Top Things To Do Along the Lake Michigan Shore | Midwest Living

Top Things To Do Along the Lake Michigan Shore

Pretty small towns, sandy beaches and rolling dunes await visitors to the southeast side of Lake Michigan.

Where to start The most accessible section of this shore extends from the Indiana line 175 miles north to Ludington. 

Worth noting A yearlong state-park vehicle permit is the cheapest way to experience some of the best beaches, protected in more than 30 state parks. (517) 373-9900;

Southern shore

From New Buffalo to St. Joseph, enjoy sandy beaches and easy access to inland fruit farms and wineries. 

What to do

Hickory Creek Winery Lush flowerbeds greet visitors at this quality-over-quantity spot offering dry wines. Sample up to five for $5, then stroll through the vineyards. (269) 422-1100;

Lemon Creek Winery and Fruit Farm In Berrien Springs, visitors purchase a $5 keepsake glass and sample any five of 26 wines, including Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc. Also enjoy you-pick apples, berries and peaches. (269) 471-1321;

Warren Dunes State Park Dunes rise as much as 260 feet above the lake in Sawyer to provide great views and frame busy beaches (arrive early on weekends to claim a spot). The park is a popular hang gliding site. (269) 426-4013;

Where to eat 

Bentwood Tavern Dine on a pretty lakeside patio at this New Buffalo favorite. The menu features steaks and seafood (and burgers), plus seasonally inspired desserts. (269) 469-1699;

Bread and Bar by Bit of Swiss The pastries resemble masterpieces in artsy Benton Harbor. Grab-and-go sandwiches make the perfect picnic. (269) 757-7219;

Milda’s Corner Market This Lithuanian deli and market has a cultlike following. The deli serves soups, sandwiches and kugelis—a casserole of potatoes and bacon. Imported goods stock the market. (269) 469-9880; Milda's Corner Market on Facebook

Oink's Dutch Treat Kitschy pig and ice cream decor fills the building, and 50-plus flavors (like Cotton Candy Confetti and Marion County Blackberry) fill the coolers. (269) 469-3535

Redamak’s It’s the place to go in New Buffalo for burgers. Fresh beef ground on-site and, yes, Velveeta cheese turn simple into wonderful. Expect a wait. (269) 469-4522;

Rosie’s A homey New Buffalo diner serves classic breakfast dishes, including eggs, hash browns, and biscuits and gravy. (269) 469-4382 

Where to stay

Gordon Beach Inn The historic Union Pier inn has 20 rooms with private baths, an art gallery, beach and the popular seafood spot Timothy’s Restaurant. (269) 469-0800;

Harbor Grand Hotel The 55-guest-room New Buffalo boutique hotel encourages indulgence. We love the 24-hour Ben and Jerry’s ice cream delivery, free beach towels and beachside lounge chairs, and breakfast-in-bed service. (888) 605-6800;

For information: Harbor Country Chamber of Commerce (269) 469-5409;

St. Joseph area (including Saugatuck)

St. Joseph/Benton Harbor and Saugatuck bookend this region. 

Worth noting Many visitors stay in vacation-home rentals, which range from simple and rustic to plush and beachside.

Shoppers delight in St. Joseph's boutiques and galleries.

Shoppers delight in St. Joseph's boutiques and galleries.

What to do

Blossomtime Festival Michigan’s oldest and largest multicommunity festival celebrates blooming orchards each spring with a 5k run, a vintage baseball game and a parade. (269) 982-8016;

Box Factory for the Arts A rehabbed factory offers three art galleries, live music, about 40 artists’ studios and classes in downtown St. Joseph. (269) 983-3688;

Coppercraft Tour groups get a glimpse of the distilling process. Afterward, try a cocktail: The ingredient list changes seasonally but always includes locally grown fruits and herbs. (616) 796-8274;

Curious Kids’ Museum Kids make giant bubbles, create a newscast, drive an ambulance and explore 100 more hands-on exhibits in St. Joseph. (269) 983-2543;

DeGrandchamp Farms Acres of blueberry bushes await pickers on the edge of South Haven. An on-site market sells boxes of berries, plus other blueberry specialties, such as barbecue sauce, dried blueberries, preserves and salsas. (269) 637-3915;

Friends Good Will Feel the wind in your face at the bow of this sloop during a 90-minute sail from the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven. Learn the original tall ship’s role in the War of 1812. Special Pirate Chaser Adventure Sails cater to children. (269) 637-8078;

Harbor Shores This 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Benton Harbor challenges with its diverse terrain. (269) 927-4653;

Hungry Village Tours Discover the secrets behind popular Saugatuck restaurants during a leisurely three-hour culinary walking tour, with tastes at each stop. (269) 857-1700;

Krasl Art Center This surprising little gem features sculptures on the grounds and three galleries. Special exhibits updated every two months. (269) 983-0271;

Saugatuck Chain Ferry Step aboard the hand-crank ferry for a 5-minute float across the Kalamazoo River to near the base of the dune Mount Baldhead. Then climb 282 stairs to see Oval Beach on Lake Michigan. (269) 857-4261;

Saugatuck Dune Rides Take an exciting and entertaining 40-minute ride among the dunes.

Saugatuck Dunes State Park A 2.5-mile sandy beach and dunes more than 200 feet tall draw nature enthusiasts, bird-watchers and hikers. Trails lead over steep slopes to secluded beaches. (269) 637-2788;

Thrills abound at Saugatuck Dune Rides.

Saugatuck Dune Rides

Silver Beach County Park St. Joseph’s popular downtown park includes a beach and an interactive splash park. A carousel and amusement park museum sit at the heart of the entertainment venue there, Silver Beach Center. (269) 982-0533;

St. Joseph shopping State Street has gift shops and several clothing and shoe stores, such as Moxie’s Boutique. FuzzyButz Pet Bakery’s selection lives up to its fun name. Harbor Town Interiors sells unique home decor, such as funky lighting.

Water Street Gallery You’ll find paintings, sculptures and glass on Center Street in Douglas. Watch the website for events like the annual glass show. (269) 857-8485;

Weko Beach In Bridgman, a campground with six log cabins and a summer concert series (performances are held some Sunday evenings at 7 p.m.) make this a better-than-average beach. (269) 465-3406;

Where to eat

221 Main Modest in appearance, this downtown St. Joseph corner restaurant surprises with a list of 120 whiskies; flights narrow the choice. Dine on surf and turf, or go casual with pub grub. (269) 982-4000;

Bowdie’s Chophouse The dining room seats just 25, ensuring an intimate experience at the steakhouse in Saugatuck. (269) 455-5481;

Golden Brown Bakery A small-town bakery and cafe on South Haven’s main drag offers both delicious baked goods (many with local cherries and blueberries) and full breakfast options. (269) 637-3418;

The Livery In a 100-plus-year-old former stable in Benton Harbor’s Arts District, this microbrewery-cafe keeps handcrafted beers on tap, and live music entertains. (269) 925-8760;

Piggin’ N’ Grinnin’ Judges on the Midwest barbecue circuit know this Benton Harbor place for its award-winning ribs. We recommend the trio of meats and sides in the Big Mama Sampler. (269) 934-7675;

Schu’s Grill and Bar The St. Joe dining institution, with some outdoor lakeview tables, is known for great burgers and potato soup. (269) 983-7248;

Sherman’s Dairy Bar What you get isn’t fancy, but it’s delicious and wallet-friendly. A single-scoop cone looks more like a double, so if you don’t want to overindulge, ask for a “baby scoop.” (269) 637-8251; 

Silver Beach Pizza Good pizza. Fun atmosphere (it’s inside an old train depot). Friendly waitstaff. What else can you ask for? When you sit down, you get a disc that’s green on one side and red on the other to signal servers. (269) 983-4743;

South Bend Chocolate Company In downtown St. Joseph, this spot is part candy store, part coffeehouse and part ice cream parlor. (269) 985-9866;

Taste Pair small plates such as filet bites or crispy artichokes with a signature ginger lemongrass martini at the casual space in South Haven. (269) 637-0010;

Tello Italian Bistro In South Haven, local ingredients flavor dishes such as pan-seared scallops and butternut squash ravioli. (269) 639-9898;

Thornton’s Home Town Cafe The standby breakfast joint serves Bob’s Big Bomb. Eat the giant omelet filled with corned beef hash, bacon, sausage, ham, mushrooms, onions, peppers and cheese, and you get your name on the wall of fame. (269) 983-0932

Where to stay

Bella Vita Spa and Suites In Saugatuck, six modern suites overlook downtown and have flat-screen TVs. (269) 857-8482;

The Boulevard Inn and Bistro A French-influenced bistro in St. Joseph offers a spectacular wine list. Try the duck confit and the risotto of the day. Some of the guest suites have lake views. (800) 875-6600;

Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites The family-friendly St. Joseph hotel has a pool. (269) 982-0004;

The Inn at Harbor Shores Access to golf, a spa and a marina make the 92 lakeview rooms in St. Joseph all the more appealing. (269) 983-1111;

The Pines Motorlodge Travelers find a cluster of retro-chic 1950-era motor inns near Saugatuck’s beaches, restaurants and shops. Sleep in Amish-crafted beds with pillow-top mattresses. (269) 857-5211 ;

Victoria Resort Bed and Breakfast This 1920s resort in South Haven features spacious guest rooms and cottages, many with whirlpool tubs and fireplaces. (269) 637-6414;

For information: Saugatuck/Douglas Convention and Visitors Bureau (269) 857-1701;

South Haven/ Van Buren County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 764-2836; 

Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council (269) 925-6301;

Holland area

The shore towns west of Grand Rapids have Dutch heritage and pretty boardwalks. 

What to do

Grand Haven Musical Fountain Colorful jets of water dance to music by the likes of Taylor Swift and Led Zeppelin in a 25-minute show on summer nights in Grand Haven. (616) 842-4499;

Grand Haven State Park A 48-acre recreation area has a popular beach and views of the Grand Haven pier and lighthouse. (616) 847-1309; 

Holland shopping Boutiques, galleries, gift shops and cafes line 8th Street downtown. Tikal displays handmade jewelry and funky fashion; Reader’s World stocks best sellers and magazines (and sells hardcover best sellers at a discount). (800) 506-1299;

Holland State Park Eight miles west of Holland, this Lake Michigan park has an expansive beach and great views of nearby Big Red, a much-photographed lighthouse. A boardwalk and stairs access Mount Pisgah’s towering sand dune.  (616) 399-9390;

Hackley and Hume Historic Site Side-by-side Victorian mansions in Muskegon impress visitors with ornate gingerbread (the original owners were a lumber baron and his business partner), turrets, stained glass and rooms restored to look like they did 100 years ago. (231) 722-0278;

Ludington State Park Walk from the shady campground through the dunes to the Lake Michigan beach and Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Rent a canoe and trace the shore of inland Hamlin Lake. (231) 843-2423;

Mac Wood’s Dune Rides Open-air vehicles (imagine a Jeep-truck hybrid) carry guests on a 40-minute roller coaster-like ride along Lake Michigan in Mears. (231) 873-2817;

Michigan’s Adventure The price of admission includes land and water rides. Catch a wave, plunge down a water slide and ride the state’s fastest wooden roller coaster at Muskegon’s amusement park. New in 2017: seven more children’s water slides and a splash pad. (231) 766-3377;

USS Silversides Submarine Museum Tour the Navy’s most successful surviving World War II sub, plus a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard cutter, in Muskegon. (231) 755-1230;

Veldheer Tulip Gardens Stroll among 5 million tulips—as well as daffodils, hyacinths, Dutch lilies and more—at Holland’s largest tulip farm. (616) 399-1900; 

Windmill Island Gardens In Holland, an 18th-century working windmill, with the only female Dutch-certified miller in North America, towers above a 36-acre island. A re-created 14th-century Dutch inn houses a museum. (888) 535-5792; 

Where to eat

Alpenrose Restaurant and Cafe Austria, Germany, Switzerland and France influence the dinner menu. Diners select entrees such as pretzel-crusted walleye. (616) 393-2111;

Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant Overlook the lake while you dine on seafood and other specialties at this Holland restaurant. The family-friendly place serves breakfast on Sundays. (616) 396-0600;

Butch’s Restaurant Relax at downtown Holland’s restaurant-slash-wine shop. Dinner options include grilled Alaskan halibut with sticky rice. (616) 396-8227;

Crane’s in the City In Holland’s busy downtown, this small cafe serves panini, salads and fresh apple cider. But you’re really here for pie from the family-owned orchard. (616) 796-2489;

DeBoer’s Dutch Brothers Bakery It’s Holland’s spot for Dutch pancakes or buttery krakelingen cookies. (616) 396-2253;

House of Flavors Pig out on the Original Pig’s Dinner: four flavors of ice cream, a banana, toppings and a Michigan cherry served in a wooden trough in Ludington. (231) 845-5785;

Jamesport Brewing Company A warm ambience and upscale pub food, such as onion rings topped with crab, pair with craft beers in Ludington. (231) 845-2522;

The Kirby House This former hotel in Grand Haven shelters a trio of restaurants. Try the local cheese with seasonal chutney at the Grill Room. (616) 846-3299;

Lemonjello’s Coffee Regional roasters provide the beans for Mood Lattes with flavors such as Buzzed (with local honey) and Indecisive (chocolate and white chocolate) in Holland. (616) 928-0699;

Morning Star Cafe This Southwestern-style breakfast and lunch spot in Grand Haven bakes its own foccacia, biscuits and pastries. (616) 844-1131

New Holland Brewing Company After perfecting the art of brewing, it now distills spirits. A copper fermenter sits in the center of the Holland restaurant also known for its creative pizzas. (616) 355-6422;

Old Boys' Brewhouse An exceptional budget meal awaits at this Spring Lake stop. Artisanal beers and specialty sodas accompany build-your-own pizzas on brewer's malt crusts. (616) 850-9950;

Where to stay

CityFlatsHotel Splashes of green and orange speak to the styling of this Holland hotel. Bamboo sheets and cork flooring show the ecoconsciousness that garnered the lodging LEED certification.  (616) 796-2100;

Haworth Inn Rooms come with complimentary access to Hope College’s Dow Center athletic facilities, as well as the indoor Holland Community Aquatic Center. (616) 395-7200;

Nader’s Motel and Suites This tidy, family-owned Ludington complex includes an 1880s lodge and 1969 motel unit. Thirty-six of the rooms open to a grassy courtyard two blocks from Lake Michigan. (231) 843-8757;

Serendipity Resort Visitors craving privacy enjoy this Grand Haven cottage resort, which includes six vacation homes. (888) 205-7677;

For information: Grand Haven Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 303-4092;

Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 506-1299;

Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (877) 420-6618;

Muskegon County Convention and Visitors Bureau (800) 250-9283;

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