Ludington, Manitowoc, and the SS Badger In Between!

Have you ever watched Anthony Bourdain’s show layover? If not, Anthony goes to a place for something like 24 or 48 hours and experiences what he can in that amount of time. A few weeks ago we had a bit of a “layover” traveling to the western coast of Lake Michigan. We weren’t expecting much… boy, were we in for a surprise! We spent a grand total of 36 hours in Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI and had a blast during our “layover”!

Traffic getting from our home about 35 miles west of Cleveland, OH, to Ludington, MI was downright bad. We left at noon and our 5.5-hour drive turned into 7.5 hours! As we approached Ludington we thought maybe we’d just order a pizza and hang out in the room… we knew we had to be at the ferry dock at 8am to cross Lake Michigan. However, when we drove into Ludington it was such a cool place that we had to explore it!

Ludington, MI is located on the eastern Lake Michigan shore, about half way up the shoreline. One of the first things we noticed in town is awesome graffiti art on one of the buildings in the middle of town. We drove to the lake and found an awesome beach and pier. As we met people, we got a really friendly, artsy, relaxed, and casual vibe that stuck through our stay!

Where to stay in Ludington

We stayed in town close to the beach at the Pier House Motel. Our room was basic, but was clean, spacious, and in an awesome location. There are other local motels and B & Bs in town. If you prefer to stay at a chain motel, there are some in the surrounding area, but none within walking distance of town and the beach.

Where to eat in Ludington

Ludington has a number of restaurants with good reviews. We chose Barley & Rye for dinner based on its menu and really casual vibe. Our experience was fantastic… the food, service, and atmosphere were all awesome!

Todd had the “Dirty Russian” sandwich, I had the southwest salad with pulled pork, and Daniel had the slider trio. Daniel’s came with Barley & Rye’s awesome chips and cheese sauce. Everything was fresh, delicious, and well prepared.

Barley & Rye has a full bar and a good selection of wine and beer. It’s also connected to the “Mitten Bar” which specializes in craft beer, and guests are welcome to order beers from the Mitten Bar.

On our walk back to the motel, we spotted a fun looking spot called House of Flavors. It was getting pretty late and it had a line out the door… we had to check it out. House of Flavors is a 50’s themed diner and ice cream counter. There are tons of ice cream selections including one of Daniel’s favorites, Michigan Pothole. House of Flavors also makes their own waffle cones! We got some awesome ice cream and headed to the beach to check out the sunset.

When we checked into the motel we got a buy one get one free coupon for the House of Flavors for breakfast. Given our great experience for ice cream we decided to check it out before our ferry trip. Our breakfasts were great and Daniel was thrilled to find that House of Flavors makes cheeseburgers anytime! (House of Flavors offers its lunch menu all day.)

What to do in Ludington

If you love the beach, you won’t have any problem finding things to do in Ludington. The lakefront is awesome! Soft sand, large beach, playground, pier, marina to explore… you get the picture.

The town is also really nice. There are lots of shops and restaurants and everyone is very welcoming. We found the vibe more relaxed and casual than the other towns on the eastern Lake Michigan shore… definitely more “us”.

SS Badger

One of the big draws to Ludington is the SS Badger, the car ferry that carries passengers across Lake Michigan to Manitowoc, WI and back. There is another Lake Michigan car ferry that goes between Muskegon, MI and Milwaukee, WI (Lake Express). Though the SS Badger trip is 4 hours and the other ferry trip is 2.5 hours, we chose the SS badger for a couple reasons. The SS Badger is considerably less expensive and Manitowoc is farther north and closer to the Door Peninsula than Milwaukee.

We weren’t sure what to expect on a 4-hour ferry ride, and were pleasantly surprised! The SS Badger is a huge ship… 410 feet! There are lots of places to sit outside and inside, and there are movable chairs outside so you can move around. The SS Badger has a snack bar, breakfast buffet, gift ship, play room for kids, a movie room, board games available, bingo, a video game room (there is a charge for video games), and multiple bars. The Bloody Mary bar on the top deck is a crowd favorite!

For 1 car, 2 adults, and 1 child we paid $200 one-way. We took the 9am ferry. There is another ferry at 9pm this time of year. The SS Badger departs Manitowoc for Ludington at 1pm and 1am. There are private rooms available for a fee. Note that Manitowoc is on Central time, so it is 1 hour behind Ludington.


Manitowoc, WI is located on the western Lake Michigan shore about 45 miles south of the Door Peninsula, a fantastic destination and the subject of our next post! Our stay in Manitowoc was short, but we packed a lot in!

Where to stay in Manitowoc

There are a number of lodging options in the Manitowoc area, but not a lot downtown. We were excited to find a Baymont motel right on the river in town. The Baymont is no frills, but the location is really fantastic. There’s a walking trail at the back of the motel on the water that goes to the marina, pier, and next town!

Where to eat in Manitowoc

When we arrived in Manitowoc we headed to Ryan’s on York for lunch. The food was surprisingly fantastic! Todd and I split the the Korean tacos which were really inventive, fresh, and delicious. Daniel had the “Smash Burger” and loved it!

Later in the day we checked out Revolutions for dinner. Revolutions is super relaxed and very kid friendly. The dining room, which is separated from the bar, has a pool table, darts, and all kinds of games like Connect Four!

We had a great time at Revolutions and also loved the food! Daniel had a pepperoni pizza, Todd had the McGrath’s burger, and I had the cran-apple salad with chicken. All of the ingredients were very fresh and the food was really tasty!

What to do in Manitowoc

If you like walking along the water, the walking path is awesome! We took a beautiful sunset walk out to the pier.

In the afternoon, we hopped in the car and drove a couple miles out of town to a nice small waterpark and mini-golf complex. We had fun playing mini-golf, but it was a little chilly for us to visit the waterpark. There’s also a free zoo close to town and a maritime museum with a submarine that’s available for tours. The maritime museum is in town right next to the Baymont motel.

Wrapping it up

Our “layover” in Ludington, MI and Manitowoc, WI was really fun. The SS Badger is an awesome option for anyone looking to get from one shore of Lake Michigan to the other!

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