This Michigan beach town is easy to love

May 22, 2024

From the scenic sand dunes of its beloved state park to its charming local breweries, the town of Ludington has the makings of a quintessential summer getaway on Lake Michigan’s shores. Laid-back beach bonfires, epic sunsets and days spent playing in the Great Lake are just a few of the experiences that make Ludington easy to love—and hard to leave. 

S.S. Badger

Equidistant between Grand Rapids and Traverse City, you can reach this beach town via the intersection of U.S. Route 10 and 31, or take the maritime route on the S.S. Badger—an aptly named passenger ferry that sails daily across Lake Michigan from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Read on for how to plan a summer getaway everyone will love in Ludington.

Savor miles of Lake Michigan shoreline

Stearns Park is the city's largest beach, equipped with 2,500 feet of sandy shoreline and niceties like free parking, concessions stands, and picnic tables and grills. Its focal point is the landmark Ludington North Breakwater Light located at the end of the pier, open during the summer to visitors who want to climb to a stunning lake view at the top. On the fourth Thursday of the month from June through August, the park hosts a public Sunset Bonfire on the beach. Cozy up near the fire, listen to live music and watch a stunning west Michigan sunset over the crashing waves. 

Anglers can cast their lines for a good shot at catching salmon, trout and steelhead. No matter what your level of skill, chartering a fishing boat is one of the best ways to spend a relaxing day out on the water. Check out the Ludington Charter Boat Association for more information on finding a charter and captain.  

Stearns Park Beach

South of the beach near the marinas is Waterfront Sculpture Park. The park features nine bronze sculptures that relate to Ludington's history, a children's playground and a prime viewing spot to watch the S.S. Badger sail away in the morning and dock at night. The passenger ferry has been in service for over 70 years, and today the four-hour cruise includes family-friendly amenities like free movies, board games, a museum and "Badger Bingo." 

If you're headed to town with your pup, check out Buttersville Park. It's located on a peninsula parallel with the coast and hosts a dog-friendly beach known for attracting fewer human crowds, but plenty of happy, four-legged friends. Get in a game of fetch, splash around in the water and stretch out on the wide-open beach.

With Hamlin Lake's blue shores to its east, 7 miles of sandy Lake Michigan coast to its west and loads of hiking trails in between, Ludington State Park's 5,300 acres is a destination in itself. Climbing some of the park's miles of sand dunes is one of the more popular activities here. The Lighthouse Trail is a 3-mile trek that will lead you through rolling sand dunes to Big Sable Point Lighthouse, a beacon of the park. The lighthouse is open Tuesday–Sunday from May through October, and for $8 per person you can climb the 112-foot tower for a picturesque view of Lake Michigan from the top. 

Big Sable Point Lighthouse

The park features over 300 camp sites surrounded by the woods, dunes and water, plus the convenience of three concession shops. The Cedar Camp Store sells camping essentials like hats and bug spray and offers bicycle rentals for cycling through the park. Hamlin Lake Concessions is located near the boat launch and rents out equipment for the water adventure of your choosing: kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, row boats and pedal boats. Enjoy your morning coffee or grab an afternoon ice cream at the Lake Michigan Beach House. Originally built in 1935, the landmark building offers concessions, exhibits on the park's history and a relaxing place for beachgoers to fuel up and recharge before heading back out to the water. (Note: Ludington State Park will be closed for renovations September 2024 – July 2025.)

Dive into Ludington’s yesteryear

Learn more about the area's nautical past at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum. Formerly a Coast Guard station, this multilevel museum has exhibits on topics like the evolution of lighthouse optics; photographs by car ferry wheelsman Erhardt Peters, who documented life aboard the ferry for over 20 years; and shipwrecks that happened off the coast of west Michigan. The seasonal museum is open May 4 – October 19 this year, Tuesdays–Saturdays, and tickets start at $17 for adults.

Port of Ludington Maritime Museum

Step back in time with a visit to Historic White Pine Village. The pioneer village offers a glimpse of what life was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Old buildings, including former post offices, a schoolhouse, historic homes, a sawmill shed and more are on display. Be sure to stop by the former Pere Marquette Town Hall. Built in 1879 and moved to its current site in the 1970s, it now houses an ice cream shop—an ideal treat after an afternoon of learning.

Mason County—comprising Ludington, Hamlin Lake and other nearby communities—created interactive, self-guided cultural trails to highlight the significant historical and cultural parts of the area. There are six themed trails: Agricultural Trail, Barn Quilt Trail, Sculpture Trail, Lumber Heritage Trail, Music Heritage Trail and Maritime Heritage Trail. Download a trail's brochure and scan the QR code at each stop to learn more.

The "Spirit of Ludington," a highlight on the Sculpture Trail

The Ludington Area Center for the Arts (LACA) offers a lineup of art exhibits throughout the summer, including "Spring Migration" in May, which will showcase multimedia works depicting migratory birds; and "Scenes of Epworth" displayed July 12–27, presenting artwork of scenes around Epworth Heights, a summer resort located a couple miles north of town. LACA's West Shore Art Fair—an annual summer highlight—takes place in Rotary Park July 6–7 and features jury-selected fine artists across a myriad of disciplines. Peruse the artists' exhibits, enjoy live musical performances and, if you're visiting with the family, stop by the children's activity area. 

Sample local provisions

Ludington's charming downtown is centered around James Street and Ludington Avenue, where you'll find shops, bars and restaurants. If you're in search of a cool beverage, you’ll find just what you’re looking for at a few local craft breweries. 

One of Jamesport Brewing Company’s specialties is their blueberry wheat, typically topped off with a sprinkling of actual berries. They also offer a range of beers on tap, from a lightly hopped pilsner to a Scottish strong ale. Sip in their backyard beer garden, or as they refer to it the "Portside Garden," where dogs are welcome, cornhole awaits and views of the S.S. Badger can be enjoyed. They’ve got a tempting “Hoppy Hour” Monday through Friday from 4–6 p.m., when pints are $1 off.  

Just south on James Street is Ludington Bay Brewing Co., pouring brews with locally inspired names like "S.S. Badger Blue," a blueberry cream ale (Michigan is a major blueberry producer, in case that wasn’t clear­—to the tune of over 70 million pounds a year), and the "James Street Brown Ale."

On August 17, the 15th annual Suds on the Shore Craft Beer + Wine Festival will take place downtown in Rotary Park. Try local craft brews plus a variety of wines, ciders, meads and cocktails while enjoying live music. Tickets start at $50 per person and include entry, 10 drink tokens and a sampling glass. Guests must be 21 years or older to enter. 

For an on-the-go meal to bring to the beach, stop by the Cluck Bucket food truck. Open seasonally, their menu highlights include pulled chicken and house-made mac and cheese (which pair nicely with their original BBQ sauce) and fresh-baked pretzels with dips like bacon jalapeno mustard, beer cheese and Nutella. 

The Old Hamlin Restaurant is a local favorite that's been around for over 80 years. It's beloved for its all-day breakfast menu with classics like omelets, pancakes and French toast; plus steak dinners and hot sandwiches served on homemade bread.

A few miles north of downtown, you’ll find Stix, an entertainment center with a host of all-ages activities. Spend a full evening here dining in the nautical-themed restaurant or outdoor biergarten, trying to get in a few strikes at the bowling alley and catching some live music on the outdoor stage.

House of Flavors

End your nights on a sweet note with an ice cream at the House of Flavors. Classics like a banana split or hot fudge brownie sundae make an appearance on the menu alongside specialties like "The Original Pig's Dinner," including "vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and orange pineapple ice creams with a banana in a pig's trough and pineapple, strawberry, and chocolate toppings." All sundaes and "Pig's Dinners" are finished with a Michigan cherry on top. 

Ready to go? Start planning your trip to Ludington with these accommodation options

Related Offers Related Offers & More

More Deals & Tips

* Advertisement