• America's freshwater Riviera

    On the gorgeous beaches of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois, everyone can find a spot in the sun.

    It's funny that some people in the Upper Midwest spend their summer vacations on the beaches of Cancun or Cape Cod, because the best beaches in the world are in their own back yard. Lake Michigan is America's freshwater Riviera, a nearly unending strand of sand that looks like Florida without the high-rise condos. It's clean, blue and pleasantly cool, with water temperatures in the 60s, and in most places it looks just like the ocean. Add in candy-striped lighthouses and even more ice-cream stands, and you've got the makings of a great beach holiday — a cheap one, too, if you're on a budget.

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  • Grand sand

    Along Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes are a giant playground for families.

    One Great Lake east of Superior, there's another North Shore. It doesn't have any craggy points or sheer palisades, and there are no agates waiting to be found. It has no waterfalls, and not a scrap of basalt; in fact, there's nothing volcanic about it. But this north shore, on the leeward side of Lake Michigan, has something Minnesota's beautiful North Shore on Lake Superior doesn't have: Sand, lots and lots of sand.

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  • Bicycling in western Michigan

    In the top rail-trails state, everyone loves a ride along Lake Michigan.

    The more I travel through the beach towns of west Michigan, the more I want to see. So I've slowed down and started touring by the seat of my pants - on a bicycle. rail trails, more than any other state. You can catch a trail all along the Lake Michigan shore, from Traverse City to South Haven.

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  • The good life in Traverse City

    On Lake Michigan, this beach town has a high IQ and refined appetites.

    At first glance, Traverse City seems like just another Lake Michigan beach town. It's a truly gorgeous one, for sure. There's sand as far as the eye can see, wrapped around two vast bays. Everybody's playing beach volleyball, paddling kayaks or swimming in water tinted three shades of blue.

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  • Camping around Lake Michigan

    For a beach vacation on a budget, stay at cabins and campgrounds in state parks.

    No summer vacation is more fun than a Circle Tour of one of the Great Lakes — and nothing is more of a pain than planning one. Fans of sand and sun love Lake Michigan, which is lined by state and city parks with gorgeous stretches of sand and dunes. You can't buy a better beach vacation at any price, but you have to plan ahead. Planning is tricky because you pass through four states, 30 state parks and two big metropolitan areas, each of which floods beaches with hordes of sun-worshippers on weekends.

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  • Spring in Traverse City

    Prowl through the locavore haunts of this Lake Michigan beach town.

    In Traverse City, spring is when you get to do all the things you planned in summer before you got seduced away by sand and surf. I'd seen the enticing shops, theaters and tasting rooms on other visits and planned to check them out "some time.'' Some time arrived Mother's Day weekend, when Traverse City was awash in color. So many pear trees were flowering downtown that the streets look frosted, and magnolia blooms were as big as popcorn balls.

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