Beaches, brew pubs, ice cream. These are all you could ever want in a family vacation and is exactly what we found on our latest trip to the Lake Michigan resort town of Ludington. To be quite honest, we hadn’t heard much about Ludington before our visit, and now after visiting, I am reluctant to share my little secret. But I can’t resist; Ludington has become our favorite Lake Michigan beach getaway, and I think everyone deserves to know! Here’s why you’ll fall in love with this charming town.
Easy to get to
Located just 240 miles north of Chicago, mostly by freeway, it’s a doable weekend road trip. You can also opt for the scenic route along Lake Michigan passing along other beach towns. If you prefer to get there quicker, it’s just a one-hour flight to Manistee, the next town north of Ludington. Want a real adventure? Take a car ferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin and traverse across Lake Michigan in just four hours.
There’s never been more of perfect place to bust out those bathing suits and sand buckets. Ludington has been hailed as one of the top 50 All American Beaches in the US, and after visiting we could see why. Clean, soft, sugar sand beaches with shallow water await you, and with more than 28 miles of sandy beaches, you won’t be fighting crowds for fun in the sun.
Ludington is home to two main beaches. Stearns Park Beach is the more popular of two because of its proximity to downtown with no admission cost. And during the summer, you can attend fun beach bonfires. The other beach, located in Ludington State Park, also boasts the same Lake Michigan beaches, but adds another option for beach time: Hamlin Lake Beach. The inland lake — with its warmer shallow water and hardly there waves — is an excellent choice for younger children like mine. Besides swimming and building sandcastles, Ludington State Park offers plenty of dunes to climb. Buttersville Beach, a hidden gem of a beach just south of Ludington on Lake Michigan known mostly by locals, is a dog-friendly beach for families who want to bring their favorite four-legged creatures.
Ludington offers two different lighthouses for families. Walk the half mile pier from Stearns Beach to a 1924 lighthouse Northgate Breakwater Lighthouse. Climb to 57 feet up for outstanding views of Lake Michigan. If you’re up to the challenge, families can hike the two miles to The Big Sable Lighthouse, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Climb up 130 steps to the top of the 112-foot tower.
During the summer, S.S. Badger makes it way to the Port of Ludington from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. As the last coal-powered steamship in the country, the four-hour cruise across Lake Michigan on the 1950s-era ship is an experience you’ll never forget. And best of all, it’s made for families! Kids can watch a few movies, play in the kids room, try to win Badger Bingo or just enjoy the experience of being on the water. Even if you don’t get to ride aboard (but you totally should!), the S.S. Badger Carferry is still a sight to be seen. Welcome the cruise ship back into harbor by waving hello to its new passengers. Prime viewing spots include the harbor or by North Breakwater Lighthouse.
House of Flavors Restaurant ice cream cones
When I mentioned I was going to Ludington, fellow travelers always recommended stopping by stop by House of Flavors. It’s become a Ludington landmark for good reason — the ice cream will make you keep coming back for more! As a matter of fact, we loved it so much that we came back twice. They make their own ice cream onsite and are one of largest Michigan ice cream operations. You’ll notice the lines, but it goes by fast. You can thank me later. Tip: A junior size cone is HUGE.
One of my fondest memories from our trip is of the kids playing at the awesome playground at Waterfront Sculpture Park. My suggestion? Take your ice cream from House of Flavors to go, and bring it over to Waterfront Sculpture Park. By about 6:45 p.m. you’ll see the S.S. Badger come into view and park for the night. Stroll the pathway and admire the nine bronze statues depicting Ludington’s history. Afterwards, let the kids run off and play at the very cool playground, while taking in the amazing sunset.
Family-friendly craft brew pubs
Just because you’re with the family doesn’t mean you can’t have a cold one. As Ludington’s first brew pub, Jamesport Brewery not only has good food and exceptional service, but the beer was great, as is to be expected. With so many choices, it may be hard to choose a beer. Do what I did and grab a flight of beer. If you happen to visit during the summer, don’t miss the blueberry wheat. The brand spankin’ new Ludington Bay Brewing Company is also another great option for families.
Kids will go gaga at this fun children’s museum with three floors packed full of fun, fun, fun. One of the best parts of the museum is the pretend areas meant to resemble local businesses and attractions. Feel like an ice cream cone? Scoop one for your friends at House of Flavors. Pretend to navigate the S.S. Badger into port. Love music? Don’t miss out on jamming out on the third floor on the sound stage with a real drum set, guitars and a mic.
Catch one of the largest fireworks displays in West Michigan during the Fourth of July Freedom Festival complete with a parade, pet parade, fireworks and more! At the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop, more than 10,000 people come together to see the largest ball drop in West Michigan (in terms of ball size) and the event ends with a huge fireworks display over the downtown.
For the past two years, Ludington has also hosted world record breaker events — one for longest ice cream dessert, and this past year, the world’s longest sand angels. Don’t be surprised if you see another attempt next year!
Get up close and personal with bull elk as you tour the 130-acre farm on a wagon. The highlight will be feeding the elk! Afterwards, say hi to many of their farm animals at the petting zoo.
Showcasing the Ludington area’s rich maritime heritage, the brand new Port of Maritime Museum is definitely one to add to your list when visiting. Housed in a former U.S. Coast Guard station, the fabulous museum is 10 years in the making and also the product of a community effort.
A couple main objectives of the museum is to showcase authentic items but also be interactive and hands-on for their guests. Visitors will experience piloting the Pere Marquette 22 car ferry into Ludington’s harbor, climb up a replica of the North Breakwater Lighthouse, listen to holograms of captains as they share their tales, and see historic artifacts used at Ludington’s harbor by its Coast Guardsmen and car ferry sailors. This is one museum Ludington should be proud of!
The family-owned motel located a couple blocks from the beach was the perfect homebase for our Ludington adventure. After a day of sun and fun, we looked forward to just unwinding and resting at our double queen suite with kitchen. We could lounge in the separate living room or hang out on the balcony and enjoy peace and quiet. Their heated pool is an additional plus.