best small towns in michigan on lake michigan
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5 Best Small Towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan

You can find some of the best small towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan. They’re also some of the prettiest places in Michigan, so don’t miss!

best small towns in michigan on lake michigan

Michigan has some of the prettiest small towns in America. For atmosphere, you’ll want to visit the best small towns on Lake Michigan for a variety of activities in all seasons.

Our five recommendations for the best small towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan were all settled in the 19th century, and boast architecture, atmosphere, and great places to stay and eat. Read on for our tips and put them on your list!

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best small towns in Michigan - Saugatuck aerial view
Robert Moore [Public domain]

Location: West Michigan, on the Lake Michigan shoreline south of Holland.

Notable for: A celebrated artistic community since the 19th century, Saugatuck was prominent in the Arts and Crafts movement.  More than a dozen art galleries and many small, independent shops make this a tourist mecca.

Where to Eat: Grow for all day breakfast and lunch in a café style environment, The Southerner for traditional cuisine flavored in the American South, the Wild Dog Grille for pretty patio dining, and the Saugatuck Drugstore Fountain for authentic vintage fare.

Where to Stay: The Hotel Saugatuck – a new luxury hideaway B&B with 18 king suites, many with water views. The hip and historic Judson Heath Colonial Inn has eight guest rooms with garden or village views, full breakfast.

Use and book with our interactive map for other stay options!

Don’t Miss: Oval Beach – a tropics-caliber beach with sugar sand and sweeping sunset views. The Chain Ferry – an old-fashioned hand-propelled trip across the Kalamazoo River, the only chain ferry remaining in the United States.

saugatuck chain ferry best small town on lake michigan
Parkerdr [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]


aerial view of leland best lake michigan town
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown [Public domain]

Location: Western Leelanau County on the Lake Michigan shoreline north of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Notable for: A thriving 19th century commercial fishing center on the site of a former Ottawa village located adjacent to a natural fish ladder, turned elite summer resort served by steamship traffic.

Where to Eat: Fish is what you’re here for and several places in town know just how to do it. Try The Riverside Inn’s Gallic-influenced menu for a special occasion, Village Cheese Shanty for box lunches,  and Carlson’s of Fishtown for specialty fresh and smoked fish to take home.

Where to Stay: The Leland Lodge – family owned and operated next to the golf course with its own Bogey’s 19th Hole restaurant on site. The Whaleback Inn – a classic Northern Michigan experience on Lake Leelanau.

Use and book with our interactive map for other stay options!

Don’t Miss: Fishtown – the historic fishing village and wharf area preserved by a dedicated non-profit. A day trip to South Manitou Island will take you on a 90-minute ferry ride where you can enjoy a lighthouse tour and a beach hike next to a shipwreck.

fishtown area of leland in winter
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Bay View

bay view chapel
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (]

Location: just east of the city of Petoskey on US 31

Notable for: A 19th century community modeled on the Methodist Camp Meeting concept, with the Chautauqua movement incorporated. Consisting of more than 30 community-owned buildings and about 440 residential “cottages,” Bay View is famous for its Eastlake, Queen Anne, Stick and Shingle Style architecture, with its buildings dating from 1875 – 1900. The entire community is on the National Historic Register.

Where to Eat: If you’re not going to eat at the fine restaurants located in your vintage hotel (see below), try The Side Door Saloon for great bar and grill fare, or The Palette Bistro, which offers Mediterranean flair.

Where to Stay: For a vintage experience, book a stay at Stafford’s Bay View Inn (check out the murder mystery weekend options in the fall) or The Terrace Inn and 1911 Restaurant, both within the community. A mile away, in downtown Petoskey, is Stafford’s Perry Hotel, which dates from 1899 and has 75 guest rooms. Or, try the Gingerbread House for a B&B experience in a historic rooming house.

bay view cottages best small lake michigan town
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (]

Use and book through our interactive map for accommodations!

Don’t Miss: The Bay View Music Festival – the oldest continuous music festival in North America, since 1886, with a wide variety of options for various musical tastes. Wander through the Bay View Association to enjoy the architectural riches and read the history of the buildings.


chicago club in charlevoix
Bobak Ha’Eri [CC BY 3.0 (]

Location: Southwest of Petoskey on US 31 along the Lake Michigan shoreline.

Notable for: A late 19th century resort developed by the Chicago-based First Congregational Church, and expanded with the advent of rail service and Lake Michigan passenger liners around the turn of the 20th century. The Loeb family, founders of Sears, Roebuck & Company, built an experimental farm here, and Charlevoix was popular with Chicago gangsters during Prohibition.

aerial view of charlevoix
User:My name [CC BY 3.0 (]

Where to Eat: For breakfast and brisket BBQ, check out Smoke on the Water. Sandwich and burger fans will want to visit Scovie’s Gourmet. Terry’s Place is the number one rated restaurant in town and you’ll not be disappointed.

Where to Stay: Weathervane Terrace Inn is an historic, romantic hotel centrally located. Charlevoix House offers a B&B experience in the heart of town.

Use and book through our interactive map for accommodations!

Don’t Miss: The Mushroom House Tour – 28 magical structures designed by Earl Young in a storybook style. Castle Farms Guided Tour – the restored 1918 experimental farmhouse modeled after stone buildings in Normandy. Now a premier wedding venue and home to Michigan’s largest outdoor model railroad and a WWI museum.

mushroom house in charlevoix
Kathleen Conklin from Falls Church, USA [CC BY 2.0 (]


red lighthouse in manistique small town on lake michigan
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Location: On Lake Michigan’s North Shore on US2 in Schoolcraft County, Upper Peninsula

Notable for: Nicknamed the “Emerald City” after the nearby Kitch-iti-kipi springs.

aerial view of manistique
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown [Public domain]

Where to Eat: For waterfront dining, The Upper Crust gets top marks. We like the vintage speakeasy atmosphere at Tap 21. Try the Cedar Street Café for an outstanding breakfast in a quaint atmosphere.

Where to Stay: Top rated Quality Inn gets good reviews, but our surprise preference is the Econolodge.

Don’t Miss: Kitch-iti-kipi – Michigan’s largest freshwater spring, also known as the “Mirror of Heaven.” The Manistique Boardwalk and River Walk is a lovely shoreline stroll with informational signage and views of the famous red lighthouse.

kitch-iti-kipi spring near manistique
Doug Coldwell [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]

If you enjoyed this post on the 5 Best Small Towns in Michigan on Lake Michigan, you may want to check out 10 Fun Things to Do in Silver Lake, Michigan – another favorite area with dunes right on Lake Michigan.

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  1. The MACKINAC Bridge is yOUR entry into a better place…the SMALL town of ST. IGNACE (350 years young) has a view of Thee Bridge & a view of The Straits of MACKINAC…including MACKINAC ISLAND. The affordable UP has MANY opportunities to enJoy.

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