Michigan has so many features that make it one of my favorite states in the U.S.: access to three of the five Great Lakes, miles and miles of beautiful forests, great (and underrated) cities, Midwestern charm and hospitality, and unique spots you won't find anywhere else in the country like Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula.
As an Ohioan, I've been lucky enough to explore a lot of Michigan over the years. And now I'm excited to share yet another corner of the Mitten State with you: the city of Ludington!
Ludington, Michigan as a beach getaway
This small city of less than 8,000 people sits on Lake Michigan, near the mouth of the Pere Marquette River in Michigan's Mason County. And the best way I can describe it is as a Great Lakes beach town.
Ludington has all the trappings of an idyllic little beach town: it's on the water, has a large sandy beach, and boasts a walkable downtown area filled with bars, restaurants, and t-shirt shops. Ludington also has some fun museums, unique places to stay, and is near an excellent state park. Basically, it makes for a great long weekend getaway when you want to swap the saltwater for freshwater!
If you're intrigued to learn more about Ludington, read on!
Note: This post is brought to you as part of a paid partnership with Pure Ludington. As always, though, my opinions are my own and based 100% on my own experiences!
How to get to Ludington
Ludington lies on Michigan's western side, on the shore of Lake Michigan. For those who know Mitten Geography, Ludington sits just above the knuckle of the Michigan Hand Map. (Michiganders know exactly what I'm talking about, and for those who don't, just know that people in Michigan often use their hand like a map to denote where different places are in the state.)
The city is best reached by car, with U.S. Route 10 leading straight into downtown. Ludington is roughly 3.5 hours from Detroit, 4 hours from Chicago, and 6 hours from Cleveland, Ohio, if you're driving.
During the summer months, you can also arrive in Ludington via the SS Badger carferry from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The SS Badger is super historic (a National Historic Landmark, in fact!) as the last coal-fired passenger vessel operating in the United States.
When to visit Ludington
Ludington is a year-round destination, but there are some warm-weather attractions that are ideally suited for the summer months. In my personal opinion, I would say May-September is one of the best times to visit Ludington, with August-September being ideal if you want to swim in Lake Michigan.
Being located on the lake, Ludington often has pretty mild summer weather – which is great news for anyone like me who loves summer activities but hates sweltering heat.
It's an excellent fall destination, too, with Ludington State Park, Cartier Park, and the nearby Manistee National Forest all offering up great leaf-peeping. (In fact, a Michigan fall road trip is one of my favorites I've ever done!) In this part of Michigan, fall colors peak usually in the first half of October.
Top 10 things to do in Ludington
Ludington may be a small city, but there's more to do than you probably think. I actually visited Ludington solo, but know that it's also a fantastic destination for couples and families, too – there truly is something for everyone.
I spent four days leisurely exploring all that Ludington has to offer, and here were my favorite things to do:
1. Hit the beach at Stearns Park
The public beach at Stearns Park is a wide, deep sandy beach that's free to visit (and has lots of free parking, too!). The beach is great for wading, has wheelchair-friendly accessible walkways out into the sand, and also is an excellent spot to watch the sunset since it faces west across Lake Michigan.
There are restrooms and concession stands at both the northern and southern ends of the beach – and the concession stands actually serve really good food, with The Sandbox at the southern end of the beach whipping up delicious sliders.
Stearns Park is also next to a skatepark, playground, and mini golf course, meaning there's plenty to do here for everyone.
2. Climb a lighthouse
Also accessible from Stearns Park Beach is the Ludington North Breakwater Light. This small lighthouse sits at the end of a long (as in almost half a mile long) concrete pier/breakwater that you can walk down in good weather conditions.
The lighthouse itself is 57 feet tall and dates back to 1924, and from Memorial Day through Labor Day you can climb to the top of it for a fee. The views from the top on a clear day are fantastic – but know that the “stairs” here more closely resemble ladders.
(Even if you're not planning to climb the lighthouse, the walk out along the breakwater is still worth it.)
3. Tour the Maritime Museum
Not far from the North Breakwater Light you'll find the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, which is an excellent museum for the whole family.
Located in a former U.S. Coast Guard Station overlooking Lake Michigan (the building is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places), this 3-story museum covers everything from Lake Michigan's carferries to the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 to Great Lakes shipwrecks. On the second floor there's even an interactive exhibit where you can try your hand at “piloting” a carferry into port – it's harder than it looks!
The museum is operated by the Mason County Historical Society, and you can easily spend 1-2 hours here.
4. Shop in downtown Ludington
Downtown Ludington consists of just a few main streets lined with historic shopfronts and beautiful Victorian beach homes. I highly recommend devoting at least a couple hours to exploring the local shops here.
Some unique things you can do include shopping for vintage threads at Sexy Nomad, designing your own t-shirt at Gordys Skate Co., making your own candle at House & Harbor, and picking up some sweet treats at Kilwins.
5. Visit Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park – AKA Waterfront Sculpture Park – is a 5.3-acre park located next to Ludington's main harbor/marina on Pere Marquette Lake. The park is home to 9 large bronze sculptures that depict different scenes and icons from Ludington's history, and offers up great views of the SS Badger when she sails in to/out of port.
This grassy park also has a nice playground, as well as a concert pavilion where you can often catch free live music during the summer months. It's a good spot for shore fishing, too, and during salmon season you'll definitely see lots of fishing boats out in out in Pere Marquette Lake connected to Lake Michigan.
6. Spend a day at Ludington State Park
I could probably devote an entire blog post to Ludington State Park, as it's a unique and beautiful state park. It's bordered by Lake Michigan to the west, smaller Hamlin Lake to the east, and is cut through by the Big Sable River.
The state park offers great campsites if you're into that, or you can just visit for a day. With one day, a few of the things you definitely should do include:
- Swim at Ludington State Park Beach (and visit the Arts-and-Crafts style historic Beach House built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935).
- Rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboard and go for a paddle on the calm Hamlin Lake.
- Hike the Lost Lake Trail + Island Trail loop around Lake Hamlin (about 2 miles round trip starting from the Hamlin Lake Beach parking area).
- See incredible dune views from the Skyline Trail.
- Walk out to the iconic Big Sable Point Lighthouse (4-ish miles round trip on a flat trail), which dates back to 1867. You can climb 130 steps to the watchtower room for excellent views over Lake Michigan (the tower is open for climbs from early May through late October). I actually walked out for sunset, which meant I missed out on climbing the lighthouse – but it was still well worth it!
Ludington State Park charges a day use fee, which is $11 per day for anyone with out-of-state license plates. You can pay this fee at the entrance booth.
7. Hang out at Stix
Just a couple minutes down the road from the state park, I highly recommend stopping at Stix. Stix is a whole entertainment venue, offering an upscale restaurant, bowling alley, and outdoor beer garden.
For me, the beer garden was the star here. It has its own bar, a BBQ food truck, tons of seating options, fire pits, lawn games, and outdoor stages for live music. It seems like an excellent spot to be in the evenings during summer and fall.
8. Step back in time in Historic White Pine Village
If you're a history nerd like me, then you won't want to skip a visit to Historic White Pine Village. This replica 19th century pioneer village is just a short drive south of downtown Ludington, and has 30+ buildings you can explore during a self-guided tour.
The village uses historic buildings (many of them original) and authentic artifacts to showcase the area's history, which focuses on things like farming and lumbering.
You can learn about everything from milking cows to maple sugaring to how a sawmill works, and visit buildings like a schoolhouse, a general store, a trapper's cabin, a doctor's office, and the original Mason County Courthouse from 1849. There are museum-style exhibits, too, as well as an authentic old fashioned ice cream parlor inside the Town Hall.
Historic White Pine Village is open from early May through October, and takes at least 1-2 hours to explore.
9. Go wine tasting
You may be familiar with some of Michigan's wine regions (I've even written about some before, like the Leelanau Peninsula), so it might not be a surprise to learn that you can go wine tasting in Ludington!
I visited Pere Marquette Winery, found just around the corner from Historic White Pine Village. This family-run winery was started by the Morton family as a hobby after a trip to France in the 1980s, but has grown into a pretty impressive production.
All the wine made at Pere Marquette Winery is made using grapes grown on their own estate. They're known for their Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay, and Cayuga grapes, and make a range of tasty wines that span the color and flavor gamut. For summer, I liked their Cayuga White and Any Day Rose.
Wine tastings here are done in a cozy tasting room inside converted stables, and they also sell cheese plates and other snacks. Tastings are very reasonable, too, at $10 for 5 tastes, or $16 for a flight of 4 wines.
10. Get out on the water
Lastly, in addition to the rentals on Hamlin Lake that I mentioned above, there are plenty of unique ways to get out on the water in Ludington. One of the most popular is probably fishing on Lake Michigan and in its tributary rivers like the Pere Marquette River – did you know that Ludington is the best place to fish for salmon in Michigan?? (Well, if you didn't, now you do!)
Along with salmon, the waters around Ludington are also great for fishing for brown trout and yellow perch. You can get a fishing license from the Michigan DNR and bring your own tackle and gear, or you can hire a fishing charter to take you out. There are more than 25 local charter captains – find one through the Ludington Area Charter Boat Association.
Salmon season in the area is generally August-October.
Where to eat in Ludington
No matter what you're looking for in Ludington, you can probably find it! Some of my favorite spots for eating and drinking include:
- Red Rooster Coffee & Community for caffeine
- Cafe 106 for diner-style breakfast and lunch
- Cluck Bucket Downtown for chicken sandwiches
- The Sandbox at the beach for gourmet sliders
- The 10 Spot food truck park for a quick lunch
- Jamesport Brewing Company for local beer and food (the pecan-crusted perch is so good)
- The Mitten Bar for local pub vibes and lots of craft beer options
- Table 14 for upscale dining
- House of Flavors Restaurants for ice cream
Where to stay in Ludington
Ludington has several unique, locally-owned accommodation options, ranging from refurbished nostalgic motels to cozy B&Bs in historic homes. I stayed at two excellent spots, and would recommend both of them.
- Summer's Inn – This family-run, adults-only motel has touches that make it feel like much more than just a motel. The rooms have been refreshed but still retain their mid-century vibes, breakfast is cooked to order each morning, and there's even a private garden with a koi pond for guests to enjoy.
- The Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast – Located in a beautiful historic home, the Lamplighter is such a relaxing and welcoming place to stay. The rooms are very comfortable, the outdoor space is super relaxing, and the home-cooked breakfasts and nightly fresh-baked cookies are incredible!
Wherever you stay, you're bound to be charmed by Michigan's Midwest hospitality.
Who's ready to plan a trip to Ludington now?