Even though August is just around the corner (and so is that word that starts with “S” that I dare not write), I’m still dreaming of beach days with my kiddos.
Any mom knows that doing the beach with kids can feel like an Olympic sport, but certain beaches on Michigan’s Sunset Coast make beach days feel like a little work with a lot of vacation. From Bridgman to Benton Harbor and beyond, each Southwest Michigan beach has its own charms. Here are three my family and I love:
The beach with the creek and magical mermaids
Weko Beach, located in Bridgman, is our family’s favorite beach spot. The magic of this beach begins on Lake Street with a drive down a tree-tunneled road that twists through Bridgman’s dune land. Weko feels tucked away like a little secret.
Once parked and unloaded, my kids and I pause at the boardwalk at the top of the beach to make a game plan. Here, they always spot the unique water intake, a squatty cylinder with a worn summertime mural. With the loss of beach this year, it now sits in the water where it did when I was growing up about 200 yards out. The intake has always been a source for stories in my family. My dad tried to tell us (or rather scare us) by saying if we got too close, the intake would suck us into the water treatment plant. My mom said toe-biting fish lived near it. Good ol’ parenting scare tactics, I suppose.
My five-year old daughter, on the other hand, has invented her own water-intake story. She says the magical lake mermaids play around the tank and look for new friends. Hand down, her story is sweeter dose of imagination than my parents’. Either way, the water intake at this beach makes for a good conversation piece and a nice piece of water art to admire while out for a float.
While we are always here for the swimming and sand-castle building, my kids’ favorite Weko beach activity is hiking south along the water’s edge to the mouth of the creek at Warren Dunes Beach. Its shape changes from year to year, but the creek typically forms into a warmed wading pool, perfect for little ones who like to swim without puddle jumpers. If your family is up for an adventure (with a dash of uncertainty), we often trudge through the creek from Warren Dunes and back to Weko Beach Campgrounds (if you can get over the minnows circling around your ankles the entire walk). The creek will wind through the wooded dunes and drop you off in front of the Weko Beach Campground, where a walking bridge will bring you to the dune steps. From there, you can walk back to the beach.
Beyond the mermaids of the intake and the secret creek walks, Weko makes the beaching experience easy for families–especially for families with small kiddos. Any spot in the parking lot feels close to your blanketed destination. And the large beach house, centrally located to most spots on the beach, has outdoor showers, clean bathrooms, and concessions. Typically, beach is never busy enough to feel overly crowded. Even with a full parking lot, there is plenty of space to sprawl three sheets wide right along the water’s edge.
Finally, Weko is the perfect evening destination for families as they host local musicians to play sunset bugle taps. The crowd stands. The horn plays. The sun slips away.
Jean Klock Park
The beach with friends and local crowds
Centrally located for many of our play-date friends, this Benton Harbor beach is our perfect meeting spot.
Generally a beach for the locals, Jean Klock is hidden behind Harbor Shores Golf Course and Upton Drive. My kids love the quiet entrance and the long, skinny parking lot that seems to stretch on and on. As my minivan rolls in and past the first spaces, my kids press their fingers on the window and yell, “Park here, mom! There’s a spot!” Go there.” Anxious to see their friends, they’d have me park in the first row of parking (far, far away from the bathroom).
But I know to keep driving along the thin lot, around the turnabout, past the concessions and restrooms, and to the second bank of parking spots. We always meet our friends below the play structure at the water’s edge, close enough to the parking lot that it doesn’t feel like an extreme sport to carry all the beach accessories and small toddlers. And when my four-year old tells me she has to go to the bathroom for the fourth time in two hours, we’re only a few steps away from the potty.
My friends, our kiddos, and I go to Jean Klock simply for the beach. That’s it. We are there to play in the sand. Hunt for rocks. Roll over the waves. Walk the shores. That’s what’s special about Jean Klock. While you could do this on any Southwest Michigan beach, Jean Klock has a local, low-key appeal with all the necessary amenities.
Warren Dunes State Park
The beach with the big dunes
Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer is one big sandy playground for both adults and kids. This is the place to go to watch your four-year old daughter and almost forty-year old husband squeal in the same pitch all the way down a dune.
No magical mermaids at this beach. Just the magic of sand. Lots of sand. Between the three miles of beach and the impressive sand dunes, our family can spend an entire day here.
Much like Weko Beach, the park begins with a winding drive through the woods and opens up to an expansive parking lot. If it’s a busy day at this beach (which is almost any good beach day), get ready for a long hike to the shoreline, though. For this reason, I usually bring the hubs for reinforcement. I do not do this beach alone.
Despite the crowded lot, once you get to the water there are three miles of beach to choose from. With kids, though, I always stay near the north end by the restrooms, because, you know, four-year-olds and small bladders.
Our time at Warren Dunes is often split. First, we play in the water. Then we head to the dunes.
If you really want to tucker out the kiddos for the ride home, have them hike up Tower Hill, the park’s tallest dune. With one hike up and one sand-kickin’ run down, everyone will be napping in the car before you exit out on Red Arrow Highway.
Our family likes to save trips to Warren Dunes for the long, we’re-sticking-it-out-all-day kind of beach days.
Let’s be honest: anywhere along the sunset coast is a fantastic spot to beach. All of our beaches–from New Buffalo Beach all the way to South Haven– have something to offer.
But the fun of being a local in Southwest Michigan is to stake claim on your beaches and share the long list of personal reasons and stories that make them yours.
Yes, these are my beaches. I go to Weko for the magic, Warren Dunes for the sand, and Jean Klock for the friends.
Where do you love to beach with kids?
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