by Lorilee Craker
‘Come for the beach and stay for the town’ could be a new tagline for Harbor Lights Resort, situated just steps away from both a breathtaking private beach on the shores of Lake Michigan and the picturesque marine village of Frankfort, Michigan, halfway between Traverse City and Grand Rapids. You’ll park your car and never have to get in it again if you don’t want to do so — restaurants, shops and activities are easily walkable.
“Salt-free” can be found emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to mugs and refers to the fantastic freshwater Lake Michigan, where parfait sunsets sink into turquoise waters and a pristine, silky sand beach. The resort’s private beach is clean and sparsely populated, with lots of benches to perch on and a playground set for small fry to run off some steam. Kids could be at the world’s most beautiful beach and they’d still want to splash in a pool, so luckily, Harbor Lights has a big, well-maintained indoor pool and hot tub.
On one hand, the resort is thoroughly modern, with excellent Wi-Fi coverage and brand new flat-screen TV’s. Many of the bright, airy rooms feature new carpet and mattresses, as well. But if these walls could talk, they’d tell a fascinating and storied history that anchors the property.
In 1902, the elegant Royal Frontenac Hotel stood where Harbor Lights is now. The Royal Frontenac Hotel was designed by the same architect who designed the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. It unfortunately burned to the ground in a mysterious fire just 10 years later.
Now the surf and sun beckon and even the Beach Boys could appreciate the good vibrations of Frankfort, just steps away. Families can enjoy lots of delicious restaurants, shopping and even a fabulous old restored movie house — all of which poses the question, “should you be beach bums or townies during your holiday?” Either way, the Harbor Lights Resort is a fetching place to figure it out.
Our Editor Loves
- Gorgeous private beach with stunning views
- Clean and well-kept pool and hot tub
- Picturesque Frankfort one block from resort
- Water Sports
- Connecting Rooms
- Family Room 5+
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Guest rooms and suites are available in a wide assortment and include luxury suites and condos with two floors. Mini-fridges, microwaves, flat-screen TV's with HBO and free Wi-Fi are standard throughout, and many rooms provide private balconies with views of Caribbean-blue Lake Michigan below. Expect fluffy pillows, quality bedding, and good, firm mattresses. Pack N' Plays and blow-up queen mattresses are available upon request.
Standard Guest Rooms
Standard rooms are 300 square feet in size and offer one king bed or two queen beds, and a kitchenette. Standard rooms 56 and 57 are on the ground floor and are handicap accessible.
These units are a roomier 425 square feet in size, and are outfitted with two queen beds, a sofa bed, and a kitchenette.
Luxury suites provide plenty of wiggle room with separate bedrooms and 765 square feet of space. There is a king bed in the private bedroom with a 2-person whirlpool tub, and a queen sofa bed in the living room with a two-sided gas fireplace. Suites have two flat-screen TV's with HBO, a full kitchen with cookware and dishes, and a balcony deck off both rooms.
Located on the ground floor with a deck and walkout doors to the beach just steps away, these suites cost a little extra, but are worth every penny for the access to sand and surf. At 600 square feet in size, these suites provide a queen bed and a queen sofa bed, plus a two-person whirlpool tub in the bathroom.
At 650 square feet, this suite is a bargain with a queen bed in a private bedroom, a queen sofa bed in the living room, two twin beds in a separate sleeping area, and three flat screen TV's. This suite also can be connected with a standard room to accommodate up to 10 people (extra cost).
The 840 square feet, one-bedroom condo is like a luxury suite, except a little bigger. It comes with a queen bed in the master bedroom, and a queen sofa bed in the living room, but in this case, the two-person whirlpool tub is in the bathroom. Also included is a full kitchen with cookware and dishes.
Two-Bedroom, Two-Bath Condo
With 1,040 square feet, the two-bedroom condos offer a queen bed in the master bedroom, a queen bed or two twin beds in the second bedroom, and a queen sofa bed in the living room. This condo also comes with a fully equipped kitchen and a deck with lake views.
There's room for the whole gang in the huge three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,230-square-foot condos. The master bedroom has a king bed and a two-person whirlpool tub. The second bedroom has a queen bed. And the third bedroom comes with full/twin bunk beds. Also included are a fully equipped kitchen and two levels with decks and panoramic views of Lake Michigan.
We stayed two nights (Wed-Fri) in a standard motel room with our two children.
The room: standard two queen bed room. There is not a water view but that’s clear on the website. We booked the room several months ago at a decent price and knew we won’t be in the room much. The room was immaculately clean. The beds were comfortable. The shower had good water pressure. Housekeeping did a good job too. Over all it was a good experience.
The property: clean and well maintained. In fact, the whole village is clean.
The pool: since Lake Michigan was still in the 50’s there was no swimming. The pool was warm, clean and obviously well maintained. No peeling paint on the ceiling. No mold or mildew.
Front desk: some of the kindest people we’ve come across working at a hotel. They offer coffee and donuts each morning during peak season. They come from a local bakery and are delicious.
The beach: right out the door. Clean. Great view of the harbor. Perfect places for sunset viewing and sand castle making.
Overall, this is a wonderful place to stay. We’ve already made plans to return next summer.
We rented one of the motel rooms for one night as we were traveling through Frankfort on bicycle. For almost $200 we got a basic motel room you would expect from a budget motel chain. The only window gives you a view of the parking lot and the grill of the car parked in front of your room. Very disappointed. Front desk was fine, location is excellent, but the price for these rooms is ridiculous.
The clean, unsupervised pool ranges from 3 to 5 feet in depth. A hot tub is next to it and both are open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
Outfitters in Frankfort offer kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and boogie boards rentals for fun in the water, but you can borrow boards from the resort. If motorized is more your speed, you can rent a speed boat, jet ski or pontoon boat, or charter a fishing trip at nearby marinas.
Just 100 yards away from the resort, the pier is a nice, easy stroll to the lighthouse, in sunshine and moonshine -- what could be better than a bonfire on the beach's fire pit?
Betsie Valley Trail
Bike rentals are also available offsite (about two blocks from the resort) to explore the woods and waterways of Betsie Valley Trail, a rave-worthy path on an old railroad bed that's perfect for all ages and abilities. Your family can set forth by bike or foot right from the Harbor Lights parking lot.
Other points of interest nearby include Frankfort Garden Theater, which showcases first run and art house films; The Corner Toy Store, which offers one of the best LEGO collections in the state; and Point Betsie Lighthouse, just four miles away from the hotel.
There are no onsite restaurants at Harbor Lights, but diverse dining choices abound in Frankfort. The resort's front office provides sublime donuts and coffee from Crescent Bakery every morning and the property has grills and picnic tables for families who want to have their own cookout.
In the morning, pick up chewy bagels and cream cheese at L'chavim Delicatessen. For lunch or dinner, Papanos Pizza and Bayview Grille offers family fare, while folks come from all over the area to try Asian specialties at the waterfront eatery, The Fusion.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
DVDs and Books
Portable DVD players, DVD's and children's books are available on loan from the resort.
A guest computer is available in the lobby for directions, tickets or coupons, as well as email access.
Parking at the resort is free.
A midnight quiet time rule is implemented every night, which allows families and guests to really relax without noise throughout the resort at night.
The Art of Smart Timing
The resort is open year-round, with summer beach fun, leaf peeping in the fall and skiing at Crystal Mountain in the winter -- just 22 minutes away by car. January to early March is the low season, but the lowest rates of the year are found between mid-March and late April or mid-October and Christmas. You'll find higher rates during the rest of the year, with peak season between late June and Labor Day. During the high summer season, the weather in Frankfort is typically hot and sunny; in the low seasons, it is cold and sometimes rainy.
Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, is 39 miles away from the resort by car. Renting a car is the best option, though shuttle services such as By the Bay Transportation operate out of the Cherry Capital Airport (231-932-1065) and cost about $100 one way for one to two people, with additional fees for extra passengers. Car seats are available. The route from Traverse City to Frankfort is a meandering, country drive. Tip: Watch for fruit stands on the side of the roads in an area famous for Michigan cherries.
There is a $1 shuttle bus with stops all over Frankfort and close-by attractions, such as the Point Betsie Lighthouse, four miles away. You can call or text the shuttle to come pick you up.
For Mom and Dad
Mom and dad can rest easy at the hotel with evenings watching the sunset on the beach or balcony, but date spots are mere steps away in Frankfort, as well. Try the Stormcloud Brewing Company, The Fusion for sushi, and Cru Cellars Michigan for vino and small plates, all located on Main Street within blocks of the resort. Wineries abound in Northern Michigan, so if you can sneak away, do take a splendid drive up the Leelanau Peninsula and visit one of the many local wineries.