The Michigan Day Trip Tour, No. 8: A Picture Perfect Day in Pentwater
*The Michigan Day Trip Tour is a series of posts all about the Great Lakes State and the many natural and physical wonders it contains. Most destinations included in the series are located within a two-hour drive of Grand Rapids, though some, like St. Ignace and the Soo Locks, are a little further. Hopefully, these posts will encourage you to go out and do some exploring of your own — or at least prove to be mildly entertaining. Enjoy!
The Lake Michigan shoreline is dotted with many small, idyllic towns — Empire, Arcadia, Manistee, and South Haven among them. One that does a pretty good job of standing out from the crowd, however, is the tiny village of Pentwater. About a half hour south of Ludington and just a short jaunt off US-31, Pentwater is home to only about 850 permanent residents, but make no mistake: when summer’s in full swing, there’s no shortage of visitors.
While it could nearly be considered part of West Michigan, Pentwater still gives off that “up north” kind of vibe, and it is for that exact reason that people come from all over to take it in. It’s the kind of place you visit to quiet your mind, to let life slow down for a little bit. A great way to accomplish this? By visiting the beach, of course.
Not even five minutes from downtown, the sandy shore of Lake Michigan is easily accessible at Charles Mears State Park, located just north of the Pentwater River channel. The public beach runs about a quarter mile from the channel to the village’s northern border, and offers all the perks your beach-going self might desire. That includes parking, bathrooms, picnic tables, a playground, a boardwalk, and a short, walkable pier. Undoubtedly the beach’s best feature, though, is the show the sky puts on each night as the sun sets.
Of course, if you’re not the type that particularly likes getting sand in between your toes (you know, because you’re a weirdo or something), there are other ways to enjoy the waterfront, as well, two of which — the boardwalk and the pier — were already mentioned. One other way would be by visiting the quaint little park at the end of Channel Lane, the perfect spot to set out a lawn chair and dive into a good book. But enjoying the water from afar, say from the outdoor patio of a downtown restaurant, works just fine, too.
One such establishment where you can do just that is Gull Landing. Situated right in the thick of things on Hancock Street, Pentwater’s main drag, Gull Landing has been owned by the same family for the last four decades, with each successive generation adding its own touch. What began as “The Hot Dog Place” is now a full-blown restaurant with breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, outdoor seating, and live music on Wednesday and Sunday nights all throughout summer.
Speaking of food, a couple of other spots worth checking out are The Antler Bar and The Brown Bear, which conveniently sit right across from one another on Hancock. A friend of mine recommends The Antler for their wings, while The Brown Bear is perhaps the best burger joint in town, known for its one-pound Bear Burger Supreme, which is topped with ham and banana peppers.
If you’re in need of dessert after stuffing your face at one of the aforementioned establishments (and hey, no judgment here), a trustworthy source tells me Cosmic Candy has some of the best popcorn you’ll find anywhere. And then, of course, there’s always House of Flavors, which dishes out just about any ice cream flavor you could possibly desire.
By the time your pants are bursting at the seams, it may be a good idea to head back outdoors and take in some more of the area’s beautiful scenery. In that case, a walk along the harbor could be just what the doctor ordered, but you could also head to the south side of Pentwater Lake and check out Pentwater Pathways, a trail system covering 15 miles in all that can be found in the Pere Marquette State Forest.
The easiest way to get there from town is to take the US-31 Business Loop south, turn right on Longbridge, left on Wayne Avenue, and then drive down Wayne about a mile and a half until you see the sign and the dirt road on your right. When Longbridge is non-navigable, as it has been during summer 2019 due to high water levels, the detour is a little screwy, as this map shows. But you can do it, I believe in you. And, if you have the time and are looking for more to do in the area, I also believe you’ll really love the Silver Lake Sand Dunes (which, honestly, are a day trip unto themselves).