Finding Sun, Fun, Sand and Waves in the Midwest {A Road Trip Story}


Our firstborn was six months old the last time we visited the Atlantic Ocean. We loaded the car with an excess of bulky beach and baby gear because… first kid.

Did I mention it was my parents’ car, who drove to the beach while we hopped on a plane to Charleston, SC with our baby?

At the time, it worked.

The story is a little different with our now 4- and 2-year-old boys. A plane ride wasn’t practical with all our beach gear. And we didn’t have the energy for driving double-digit hours to reach the ocean, given our boys’ “spirited” attitudes when strapped in the car for more than 15 minutes.

But we still wanted them to experience a huge sandbox, sun and open water.

Enter: Lake Michigan, a Midwest gem.


In less than five hours of tire time (plus umpteen stops), we sank our toes into sugary-soft sand while gazing over sparkling, clear blue waters. No jellyfish, no sharks, no tropical storms, no backseat whining. I’m kidding on the last one. It’s not a magic drive.

If you’re dreaming of the beach but dreading the commute, consider a trip to Lake Michigan.

We chose South Haven out of the many southwest MI locales, thanks to a friend’s recommendation. We didn’t get the prime July dates because we booked a little late (a chronic issue of mine), but found a cute little bungalow available in slightly cooler mid-June.

This Midwest beach adventure was the perfect fit for our young family:

  • A four-night stay sounded more doable for our unseasoned little travelers than the standard full week, and this rental accommodated short stays (a bit of a rarity in the summer).
  • The kids dug and built for hours in the sand and shallow water, rested in the afternoon, and burnt more energy on the local playground before dinner.
  • The quaint town wasn’t overcrowded, and it comprised three-story buildings brimmed with restaurants for every palate and budget, dairy bars and fudge counters, and shops for lazy perusing.
  • The marina, pier and lighthouse offered exploration alternatives when we needed a break from the beach. If we had more time, we would’ve explored the dunes, state parks, bike trails and wineries in nearby towns.

We all needed this change of scenery. Our youngest reaffirmed this when he asked – in awe and wonder – at a roadside lunch stop, “Is this cay-cation?”

Whether you trek your crew to an ocean, a lake, or a park on the other side of town, you can find true delight in watching them grow in a new environment. Confidence built on scaling a playground. Little minds and hearts expanded through exposure to faces and cultures unlike their own. Senses awoken to sights, smells and sounds outside their daily life.

They are learning just by being there.

Happy summer to you and yours, regardless of the miles you travel. And if you want both a beach and your sanity, go jump in a Midwest lake.


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