First things first - it's not a real beach day without all the proper essentials. Thankfully, downtown Charlevoix does summer essentials with style. John Cross Fisheries (209 Belvedere, 231-547-2532) has crackers, capers and whitefish pâté, which, when combined, make for finger-food perfection best enjoyed on your picnic blanket.
Walk north on Bridge Street, stopping in at The Rocking Horse Toy Company (325 Bridge St., 231-547-5258) for goggles, flippers, water guns and other goodies to keep wee ones busy. When you reach the drawbridge, turn left and walk the pier toward Lake Michigan, making sure to share a wave with the folks motoring boats into and out of Round Lake. When you hit the enticing ribbon of sand at the end of the pier, unfurl the beach towels and don the wide-brimmed hats. Slather on the sunscreen: the stone-skipping, castle-building and general lollygagging may officially commence.
When the sun starts dipping westward, it's time to shake off the sand and walk back into town for evening nourishment on the riverside deck at Stafford's Weathervane Restaurant (106 Pine River Ln., 231-547-4211). Share a plate of oysters Rockefeller or baked brie with raspberries, enjoy the warm breeze and watch the drawbridge slowly crank open to let sailboats and ferries glide through. Dessert is down the street at Kilwin's (233 Bridge St., 231-547-5013), where a brick of fresh fudge and a monster waffle cone have your name written all over them.
Emily Bingham is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in May 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.