The Middle Coast: 5 Great Midwest Beach Towns

By Jeanenne Tornatore

Just because you’re hundreds of miles from the ocean doesn’t mean you can’t find postcard worthy coastlines dotted with beautiful beaches and charming towns.  From Michigan to Minnesota, you’ll find coastal communities that know how to make the most of their short summers and are well-equipped for week-long vacationers, from watersport rentals and charter fishing to boutique shopping and dining for all budgets.

Here are five picturesque Midwest beach towns worth checking out this summer:

1 – Petoskey, MI. Located on the shores of Lake Michigan’s beautiful little Traverse Bay, this town and surrounding shores have long been known as a resort area.  The varied architecture and local history make this a gem for history lovers. In fact, the entire area is a National Historic Landmark.  The town itself is peppered with quaint shops and culinary delights along its Gaslight Shopping District and there are plenty of lodging options, from cabins to hotels.  Numerous nature preserves and picture perfect sand beaches are plentiful whether you want to stay in town or venture to nearby communities such as Harbor Springs and Boyne City.

2 – Holland, MI. Just down the Lake Michigan coast is this equally charming town with European flavor stemming from its roots as a haven for Dutch immigrants in the 1800s. It offers all the charm of a quaint village, but with great shopping, dining and outdoor activities for everyone in the family.  The downtown has a historic, yet hip vibe – a combination of Victorian architecture and street performers. And the award-winning beaches are just minutes away, busy in the day with volleyball, sandcastle building and sunbathing and beautiful in the evening with stunning sunsets.

3- Lake Geneva, WI. If quintessential small town lake-life is what you’re seeking, this southeast Wisconsin retreat will serve you well. The beautiful lake is surrounded by elegant estates dating back to the 19th century and a 21-mile walking path with amazing views of both the water and the homes. It’s easy to fill your days with everything from zip-lining, horseback-riding, golfing, spectacular spas, unique shopping, cruising the lake, and relaxing on its family-friendly beaches.  Stay on the lake in a condo, downtown in a B&B, or at the area’s largest resort, The Grand Geneva, with it’s own indoor waterpark for a rainy day option.

 4 – Duluth, MN. This far north town is set on the largest freshwater lake in the world and they make the most of it.  Lake Superior is the final resting place of over 350 shipwrecks, making it the perfect destination for divers. If you’re looking for a great combo of urban retreat and outdoor paradise, you’ll find it here.  The town boasts hiking trails, rocking climbing, scenic drives, even secluded waterfalls. You’ll find boutiques, bookshops and eclectic dining throughout downtown, Canal Park and West Duluth. As for beachgoers, you can’t go wrong with Park Point beach for a true back-to-nature experience. The world’s longest natural sandbar, this strip of sand juts out 7 miles into the lake. And for superb views of this amazing body of water, take a leisurely 30-mile car ride down dramatic Skyline Drive, 600 feet above the shoreline.

 5 – Chicago, IL. Most visitors to the Windy City come for the history, culture, sports, food, shopping, and entertainment.  While its beaches may not be at the top of your list, they are not to be missed.  Spend a morning at the see-and-be-seen Oak Street Beach just steps from the historic Drake Hotel on Michigan Avenue or grab a cycle at one of the Divvy bike-share stations and explore the lakefront from the south shore all the way north to Montrose Beach with stops at Monroe Harbor and North Avenue along the way.  And check out the best view of the city – from the water – via a boat cruise departing from Navy Pier or charter your own boat at Belmont Harbor. Weekenders looking to stay close to the action and the water will find an abundance of options, including the W Lakeshore, The Drake and The Radisson Blu.