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Exploring Michigan: America's Third Coast

5 minutes read Jun 07,2022
image of mackinac bridge in michigan

Everyone knows about the West Coast and East Coast of the United States, but did you know the Great Lakes region is often referred to the third coast? Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world with 3,288 miles of coast shared among four of the five Great Lakes. 

Your Guide to America's Third Coast

If you've never visited Michigan's beaches, Lake Michigan is a fantastic place to start. Below, we've put together our favorite Lake Michigan vacation spots, as well as a few inland treasures you can't miss.


Petoskey is located near the northernmost point of Michigan's lower peninsula and a short drive from the Mackinac bridge. This coastal city is known for its wide variety of activities including kayaking, paddle boarding, biking, and hiking.

Petoskey is also a geological hot spot where you can find the unique stones that share the same name. Petoskey stones are actually fossilized coral that were formed by glaciers long ago. You can find them up and down Lake Michigan's coastline, but the Petoskey area is famous for its abundance of these stones.

Downtown Petoskey is a fun place to visit for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The historic Gaslight district is full of older, unique homes that were converted into store fronts. There are more than 170 shops and restaurants to choose from.

At the end of your adventure, there are two fantastic options for lodging. The first is Jellystone Park™ Petoskey. This seasonal resort is perfect for family fun and is incredibly affordable. The second location is Sun Outdoors Petoskey Bay Harbor, a gated luxury resort with pull-through RV sites that provide full hookups, as well as plenty of amenities for proper rest and relaxation.

Traverse City

Traverse City is located on Michigan's northwestern coast on Grand Traverse Bay. This popular tourist location is home to miles of beaches, family-friendly attractions, and a lively downtown scene. Traverse City is also a popular wine and beer region with vineyards and breweries sprinkled throughout the area. 

Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula is where you'll want to spend most of your time if you're into wine tasting, and Mari Vineyards is one winery you don't want to miss. This popular spot features wine made from 100% estate-grown grapes, which is a rarity in the region.

Aside from wine tasting, our favorite thing to do in Traverse City is relax on the local beaches. Bryant Park beach is the perfect place to put your toes in the sand or take a dip in Lake Michigan.


Less than two hours south of Traverse City is the small coastal town of Ludington. It's a popular destination for vacationers from southeast Michigan, but people from all over the country come to visit Ludington throughout the year.

If you're looking for the best beach experience, check out Ludington State Park Beach, a popular and sprawling stretch of land that's great fun for all ages. You can park along the shoreline and walk down to the water where you'll have miles of beach to stretch out on.

After a long day in the sun, you'll want something to help you cool off. House of Flavors is just the place. Grab a scoop of ice cream from one of Ludington's most famous establishments.

Finally, if you're looking for a unique dining and entertainment experience, STIX offers everything in one package. There's an indoor dining room, a bowling alley, and an outdoor beer garden with games, a music venue, outdoor bars, and a permanent food truck serving barbecue fare.

Silver Lake

Just south of Ludington, you'll find Silver Lake. Surrounded by massive sand dunes, this famous lake is nestled next to a popular coastal retreat town that shares its namesake. The whole area is an outdoor playground.

Silver Lake State Park Off-Road Vehicle Area is one of the country's top off-road parks and offers one of the few sand dune experiences outside the East Coast. Rent a dune buggy or off-road vehicle (ORV) from Silver Lake Buggy Rentals to explore everything the dunes have to offer. You can also hike outside the off-road park if you prefer to see the sights by foot.

When you're finished with your adventure, Sun Retreats Silver Lake is the perfect place to unwind. This scenic resort features a playground, hot tub, pool, volleyball courts and much more.

Explore Michigan Beyond the Coast

Michigan is so much more than the Great Lakes, and there are plenty of other attractions you should visit. We've rounded up some honorable mentions below.

Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids has held the title of Beer City USA for more than 10 years with 40 breweries sprinkled throughout the city and surrounding area. If you're a craft beer lover, this is the place to be. It's also a hub for art and entertainment. Each year, an International independent art festival called ArtPrize descends on the city. Artists often construct larger-than-life sculptures and installations you have to see to believe.

South of Grand Rapids you'll find the perfect place to call home during your stay. Sun Retreats Gun Lake is an all-ages resort that's pet-friendly and packed with amenities including a pool and hot tub, snack bar, arcade, and clubhouse.

Metro Detroit

Metro Detroit refers to a large Metropolitan area outside of downtown Detroit and has more attractions and things to do than we could name in this guide. Notable cities to visit include Ferndale and Royal Oak where you'll find plenty of shopping, entertainment, bars, and some of the best restaurants in the area.

Just outside of Metro Detroit you'll find Sun Outdoors Kensington Valley, it's the perfect escape from city life when you are ready to relax and includes fishing, swimming, a recreation building and even a 2-hole golf course.

The destinations in our list are just the start when it comes to planning a Michigan vacation with Sun Outdoors, but we hope you're inspired to check out the Third Coast for your next getaway. Once you spend a few days soaking up the sun on Lake Michigan's beaches or exploring Michigan's top cities and towns, you just might make Michigan vacations an annual event.