Beach Day Trips in Michigan

Have some fun in the sun right in your own backyard by taking one of these beach day trips in Michigan.
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Luna Pier, south of Monroe, is the closest beach from downtown Detroit on our list. // Photograph by James Gardner

Many getaways up to about three hours from Detroit shine with sandy beaches ripe for waterside escapes where you can enjoy hours of Pure Michigan fun this summer.

Here are a few recommendations on the east side of the state from contributors to Michigan Blue, Hour Detroit’s sister publication and the state’s waterfront lifestyle magazine. Times listed are from downtown Detroit.

Luna Pier, 44 minutes

Photograph by James Gardner

Just off I-75 south of Monroe is a beautiful white-sand beach on Lake Erie that’s somewhat of a hidden gem.

“We don’t discourage anyone from coming here, and we enjoy visitors, but we don’t have any active advertising campaigns, either. It’s all just word of mouth,” says Luna Pier’s mayor, James Gardner.

Luna Pier is a tiny town 6 miles north of the Ohio state line, population 1,382. It’s one of those Michigan spots you just have to know about. There’s not much here — just Luna Pier beach, a nice walking/fishing pier, and a building that looks vaguely like a lighthouse. No fuss. No flair. Just gorgeous views of Lake Erie sunrises. The town isn’t really set up for overnight tourists, but day-trippers on a sunny summer day will find several charms, including a beach cafe with outdoor tables.

The red lighthouse building, built in 2012, makes for sweet photos, and it has restrooms and an outdoor shower. The Luna Pier Harbor Club Marina provides boat storage and dockage and is open to the public with a small bait shop.

The Luna Pier beach and pier are open year-round. To the south, Erie Marsh Preserve consists of restored wetlands off Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay, with 2.2-mile- and 5-mile-loop hiking trails.

— Ellen Creager

Lexington, 1 hour 20 minutes

Photograph courtesy of Lexington Blue Water Area

With scenic views, small-town charm, stunning sunrises, and warm hospitality, Lexington offers inviting opportunities for fun and relaxation. Whether you’re a foodie, a golfer, or a beach lover, there’s a little something for everyone in this historic fishing village.

Lexington State Harbor has a beautiful waterfront beach, boating, beach volleyball, and a fun playscape for kids. The harbor serves as a hub for biking, renting a pontoon, or taking a leisurely walk into town to visit the restaurants, gift shops, antiques stores, and ice cream parlors. For lunch or dinner, try Steis’s for pizza or Wimpy’s Place for a burger. Stops at the Lexington General Store or Oh Fudge Shoppe will round out your day.

On Friday nights during the summer, Music in the Park attracts locals and visitors who come armed with lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy outdoor concerts in Patrick Tierney Park, located at the harbor. With the free entertainment, food trucks, and splendid beach views, it’s a delightful way to unwind.

— Jamie Patrona Fabbri

Michigan’s Thumb Ride, 1.5-2.5 hours

The Thumb may not be the state’s most popular beach town destination, but the peninsula promises a quiet, scenic getaway with plenty of natural attractions. Three state parks preserve the Lake Huron shore, the southernmost, Lakeport State Park, located just north of Port Huron and the others, Port Crescent and Sleeper state parks, nestled on the tip of the Thumb.

Hiking trails at the three parks wind through unspoiled dunes. Shorebirds dive into the Lake Huron surf. White-tailed deer hide anxiously among the trees. And it’s not unusual to spy a Great Lakes freighter passing by.

— Amy S. Eckert

Bay City, 1 hour, 50 minutes

Bay City State Park features more than 1,000 feet of beach and over 2,000 acres of wetland woods and is a nationally recognized birding hot spot. It is also near Saginaw Bay’s abundant walleye fishing and downtown Bay City attractions.

One park trail leads to wildlife viewing at Tobico Marsh, among the Great Lakes’ largest wetlands. After sunning and swimming, hop on a bike to explore the trails that connect to the 17.5-mile Bay County Riverwalk Trail System.

The visitor center is home to many park programs and offers an electric tracked wheelchair and a free 80-amp electric vehicle charging station, which was a state park first.

Bay City, where Michigan’s Mitten attaches to the Thumb, was built on lumber. Giant pines from the surrounding lands were floated, sawn, stacked, and transported along the Saginaw River from more than 100 mills. Later, it was a hub for shipbuilding, including for the Navy during World War II, and automaking.

With a population of just about 33,000, Bay City has relaunched itself with tourism at its core.

With a great restaurant collection ranging from no-frills family-style eateries to Chicago chic, riverfront festivals and cruises, and a reputation as home to Michigan’s largest one-stop antiques store collection, the city offers all the makings of a great summer beach destination.

—Bill Semion

Port Austin, 2.5 hours

Photograph courtesy of the Port Austin Area Chamber of Commerce

Outdoors adventurers love the Port Austin community of about 700 residents because it sits along the sparkling blue waters of Lake Huron. Plus, its unique northern tip location along Michigan’s Thumb offers stunning views of both a Great Lakes sunrise and sunset.

“We’re a hidden gem with outdoor activities, arts and culture, and great restaurants, including fine dining, and places to stay. It has an ‘Up North’ feel that’s an easy drive to get to,” boasts Jill Babcock, Port Austin Area Chamber of Commerce officer and local business owner.

The most buzzworthy park for day or night is Port Crescent State Park. Its highlights include 3 miles of sandy beach shoreline, 5 miles of hiking trails, and a meandering 900-foot boardwalk that provides scenic views of Saginaw Bay. It’s also one of only seven dark-sky preserves in Michigan, with awe-inspiring starlit night skies.

Port Austin’s biggest year-round draw is its scenic waterfront and related recreation. The busy harbor area includes a marina, parks, a welcome center, and other amenities. The half-mile-long break wall is popular for walking, fishing, or just taking in the view. Check out Oak Beach County Park or McGraw County Park for more beach life.

The Port Austin Reef Light, first lit in 1878 and still operational today while it undergoes renovations by a nonprofit lighthouse association, shines as another local attraction. It’s located about 2.5 miles offshore from the Port Austin State Harbor, and pontoon boat tours to this grand “Castle on the Lake” can normally be scheduled for Saturdays during the summer season (unfortunately, 2023 tours are canceled due to construction). Those on the tour also can climb to the top of the seven-story lighthouse for panoramic views.

Kayaking has emerged as a big lure to town — especially trips to picturesque Turnip Rock, the delightful turnip-shaped rock formation near the Lake Huron shoreline.

—Tracy Donohue

For more Michigan lake articles, go to mibluemag.com.


This story is from the July 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.