all the way to Petoskey in the northwest on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, is home to 300 miles of stunning Lake Michigan’s shoreline lined with beaches, lighthouses, sand dunes, charming towns, and state parks. Most people fly into Detroit or Chicago and start their West Michigan road trip from the southern end, at Benton Harbor. However, there’s nothing wrong with starting from the Lower Peninsula’s northern section, at Petoskey, and making your way down to the southern area.
Here’re the must-see places on a trip to West Michigan, listed south to north!
Benton Harbor and its twin St. Joseph, separated by St. Joseph River, are two charming cities in southwest Michigan, featuring Silver Beach, a gorgeous sandy beach, St. Joseph North Pier Inner and Outer lighthouses, Jean Klock Park, Sarett Nature Center, Vineyards, and 20 miles south from Benton Harbor is the Warren Dunes State Park.
South Haven, located about 25 miles north of Benton Harbor, is a resort town popularly known for its sandy beaches but is also home to few other great tourist attractions, including Van Buren State Park, South Haven Lighthouse, Kal-Haven Trail State Park, Michigan Maritime Museum, Michigan Flywheelers Museum, orchards, and vineyards.
Saugatuck, located 20 miles north of South Haven, is another quaint beach town of West Michigan, famous for its Oval Beach, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Saugatuck Center for the Arts, & Bald Head Peak. Saugatuck Dune Rides, featuring buggy rides through Saugatuck Dunes, is one of the premier activities in Saugatuck & shouldn’t be missed!
Holland, located 10 miles north of Saugatuck on the shores of Lake Macatawa, is a lovely city founded by Dutch Americans featuring Dutch culture & heritage in the city’s architecture & attractions, including Windmill Island Gardens, Nelis’ Dutch Village, & internationally acclaimed Tulip Time Festival. Holland is also home to Holland State Park & Holland Harbor Light.
Grand Haven, about 20 miles further north of Holland, is one of the most popular beach towns of West Michigan known for its several attractions – Grand Haven State Park, Beach, Grand Haven Lighthouse, Grand Haven Musical Fountain, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Grand Rapids Art Museum, & John Ball Zoo.
Muskegon, merely 12 miles north of Grand Haven, is a historic town with one of the deepest ports in the Great Lakes and is popularly known as the “port city.” Muskegon is home to Pere Marquette Beach, Hoffmaster State Park, Muskegon State Park, USS LST 393, USS Silversides Submarine Museum, & Michigan’s Adventure, Michigan’s largest amusement park.
Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Silver Lake Sand Dunes
Silver Lake Sand Dunes, nearly 40 miles north of Muskegon, is one of the most famous dune recreational areas of West Michigan’s featuring about 2000 acres of sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. Silver Lake Sand Dunes is best explored by renting and driving OVR in its off-road vehicle recreational area or using Mac Wood’s Dune Tours.
Ludington, approximately 22 miles up north of Silver Lake Sand Dunes, is yet another fascinating town of West Michigan featuring a charming downtown and several captivating attractions, including Ludington State Park, Big Sable Point Lighthouse, North Breakwater Lighthouse, Amber Elk Ranch, and Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
Traverse City, nearly 100 miles north of Ludington, is one of the premier tourist destinations in the northern section of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Traverse City, tucked between East & West Grand Traverse Bay, is a picturesque beach town featuring a vibrant Downtown, beaches, Mission Point Lighthouse, state park, and the famous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
Charlevoix, situated further 50 miles north of Traverse City, is a small but charming and picturesque town located between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, featuring a lively downtown, Fisherman’s Island State Park, Charlevoix South Pier Light Station, Michigan Beach Park, Mushroom House Tours, and Castle Farms, a fairytale castle.
Holland, 10 miles north of Saugatuck on the shores of Lake Macatawa, is a lovely city founded by Dutch Americans featuring Dutch culture & heritage in the city’s architecture & attractions, including Windmill Island Gardens, Nelis’ Dutch Village, & internationally acclaimed Tulip Time Festival. Holland is also home to Holland State Park & Holland Harbor Light.
Lodging & Dining In West Michigan
Unquestionably, West Michigan is a paradise for campers, but if you like the comfort of hotels, you will find quite a few great options in the many beach towns of West Michigan!
Campgrounds In West Michigan: There are several seasonal campgrounds in West Michigan, with most of them located in the several state parks lining the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Most campgrounds are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, but a few can be reserved online. You can find the entire list of West Michigan campgrounds and more details on the Michigan Water Trails website.
Hotels In West Michigan: While camping is very popular in West Michigan, if you prefer the comfort of a hotel room, you will have to stay in one of the beach towns or major cities in West Michigan. However, you may not find luxury and boutique hotels in every city in West Michigan, but there are quite a few good hotels and bread and breakfasts in the cities of – Benton Harbor, South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland, Muskegon, Ludington, Traverse City, and Charlevoix. Here’re my top picks for hotels in West Michigan –
- Hilton Garden Inn Benton Harbor
- Hampton Inn South Haven
- The Hotel Saugatuck
- Staybridge Suites Holland
- Delta Hotels by Marriott Muskegon
- Dunes Express Inn & Suites
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Ludington
- Hotel Indigo Traverse City
- Charlevoix Inn and Suites
Restaurants In West Michigan: There’re several excellent dining options in West Michigan, ranging from fine dining to casual lakeside eateries. Here’re my top picks for restaurants in the major cities of West Michigan, listed south to north starting at Benton Harbor –
- Benton Harbor: La Perla Produce Inc serving great Mexican Food & The Mason Jar Cafe for breakfast, lunch, and great cappuccino
- South Haven: Clementines for American fare and Captain Lou’s for seafood
- Saugatuck: The Southerner & The Butler both serving American fare in a relaxed lakeside environment
- Holland: Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant, a great waterfront restaurant serving American fare, and Crazy Horse Steak House, a great steak place with rustic decor
- Traverse City: Poppycocks serving American fare with live music, Apache Trout Grill, famous for their seafood, and Harrington’s By The Bay, also serving excellent seafood and steak with bay views
- Charlevoix: Charlevoix Pizza Company serving great pizza, and The Cantina – Tacos & Tequila, a great Mexican eatery
- Petoskey: City Park Grill, for a variety of cuisines and live music, and J W Filmore’s Family Restaurant for comfort food
Other Michigan Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To West Michigan, and I hope this will help you plan your trip to West Michigan. You can find other Michigan attractions in my Michigan Travel Guide.
Happy feeding your soul!
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