(LANSING STATE JOURNAL) -- Nothing screams "Summer!" like a day at the beach.
Sun, sand, castles, picnics and vibrant blue water.
And when it comes to beaches, nobody does it like Michigan.
Plain, stunning fact: Michigan's 3,126 miles of Great Lakes coastline is longer than the whole U.S. coast from Maine to Florida (2,069 miles).
Very appealing facts: Great Lakes beaches are free of hurricanes, sharks, and crusty, irritating salt.
When we asked readers to suggest their favorite beaches around the state, some played it close to the vest, fearing their top spots would get too crowded.
Others shared liberally.
Lake Michigan figured heavily in the discussion. So did the Ludington area, home to Ludington State Park, which won the top spot in our state park voting earlier this spring.
But our readers also pointed us to quiet spots on Lake Superior and perfect family spots on Lake Huron. Sorry, Erie; your Michigan portion is so small and off of Lansing's radar that you didn't get mentioned, but please note that we love you, too.
Here's a sampling of unique and beautiful places — some heavily populated, some wild — that came up over and over again in our conversations.
• Why it's special: With more than seven miles of sandy shoreline, it's no surprise that the Ludington area was one of the most-recommended. The lakeside resort town is home to both city and state beaches, a federally protected wilderness area and some of the most spectacular Lake Michigan views of anywhere on the coastline.
• Best beaches: Stearns Park Beach in downtown Ludington offers 2,500 feet of shoreline and a picnic area with tables and grills. There is also a lot to keep your little ones occupied when they get sick of sand castles. Enjoy miniature golf, a playground and a skate park, as well as public restrooms.
Looking for a little more space? Head a few miles out of town to enjoy Ludington State Park Beach. Nearly seven miles long, it's one of Michigan's most popular beach destinations. Enjoy camping (with state park permit), hiking and breathtaking dune vistas overlooking the lake.
• Distance from Lansing: Ludington is 160 miles northwest of Lansing in Mason County
• Why it's special: With more than 25 miles of sandy beaches and dunes nestled around countless recreational, cultural and foodie attractions, it's easy to see why Muskegon is one of Michigan's most popular destinations.
• Best beaches: One of Muskegon's most well-known beaches is the Pere Marquette Beach bordered by Lake Michigan frontage and a corner of the Muskegon Channel. Enjoy all the amenities of a city-owned beach, including a handicap-accessible walkway, public restrooms and playground facilities.
Have a dog? Then you should consider one of Muskegon's other beaches, Kruse Park. This one-mile stretch of stunning Lake Michigan shoreline includes a section open to families who travel with their pets.
• Distance from Lansing: Muskegon is a quick, 100-mile drive west of Lansing.
• Why it's special: Just a few miles south of Ludington is a popular sunbathers' paradise. Pentwater is a favorite for travelers who seek a quaint, small-town vibe with their big-lake vacation.
• Best beaches: Pentwater is perhaps best known for its sugar-sand beach inside the Charles Mears State Park, a 50-acre campground and recreation area along Lake Michigan. Even if you just come for the day, make sure to stay for what some consider the best sunsets along the coast. Also recommended by our readers: Summit Township Park, 6 miles north of Pentwater, which allows leashed dogs and has handicap-accessible restrooms; and the Bass Lake Outlet beach.
• Distance from Lansing: Pentwater is about 150 miles northwest.
• Why it's special: Grand Haven is one of Michigan's most recognizable beach towns, famous for its two-mile boardwalk of shops and restaurants, its lighthouse and — of course — its lakeside sand. And Michiganders aren't the only ones who have noticed. Grand Haven has been named by CNN, ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Travel & Leisure" magazine as among the nation's must-see beaches.
• Best Beaches: You can't go wrong with the Grand Haven City Beach and its connected neighbor, the Grand Haven State Park beach. Together, they create one of the most beautiful and celebrated stretches of Lake Michigan shoreline. And when people talk about camping on the beach, they actually mean it at Grand Haven. You can camp on the sand (make sure to reserve well in advance for hot months like July and August).
• Distance from Lansing: Grand Haven is 100 miles west of Lansing, just a smidge north of Grand Rapids.
• Why it's special: Located at the mouth of the Kalamazoo River, Saugatuck is a quintessential lakeside vacation town featuring an historic downtown, quaint boutiques, good food and dazzling views.
• Best Beaches: Ranked one of the 25 best shorelines in the world, Saugatuck's Oval Beach offers the perfect blend of seclusion and access. Want an amazing view of the water? Climb the 282 steps to the top of Mt. Baldhead, a 600-foot-tall grassy dune overlooking the town and the Kalamazoo River.
• Distance from Lansing: Saugatuck is about 100 miles west
Lac LaBelle area
• Why it's special: On the edge of the Keewenaw Peninsula, 1,100-acre Lac LaBelle is next to Lake Superior and there's a cut leading straight to the big lake. There are inland swimming spots on Lac LaBelle, which are warmer than chilly Superior, but there's also plenty of big-lake beach.
• Best beaches: Visit nearby Bete Gris Beach to investigate the "singing sand." Put sand in the palm of your hand and rotate it to make a resonant sound.
• Distance from Lansing: About 530 miles north, then west, then north again
• Why it's special: Agate hunters love the Lake Superior beaches for gemstone hunting; others love the peace. Many birders also frequent the beach near Whitefish Point.
• Best beaches: Walk the stretch of beach along the point near the Light Station and Shipwreck Museum. Not far away, visit the swinging bridge and sandy shallows where the Two-Hearted River meets Lake Superior; there's a state campground there with 39 sites for tents or small trailers, vault toilets and a hand pump for water.
• Distance from Lansing: About 300 miles straight north
• Why it's special: The Tawas area offers stunning sunrise views and plenty of space to flop in the sand.
• Best beaches: Families will like East Tawas City Beach and Tawas City Beach, both of which have kids' play equipment, picnic areas with grills, and rest rooms. Also super-popular: Tawas Point State Park on Tawas Beach Road near East Tawas. Waters in Tawas Bay are shallow and warmer than other points in the Great Lakes; there's also a Victorian-era lighthouse. There also are changing facilities, almost 200 campsites and a 2-mile nature trail.
• Distance from Lansing: About 160 miles northeast
• Why it's special: Lake Michigan gets much of the glory and all the visitors from Chicago; Lake Huron is a little less glam but just as beautiful.
• Best beaches: Cheboygan's Gordon Turner Park, at the end of Huron Street, has plenty of beach, a playground, boardwalk into wetlands and clear views of three lighthouses and, sometimes, the Mackinac Bridge. Shallow, calm water makes it a great place for families to swim. Cheboygan State Park offers swimming along Lake Huron and Duncan Bay, with restrooms and a beach house. It features the remains of the Cheboygan Point Light.
• Distance from Lansing: About 220 miles north
And a few more ...
These fine Michigan beaches also got some mentions and definitely deserve them:
• Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has miles of beach, some accessible by car and some a hike from the parking areas. Check out Twelvemile Beach and Hurricane Beach.
• Grand Marais: Area favorites include Agate Beach, the Grand Marais Harbor, Woodland Park Beach and the mouth of the Grand Sable River (walk down Sable Falls and follow the trail along the river to the lake).
• Petoskey State Park: Two campgrounds and sandy beach; located between Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
• Manistee: Has a variety of city beaches, including handicap-accessible Fifth Avenue Beach.
• Fisherman's Island State Park near Charlevoix, with six miles of shoreline and 80 rustic campsites.
• Silver Beach County Park, at the mouth of the St. Joseph River in Berrien County
• South Haven: Seven public beaches, with North and South beaches most heavily used
• Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
• U.S. 2 from St. Ignace west, where people just pull off the road and jump into Lake Michigan from its northern shore.
• Lexington: Sandy public beach near a cute and charming town about 20 miles north of Port Huron
• Alpena area: City beaches include Mich-E-Ke-Wis Park, Blair Street Park, Thomson Park and Starlite Beach
• Lakeport State Park: The park is in two units flanking the village of Lakeport. Camp or visit the beach as a day user.
The above article appeared on the Lansing State Journal's website on July 2 and was written by Kathleen Lavey and Louise Knott Ahern .