11 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.

What is Michigan City IN Famous For?
Michigan City is known as a tourist attraction due to its location near both the Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan.

11 Things to Do in Michigan City

Michigan City offers more than a visit to Lake Michigan. Plan your next trip with these activities:

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 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

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 leashed dogs are welcome.

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

The Children’s Garden

The Children’s Garden is a must-see if you’re visiting with kids.

In 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 during beach season.

The zoo is closed for the winter from November 1 through March 31.

map: Washington Park Zoo

Visiting with the Zoo 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 or quarters for the feed machines.

Finally, be sure to have your camera ready, as there are many opportunities for some great family photos.

Find this photo prop near the Rotary Castle in the zoo

Favorite Animals

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.

Washington Park Zoo is also home to bald eagles, fennec foxes, zebra and capybaras.

You’ll often find the bears cooling off in their pool on a hot day.
The goats are very friendly (and seemingly always hungry).

The Observation Tower

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.

The Observation Tower provides a unique view of the zoo (and the city).

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

31 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.

NOTE: The Barker Mansion is undergoing renovations 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, Michael Kors, 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

400 E Michigan Blvd, Michigan City, IN 46360

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.

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

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

Washington Park Beach

This sand sculpting competition is now two years running in Michigan City, and attracts both master sculptors and semi-pros to show off their skills.

Over a dozen massive sculptures cover Washington Park Beach during the three-day event, drawing artists from around the country to participate.

The event takes place annually in June.

2022 Entrants

Some of the sand sculptures from 2022’s inaugural competition:

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

11 – Visit the Farmers Market

8th St, Michigan City, IN 46360

Located in Michigan City’s Uptown Arts District, the Michigan City Farmers Market is open seasonally from May through October to grab fresh, local produce, plants and other crafted goods.

Operating hours (May-Oct): Saturdays, 8:00 AM – 12:00 PM

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.

Where to Eat

Dune Billies Beach Cafe

201 Center St, Michigan City, IN 46360

Dine in this eclectic restaurant and you’ll find walls that are covered from floor to ceiling with photos and and other beach themed decor.

Dune Billies serves both breakfast and lunch; carryout is also available.

Fiddlehead Restaurant

422 Franklin St, Michigan City, IN 46360

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

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.

Scartozzi’s Trattoria

822 N Karwick Rd, Michigan City, IN 46360

This carryout only Italian restaurant in Michigan City offers a wide variety of tasty food, with multiple sauce options. You can also skip the sauce and request butter or olive oil as an alternative.

Shoreline Brewery

208 Wabash St, Michigan City, IN 46360

Shoreline is a good pick for visitors with a variety of tastebuds. With appetizers, small plates, sandwiches and a kids menu, everyone at the table should find something delicious.

Beer fans will also find a dozen options on tap.

This restaurant and brewery has been open since 2005 and is still run by its original founder and head brewer, Sam Strupeck.

The Polish Peasant

231 W 7th St, Michigan City, IN 46360

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

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.

Tip: Note the time change to Eastern Standard Time since New Buffalo is in Michigan.

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:


Beachfront Home Steps from Beach

• 3 bedrooms (sleeps 10)
• 2 bathrooms (2 full baths)

Things to do in Michigan City IN
photo: VRBO

“The Troll’s Den” Cottage in Beachwalk

• 3 bedrooms (sleeps 6)
• 2 bathrooms (1 full, 1 half bath)

Things to do in Michigan City IN
photo: VRBO

More About Beachwalk

Beachwalk is a resort community in Michigan City, offering unique, colorful homes, pool, basketball courts, volleyball, splash pad, playground and boardwalk access to Lake Michigan.

Many owners rent their homes through VRBO and may also include a golf cart for guests to use around the neighborhood.

Dunetop Getaway with Lake Views

• 3 bedrooms (sleeps 8)
• 3 bathrooms (2 full, 1 half bath)

photo: VRBO

4411 Inn & Suites

4411 U.S. 12, Michigan City, IN 46360

Things to do in Michigan City IN
photo: Booking.com

Holiday Inn Express & Suites

401 Kieffer Rd., Michigan City, 46360

Things to do in Michigan City IN
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.

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.

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

Michigan City IN Map

find things to do in Michigan City IN

More to Explore in Travel

About The Author