Michigan's Best Three Beach Towns

Summer is prime time to take advantage of three waterfront Michigan towns brimming with innovative cuisine and winning wineries, plus endless water views.

Loving Lake Michigan

Photo: Brooke Slezak

Loving Lake Michigan

We've tapped into a trio of Michigan towns--naturally beautiful Empire, bustling Traverse City, and artsy Suttons Bay--that locals describe as their own private paradise filled with artisanal food, shoreside boutiques, and breathtaking scenery. Here's your guide to the new, the delicious, and the local secrets to be found in this dynamic corner of the state.

Empire, Michigan

Photo: Brook Slezak

Empire, Michigan

Empire sits at the heart of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore--a national park with 35 miles of Lake Michigan coastline, 400-foot dunes, hiking trails, scenic overlooks and some of the best beaches in the state. The low-key bike paths and self-guided road trips make this area easy to navigate.

Exploring Empire

Photo: Brooke Slezak

Exploring Empire

On the opposite side of town, the expansive Empire Beach is a quiet, well-kept insider's haunt. Seek out downtown's Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak to rent stand-up paddleboards and surfboards for when the wind whips up those freshwater waves.

Where to Rest Up

Photo: Courtesy of Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast

Where to Rest Up

The Cottonwood Inn Bed & Breakfast offers all the coziness you'd expect from a century-old farmhouse, with rambling porches and, in some rooms, antique iron beds. It's just a short walk from Empire Beach. Rates start at $120; 231/326-5535 or thecottonwoodinn.com.

Where to Grab a Bite

Photo: Courtesy of The Manor on Glen Lake

Where to Grab a Bite

For delicious pizza and calzones, head to the Empire Village Inn, which is also the spot for live music and pool; 231/326-5101. For fine dining, The Manor on Glen Lake is a restored 100-year-old hotel and a local favorite for juicy steaks and fresh parmesan-crusted whitefish; 231/334-0150 or themanoronglenlake.com.

Traverse City, Michigan

Photo: Brooke Slezak

Traverse City, Michigan

Located on the souther coast of balmy Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City has emerged as a foodie destination with award-winning chefs and restaurants, and a strong cult following for local brews, vodka, and wine. Thanks to (relatively) mild falls and winters, the surrounding hills are home to more than 30 wineries and white-blossomed orchards that produce 75 percent of the nation's tart cherries.

Where to Rest Up

Photo: Courtesy of The Park Place Hotel

Where to Rest Up

Park Place Hotel has welcomed visitors since 1873. The 10-story tower, a short stroll from bustling Front Street, has 140 rooms and suites, some pet-friendly. Ask for an upper-level room facing the bay for a magnificent view of Lake Michigan. Rates start at $140; 231/946-5000 or park-place-hotel.com.

Where to Grab a Bite

Photo: Brooke Slezak

Where to Grab a Bite

Located on eclectic Front Street, Amical--French for "amiable"--lives up to its name by adding patrons' suggestions to its delicious menu. The European-style cuisine often uses local products such as porcine goodies from nearby Halpin Family Farms, sourced for a recent bourbon-glazed porch chop special. Snag a table at the outdoor patio or head to the back, where oversize windows offer views of the bay; 231/941-8888 or amical.com.

Suttons Bay, Michigan

Photo: Brooke Slezak

Suttons Bay, Michigan

Fifteen miles up the coast from Traverse City, a tidy marina of white boats sets the tone for the small town of Suttons Bay. The harbor has been a haven for boaters since the 19th century; today, families still picnic on the shore or walk the boardwalk around the marina. They also hit the historic Bay Theatre for independent, classic, and foreign films, and browse through the town's two dozen shops, where the goods are as whimsical as the brightly painted storefronts.

Where to Rest Up

Photo: Courtesy of Black Star Farms

Where to Rest Up

Back Star Farms is part inn, part winery, part creamery--all nestled on a hillside overlooking barns and pastures. On the property, Leelanau Cheese Company's aged raclette is made with milk from local cows--you can watch the process through picture windows in the winery tasting room. High-season rates for the eight rooms start at $295; 231/944-1251 or blackstarfarms.com.

Where to Grab a Bite

Photo: Courtesy of Martha's Leelanau Table

Where to Grab a Bite

European café Martha's Leelanau Table offers plenty of fresh options for breakfast and lunch, and--new this year--a very affordable early-bird prix fixe; 231/271-2344 or marthasleelanautable.com. Boon's Prime Time Pub serves whitefish brought in daily from the docks of nearby Fishtown, and the fresh-ground burgers pack some heat with mixed-in dice jalapeños by request; 231/271-6688 or boonesprimetimepub.com.

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