The Lakeshore. An idyllic place that brings lazy beach days and exhilarating boat rides to mind. And while lake play is probably the pinnacle of fun for Michiganders, West Michigan lakeshore communities are bursting with spots for indoor and outdoor fun, year-round.
Lakeshore residents are kind of the envy of Grand Rapids. They have easy access to big city amenities, but are even closer to the pride of West Michgan: Lake Michigan. And Lake Michigan isn’t just any old lake. This turquoise lake has the best sunsets east of California and endless sandy beaches.
Sound too good to be true? It kind of is. If you don’t like snow. Because along with the unbelievable beauty and enjoyment of Lake Michigan comes with it unbelievable amounts of snow in the winter. It’s called Lake Effect snow and it’s not a joke. Many Lakeshore residents have AWD vehicles or get snow tires each winter.
What it’s Like to Live on the Lakeshore
The Lakeshore area is a big draw for families. Read on to see which town speaks to you the most.
Life in Holland
Why people love to live here: You get Lake Michigan life and city amenities in one. Residents can enjoy miles of beautiful Lake Macatawa, which empties into Lake Michigan.
You should know: As you can guess from the name, Holland has dutch heritage, and they’re proud of it! In addition to their annual world-renowned Tulip Time festival, visitors and residents alike enjoy Windmill Island gardens, as well as Nelis’ Dutch Village, an amusement center celebrating everything Dutch. They’ve also got a fun connection to The Wizard of Oz.
Why people love to live here: Grand Haven is THE beach town of Lake Michigan. If you are a beach bum at heart, this is where you need to live in Michgan. It’s bordered on the north by the Grand River as it meanders to Lake Michigan, offering lots of waterfront experiences and views. Residents and visitors alike can’t get enough of Grand Haven’s sandy shores, ice cream shops, and its two lighthouses. Historically, visitors can walk the catwalk on the pier to see them up close.
You should know: Being a beach town, expect lots of visitors in the summer. Between the massive Coast Guard Festival, Kite Festival and Musical Fountain, Grand Haven gets a lot of love from tourists.
Why people love to live here: Muskegon is for lake lovers who need equal proximity to “Up North” and the big city of Grand Rapids. Bordered by Muskegon Lake and Lake Michigan, Muskegon life is all about the water, outdoors and adventure. There are several beautiful beach front parks, including iconic Hoffmaster State Park. Residents looking for bigger thrills head to Michigan’s Adventure, the state’s largest amusement park (and water park!).
You should know: Muskegon is changing from a sleeper town to a hot spot for families. As housing prices climb in the Grand Rapids metro area, Muskegon is an affordable option (for now).
Why people love to live here: It’s the small town everyone dreams of. You have the small town charm and friendliness, with a highly rated public school system. And your sister city, Holland, with loads of amenities, is right next door.
You should know: Get ready to Feel the Zeel! Zeeland has an active city office, creating lots of community engagement. Residents are loyal to their local, small businesses. Proximity to Holland, Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan make this a popular spot for families.
If you live in the Ottawa area and want information about your child’s development, visit Help Me Grow-Ottawa for up-to-date information for children prenatal through five years old including pregnancy, child development, playgroups, childcare, preschool, and the transition to kindergarten.
Enjoy the outdoors in all seasons at the Outdoor Discovery Center– it’s open 365 days a year! With hiking trails, a nature preserve, visitor center, live birds of prey, a wildlife enclosure, Imagination Forest, Fillmore Discovery Park and more, there’s always something new to explore.
And don’t forget to check the schedule for community programs and special events!
There’s always lots to do at the Critter Barn! Learn about and interact with rabbits, sheep, goats, hogs, cows, pot-bellied pigs and more! You can even bring a picnic lunch and enjoy eating at the tables near the front pasture.
Hemlock Crossing has so much to offer! Go for a walk on the trails, snowshoe in the winter, explore the bird watching area, read nature books inside a tent and check out all the fun activities in the kids area. And then come on back to take one of the free classes they offer or attend a summer day camp!
They have a 150 foot water slide, water playground, diving boards, floating obstacle course, water basketball, swimming pool, zip line, vortex pool, water cannons, spa, therapy pool and fully equipped fitness room… With all that the Holland Aquatic Center has to offer, your kids will never want to leave!
The kids will love the synchronized water and light shows at the Musical Fountain! Each 25-minute show features a variety of well-known music and plays daily at dusk from Memorial Day through Labor Day as well as Fridays and Saturdays in May and September.
Check out Kids Day at the Coast Guard Festival for games, displays, storytelling, face painting and arts and crafts. And then stick around- because there’s more fun to be had! Parades, fireworks, ship tours, boat races and even a carnival!
Take a step back in time to discover the Old Country! Watch the Dutch dancers and see cheese, candles and wooden shoes being made. Visit the petting zoo, the Old Schoolhouse and the Tulip Farm exhibit. All presentations, demonstrations, petting zoo and rides are included with your admission!
Looking for fun, educational and FREE? Located on Muskegon Community College campus, Carr-Fles Planetarium offers state-of-the-art digital projection, sound and lighting systems, modern theater seating, a new domed ceiling and FREE themed planetarium shows every Tuesday and Thursday at 7 PM.
Get the kids outdoors and let them explore this 18 acre nature preserve. Burn off some energy and then educate yourself with informative and hands-on displays and live animal exhibits. And if the kids love it, they can always come back for the Naturalist Classes for preschoolers, summer nature classes or even have their birthday party there!
Introduce your kids to the coolest playground ever! Imagination Station is 10,000 square feet of playground fun that will keep them busy for hours! It was just rebuilt in the fall of 2018 and it’s playground perfection. It offers lots of features that reflect the Grand Haven area and it’s much more accessible for people with special needs.
Museum exhibits trace over 400 million years of Michigan history in the making, explore animal food webs, and encourage children to participate in hands-on activities in the Science Center and Body Works. The museum is open year-round and admission is free!
It has a new name in 2019, but it’s the same idea! World-famous stunt kite fliers perform to music on the center flying field while kites larger than a school bus hover above. Don’t forget to bring your own kite to fly on the open flying field!
If your family likes to ski, head to Mulligan’s Hollow– all parents ski free with a kid’s ticket! They host fun events throughout the winter (Glow Ski Night anyone?), so be sure to check their upcoming events calendar.
The kids will be fascinated as they tour the USS Silversides, a World War 2 submarine. Maybe they will even want to spend the night aboard! And be sure to come back in the summer as well to enjoy “Movies on Deck”.
It’s THE place for winter sports recreation. Boasting an ice skating rink through the woods, an 850′ luge track (one of only 4 luge tracks in the nation), night cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding, people travel far to come to this unique sports complex.
Summer more your style? Head on over for zip line and archery, or ride the luge – on wheels!
If you are near the lakeshore… you must head to the beach, of course! There are lots of great options for fabulous beaches in the area, but Tunnel Park is one of our reader favorites. It has a swimming beach, great playground, bathrooms, dunes to climb, volleyball courts and a picnic area with shelters, tables and grills!
Visser Farms offers u-pick strawberries, flowers, honey and tons of in-season vegetables. If you’re around in June, check out their Strawberry Extravaganza with strawberry picking, hot dogs, face painting and hay rides!
This is a great hike that winds through the woods, up several hundred stairs, over some picturesque dunes, and ends at the lake front! The beach is a public beach, so pack those towels and feel free to cool off when you reach the lake. Perfect for older kids or babies you can wear in a carrier; you may end up carrying a 3 or 4 year old for part of this hike. Parking is free during the off season (Labor Day through Memorial Day) but otherwise it’s $8.00.
13925 Lakeshore Drive, Grand Haven, MI 49417
26) – Tour a Chocolate Factory
Chocolates by Grimaldi in Grand Haven offers factory tours so you can have your very own I Love Lucy moment! Tours must be scheduled in advance and are affordable, family fun at just $4 per person.
This is a new favorite spot at our house. Square Play Cafe offers coffee drinks for parents and loads of fun for kids. It’s kind of like having a play date without having to clean up! Grab a friend, a latte, and catch up while your kids play with new, different, and educational toys. They also offer special events and story times–be sure to follow along with them on social media for the latest.
Holland’s Playland is located inside Central Wesleyan Church and it’s serious fun for kids of all ages. Your kids can run, slide, and play the day away. Playland is primarily volunteer run–which means it’s totally FREE to go and play whenever you’d like!
Ottawa Sands is the newest Ottawa County Park and it’s a real treat! It’s a simple, sandy path the winds around an inland lake. Both times I’ve visited I’ve spotted a Bald Eagle–so fun! Despite the sand, it’s not too far of a loop (and easy to follow)–perfect for little legs. Dogs are welcome!
An offshoot of Captain Sundae’s north Holland location, visitors can try to find Captain Burke’s stolen treasure.
365 Douglas Avenue, Holland, Michigan 49424
31) Take the Lake Michigan Ferry to Milwaukee
The Lake Express ferry transports visitors between Milwaukee and Muskegon, making your trip to Wisconsin just 2 1/2 hours long. It’s a great way to experience the grandeur of Lake Michigan and makes Milwaukee a very easy getaway.
Every Wednesday from 9:30 – 11:30, enjoy a fun educational activity for kids at the Holland Farmers Market. Then grab some lunch at the Food Court and explore the rest of the Market, where you will find a huge variety of fresh fruits and veggies, baked goods, cheese, herbs and spices, eggs, meats and more!