Summers are made for sunny days at the beach, warm nights licking ice cream cones and making family memories. You can do that in Chicago any day (yay!). But for an extra-special experience, hit Michigan’s vacation towns. Just around the bend of Lake Michigan in Harbor Country and further north, these beach communities have tons of secrets to discover. Read on to see which spots to explore now.

Union Pier/New Buffalo (1½ hours away)

This is the first beach stop in western Michigan, just over the Indiana border. Union Pier makes up a few little towns in the area, the most notable being New Buffalo.

What to do: If you head there in July, blueberry picking is a must and the best place to do that is at Mike's Blueberries (11160 Farina Rd.) in New Buffalo. For little climbers, head to the Warren State Dunes State Park before it gets too hot to conquer the massive dunes. Of course a trip to any beach town wouldn't be complete without play time in the sand, so head to Town Line or Berrien Street beach for fun in the sun.

Where to eat: You'll find no shortage of ice cream shops in any of these towns but a particular favorite is Oink's. For meals head to The Stray Dog, a cute little bar and grill with dog photos aplenty and an enclosed patio overlooking the harbor. A full kids' menu and a private family bathroom make this easy to enjoy with little ones. The food happens to be very good, too. Redamak's is a can't-miss because of its famous burgers and kid-friendly atmosphere (aka: you can make all the noise you want without getting the stink eye).

Where to stay: Elephant Walk Cottages are perfect rentals for families and only a short walk to the beach. If you want somebody else to make the bed at night, The Harbor Grand is a hotel with an indoor pool and waterfront terrace restaurant.

photo: Kevin Dooley via Flickr 

Where do YOU love to go on the Michigan shore? Let us know in the Comments!

— Maria Chambers & Samantha Lande