For a sweet strip of sand away from downtown's bustle, plan a drive west to Long Lake Beach, also known as Gilbert Park. But before you leave town, make a couple of quick stops for provisions. First hit the two-story Horizon Books (243 East Front St., 231-946-7290) to pluck a beach book or two, then grab some picnic grub at Another Cuppa Joe (1200 West 11th St., 231-947-7730), located in Building 50 of the Village Center Grand Traverse Commons. Smoothies, scones, salads, wraps and grilled panini round out the menu, along with coffee, tea and icy drinks like frozen chai latte. For finger-friendly beach food, try the Veg Out wrap with its laundry list of ingredients: hummus, cream cheese, sweet onion, carrots, cucumber, sweet red pepper, baby spinach, sunflower seeds and romaine on a sun-dried tomato lavash.
To access the beach, drive west on Front Street, which turns into North Long Lake Road. About eight miles from downtown, you'll see the park's entrance on your left - conveniently across the street from a quick-stop store where you can grab bottled soda and chips. A small play structure gives little ones a respite from the water, allowing you to lean back with your summer read and relish in this quiet escape.
If you like your beach day packed with a little more action, pencil in an excursion to West End Beach along Grandview Parkway. The beach is nestled right up against a section of the TART Trail, so make this mile-long stretch of West Grand Traverse Bay lakeshore your destination after an afternoon bike ride. Toss your swimsuit and towels in your daypack and hop on the trail east of town off Bunker Hill Road. Take a quick detour at the Patisserie Amie (237 Lake Ave., 231-922-9645) to stock up on crusty-sweet ham-and-brie sandwiches and little treasures like raspberry bombes and chocolate madeleines, absolutely perfect for nibbling from a picnic blanket once you reach the beach.
Cool off post-ride in West Bay's crystal-clear waters. The seldom-crowded far west end provides ample room to toss a Frisbee. Still looking for more action? Bring your game face and tell the gang to meet you at the sand volleyball courts, where you can bump, set and spike the day away until the sun sinks low along the horizon.
Bryant Park, at the base of Old Mission Peninsula, is a perfect beach for families. Stop in at Chef's In (519 West Front St., 231-941-1144) to fill out a few made-to-order sandwich forms. The sandwiches are grilled while you wait - perfect picnic food. Got a meat master in your gang? Bryant Park has grills, so go the DIY route and head to Burritt's Fresh Market (509 West Front St., 231-946-3300) for super fresh, grill-worthy meats.
Then head over to Bryant and set up shop at a picnic table under the pines. Sun worshipers can toss down a towel and lounge on the sand; water babies can swim 'til they get pruney in West Grand Traverse Bay; kids can burn off steam on the colorful play structure. Once everyone's worked up an appetite again, drive to North Peak Brewing Co. (400 West Front St., 231-941-7325). Go for a bowl of cheddar ale soup, a wood-fired pizza and a house-made microbrew - as if you needed any more unwinding after today.
Emily Bingham is assitant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in April 2007 and was updated for the web February 2008.