10 Best Things to Do in Michigan City IN

Michigan City IN

Enjoy a Beach Vacation in Michigan City IN

Lake Michigan is a beauty, and Michigan City IN is one of the best spots to experience a vacation on its shores. Known for its zoo and botanic gardens, this city has grown in popularity as a beach town hotspot for vacations.

At only an hour away from Chicago and just south of the Michigan border, this city of 30K in Indiana draws many midwestern tourists to its sandy shores.

Read on for the best things to do in Michigan City IN and plan your next getaway:

Michigan City IN
Sheridan Beach, Michigan City IN

Michigan City FAQs

Where is Michigan City?

Tucked just inside the Indiana/Michigan border, Michigan City sits on the south shore of Lake Michigan in Indiana.

Michigan City IN
Travel Time to Michigan City IN
Chicago IL1 hour (60 miles)
Kalamazoo MI1:20 hours (90 miles)
Grand Rapids MI1:45 hours (120 miles)
Indianapolis IN2:30 hours (170 miles)

Why is “Michigan” City in Indiana?

Founded in 1836, Michigan City earned its moniker due to its proximity to Lake Michigan, not the state of Michigan.

10 Things to Do in Michigan City

1 – Hit the Beach

Washington Park Beach
Sheridan Beach, Long Beach

Michigan City provides plenty of sandy beachfront to experience Lake Michigan in all of its beauty. The sand is clean and plentiful for play and the waters are perfect for swimming. On a clear day, you can see the Chicago skyline from some of its shores.

Washington Park Beach is the largest and most popular beach here and includes a marina, restaurant and restrooms. Parking here is $15 daily for non-residents. Visit the only public, operating lighthouse in Indiana while you’re there.

If you continue a bit further up the shore northeast, you’ll reach Sheridan Beach and Long Beach. Much of this shoreline is bordered by houses and is a bit quieter and less busy than Washington Park.

Michigan City IN

2 – Go Rock Hunting

Michigan City IN Beaches

Michigan City beaches are PACKED with rocks from Lake Michigan. These rocks are generally very flat and smooth and may contain holes, fossils, or other cool textures.

Since the water is so clean, it’s easy to see rocks while standing in the water and pick your favorites. You’ll also find them scattered on the beach just beyond the water’s edge.

Michigan City IN
Michigan City IN
The smooth textured rocks may contain holes and other unique textures

3 – Take a Stroll through Friendship Botanic Gardens

2055 E US-12, Michigan City, IN 46360

The Friendship Botanic Gardens have grown since their inception in the 1930s and welcome over 60,000 visitors annually.

With multiple trail loops at one mile or shorter in distance, it’s an easy walk to see their stunning grounds. It offers gardens dedicated to a variety of countries and cultures, including the Italian Garden, Lithuanian Garden and African American Garden.

The gardens are open seasonally six days per week (closed Mondays). Admission for kids is free and dogs are welcome.

The immaculate grounds include fountains, walking bridges, and a gazebo.
map: Friendship Botanic Gardens

Families should stop by the Arcelor Mittal Children’s Garden. Kids will find cedar playground structures, outdoor musical instruments and a working water pump to explore.

Michigan City IN
You’ll find multiple play structures in the Children’s Garden.

4 – Visit the Animals at the Washington Park Zoo

115 Lakeshore Dr, Michigan City, IN 46360

Starting as an animal sanctuary in 1928, the Washington Park Zoo has grown to its current 15-acre size, featuring wolves, bears, tigers, lions, otters, bald eagles and more favorites. Many of the animals taken in by the zoo are injured or were illegal pets that would not be able to survive in the wild.

Zoo admission is very affordable at $8 for adults and $6 for children (2 and under are free); however, parking is shared with Washington Park and incurs a daily $15 fee for non-residents. The zoo is closed for the winter from November 1 through March 31.

Visiting with Kids?

Given its small size, this zoo is easy to see everything in a short amount of time.

This zoo is built on a hill and some steeper walking paths can tire out little legs. Also be mindful of stone steps which can be uneven in spots and a potential tripping hazard for less confident walkers.

Feeding the goats is a popular activity here; be sure to bring cash for their feed buckets.

map: Washington Park Zoo
Find this photo prop near the Rotary Castle in the zoo

Several exhibits (including the bears, wolves and otters) are visible from different angles or heights. If you can’t see your favorite animal, try walking around to another side to locate your favorite furry residents.

You’ll often find the bears cooling off in their pool on a hot day

If you want the ultimate view of the zoo, head over to the Observation Tower. From atop its 200+ steps above street level, you can see Lake Michigan in addition to a bird’s-eye view of the animals. This Art Deco limestone structure was built in the 1930s.

5 – Explore the Indiana Dunes

There are oodles of sand dunes in Indiana, and two different parks: The Indiana Dunes National Park and the Indiana Dunes State Park.

With over 30 access points and thousands of acres along Lake Michigan, there is no shortage of options to visit. Some fun activities are hiking, biking, camping, swimming and fishing.

Not surprisingly, the beaches here are very popular in the summer. Visiting on a weekday or earlier in the day on a weekend can help reduce the crowds.

6 – Tour the Barker Mansion

631 Washington St, Michigan City, IN 46360

Originally built in 1857 by John Barker, this mansion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Restoration efforts over the years have maintained 90% of the interior in its original state.

Visitors can take the 90-minute tours or attend special events including tea times, Christmas events, weddings and corporate events here.

2022 Barker Mansion Renovations

The Barker Mansion is undergoing renovations in 2022 and is currently closed. Follow their Facebook page for updates and reopening plans.

7 – Shop til you Drop at Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets

601 Wabash St, Michigan City, IN 46360

Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets in Michigan City is home to 80+ stores including J.Crew Factory, Carters, Nike and The North Face.

If you get hungry while shopping, Pepperidge Farm, Ben’s Soft Pretzels and Subway are a few of your options to refuel.

map: Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets

8 – Play a Round (or two!) of Golf at the Michigan City Municipal Golf Course

4000 E Michigan Blvd, Michigan City, IN 46360

Michigan City’s Municipal Golf Course offers two 18-hole options:

Course SizeFees
North Course3,531 yards, par 60$17.00
South Course6,169 yards, par 72$25.00

The golf course includes a prac­tice green, golf prac­tice area, fully-​stocked pro shop, snack shop & bar (beer and wine) and trained golf pro­fes­sion­als for lessons. You can book tee times online.

9 – Visit a Michigan City Public Park

Michigan City Public Parks

Michigan City boasts a robust lineup of 18 public parks in their city with varying amenities. From baseball diamonds to basketball courts and play structures (including ADA-accessible equipment), there is plenty of green space to explore here.

Located in southwest Michigan City, Striebel Pond is one of the 18 spots to see. It offers 1.5 miles of walking trails and picnic shelters in addition to beautiful, watery views:

10 – See the Singing Sands Sand Sculpting Festival

Annual Event at Washington Park Beach

This inaugural sand sculpting competition was a resounding success in June of 2022. Over a dozen massive sculptures covered Washington Park Beach, drawing artists from around the country to participate. The event is already planned to return in 2023.

Photo: Michigan City Special Events (Sculptor: Amanda Bolduc)
Photo: Michigan City Special Events (Sculptor: Christy Atkinson)
Sculptors Choice, Peoples Choice & First Place

Where to Eat

Michigan City offers many locally-owned restaurants. Whether dining in or taking it to-go, there is tasty food to be found during your beach vacation.

Fiddlehead Restaurant

422 Franklin St, Michigan City, IN 46360
Menu

Fiddlehead offers something for everyone: grass-fed burgers, gluten-free and vegan options and a kids menu. Dine in the restaurant, enjoy their outdoor patio, or order carry-out online.

Mediterranean Salad with Salmon
photo: Fiddlehead

Miller Pizza By The Beach

1012 N Karwick Rd, Michigan City, IN 46360
Menu

Known for its Chicago-style stuffed pizza, this shop also serves gluten-free and thin crust options. We recommend taking leftovers home; many customers note the pizza is extra tasty the next day when reheated.

Pizza dough is made fresh daily; they also offer pasta dishes, salads, sandwiches and calzone.

The Polish Peasant

231 W 7th St Michigan City, IN 46360
Menu

Stop in the Polish Peasant for Polish-American fare, including pierogi, potato cakes and stuffed cabbage. Note their limited hours: at time of publication, they were only open Thursdays – Saturdays.

Michigan City IN
Pierogi, Sausage and Kraut
photo: Polish Peasant

The Stray Dog Bar & Grill

245 N Whittaker St, New Buffalo, MI 49117
Menu

Located in nearby New Buffalo, The Stray Dog is a local favorite bar and grill. If only dining with the 21 and up crowd, grab a table on their rooftop bar.

photo: The Stray Dog

Where to Stay

This section contains affiliate links

VRBO is popular in Michigan City, with many houses available for rent. Here are some house and hotel options for your stay:

photo: Booking.com
photo: Booking.com

Michigan City Visitor Tips

Ready to visit? Here are some insider tips to get you started:

Many Michigan City rentals do not have driveways or garages.

Be sure to confirm parking options before booking your rental property; your car may need to park next door or down the street from where you’re staying. If traveling with young kids, you may want a wagon or stroller to help transport items or kids back and forth to your car.

Some beach access points require dune climbs.

Many rental properties are surrounded by sand dunes; you may have a small climb before reaching Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is on the other side of this dune on Sheridan Beach

Pets are not permitted on the beach.

Although you may see dogs occasionally on Michigan City beaches, they are not allowed and violations are ticketed.

Michigan City is in the Central Time Zone.

While obvious for Chicago visitors, Michiganders may forget that Indiana’s time zone is an hour behind Eastern Standard Time. This is especially important for check-in or check-out times, as they will be listed in Central Time Zone hours.