Both makers and lovers of art find inspiration on sandy beaches and gallery-lined streets in this friendly Lake Michigan town.
Lake Shore Resort overlooking Lake Michigan
Credit: Ryan Donnell

For more than a century, artists have congregated in Saugatuck, Michigan, weaving their creative spirits into the fabric of this warm and LGBTQ-friendly town. Art flourishes everywhere—in the sculptures around downtown; in the summer lineup of film and music festivals; and in the paintings, prints and pottery that fill more than 30 colorful galleries. Many of those showrooms double as studios, so you may catch an artist at work. And if you feel the impulse to get hands-on yourself, check out the class schedule at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts or look into visitors' events at the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists' Residency. 

About 40 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, Saugatuck sits at the spot where the Kalamazoo River meets Lake Michigan, which shimmers in ever-changing hues of blue. Boats bob in the marina, and gentle waves lap the white sand on Oval Beach. Don't be fooled into thinking it's all peace, love and art, though—one of the most popular activities is an off-road Saugatuck Dune Rides tour, with trucks that dive down the faces of sandy slopes. Buckle up!

7 a.m. Watch the Sunrise

Begin and end yourday on the deck of Lake Shore Resort overlooking Lake Michigan. It's the perfect spot to watch the sunrise before yoga. Other perks at this beautifully restored retro motor inn: free breakfast, bikes and kayaks; a heated outdoor pool with lake views; and 2 miles of hiking trails.  

10 a.m. Get on the Water 

Cruise the Kalamazoo River in style with Retro Boat Rentals. Vintage pink and purple boats with cute names like Doris, Ginger and Laverne hold up to four passengers and come with electric motors and a Bluetooth speaker. Bring the pup and pack your suit. (Some of the boats allow swimming from the back of the boat.) The on-site Old Boat House stocks coolers with a medley of adult beverages. 

12 p.m. Lunch Break 

Helmed by a Chopped alum, Pennyroyal Cafe and Provisions has a gorgeous covered courtyard and gardens. Or opt for a soup and sandwich combo from The Farmhouse Deli and Pantry in the nearby town of Douglas. For families, The Mitten Brewing Company delivers a winning keep-everyone-happy combination—good pizza, room for kids to play, and a tasty cream ale called The Stretch. For summer's unofficial fizzy drink, order a round of floats at the Root Beer Barrel

2 p.m. Shop on Butler Street 

Boutiques, galleries and restaurants line Butler Street, the main downtown thoroughfare. Landsharks carries water bottle stickers and shirts. Preserves, jams and jellies made with Michigan fruit fill the shelves at American Spoon. Find original artwork at James Brandess Studios and Gallery, in Saugatuck's original post office. (His note cards make great souvenirs and gifts.)

4 p.m. Climb the Dunes

For the best views of Saugatuck, Douglas and the lake, climb 302 stairs to reach the sandy summit of Mount Baldhead. A 1-mile trail also loops the dune. From here, follow the Mount Baldhead Park Trail for less than half a mile to Oval Beach, often named as one of Lake Michigan's best. A chain ferry, Diane, is the only one of its kind left in the U.S. It's also the only way for pedestrians and bicycles to cross the Kalamazoo River from downtown to the shore. 

chicken from The Southerner
Credit: Ryan Donnell

6 p.m. Savor a Down-Home Supper

Southern cooking with traditional sides like baked beans, grits and sauerkraut grace the menu at The Southerner. Order your juicy fried chicken on a flaky biscuit or family-style, and pick your heat. (Caution: Hot habanero comes with its own warning.) Cool your taste buds with a cocktail—brown spirits are the specialty of the house. There's also a pulled pork sandwich, which requires a word of warning, too, as the crinkle-cut pickles and slaw fight to stay between the toasted bun. 

More to Try

Rent bicycles—some built for two—from Big Lake Outfitters and pedal the paved Blue Star Trail from downtown; it will eventually extend 20 miles south to South Haven.