Trip Guide to Michigan's Southwest Shore
At Holland's Mount Pisgah boardwalk, more than 200 wooden steps lead through the trees to the top of the 157-foot sand dune where Lake Michigan is on display. Deep blue water rolls out to kiss the horizon, the immense expanse of lake dwarfing people lounging on the shore. Back at the bottom of the stairs, an easy stroll through Holland State Park returns hikers to the water's edge for swimming, grilling and languid sunbathing.
And that's how it is for 140 miles along the Lake Michigan coast between St. Joseph and Ludington: silky-soft, powder-fine sand; access to the soothing (if often chilly) Lake Michigan waters; and stately piers and lighthouses. Though the beaches may all look similar, they—and their adjacent towns—each offer a distinct take on lakeside getaways.
The attractions around Silver Beach in St. Joseph, on the southern end of Michigan's shoreline, keep barefoot toddlers splashing even when the lake's temperatures hover in the 50s. Giant jets and streams of warm water arc to the center of a splash park a block from the beach.
Kids-at-heart thrill to the adventure on Friends Good Will, a replica tall ship sailing out of South Haven. Wearing period clothing, the crew scales the masts, swings the boom and pulls willing guests into the fray.
Landlubbers might prefer to explore the restaurant-dotted downtown. Victoria Resort Bed and Breakfast loans bikes to guests for the mile ride into town, with harbor views from a flower-box-bedecked drawbridge along the way.
Beside Grand Haven's harbor, teenagers skateboard up to the polka-dotted Dairy Treat. A busy paved path leads from the Grand Haven State Park beach to the Grand Haven City beach to an area designated for dogs-and connects all three to the walkable downtown.
A swimsuit is the only suit you need in sculpture-decorated Ludington. For a picnic, head to Ludington State Park, where grills and picnic tables dot a grassy knoll at Lake Hamlin. But the park's high point is Big Sable Point Lighthouse; climb it to overlook the waters of Hamlin Lake to the east and, to the west, the waves rolling onto Lake Michigan's shore.
Box Factory for the Arts
A rehabbed factory offers three art galleries, live music, more than 40 artists' studios and classes in downtown St. Joseph.
Curious Kids' Museum
Kids make giant bubbles, create a newscast, drive an ambulance and explore 100 more hands-on exhibits at the St. Joseph museum.
Acres of blueberry bushes await pickers at this farm on the edge of South Haven. An on-site market sells boxes of berries, plus other blueberry specialties such as barbecue sauce, pancake mix and salsa.
Friends Good Will
Feel the wind in your face at the bow of this sloop during a 90-minute sail from South Haven. Learn the original tall ship's role in the War of 1812.
Grand Haven Musical Fountain
Colorful jets of water dance to music by the likes of Sousa and Led Zeppelin in a 25-minute show every summer night in Grand Haven.
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.
This 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Benton Harbor challenges with its diverse terrain.
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.
Michigan State Parks
All the beaches all have soft, clean sand. Solid options include: Saugatuck Dunes, Holland, Grand Haven and Ludington.
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.
Retro Boat Rentals
Cruise around Saugatuck Harbor in vintage eye candy, like a 1959 Bell Boy Banshee.
Related: Top Things to Do in Saugatuck
Saugatuck Chain Ferry
Step aboard the 1838 hand-crank ferry for a 5-minute float across the Kalamazoo River to near the base of the dune Mount Baldhead; climb its 282 stairs to see Oval Beach on Lake Michigan.
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.
A Grand Floral parade (May 13, 2023) wraps up the Blossomtime Festival in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, the state's oldest multicommunity event.. In Holland, Dutch heritage comes alive at Tulip Time (May 6-14, 2023).
U.S.S. Silversides Submarine Museum
Tour the Navy's most successful surviving World War II sub at this Muskegon museum, plus a Prohibition-Era Coast Guard cutter.
Related: Top Things to Do in Muskegon
Veldheer Tulip Gardens
Stroll among 5 million tulips—as well as daffodils, hyacinths, Dutch lilies and more—at the largest tulip farm in the Holland area.
West Michigan Pike
Constructed between 1911 and 1922 for Chicagoans heading north to the Mackinac region, this route now follows US-31. The reasons to make the drive are still compelling: beaches, orchards, farm stands, quaint towns and other amusements.
Windmill Island Gardens
In Holland, a 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.
Modest in appearance, this downtown St. Joseph corner restaurant surprises with a list of 125 whiskies; flights narrow the choice. Dine on surf and turf, or go casual with pub grub.
Get gourmet beef and seafood from a Saugatuck steakhouse.
Bread and Bar by Bit of Swiss
The pastries resemble masterpieces at this restaurant in the artsy neighborhood of Benton Harbor. Grab-and-go sandwiches make the perfect picnic.
Tour groups in Holland get a glimpse of the distilling process. Afterward, try a Coppercraft cocktail: The ingredient list changes seasonally but always includes locally grown fruits and herbs.
Crane's in the City
In Holland's downtown, this small cafe serves panini, salads and fresh apple cider. But you're really here for to-die-for pie from the family-owned orchard.
DeBoer's Bakkerij and Dutch Brothers Restaurant
Try either of two locations for this classic Holland bakery, the spot for Dutch pancakes or buttery krakelingen cookies.
House of Flavors Restaurant
Pig out on the Original Pig's Dinner at House of Flavors: four flavors of ice cream, a banana and toppings, served in a wooden trough in Ludington.
Jamesport Brewing Company
A warm atmosphere and upscale pub food, such as onion rings topped with crab, pair with craft beers at Jamesport in Ludington.
Regional roasters provide the beans for Mood Lattes with flavors such as Buzzed (with local honey) and Indecisive (chocolate and white chocolate). Pastries at the Holland shop include gluten-free and vegan varieties.
New Holland Brewing Company
After perfecting the art of brewing, New Holland now distills spirits. A copper fermenter sits in the center of the Holland restaurant also known for its creative pizzas.
Piggin' N' Grinnin'
Judges on the Midwest BBQ circuit know this Benton Harbor place for its award-winning ribs. We recommend the trio of meats and sides in the Big Mamma Sampler.
Schu's Grille and Bar
Views of Lake Michigan accompany renowned burgers and potato soup at the St. Joseph restaurant.
Sherman's Dairy Bar
Single scoops look more like doubles at South Haven's dairy bar, churning out ice cream since 1916.
South Bend Chocolate Company
In downtown St. Joseph, this spot is part candy store, part coffeehouse and part ice cream parlor.
Pair small plates such as filet bites or crispy artichokes with a signature ginger lemongrass martini at the casual space in South Haven.
Splashes of green and orange speak to the styling of the Holland hotel. Bamboo beds and sheets prove the ecoconsciousness that garnered it LEED certification.
Chic glamping tents in South Haven each offer pillow top beds, nice bathrooms, woodstoves and playful touches, such as vintage baseball equipment. Catch a shuttle through blueberry fields to reach the glamping site.
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.
Lake Shore Resort
Every room at the Saugatuck lodging comes with a water view. Breakfast, coaster bikes, kayaks and morning yoga are complimentary; guests also enjoy a heated pool and sunset firepits.
Related: 50 Midwest Resorts We Love
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.
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 and down duvets.
Victoria Resort Bed and Breakfast
A few blocks from Lake Michigan in South Haven, this rehabbed 1920s resort features spacious guest rooms, many with whirlpool tubs and fireplaces. Adults only.