Manistee is known for its Victorian architecture, but its sandy Lake Michigan beaches are not to be overlooked. Spread your towel in the sand, buy a hot dog at the concession or jump into a pickup volleyball game.
You can drive the mile from Manistee's Victorian downtown to the beach, but why not make an event of arriving at the shore by stepping along with dog walkers and moms with strollers on the Riverwalk?
This boardwalk (find it and free municipal parking by the bridge on Washington Street) traces the bank of the Manistee River channel all the way to First Street Beach, a smooth stretch of sand on the Lake Michigan coast that has it all - concession stands, tennis and volleyball courts and a bark park for the pooch. Wear yourself out spiking volleyballs, then bury your toes in the toasty sand and let Lake Michigan sparkle before you. After you've soaked up enough Michigan sunshine, take a break from the beach in Manistee's stately Victorian-era shops. Downtown boutiques, galleries and smoothie spots are tucked between the drug store, vacuum shop and newsstands in the ornate brick buildings that lumber tycoons built.
Approximately one mile from the beach along the Riverwalk, find classic beach accoutrement at Port City Kite Co. (417 River St., 231-723-1630). Owner Kelly Niles will outfit you with a handmade Victorian kite or a butterfly in sky-punching colors. At Hollyhock, (431 River St., 231-723-2051) find affordable but fine lamps and other home decor. The Ideal Kitchen has a colorful collection of Emile Henry baking dishes, casseroles and terrines (421 River St., 231-398-9895).
A picnic for your beach bag awaits at cheerful Goody's Juice and Java where baristas Jim and Nancy Goodwin make frothy peach-pear green tea smoothies, cherry oatmeal bars and panini with roasted local eggplant, tomatoes and feta (343 River St., 231-398-9580). In season, Port City Organics (321 River St., 231-398-3060) carries luscious strawberries from Ware Farm up the road. If you've stayed at the shore until evening, walk back to the east end of town to Chicago-style pizza pie or traditional Italian at the high-style Tuscan Grille (312 River St., 231-723-4200).
Emily Betz Tyra is associate editor of Traverse, Northern Michigan's Magazine.
Note: This article was first published in June 2006, and was updated for the web February 2008.