All you need to know about Washington Park Beach & Zoo in Michigan City, Indiana
Envision a sunny summer day by Lake Michigan. Wide, sandy beaches, an iconic lighthouse, a charming little zoo, rolling sand dunes, and crystal blue water.
You’ll find all of this and more at Washington Park, Beach, and Zoo, in Michigan City, IN. This majestic 99-acre park, located along the shores of Lake Michigan, has SO much to offer!
Read on for the 15 best things to do and see at Washington Park Beach! A must-read for regulars and first-time visitors alike!
Washington Park Beach Location, Hours, & Parking
Washington Park is located in Michigan City, Indiana along the shores of Lake Michigan. Michigan City is very close to the border of northern Indiana/southern Michigan.
Indiana Dunes National Park, various state parks, and the charming lake town of New Buffalo are all close by. I recommend taking time to visit Washington Park Beach if you are visiting either of these nearby attractions.
Washington Park is open daily from 5 am to 9 pm.
Washington Park, Beach, and Zoo all share one big parking lot. Parking is $15/day during the summer season for cars and motorcycles. Trucks with trailers, motorhomes, and buses will need to pay $30/day. Parking is free from October to April.
Your parking pass is good for the whole day. Once you pay the parking fee, you can come and go as you please – just show your pass when you return.
The parking lot is very large with plenty of parking spots – we have never had trouble finding parking, even during peak season.
If you are only visiting Washington Park for a short time, parking is a bit pricey, but if you are planning to stay all day then it’s worth it, in my opinion.
There are annual parking passes available, as well as discounted daily parking passes with zoo reservations and certain rentals. See more details about parking here.
If you want to avoid the parking fee, you can find parking in downtown Michigan City and walk over to Washington Park (likely around 0.5-1 mile each way).
- Washington Park Beach is “swim at your own risk” for the majority of the year.
- There are lifeguards on duty during the busy summer months. There is a lifeguard station on the beach that has a sign indicating whether or not lifeguards are on duty.
- Check out the Washington Park Lifeguards Facebook page for current beach conditions
- Pets and animals are not allowed.
- Fires are not allowed. Grills are permitted in designated areas only.
- Glass containers are not allowed. Alcohol is permitted, but must not be consumed within 50 feet of roadway or parking areas.
- Make sure to pick up after yourself and help keep the beach and park clean!
Safety note – Do not swim in Lake Michigan when Rip Current warnings are posted or in large crashing waves, which can cause rip currents. These strong currents rushing out into Lake Michigan can carry even the strongest swimmer with them. If you get caught in a rip current, do not try to swim against it. Instead, swim parallel to the shoreline until you are out of the current. Even with calm water, non-swimmers and children should always be very closely monitored by an adult.
Top 15 Things to Do in Washington Park
1. Washinton Park Beach
Washington Park Beach is the main attraction for most when visiting Washington Park.
This public beach gets very busy in the summer, with the area closest to the lifeguard stand being the busiest. We have found that if you walk down toward the lighthouse or down past the lifeguard stand in the opposite direction, it is not as crowded and people are more spread out.
The beach is two miles long and nice and wide, so even on the busiest summer days, there is room to play beach games and spread out without being too close to others.
There is a bathhouse available with flush toilets, as well as multiple porta-potties. There are not any food trucks, but there is a concession-style restaurant, Sunset Grille, located near the beach.
If you want to bring your grill and post up for the day, there is a long, shaded concrete area next to the parking lot, overlooking the beach.
Many people set up tables and chairs under the awning and grill food. This awning-covered area is free to use, but is first come, first served and fills up quickly.
2. Walk the Pier to the Lighthouse
The Michigan City lighthouse was built in 1904 and is easily the most iconic landmark in the area. You can get a close-up view of the lighthouse by walking out to it along the pier.
The pier is a popular spot for fishing and photography and is one of the best spots for watching the sunset.
The lighthouse is at the end of the pier, and while you cannot go into the lighthouse, you can walk all the way around it. Find a spot to sit and enjoy beautiful views of Lake Michigan. You can even see the Chicago skyline in the distance on a clear day.
Visiting the lighthouse and pier at Washington Park Beach in Michigan City never gets old – we check it out every time we visit, even in the colder months.
Be extra cautious if the pier is icy or if there are big waves. On very windy days, the waves may crash up onto and over the pier, making it unsafe to walk on.
3. Washington Park Zoo
We love the Washington Park Zoo! It is a small zoo but has a lot to offer. It is easy to see everything in the zoo in just a couple of hours.
The zoo is a bit hilly, with some steep walking paths and stone steps in certain areas. We brought a stroller to the zoo and didn’t have any issues getting around.
Animals in the zoo include grizzly bears, lions, cougars, a tiger, zebras, and more. Feed goats. Several exhibits are visible from different angles and heights, making it easier to locate the animals.
If your kids love trains as much as ours do, make sure to check out the little train. It just goes in a small circle, but it is free and fun for younger children!
If you want an incredible view of the zoo and Lake Michigan, climb up the 200+ steps to the historic limestone Observation Tower (built in the 1930s). But take note – this is the one section of the zoo that is not stroller-friendly.
Admission to the zoo is $10/person. $8 for children (3-11 years). Children 2 and under are free.
The zoo is open April-October. Hours vary seasonally, so click here for more information.
We think the Washington Park Zoo is a great value and definitely recommend visiting!
4. Oasis Splash Park
This free splash park is located just outside Washington Park Zoo.
The hours of operation are 11 am- 4 pm (weather permitting) from Memorial Day through Labor Day, as long as the temperature is 70 degrees or above.
Unpredictable weather on the Great Lakes can cause the splash park to close without notice. Call ahead to make sure they are open before you go – 219-873-1506.
5. Old Light House Museum
Visit an original 1858 lighthouse station and learn about Great Lakes history. The museum has seven rooms of maritime and local history. There is also a gift shop.
The museum is located on the west side of the park, just across the bridge.
Admission ranges from $2-$5 depending on age. The museum is open April-October. Click here for hours and more information.
6. Check out the Marina
The Washington Park Marina is open April 1- October 31.
Washington Park Marina has a boat launch and slip sizes ranging from 25-ft. to 60-ft.
Seasonal marina rates include water and electric hook-ups. Pump-outs are free to transient boaters with a fuel purchase. The fuel dock is open 24 hours daily, seven days a week.
There is also a fish-cleaning station, laundry facility, and multiple bathhouses available throughout the marina.
Slips are available at transient nightly rates or seasonally.
Even if you don’t have a boat, the marina is pretty and fun to see. I like to walk on the sand dunes that separate the marina and beach – you have a view of all of the boats in the marina from up there.
7. Take a Walk or Go Hiking
There are numerous places to walk and hike throughout Washington Park.
Benches dot wooden walkways and the cement pier that runs along the beach. You can also walk on the sidewalks throughout the park and zoo.
My favorite places to walk in Washington Park are on the beach along the water, on the pier that extends along Washington Park Beach out to the lighthouse, and on the rolling sand dunes that separate the beach from the rest of the park.
8. Have a Picnic
There are numerous picnic tables, pavilions, and picnic shelters available for use throughout Washington Park. There are also grills available in some picnic areas.
Pack a picnic for the park, or get something from the concessions and have a picnic on the beach.
Shelters are available for rent, with prices ranging from $50-$150. See more details on rentals here.
9. Play at the Playground
The playground in Washington Park isn’t anything fancy, but it is still a fun place for the kiddos to play! The playground is in the middle of the park between the main parking lot and the zoo.
There is technically one other playground in Washington Park, but it is accessed from Center Street, outside of the park boundaries.
10. Rent a Boat/Kayak or Take a Boat Tour
There are two companies in Washington Park that offer boat rentals and tours.
If you want to kayak, there are options to paddle down Trail Creek or to put-in from Washington park and paddle on Lake Michigan.
Washington Park rental companies:
- Harbor County Adventures – offers boat tours, kayak rentals, jet ski rentals, boat rentals
- Ahoy Adventures LLC – offers private yacht charters
Third Coast Paddling is another option with locations in nearby communities. They offer kayak and paddleboard rentals.
11. Play Sand Volleyball
There are multiple sand volleyball courts on Washington Park Beach.
There are often tournaments that take place on the beach, as well as sand volleyball leagues run by the recreation department. If there is not an event or league going on, anyone is free to play.
12. Check the Events Calendar
It seems like there is always something going on in Washington Park! From a sand sculpting festival and concerts, to beach yoga and a Fourth of July extravaganza, there is something for everyone.
The last two times we visited Washington Park Beach, there was a jet ski competition and a sand volleyball tournament.
13. Millenium Plaza
Millenium Plaza is a 5-acre section of Washington Park that used to be the location of a cough drop factory. The plaza is now an area for citizens and visitors to enjoy.
Located in the southwest corner of the park along the north bank of Trail Creek, the plaza is a popular spot for fishing.
You will also find beautiful gardens, a stage with Greek-style theater seating, picnic tables, benches, and the Michigan City Firefighters and Police Officers Memorial.
14. Fishing Charters
Get out on Lake Michigan and fish for salmon, steelhead, trout, perch, and walleye.
Cloud Nine Fishing Charters is a popular option that can depart from Washington Park.
Washington Park is an excellent photography spot, whether you are looking to take family pictures or photograph the beautiful landscape and wildlife.
Something I often say is – always take the photo!
Hopefully, when you look back on it you will be reminded of fun and happy times.
Where to Eat Near Washington Park Beach
Sunset Grille at the Beach
Sunset Grill is the go-to place for a quick bite to eat in Washington Park. This seasonal concession and rooftop cantina is a great place to get drinks or a beachside bite to eat during a day at the beach.
Expect a basic menu and no thrills, but the rooftop area is comfy & spacious and has great views of Lake Michigan and the beach (especially at sunset)!
Bartlett’s Fish Camp
Bartlett’s Fish Camp is a seafood restaurant located along Trail Creek in Washington Park Beach.
The restaurant has a rustic and welcoming atmosphere, with indoor and outdoor seating options.
The menu at Bartlett’s Fish Camp features a variety of seafood dishes. The restaurant also offers a selection of craft beers and wines to pair with your meal.
We went to Bartlett’s Fish Camp on a summer evening after spending the day at the beach. I am not a big seafood person, but I really enjoyed the chicken sandwich and the outdoor dining with a view (Even though you are kind of looking at a factory. But if you angle yourself the right way you can pretend it’s not there😉).
Bartlett’s Base Camp Marina Cafe
Base Camp is located next to the marina on the west end of Washington Park. It is a seasonal spot that offers breakfast, lunch, ice cream, and basic goods.
Hours vary seasonally, so check the website before going.