Bryant Park (corner of Garfield Ave. and Peninsula Dr., 231-922-4910), sheltered at the base of Old Mission Peninsula, boasts shallow water and an easy-to-watch shoreline--perfect for families with young children. Sprawl out on sun-warmed sand while the kids dart around a red swing set and wooden play structure in the cool, shaded park nearby. Before you hit the beach, pick up goodies at Burritt's Fresh Market (509 W. Front St., 231-946-3300), including fresh cold cuts, dips, deli salads and other finger-friendly snacks. Grab some brats and buns, too--Bryant Park has grills for cookouts, plus picnic tables shaded beneath tall pines. In need of some beach toys? Cruise down the road to Don Orr Ski N' Beach Haus (890 Munson Ave., 231-946-8810) for inner tubes, life preservers and sandcastle equipment.
Families will also love Gilbert Park's Long Lake Beach (across from Long Lake Grocery on Long Lake Road, 231-946-2249). To get here, drive west on Front Street, which turns into Long Lake Road as it crawls away from town. About eight miles out of town, the park's entrance will be at your left. A small patch of golden sand slants along a curve in the lake, where warm, shallow water makes an ideal splash-around spot for tots.
For deeper, cooler waters, head to Old Mission Peninsula. First, pick up a good beach read or some glossy mags at T.C.'s two-level literary mecca, Horizon Books (243 E. Front St., 231-946-7290, horizonbooks.com). Pack your cooler with icy bevs and super-fresh sandwiches from Bay Bread (601 Randolph St., 231-922-8022)--the boxed lunches each include a sandwich (try the Baker’s Special: turkey, ham, homemade smoked gouda spread, lettuce and tomato on honey whole wheat or pumpernickel bread) with chips, a freshly baked cookie and, of course, a pickle. Then drive north on M-37, turn right on Swaney Road and follow it 'til it ends at the smooth sands of Haserot Park (oldmission.com), a pretty, sunny little spot facing east on East Grand Traverse Bay. Boat launches, picnic tables and a playground make this destination an all-day getaway.
If you dig the beach-babe scene, hit up West End Beach (on Grandview Parkway at the north end of Division Street). Bring a crew and a volleyball, and get a game going at the sand courts right along Grandview Parkway. Or, bring a bike or your rollerblades and work up a sweat along the TART Trail (traversetrails.org), an 11-mile paved path that runs along this strip of sand. After you're sufficiently sunned, step those sandy toes into sandals and walk to Pangea's Pizza Pub (135 E. Front St., 231-946-9800). Grab a patio seat out back, order a beer off the tap and check out the menu of nearly 20 gourmet 'zas. The margarita, with basil pesto sauce, fresh mozz, tomatoes and toasted pine nuts is spectacular.
QUICK BITE: A day at the shore requires a post-beach ice cream cone, and some of the best around (and the grazing cows that provide the milk they're made with) are at Moomers, a dairy farm and ice creamery west of T.C. Homemade, hand-dipped waffle cones cradle scoops of imaginative flavors like maple walnut, carrot cake, chocolate malt, ginger, cinnamon pumpkin crisp and green tea--though, for traditionalists, the menu also includes mint chocolate chip, blue moon, butter pecan and, yes, vanilla. (7263 N. Long Lake Rd., 231-941-4122, moomers.com)
YOU SHOULD KNOW: If you love strolling Lake Michigan’s shoreline, know you can walk on and on. In 2005 the State Supreme Court ruled the public can walk along Michigan's 3,200 miles of Great Lakes shoreline--70 percent of which is privately owned--provided the public keep along the water's edge, the point at which wet sand gives way to dry sand.