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.
Harbor Lights has condos above the regular motel rooms. Give their friendly staff a call, you can't book them online. I was booking 2 rooms and they recommended that we'd be more pleased for only a few $$ more with a lakefront condo with 2 bedrooms & 2 bathrooms. Boy were they right! Awesome view and we enjoyed a nice place for our other family members travelling to the wedding to visit and relax. Great light, comfortable chairs, full kitchen. They do need 2 luggage racks per room - no place to put your suitcases.
The condo's are on the third floor so make sure you can carry your suitcases up the stairs. Parking is easily available. You can walk to town, where there is a great coffee shop (Petals & Perks) and a few fun restaurants including a brew pub (StormCloud). Harbor LIghts provides great donuts from Crescent Bakery & coffee starting at 7:30AM. There is an indoor pool and whirlpool (which we didn't use). There is a great bike path nearby, it rained so we couldn't use it but it would be fun. If you have extra time, visit St. Ambrose Winery and try the meades, they have a really fun tasting experience for onlyl $10!
I stayed here for a late Sept weekend during the wedding of a friend of mine on site at the beach. Overall the place is great and the staff were very kind and welcoming. I didn’t use the pool but saw it when I checked in. The beach was a beautiful site for the wedding and the reception was almost immediately next door at the arts center. Being off-season the room rate was decent, however the rooms are pretty plain and dark, with one window that looks out to the parking lot (we knew this in advance and booked the cheapest room we could). It didn’t matter so much for us because we were only in the room to sleep so the robust A/C system in a dark room fit our needs perfectly! I left my ipad behind by accident and the cleaning staff must have reported it immediately because I got a call about an hour down the road. The person with whom I spoke offered to mail it to me without hesitation and just bill it to my credit card - everyone involved went out of their way to help me out which I truly appreciated and know that not all places would basically drop what they’re doing to help a customer like that so TWO THUMBS UP TO THE AWESOME STAFF!!
While on site we visited several of the condos which our friends in the wedding party had rented and there was a pretty dramatic difference in view, decor and atmosphere. I know a number of them are privately owned and rented out by the facility manager on behalf of the owner if permitted so maybe the condos I saw were privately owned and well decorated, it’s hard to tell.
All in all I think the location and place itself are great and although the motel rooms could use a little refreshing if anyone were to spend a lot of time in there. Having the beach so close was fantastic, especially if you are attending an event there like I was. If I needed to stay in Frankfort again I’d definitely consider Harbor Lights again depending on the price and time of year.
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.