Make Ludington MI your Next Getaway
A trek to northern Michigan is something our family tries to plan every year.
Work schedules and kids’ activities leave only a few weekends available for travel in the summer, making the chances we do have to get away precious family time. But where to go?
A few years ago, our family had a pit stop stay in Ludington MI and I remember thinking at the time – we need to return for a true visit and exploration of this charming town.
What sealed the deal for us is that Ludington is an up north beach town that doesn’t take all day in the car to reach. And there are fun things to do in Ludington all year long.
Where is Ludington, Michigan?
Ludington is easy to get to. Located on the western side of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Ludington is south of Manistee but north of Muskegon.
A smidge over two hours from Kalamazoo (or Lansing) and less if traveling from Grand Rapids we (and by we, I mean me) had the car loaded by mid-morning and were soaking our toes in the sandy beach by lunchtime.
Follow along on our adventures and find all the ways your family can pack in the fun with a visit to Ludington with things to do, restaurants, and where to stay using this trip planner from our getaway.
Downtown Ludington MI
What to start when you land in this picturesque town?
A self-described planner, I mapped out our weekend itinerary with help from the Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
From my experience, I suggest that you start your Ludington adventure in the heart of it all – downtown!
Downtown Ludington is walkable and cute. Here’s a winning list of things to do here:
Enjoy Stearns Park Beach on Lake Michigan
420 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington MI 49431
Lake Michigan Stearns Park Beach is a must-visit gem with FREE admission and parking.
After a day spent at this beach, we can see why it’s so popular.
The kids jumped right into the water. After taking in the pristine sand and clear waters, it’s easy to see why Stearns Park was voted one of USA Today’s Top 51 US beaches.
Families love the amenities – skate park, mini-golf, concessions, shuffleboard and ample free parking.
Climb to the Top of the Lighthouse
Stearns Park Beach, Stearns Park Outer Drive, Ludington MI 49431
Located a half-mile down the pier is the Ludington North Breakwater Light.
For a nominal donation, climb the 53 lighthouse steps of this 1924 beauty to the top and treat yourself to a view of the Ludington MI harbor.
Lighthouse tours with friendly, knowledgeable guides are highly recommended. The kids left with a newfound love of lighthouse history and enjoyed climbing to the top.
Lighthouse tour hours are available May 28-September 6, 2021, Tuesday-Sunday. ($8 adults, $5 children.)
Call (231) 845-7417 to check operational status before heading out – tours are held when weather cooperates and staff is in place.
Waterfront Sculpture Park
Take Sculpture Selfies, Watch the SS Badger & Conquer the Playground
Watching the S.S Badger
701 Maritime Dr, Ludington MI 49431
Ludington is a Lake Michigan port for a 1950s-era steamship the S.S. Badger. The Badger is the last coal-fired car ferry steamship in the United States.
From Waterfront Sculpture Park, you can watch the ship make its way from Ludington MI to Manitowoc, WI. If you time it right, you can watch the massive ship arrive or depart from Ludington. (Check the ship’s schedule here.)
We watched the 7 pm ship arrival. (All of the benches were full by 6:45PM so plan ahead if you want to snag a seat.) It was really cool to watch the 410 foot, 7 story steamship go by. It was so close!
It was so fun to watch that we returned the following morning for the 9 am departure and found the park much quieter – great if you want to beat the crowds.
Pro Tip: Evenings along the waterfront can be cool – you might want to bring a jacket.
Waterfront Sculpture Park
391 S William St, Ludington, MI 49431
The downtown Waterfront Sculpture Park is near the Badger docks and is where we watched the car ferry go by.
The park is outfitted with a massive playground. Climbing all over this thing was a fun diversion while we waited for the steamship to come in.
Waterfront sculpture park is also home to nine bronze historical sculptures of the Mason County Sculpture Trail, a walking loop, and green space. This place is a family magnet.
We walked to the park, but if you drive, know that parking is easy and plentiful. There are also clean and convenient public restrooms nearby.
Shop the Cute Downtown
Downtown Ludington MI
You’ll find a medley of quaint shops within walking distance of Stearns Park Beach.
This is the downtown Ludington MI shopping district.
My kids loved looking around Gordy’s Skate Shop and The Windowsill New and Used Books.
I savored a delicious iced cold brew coffee from Red Rooster Coffee. This spacious coffee shop would be a perfect place to get some work done or just stop in for a little pick me up.
Stop into Sandcastle’s Children’s Museum
129 E Ludington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
Your kids can pack a ton of fun into an afternoon at Sandcastles Children’s Museum with three full floors of interactive play.
They have hands-on exhibits ranging in everything from a play hospital to a construction site to a grocery store to an airplane my son basically wanted to live in.
Policy note: Masks are currently being required for all guests over 2.
Open 7 days a week.
Daily admission: $8
Children under 1: free
Get Sea Legs at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum
217 South Lakeshore Drive, Ludington, MI 49431
Learn about Ludington MI with a stop at the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum.
A former U.S Coast Guard station, this museum is rich with history and interactive exhibits.
Make sure to climb up a replica of the North Breakwater Lighthouse. Our entire family took the wheel to experience what it was like to pilot the carferry Pere Marquette 22.
Cool off at the Ludington MI Splash Pad at Peter Copeyon Park
900-998 S Washington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
The splash pad at Peter Copeyon Park was a hit with both of our kids, who loved the squirting and moving features. The playground here is small but enjoyable.
Bring a blanket for sitting and take in the stunning lakefront views.
There are several benches; most are in the open sun.
This is also a great spot for a picnic lunch.
As you venture beyond downtown Ludington MI, you’ll find different ways to keep your family entertained.
From the Historic White Pine Village to the Jump Around Fun Center, there’s quite a bit to do within a short drive.
Here’s what made our list:
Tour Historic White Pine Village
1687 S Lakeshore Dr, Ludington MI 49431
Tour Historic White Pine Village where you’ll find a cluster of replica historic buildings that show what life was like in the 1900s. They offer a living-history, family-friendly, fun-filled tour of a late 19th – early 20th-century pioneer village.
Think Greenfield Village on a small-scale. The kids will love exploring the historic buildings on the grounds and interacting with pioneer characters.
Historic White Pine Village is open early May through October and takes around 2 hours to visit.
Get Those Wiggles Out with Jump Around Fun Center
1830 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington MI 49431
Ever attended a birthday party with a bounce house outside?
Jump Around Fun Center & VR has that same vibe, but with a TON of inflatables, all outdoors!
This center is another fun option for an outdoor activity while visiting Ludington.
This location also offers virtual reality arcade games indoors for up to four people to play together. Choose from 30-60 minute sessions for ages 7 and up.
Ludington State Park: Big Sable Point Lighthouse + Climb the Dunes
8800 M-116, Ludington MI 49431
Just outside of town is Ludington State Park and is a destination unto itself. Scoring a coveted camping spot at this state park is not easy and there’s good reason for that: Ludington State Park is one of the crown jewels in the state park system.
What makes this park so desirable? Nature, variety, and history.
Set on Hamlin Lake AND Lake Michigan, Ludington State Park offers miles of amazing hiking through stunning Michigan sand dunes. Beyond that, you’ll find a 4-mile long canoe trail (with onsite canoe and kayak rentals) plus the iconic Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse was on my must-see list, but it’s not a short walk to find it here. The trek to the lighthouse is about its about two miles; two long miles with kids, August heat, and no shade. The 2-mile hike or bike (we lucked out with a bus ride) is worth it to capture this historic black and white beacon.
Luckily for me, The Sable Points Lighthouse Keepers Association (SPLKA) offers Summer Bus Days. During these special days, SPLKA offers a bus (for a fee) to take visitors from the park entrance to the lighthouse.
Our kids LOVED the ride, and it saved a lot of energy for those little legs to climb the 100+ steps in Big Sable’s spiral staircase upon our arrival.
Beyond the amazing lighthouse, the Skyline Trail Loop was a big hit with our crew. They called the trail the “Treehouse Trail” due to the lush forestry. They also loved climbing the dunes; they declared they “conquered a mountain” for the rest of the day after reaching the top.
Make Furry Friends at Amber Elk Ranch
2688 W Conrad Rd, Ludington MI 49431
If your kids love visiting zoos or farms, add Amber Elk Ranch to your trip itinerary in Ludington MI. My kids LOVED petting and feeding the elk and couldn’t believe how many we saw (my daughter lost count at 52).
We were the only ones on our tour, which provided a lot of time with these beautiful creatures. Even my 15-year-old nephew enjoyed the trip, admitting that it was “way cooler than I expected.” Consider that a stamp of teenage approval for this fun place.
We recommend calling ahead to book tour reservations.
Oceana County – Just South of Ludington MI
Oceana County is just to the south of Ludington and provides even more family fun for people in the area.
Here are our top Oceana County picks if you find yourself in the area:
Get a Scoop (or Two!) at Country Dairy
3724 S 80th Ave, New Era, MI 49446
For a tasty treat on your drive home, stop at Country Dairy, located in New Era (30 minutes south of Ludington MI).
I snagged a cheeseburger here and it was incredible- but the show-stealer was definitely the Michigan-made ice cream.
Kids meals here come with bottomless milk refills and you can play on their great playground while you wait for your food.
Country Dairy also offers tours with wagon rides and lets visitors see the cows, calves and their robotic milking system.
Get Back in the Saddle Again at Stony Lake Stables
4345 S 44th Ave, New Era, MI 49446
Stony Lake Stables offers family-friendly horseback riding in New Era, about a half-hour south of Ludington MI.
Visitors are invited to travel along shaded trails and may see deer and other wildlife during their rides.
Children ages 1-2 can ride double in the saddle with an adult, ages 3 and up will be on their own horse or pony.
Visit Fox Barn Market & Winery
500 18th Ave, Shelby, MI 49455
Located 25 minutes south of Ludington, Fox Barn Market & Winery offers some unique gift shopping inside their large, antique barn.
Visitors also enjoy “barn bite” snacks and wine by the glass on their patio.
Bounce on the Jumping Pillow at Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo
4180 M-20, New Era, MI 49446
Also in New Era, you’ll find Lewis Farms & Petting Zoo offering acres of activities for the kids. All ages will catch air on the giant jumping pillow or take a ride in the BumpAlong Barrel Train. Purchase a cup of food and the animals will come flocking to you.
Where to Eat in Ludington MI
Jamesport Brewing Company
410 S James St, Ludington, MI 49431
Our entire family loved Jamesport Brewing Company.
Offering a well-rounded menu, try the Bavarian Pretzels – served with house-made beer cheese dipping sauce – for a savory treat. The burgers and fries are also top-notch.
Ask to sit outside on the deck for great views.
Keeper’s Fish Shack
106 N James St, Ludington, MI 49431
Keeper’s Fish Shack was just what we needed to refuel at lunch. This carry-out-only spot offers plenty of seating under shaded umbrellas to enjoy their salted and freshwater fare.
Portions are generous; my kids split the fried shrimp while my nephew and I enjoyed some local Lake Michigan whitefish. No matter which dish you choose, don’t forget the tartar sauce: it’s homemade, and the perfect complement to any meal.
Ludington Bay Brewing Company
515 S James St, Ludington, MI 49431
Our favorite meal during our stay came from Ludington Bay Brewing Company.
The kids shared a pizza and a side of apples and it was not only plenty of food but also a very yummy pizza (yes, I stole a bite). My husband and nephew both got the shrimp po boy sandwiches and both agreed it was phenomenal.
I had the Michigan Cherry Salad with grilled chicken and goat cheese; I’m currently contemplating a return trip just to order it again.
106 N Rath Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
We grabbed breakfast at Cafe 106 on our second day in Ludington and discovered some delicious food with speedy and friendly service. Be sure to try their strawberry jam.
Old Hamlin Restaurant
122 W Ludington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
Open in its current location since 1942, this family-owned restaurant offers a little bit of everything: Greek, Italian, and Mexican specialties, as well as steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and appetizers.
225 S James St, Ludington, MI 49431
Take a nibble at the Q Smokehouse offering slow-smoked barbecue plates with homestyle sides.
We ordered the BBQ Pork sandwiches (with the Q’s special pork rub) and the Shells & Cheese side. With easy online ordering, you can enjoy the feast at the beach.
House of Flavors
402 W Ludington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
Save room for dessert at the iconic Ludington MI House of Flavors, with its catchy 50s diner décor.
Our family went all-in with the Little Piggy dessert – served in a mini trough. Delicious.
While you wait in line for ice cream (yes, plan on a wait during peak times), check out the paper straw casings stuck in the ceiling and ask a server the reason.
While known for their desserts, I would argue that their breakfast is just as exceptional. Make sure to verify the schedule before heading out; we arrived at 9:00 AM and they didn’t open until 10.
Where to Stay in Ludington MI
Finding a place to stay isn’t hard and Ludington offers a variety of accommodations from boutique cottages to spacious resorts. You’ll want to book early though.
Ludington Beach House
120 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington, MI 49431
About Ludington Beach House: A local developer purchased the former Lakeside Inn of Ludington and remodeled the entire hotel with all-new rooms and queen beds and unique, cottage-chic decor (no two rooms are alike).
This hotel is across the street from Stearns Park Beach and within walking distance to downtown. Remote keyless access and individual entry (motel-style) allows for minimal contact. Hotel also includes an outdoor, heated pool.
Our room was PERFECT for a family with a separate bedroom and living room (complete with a pullout couch) and two bathrooms. The staff was fantastic; we would definitely stay here again.
Nader’s Motel & Suites
612 N Lakeshore Dr, Ludington, MI 49431
The family-owned Nader’s Motel & Suites, located on Route 116, is another popular option – offering spacious rooms and an outdoor heated pool.
In-town resort atmosphere in-town with the perfect location across from Lake Michigan.
Updated motel with lots of amenities. Walk to downtown, restaurants, marinas, shopping, parks and the car ferry. Free, high-speed Wi-Fi, refrigerators, microwaves, coffee makers in every room. Full kitchen suites available.
Outdoor heated salt-water pool, picnic area, free bike rental, shuffleboard, etc.
Ludington Pier House Motel
805 W Ludington Ave, Ludington, MI 49431
The Ludington Pier House Motel has one of the best locations in town – a short walk to Stearns Park Beach. It’s also within walking distance to downtown.
You need only walk a bit to capture a Lake Michigan sunset.
Clean, family-friendly motel, with an indoor heated pool. Walking distance to the beach, parks, lighthouse, marina, downtown restaurants and shopping. Family-size rooms. Free wireless internet/ Cable TV Online Specials.
Ludington Comfort Inn
5323 US-10, Ludington, MI 49431
For those of you who prefer hotel life, the Comfort Inn gets a big thumbs-up from families (it’s about a 5-minute drive to downtown).
The hotel has a large indoor heated pool, free breakfast, a playground, and a picnic area. Consider booking a family suite, offering extra space.
Kids will dig their colorful bunk beds. Oh, and it’s pet-friendly.
It’s hard to know where to point the camera because Ludington is bursting with beautiful backgrounds.
In the end, Ludington is fantastic and deserves a visit.
Do you have any places that you keep going back to? What about some activities that are a must for your family while on a beach vacation in Michigan?
Thanks to Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for hosting our visit.
All opinions are my own.