In the summer of 2018, we planned a trip to northern Michigan with Katie’s family after wanting a new location to explore with young kids that was within driving range of our homes in Madison, Wisconsin. We landed on Charlevoix, Michigan and spent a week swimming, hiking, eating, drinking and laughing together. We’ve got a lot of fond memories over the years and our Charlevoix trip has a permanent place in our memory books!
Charlevoix, Michigan – your next Midwest family vacation destination
Sara here :: my husband’s parents live in beautiful northern Wisconsin and we knew they’d also love Charlevoix and the surrounding area, so we invited them to join us this summer to meet up in northern Michigan. It’s always fun to share a favorite destination with someone new and experience it again through their eyes. It’s safe to say they also loved the town, the water activities, the biking, and agreed it was the perfect location for spending time together!
Charlevoix is located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, about an hour north of Traverse City, Mich. We chose to return to this location for a variety of reasons – we loved the activities, the shops and restaurants in town, a multitude of things to do for all ages, and good proximity to other locations like Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore Sand Dunes and Torch Lake. Charlevoix is unique in that it’s sandwiched between Lake Michigan, Round Lake, and Lake Charlevoix – all bodies of water that have their own charm.
We partnered with Visit Charlevoix to share this post.
All activities and opinions are our own.
Our kids are ages 5 and 8, which is such a great age to explore and experience Michigan. Our first trip, the kids ages ranged from 8 months to 4 years old. Between the two trips with young kids, we’ve compiled this list:
15 Things to do with Kids in Charlevoix, Michigan!
1. Shopping in downtown Charlevoix
Always a favorite activity for Katie and I, there are no shortage of cute shops in downtown Charlevoix. It’s a good mix of inexpensive gift shops and some higher-end boutiques and recreational & sporting goods stores. Some of our favorites include:
– GaGa for Kids (and Women too!) : children’s books & toys, along with clothing for babies, kids and women
– Momentum Outfitters : large collection of affordable clothing and gifts, and a favorite place for a souvenir tee
– Round Lake Outfitters : outdoor sporting goods store
– Cherry Republic : gift shop and tasting room with local Michigan cherries
For a full list of the local shops in Charlevoix, click here.
2. Spend a day at the various beaches
Charlevoix has several beaches, many within walking distance of downtown. Our favorites with kids over the last two trips are:
– Ferry Beach Park : 224 Ferry Ave, Charlevoix MI.
A new favorite of ours is this large beach with a roped swimming area, sandy shore, playground, restrooms and shelters. Plan for the day and get food & drinks from the new nearby Back Lot food trucks
– Depot Beach : 307 Chicago Ave, Charlevoix, MI.
Another pretty beach option with the same amenities as above, just more of a rocky beach. Wear water shoes and you’ll be good!
– Michigan Public Beach : 95 Grand St, Charlevoix, MI
This public beach is on the shores of Lake Michigan with the iconic South Pier Lighthouse views, concessions and is one of the best places to catch the sunset over the water!
– Fisherman’s Island State Park : 16480 Bells Bay S, Charlevoix, MI
five miles of unspoiled beaches along Lake Michigan, more about this below!
For a full list of the beaches around Charlevoix, click here.
3. Take a walk.
Taking the sidewalks around charming Charlevoix neighborhoods on foot is one of my favorite things to do. The downtown Bridge Street has several shops and restaurants, along with the cool drawbridge, East Park, the marina along Round Lake, and over to Michigan Public Beach. There are cute alleys and an interactive fountain near East Park called the “Fountain of Youth”, along with a pond to feed the fish.
There are some amazing historic homes around town and each one is unique. The kids like looking at the houses too, with huge front porches, big balconies, and all the beautiful landscaping. Charlevoix has a historic district featuring homes from designer Earl Young, who is known for his “mushroom houses” (more on these below!)
While on a walk down Michigan Avenue along the lakeshore, we discovered a public access point the the lake in between a couple houses. We had the place to ourselves and it was a beautiful stopping point on our walk!
4. Fisherman’s Island State Park
Just a couple miles out of town, Fisherman’s Island is another great sunset spot with miles of unspoiled Lake Michigan shoreline. We spent an evening here with lawn chairs, music playing on the portable speaker, and some beverages while the kids splashed and we watched the sun go down. There is a small hiking trail and a few rustic campsites at this park as well. Depending on water levels, sometimes the “island”, which is actually a water-covered peninsula, is accessible and able to walk out onto.
5. Grab a good meal from the local restaurants (and a sweet treat!)
So many good dining options are located in Charlevoix that it’s hard to choose! We love to have a good meal out at a restaurant and grab a sweet treat along the way home. Here’s some of the places we’ve liked over the past two trips:
– Smoke on the Water : excellent breakfast, a BBQ joint with breakfast and lunch; the scents of the meat smoker will entice you right in!
– Harwood Gold : cute coffee and baked goods shop that also sells maple syrup products and gifts
– The Cantina : advertised as “modern Mexican with farm-to-table roots”, this is a great place for an outdoor meal and delicious cocktails. They’re one of the restaurants that stays open the latest in town, so we’d head here for chips & salsa and margaritas after the kids were in bed at home!
– Back Lot Charlevoix : another new discovery and might be our favorite yet, this features an outdoor beer garden near Ferry Beach with food trucks and a large indoor bar. The food trucks offer a variety of food choices for everyone and a great atmosphere that’s dog-friendly as well. We’ve also visited the Back Lot in Petoskey and enjoyed that as well.
– there’s no shortage of places to grab a sweet treat in Charlevoix either! The Dairy Grille, Kilwin’s, Murdick’s Fudge Shoppe and the Taffy Barrel are just a few!
For a full list of dining available in Charlevoix, click here.
6. Charlevoix Farmer’s Market
Held at East Park, just off Bridge Street in downtown Charlevoix, the market has local goods every Thursday from 9am-1pm. If you’re not in town for the market days, there are also plenty of fruit stands outside of town with pick-your-own fruits and produce for purchase! All the information on the dates, hours, and amenities can be found HERE.
7. Summer Concerts at East Park
Every Thursday evening in July and August, there is live music at the pavilion. This is a beautiful space right off Bridge Street, overlooking the Round Lake harbor. There is plenty of space for the kids to run around and would make for a perfect summer evening outdoors. The events calendar can be found HERE, along with all the other happenings in and around town.
8. Take a day trip outside of town
While Charlevoix just happens to be our favorite town that we’ve visited so far in northern Michigan, there is no shortage of fun things to do in the area. Both visits, we’ve made day trips outside of town to Torch Lake for a day of boating and climbing the sand dunes at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. Torch Lake is about a 45-minute drive from Charlevoix and the Dune Climb is about 1.5 hours. Grab a picnic lunch at one of the Charlevoix cafes on your way out of town and plan for a fun day seeing all that northern Michigan has to offer.
9. Mushroom House Tours
As mentioned earlier, Charlevoix is known for the “mushroom houses” around town designed by master builder Earl Young. These homes are so unique and fun to look at, many of them within walking distance from town. There is a self-guided tour map here to check them all out! We saw two homes and two hotels in town and love the architecture of them all.
Other Things to do in Charlevoix:
There truly is something for everyone in Charlevoix and there wasn’t enough time for us to do it all. Visit Charlevoix has comprehensive lists with all there is to see, do and explore in and around Charlevoix and a great resource. To visit their website, click HERE. A few things we had on our list but didn’t get to were:
Lavender Hill Farm – live music and fun workshops surrounded by the calming scent and sights of the lavender fields
Castle Farms – a beautiful setting for exploring the gardens and drinking wine, Castle Farms is a premiere historic attraction in Charlevoix. It would make an amazing wedding venue as well!
Mt. McSauba Recreational Area – a winter sport recreational area for sledding, skiing, snowboarding and skating that also has summer activities like hiking and disc golf. It’s also supposed to be a great place for sunsets!
Beaver Island – accessible by ferry, Beaver Island has a lot to offer for nature-lovers with biking, hiking and several nature preserves.
Golfing – there are many golf courses around Charlevoix for the golf-lovers. Our husbands did some golfing on our last trip and said there were some really great courses.
Little Traverse Wheelway – we didn’t get a chance to do any biking on our most recent trip to due a faulty bike lock that had all our bikes chained together (ugh!) but my in-laws rode from Charlevoix to Petoskey along the Little Traverse Wheelway.