This story was originally published July 28, 2012.
MICHIGAN CITY -- Park at the end of California Avenue, among the homes and cottages nestled against the backside of the low dune. See the trail? Take it. Ascend to the top, past the windblown trees and swaying beach grass. Pause. Listen to wave after wave crash and die on the shore. Take in the panoramic view. Observe the stoic light, alone in the distance to the west. And to the east, the windswept beach stretching to the horizon.
Satisfied? OK, descend now. Enjoy the soft, hot sand. Observe the young boy flying his kite. The man in the floppy hat, metal detector in hand, sweeping the flat expanse in search of some precious objects. The tents and umbrellas. The afternoon homesteaders bathing in the shallows. The tired beach chairs turned toward the sun.
Now look for a spot by the water. Not too close, though. The lake is restless here. It stretches and yawns. It extends its cool hand up the beach. It floods castle moats and encircles young children and unsuspecting mothers. OK, spread a blanket out on the sand. Apply some sunscreen. Feel the warm sun. Listen to the gulls. Relax.
Welcome to Sheridan Beach, a quiet patch of sand stretching about four miles east along Lake Michigan's southern shoreline, from Michigan City, through Long Beach to the Indiana-Michigan state line, past modest summer rentals and enormous, modern lakefront homes, low dunes and modest bluffs, and miles of pristine shoreline.
Unlike contiguous Washington Park Beach to the west, which includes a concession stand, a boat launch, a zoo, a massive marina, and vast amounts of parking, Sheridan Beach is basically undeveloped. Aside from a few trash barrels, the broad expanse of sandy shoreline exists in its natural state, spectacularly undisturbed.
(Washington Park is just a short walk up the beach, for anyone interested).
Access to Sheridan Beach is available via a number of public access trails, or "stops," along picturesque Lakeshore Drive, a two-lane road that winds its way through Washington Park and then shoots straight west parallel to the shoreline, opening up here and there to reveal great, yawning expanses of water.
Each stop provides access to a boardwalk or sandy pathway leading up and over a small dune to the beach. Parking is tight, especially later in the day. There are no lots. Beachgoers must contend with renters and homeowners for the limited number of on-street spots along Lakeshore Drive and the many narrow, one-way streets leading away from the drive and down toward the beach.
Husband and wife Angela and Dan Reeves, of New Albany, Ind., and the couple's two young children visited the beach on a recent weekday. The family, on vacation for the week, brought along a couple of beach chairs and a large umbrella for shade.
The couple chose Michigan City over Florida, Angela said. Partly to support the local economy, but also because of how beautiful the beaches are.
"Compared to Florida it's less expensive and less crowded, and the beaches are just as beautiful as the Gulf Coast," Angela said.
"And the water's not as salty; it's fresh water," her husband added."
Respect the beach
Sheridan Beach begins in Michigan City. From there, it stretches east into Long Beach, a small, mostly residential community set along the lakeshore. The Michigan City Parks Department maintains the beach up to Stop 14, or Blanchard Court; the town of Long Beach maintains it between there and Stop 36, or the state line.
Visitors to the beach in Michigan City, and also to Washington Park, must abide by certain rules, including, but not limited to:
* No alcohol within 50 feet of roadways and parking areas (alcohol is permitted on the beach);
* No glass containers;
* No pets on the beach; and
* No fires (portable gas grills are OK).
Long Beach allows bonfires on its section of the beach, but only by permit. Otherwise, most of the same rules apply. Above all, respect the beach.
Though lifeguards do not patrol Sheridan Beach (guards from Washington Park occasionally warn visitors of rip currents, Michigan City parks Superintendent Jan Orlich said, but that's it), the parks department in Michigan City does monitor water conditions along its section of the shoreline. It uses a system of color-coded flags, green (safe to swim), yellow (high bacteria count), and red (unsafe to swim).
Looking for a little adventure, a better view? Take a stroll along the shoreline to the pier at the western edge of Washington Park. Climb the stairs to the deck. If conditions allow, take a stroll out to the historical Michigan City light, erected in 1904 and lovingly maintained by the city.
While there, hop on over to the Old Lighthouse Museum (www.oldlighthousemuseum.org) in Washington Park, located in the old 1858 lighthouse. Tour the house and climb the tower into the lantern room. View an exhibit on Harriet Colfax, keeper of the light between 1861 and 1904 and a cousin of South Bend native Schuyler Colfax, vice president of the United States to Ulysses S. Grant. And learn about all three Michigan City lights.
Off the beach
Had enough history? There's plenty else to do in Michigan City. Hit the tables at Blue Chip Casino, 2 Easy St. (at the north end of Michigan Boulevard). Shop for bargains at Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets, 601 Wabash St. Or visit the Lubeznik Center for the Arts, 101 W. Second St. (near the entrance to Washington Park).
Hungry? Bite into a juicy burger at Swingbelly's, 100 Washington St., in the old railroad depot near the entrance to Washington Park. Visit Albano's Villa, 1612 Franklin St., a quick car ride from the beach, for some of the best pizza in town. Or order an award-winning micro-brew and a sandwich at Shoreline Brewery, 208 Wabash St., also near the entrance to the park.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is also nearby. Mount Baldy, rising 126 feet above the lake, is visible across the harbor from the pier at Washington Park. For more information on the lakeshore, check out Tribune reporter Alice Culp's story online. Visit www.southbendtribune.com and click on " Michiana Beaches 2012" under the "Features" heading.
For more information on Sheridan Beach and the surrounding area, visit online at www.michigancityparks.com; www.longbeachin.org; or www.michigancitylaporte.com.
Or just hop in the car. There's plenty to discover just 45 minutes away.
Staff writer Erin Blasko: firstname.lastname@example.org 574-235-6187
If you go
What: Washington Park and Sheridan Beach
Where: Washington Park, 6 on the Lake, Michigan City and Long Beach (east of Washington Park along the lake shore)
Hours: Daylight hours
Admission price: Free
Where to park: The parks department operates a pay lot at Washington Park. Cars and motorcycles pay $6 per day; trucks, trailers, motor homes and buses pay $12 per day. (The fee to use the park's boat launch is $10 per day). Free on-street parking is available along most of the entire length of Sheridan Beach. Certain restrictions apply.
Lifeguard on duty: Yes (Washington Park only)
Warning flags available when rip currents present: Yes (Washington Park and Michigan City portion of Sheridan Beach only)
Covered pavilions or shade available: Yes (Washington Park only)
Picnic facilities or concessions available: Yes (Washington Park only)
Restroom facilities: Public restrooms are available at Washington Park. Portable toilets are located at some, but not all, of the stops along Sheridan Beach.
More information: Michigan City: www.michigancityparks.com or 219-873-1506; Long Beach: www.longbeachin.org