Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, Ludington is a quintessential “hidden gem” hotspot for families looking for a destination that has it all. This west Michigan beach town has miles of beachfront and water access, sand dunes, forests, rivers and lakes — making it a must-visit for outdoor enthusiasts. Add in the numerous family-friendly dining options, museums, festivals and events, and you have a destination that’s big on fun while maintaining its small-town charm.
Where to Stay
You’ll find a wide variety of overnight accommodations in Ludington — from family-friendly hotels and motels to luxury bed and breakfasts, plus inns, house rentals, cabins, tent camping sites and more. No matter your preference, you’ll find just the right place to stay while in Ludington.
For families who enjoy the amenities of a hotel or motel, Nader’s Motel & Suites might be just right for you (like it was for my family!). Located a short five-minute walk from the beach, Nader’s offers suites that are perfect for families. The suites at Nader’s include kitchenettes with large refrigerator/freezers, a full stove and oven, microwave, kitchen sink and all of the kitchen accoutrement you’d need for a comfortable stay, like silverware, dishes and cups. With two full beds and a full pull-out bed in the sitting room, there is plenty of space to spread out and relax.
If you’re like me and my family, though, you probably won’t be spending much time in your room. If that’s the case, you’ll find lots of things to entertain you around the grounds at Nader’s, including a saltwater pool; shuffleboard, giant Connect Four and corn hole on the lawn; free bikes that you can borrow and ride around town; a basketball court; and a gas fire pit with Adirondack chairs, where you can sit and enjoy a pleasant evening by the fire. This motel has so many things that will make your stay in Ludington a great one.
Where to Play
The laid-back vibe in Ludington is very much conducive to resting, relaxing and playing. Here are a couple of places we checked out where we could play and explore as a family.
Sandcastles Children’s Museum
Located in the heart of downtown Ludington, Sandcastles Children’s Museum is a great place for families with children of all ages, but it’s especially a blast for kids ages 10 and younger. This hands-on educational museum is multiple stories, and features a kid-sized sampling of the great things families will find all around Ludington.
For instance, kids can climb aboard the pint-sized Badger Play Ship, which was modeled after the S.S. Badger Car Ferry. Or grab a shopping cart and stop in for play supplies at the grocery store, which is sponsored by Keeper’s Fish Shack and features play food that resembles the kind of food you might find at this popular walk-up fish restaurant. Kids can pretend to work at Hungry Howie’s Pizza and House of Flavors (two local eateries), deliver letters and packages at the post office, help take care of pets at the veterinary center, try out a multitude of real musical instruments on the soundstage, learn about local agriculture at Grandpa’s Farm, and much more. You could spend hours exploring this kid-friendly destination.
Stix Ludington & Park Lanes
If you want an all-in-one place to dine and play, visit Stix Ludington & Park Lanes, located just minutes from downtown. Stix features a restaurant with elevated food and drink menu, and a bowling alley with state-of-the-art lanes. Head outdoors, and you’ll find a beer garden patio where you can play corn hole and shuffle board, and relax by one of the several bonfires. On certain days, you’ll also find local food trucks visiting the outdoor space and live music playing.
One of the great things about Ludington is that there are outdoor adventures to be had 365 days of the year. Here are just some of the outdoor spaces we visited during our short stay.
Stearns Park Beach
Set right on the beach of Lake Michigan, Stearns Park Beach is a great place for families. Kids can burn off some energy on the sandy beach or at the playground, and parents can relax and soak up some sun.
One of the most popular activities at Stearns Park Beach is to walk the half-mile pier to Ludington North Breakwater Light, and you can even climb the lighthouse tower to the top (in season). This also is one of the best places in Ludington to watch SS Badger go by. The largest cross-lake passenger/car ferry on the Great Lakes and the last coal-fired steamship in the United States, the SS Badger makes regular trips to and from Ludington and Manitowoc, Wisconsin, from May through mid October. You can buy a ticket and ride on the ferry (trips take approximately four hours one way), or just enjoy seeing (and hearing!) the huge ferry depart Ludington at 9 a.m. and arrive in the evening at 7 p.m.
Ludington State Park
Nature-loving families will definitely want to visit Ludington State Park, a great park that has it all: sandy beaches, scenic sand dunes, an iconic lighthouse, wetlands, marshlands, forests and three campgrounds. Situated between the 5,000-acre Hamlin Lake and 7 miles of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline, Ludington State Park is the place to visit for an ideal beach day, because it’s here that you’ll find soft, clean sand that’s perfect for making sand castles, water that’s not too cold during the warmer months (and bonus: there’s no salt in the water!), and a designated dog beach for your four-legged family members.
The beach is a big draw, but don’t forget to explore the sand dunes at Ludington State Park. These pristine hills are fun to climb up and slide down, and they’re located just steps from the shoreline. After you’ve warmed up your legs climbing up and down the dunes, head out for a hike on one of the several trails that will have you exploring all areas of the park. If you’re up for a big hike, opt for the Lighthouse Trail, which winds over and through open and wooded sand dunes, and ends at Big Sable Point Lighthouse, one of the iconic lighthouses in Ludington.
Ludington is rich in history, and you can see examples of that everywhere you look.
Historic White Pine Village
History buffs, this is the place for you. At Historic White Pine Village in Ludington, you can immerse yourself in all-things history at this family-friendly living-history museum. As you walk around the outdoor grounds, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a 19th-century pioneer village.
White Pine Village boasts 30 historic exhibit buildings, including an original 1849 Mason County Courthouse (which is on the National Register of Historic Places ), an authentic 1900s steam locomotive, and lots of memorabilia, artifacts and archives depicting the rich lumbering and agricultural history of this area of Michigan.
Port of Ludington Maritime Museum
Similarly, the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum is a must-see stop for history lovers. Through digital artifacts, images and interactive exhibits, this maritime museum will give you a deeper appreciation for Ludington’s rich history. Located in a former U.S. Coast Guard Station, the museum has three floors of exhibits about lighthouses, shipwrecks, ferries, the lumber industry, and much more.
What to Eat
One of the best ways to get a feel for a town is to taste your way through it. That’s true in Ludington, which has a variety of food options to please every palate. Here are some recommendations based on the local restaurants and shops we visited while in Ludington.
They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? So, start your day right with a meal at Cafe 106, located a half a block off of the main strip in downtown Ludington. This hidden gem breakfast-and-brunch spot serves all of the classics, including dinner-plate-sized chocolate chip pancakes, skillet breakfasts and eggs Benedict. When the weather is nice, ask for a seat at one of the patio tables outside.
House of Flavors is a breakfast, brunch and lunch spot that you’ll want to get to early and definitely bring your patience: there is an almost constant line that wraps around the building. But that’s for a good reason: The food is worth the wait! Part of House of Flavors is a sit-down restaurant serving diner classics, but the other half is an ice cream parlor dishing up more than two dozen flavors, as well as shakes, malts, sundaes and more. And bonus: You can get ice cream for breakfast!
House of Flavors has been making ice cream since 1937, and their claim to fame is breaking the Guinness World Record for longest ice cream dessert — they made a sundae that measured 2,970 feet, or a half-mile! House of Flavors has also been making Blue Moon, an ice cream flavor found almost exclusively in the Midwest, since the early 1930s. The exact ingredients in and origin of Blue Moon is a mystery, so you’ll just have to try it yourself and experience this unique ice cream flavor!
Lunch and Dinner
All the beachy vibes in Ludington will probably have you craving fish at some point. If that’s the case, Keepers Fish Shack is the place to go for a great fish meal. This family-owned walk-up fish and seafood restaurant serves favorites like fried, grilled and blackened fish; shrimp; calamari; and hush puppies that are to die for (seriously — get them!). Keepers is located in Legacy Park in downtown Ludington, so you can grab your food and then pick out a table and enjoy your meal al fresco.
Barbecue lovers will want to visit Q Smokehouse, a quaint local restaurant just off the main strip in Ludington. This no-frills restaurant serves up a variety of smoked meats, like beef brisket, pork ribs, barbecue chicken and more. The meat is amazing, but don’t sleep on the sides: The candied sweet potatoes and the pasta and cheese are worth the visit themselves. You’ll also find local Michigan beverages here, for those who like to drink local.
A Ludington tradition since 1942, Old Hamlin is an iconic spot for lunch and dinner. You’ll find hearty dishes like steak dinners, chicken parmesan, and liver and onions, just to name a few. The kids menu is large here at Old Hamlin, so everyone in your party will find something to enjoy here. Before you leave, don’t forget to look around at all of the photographs and memorabilia on the walls, then grab a slice of one of the pies in the dessert display case.
Krave Frozen Yogurt is the place to go for frozen yogurt in Ludington. Featuring 12 flavors of artisan frozen yogurt and sorbet, plus more than 50 toppings. If you’re in the mood for a sweet treat that’s vegan, dairy free and gluten free, you’ll find those options here.
If your sweet tooth leans more toward chocolate, then you’ll find satisfaction at Kilwins Ludington, an old-fashioned chocolate shop that sells everything from caramel-filled chocolates to caramel apples to chocolate-covered Twinkies and everything in between. If you visit at the right time, you’ll see staff making fudge or caramel, which is an extra-special treat. Kilwins also serves a variety of ice cream, so there’s something for everyone here.
Coffee and Tea
Sometimes you just want a cup of coffee and a little nibble. In that case, you should head to Red Rooster Coffee in Ludington, which sells amazing coffee and a variety of organic breads with multiple different spreads (think local jams, jellies, Nutella and more).
HumaniTea, located at The Port (a collection of boutiques and artisan eateries in Ludington), is the place to find a nourishing cup of tea. And even better, all of the teas at HumaniTea are responsibly sourced — either made by survivors or are from collaboratives that are part of trafficking prevention. You can get your HumaniTea either hot or iced, and they also sell locally made kombucha on draft or by the can. (You can also take home their kombucha in growlers or howlers!) Also check out the baked goods they have that day. If you’re lucky, you might find a lavender cookie or toffee shortbread, which pairs excellently with one of their herbal teas.
For more information about Ludington, Michigan, and to plan your trip, visit PureLudington.com.