The 9 Most Picturesque Small Towns In Michigan

Michigan, the Great Lakes State, not only boasts the longest freshwater coastline of any state in the United States, but its shoreline is also the longest in the country—after Alaska. While the attribute of length can be impressive, and many people would want to lace up for anything described as "longest," the beauty of Michigan does not exclusively lie in the length of its coastline. Instead, the 10th most populous state in the nation boasts a gorgeous landscape that features such notable highlights as the Great Lakes, the Porcupine Mountains, the fifth-longest suspension bridge in the world, and a collection of picturesque small towns with big attractions as mentioned below.


Tawas Point Lighthouse at Sunset in Tawas Michigan.
Tawas Point Lighthouse at Sunset in Tawas, Michigan.

For its fine beaches, historic lighthouse, and gorgeous downtown, Tawas earns its place on this list. Not more than 2,000 people live in its bucolic environment and enjoy the many things the town offers. While Tawas has many draws, its focal point is Tawas Bay. 

From the shoreline of Lake Huron, famous for its clear, blue waters, to the mind-bending beauty of the Au Sable River, Tawas Bay is hands-down one of the most picturesque spots in Michigan. Known as the "Cape Cod of the Midwest," in reference to its stunning beaches, Tawas easily lives up to its billing. Visitors will enjoy the many outdoor activities around the area, including kayaking, swimming, and paddleboarding—among endless others.


Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort, Michigan.
Point Betsie Lighthouse in Frankfort, Michigan.

Located in Benzie County and famous for its pristine dunes, stunning beaches, and spectacular sunsets, Frankfort will easily sweep visitors off their feet. With a population of only 1,243 as of 2023, according to World Population Review, this quaint, little town evidently punches above its weight. Whether one wants to stroll out to the pier late at night, watch some exciting film at the Garden Theater, or walk through the town's maple-lined streets in the cool of the day, Frankfort comes with sights, sounds, and scenes many will find irresistible. Besides, the turquoise waters of Crystal Lake, which are among the country's cleanest lakes, will be at hand to display its shimmering radiance about two miles from downtown Frankfort. 


South Haven, Michigan
Aerial view of Traverse, Michigan.

Since Traverse and the Traverse City region produce about 40% of tart cherries harvested in the United States, Traverse is often referred to as the "Cherry Capital of the World." However, the city is not just known for cherries or the National Cherry Festival, where locals and visitors enjoy drinks and meals under blooming cherry blossoms. Nestled on the shores of a picturesque lake, Traverse has all the ingredients known to constitute a vacation hot spot. And it is not just some word on the street. The town has won several high-ranking mentions, including "Top Lake Vacations in the US" (by US News & World Reports) and "Best Winter Getaways" (by Oprah Magazine). While such mentions testify to the town's beguiling beauty, they still fall short of capturing the actual experience.


Historical buildings and town site at the popular Besser Museum in downtown Alpena.
Historical buildings and town site at the popular Besser Museum in downtown Alpena, Michigan. Editorial credit: ehrlif /

Alpena, the only city in Alpena County, home to one of the world's largest shale quarries, has other attractive highlights besides shale and quarries. Curled up between a huge emerald forest and the dramatically picturesque Thunder Bay, Alpena will leave visitors completely blown away. The town is home to around 10,000 friendly residents, who all enjoy the many stunning features that make it a favorite with tourists — interestingly, without being frustratingly touristy or crazily crowded. While the town boasts such highlights as the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center, the real outdoor gems are in the surrounding area comprising a collection of parks, beautiful lakes, and lush forests.

Mackinaw City

Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw Michigan
Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw, Michigan.

Mackinaw City is one reason Upper Michigan is often considered one of the most beautiful regions in the United States. While the city itself is small and boasts a population under 1,000, its rustic beauty makes it one of the most sought-after. The city comes with attractions that are as impressive for their number—as they are for their charming allure. Whether one wants to cross Mackinac Bridge (the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world), ride the ferry over to the car-free Mackinac Island (one of the prettiest islands in the country), or just wander through the town itself, a visit to Mackinaw City will always come with the desire for a repeat visit.


Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA downtown cityscape and park at dusk.
Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA downtown cityscape and park at dusk.

One thing that makes Kalamazoo famous is its unique name. The jury, however, is still out regarding the actual meaning of the word "Kalamazoo." According to some, Kalamazoo means "boiling pot." To some, it translates to "mirage." To others still, Kalamazoo means "reflecting river." However, while the meaning of Kalamazoo is debatable, there is no doubting the fact that this small town is scenic, charming, and irresistibly laid-back. Kalamazoo recently shot into the national limelight when it decriminalized public urination, defecation, and littering. But the headlines aside, Kalamazoo boasts several features that make it among Michigan's best. And with the beautiful Lake Michigan to the west and its moderating effect on temperatures, Kalamazoo winters are often slightly more comfortable than in many parts of the state.

South Haven

South Haven, Michigan
A crowded beach along Lake Michigan in South Haven, Michigan. Editorial credit: Claudine Van Massenhove /

South Haven is a little haven in every sense of the word. South Haven hugs the sparkling Lake Michigan in Southwest Michigan. Home to about 4,000 residents, South Haven is a small city that boasts a beneficial blend of small-city appeal and big-city conveniences. A number of stunning marinas, easy access to seven public beaches, and a historic lighthouse all combine to make the town a tourist magnet. Besides, South Haven is home to some of the oldest lodges and bread and breakfasts in the Water Winter Wonderland of Michigan. In addition, the eclectic art galleries, as well as the impressive array of shopping and dining options, make South Haven an easy sell.


The jaw bridge in downtown Charlevoix that allows boat passage between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix
The jaw bridge in downtown Charlevoix that allows boat passage between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix.

A visit to Charlevoix will make one understand why this city boasts some of the most epic views in Michigan. A trip here will also reveal why the whole Charlevoix-Petoskey region is one of the most underrated regions in the United States. The region's rustic scenery and picturesque grandeur are such as to make visitors effortlessly come under its enchanting spell. Charlevoix boasts quite a number of mind-bending attractions, including the lake that bears the town's name: Lake Charlevoix. The gorgeous water body is the third largest lake in Michigan in terms of surface area and, in 2012, was voted the second-best lake in the United States. Charlevoix teems with endless options for those who enjoy the outdoors, including swimming, kayaking, and fishing. 


Marquette, Michigan is a port city on the shores of Lake Superior
Marquette, Michigan is a port city on the shores of Lake Superior.

The beauty of Marquette, a town of about twenty thousand, is the kind that will stay in mind for a long time. For those who love the outdoors, Marquette has a wide range of exciting options. While some will enjoy strolling through its scenic walking paths, others will quickly lose themselves in such activities as fishing, golfing, and skiing. Regarding biking, Marquette has a long and storied reputation as a top biking destination in the country. Other attractions include Presque Isle Park, which boasts many scenic Lake Superior overlooks, a beautiful lighthouse, heart-sinking cliffs, and Sunset Point—the perfect spot to grab one of the best sunset views in the skies of Michigan.

The Takeaway

Located in the Great Lakes Region, Michigan might be cold, with winters that are often harsh and brutal. However, when it comes to beauty, the only state in the country made up of two peninsulas is one of the most stunning as well. It boasts not only the longest freshwater coastline of all the states but also an array of small towns that do a good job displaying its graceful grandeur and spellbinding allure. From Tawas to Marquette, The Riviera of the Midwest will hardly disappoint.