5 Lake Michigan Spots Every Midwesterner Should Visit
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5 Marinas And Towns Along The Shores Of Lake Michigan Every Midwesterner Should Visit

A must read for all Lake Michigan travelers.

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5 Marinas And Towns Along The Shores Of Lake Michigan Every Midwesterner Should Visit
Clare Cooley

This summer I had the amazing opportunity of sailing Lake Michigan for eleven days with my dad and brother. Our boat is a 30-foot Pierson sailboat.

It can sleep four to five people at a time, has two sinks, one toilet, a built-in food and drink cooler, a stove-top, and cabinet space.

We were able to travel to a new marina every day and explored ten altogether. Of those ten, I chose five of my favorites to share so that you may gather some insight into a few of the best places to sail to on Lake Michigan.

This list will only cover locations in the bottom half of Lake Michigan because that was all we were able to cover in our eleven days on the lake.

In addition, because I live a 100 percent vegan lifestyle, I will be specifying which marinas and towns had restaurants featuring plant-based food options.

Port Washington, Wisconsin

photo of the dock lined with boats in Port Washington marina

Clare Cooley

This little town seemed to come out of a movie set. Port Washington Marina has wide, cobblestone docks gated with white picket fencing, five grills and tables for boaters to use, Wi-Fi, a cute indoor lounge area containing soft, red couch stairs around a crystal chess set, a laundry room, and home-style showers.

In exploring the surrounding town, we found lots of unique shops and places to eat. Many of the buildings looked older, making the town feel authentic and well-aged.

Like most Marinas along Lake Michigan, Port Washington seemed to be a pretty white town, and we were pleased to see that a group of young people had arranged a BLM demonstration despite the blistering heat and a large storm on the way.

In our visit, we explored a couple of shops, as many were closed due to the virus, and made our own dinner with the use of the port grills.

Of the few restaurants we looked at here, I did not see any vegan option other than a Mexican restaurant with a couple of vegetarian options that could be modified.

Port Washington is a quiet and calm harbor. There were not many people hanging out on their boats or walking around. In the morning, this set the perfect mood for me to lay out my mat on their wide dock and do some yoga before heading back out on the lake to our next destination.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The view of of five boats docked with a green gazebo behind them, water in front of them, and a light sky.

Clare Cooley

In Milwaukee, we stayed at McKinley Marina but were able to dock and eat at the Milwaukee Yacht Club because my dad is a member of the Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago. There are a few yacht clubs that like to partner up for these kinds of benefits. The menu had a few vegan options including a veggie wrap and a peanut Pad Thai, which was really awesome.

We ate outside and enjoyed the view of the sunset over the marina.

After dinner, we had a chance to explore the town, which was just off the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. There weren't too many unique shops and restaurants around, but the town still buzzed with university life had nice walking paths and had some cool architecture.

We stopped at a CVS for some provisions before returning back to the marina and our boat.

The marina provided WIFI, though the bathrooms and showers here were not spectacular, as they lacked privacy.

Pentwater, Michigan

picture of the shore of Pentwater with its large water tower

Clare Cooley

Pentwater is a very quaint town located along the shores of Pentwater Lake, a small inlet off of Lake Michigan. The inlet is filled with marinas, lake house docks, and tons of different boats sailing or motoring around.

The marina we stayed at was Snug Harbor, and it was the perfect location to check out the town. If you arrive at Snug Harbor between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., they will have experienced workers at your aid to guide your boat into your assigned slip and tie it down securely.

This can be really helpful in high winds or when tying down to unfamiliar docks.

The bathrooms and showers were comfortable and clean and every single stranger that we talked to at Snug Harbor and in Pentwater was extremely kind and welcoming.

Snug harbor is right up against downtown Pentwater, which is only around six blocks long. There were lots of small shops from handmade jewelry to artisan wine, and several nice places to eat including a fresh market grocery store, which can be hard to come by around many marinas.

One restaurant had an Impossible burger but was unfortunately closed by the time we got there.

An ice cream shop also had some vegan ice cream and shake flavors. There was also a grassy area with a stage and a couple of picnic tables where a small band was playing live music in the evening.

We explored the town once when we got there in the evening, and again in the morning before we left because of its small size and interesting shops and boutiques that hadn't been open the night before.

This town was my favorite of our trip because of the welcoming and vibrant vibes that I felt while I was there.

South Haven, Michigan

the Southhaven walkway that leads to one lighthouse at sunset

Clare Cooley

We got to South Haven through an inlet called Black River and stayed at South Haven Municipal Marina South. It's a pretty small marina with WIFI and one building that provided men's and women's bathrooms with several unisex shower stalls that had doors that locked.

A short walk into the town provided many shops and eateries.

There is a lot to see in this town. After exploring for a little bit, we got take-out from Su Casa, a Mexican restaurant with modifiable, vegetarian options, and took it back to eat on the boat. Afterward, we got ice-cream from Captain Nemo's who had a very tasty vegan chocolate flavor.

It was a Saturday when we stayed overnight at South Haven, and there was lots of noise and people to prove it.

This town was more energetic than any other on this trip, though we didn't get to see the weekend crowd at most of our other locations.

St.Joseph, Michigan

A photo of me on one of the bike rentals in from of three boats that are sitting in the parking lot

Clare Cooley

St. Joseph has a larger downtown area with a lot of food and shopping choices. For the second year in a row, we stayed at West Basin Marina, a small and calm port that sits on the opposite side of St.Joseph River to downtown St.Joseph.

Luckily, the marina offers five free bike rentals to its guests and we were able to take those to the town in around ten minutes to explore and get takeout.

I wish we had time to do more exploring here because there were lots of food and store options that we did not get to see. We ended up getting takeout from Chan's Garden. Here I got another pad thai.

West Basin Marina itself does not have any close dining or shopping options.

We enjoy the marina for it's free and updated washing machines, nice bathrooms/showers, free bike rentals, WIFI, and a peaceful atmosphere.

I wish that these accounts could have been more detailed, but as it was, we only had a few hours each night to explore the towns before we had to get some sleep in order to be rested for the next day. Maybe next time we will take the time to stay an extra day and do more exploring.

I hope that these short descriptions were helpful or interesting to you because it has been a dream to experience and share! From my heart to yours, stay nautical, stay informed, and spread the love.

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