4 Top Michigan Beach Towns for Your Summer Family Trip
Above photo: Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan draws crowds, especially in summer.
Story by Jody Mitori; photos by Lynden Steele
Jody is an editor and writer who lives in Columbia, Missouri. Lynden is Director of Photojournalism at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Southwest Michigan is dotted with beach towns and cities along the coast of Lake Michigan. If you are driving north on Interstate 196, you’ll find each of these popular stops has its own draw and personality.
Perfect for young families, St. Joseph has Silver Beach County Park, where the St. Joseph River meets Lake Michigan. The Silver Beach Center is conveniently located nearby, where you can ride a horse — or a T. Rex or dolphin — on the colourful carousel, play chess at one of the game tables that line the carousel’s perimeter or try the climbing wall at the Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone. For a historical take on the area, stop by the Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum to learn about the days when bumper cars, carnival games and a roller coaster drew people to the shore. Across the street, kids can cool off in the Whirlpool Compass Fountain (a giant splash pad) and everyone can grab a slice at Silver Beach Pizza. If you walk from the beach up the bluff, you’ll find downtown’s shops and restaurants, including the busy Cabana’s, where you’ll be served generous scoops of ice cream and gelato.
This summer was our first family trip to South Haven, and we found activities that all three generations in our group could enjoy — from walking to South Beach’s iconic lighthouse to browsing the stands of fresh produce and handmade goods at the farmers market. Stroll through downtown for souvenirs — one shop, aptly named the Blueberry Store, sells jam, salsa, coffee and mustard flavoured with the fruit — and a stack of onion rings at local favourite Clementine’s. On one rainy day, several of us caught the latest action film at the Michigan Theatre, just two blocks down Center Street from Clementine’s. From downtown, you can walk to the Michigan Maritime Museum at the harbour and sign up for a boat ride on a replica schooner from the 1800s.
I’ve stayed near Saugatuck with my family for seven summers, but the town can also be an ideal destination for couples who enjoy good food and drink, lake views and a little adventure. For a day of relaxation, drive to Oval Beach and set up your umbrella and chairs or walk by the rolling dunes around it. For a fuller view of the area, sign up for Saugatuck Dune Rides, a thrilling 40-minute trip over steep dunes where you can learn about the lost town of Singapore, now buried under the sand. Downtown Saugatuck along the Kalamazoo River is lined with boutiques and restaurants. I recommend a pint of A League of Their Own at the Mitten Brewing Co., a perch sandwich at Phil’s Bar and Grill, or fish tacos and live music at Wicks Park Bar & Grille. The young at heart will also want a scoop of ice cream from the old-fashioned soda fountain in Saugatuck Drug Store.
With a population of 33,000, Holland is 33 times larger than Saugatuck. While it may not have the charm of a small beach town, families who want a mix of city conveniences, cultural activities and the beach — which you can enjoy at Holland State Park — will want to stop here. Holland embraces its history and the Dutch community that settled there in the mid-1800s. We visited in June, a month too late for the Tulip Time festival at Windmill Island Gardens, but the 36-acre space is still worth seeing for the De Zwaan Windmill, a working windmill that was brought to the United States from the Netherlands in the 1960s. To celebrate a different part of the world, we enjoyed Korean bibimbap at Mizu in downtown Holland; but New Holland Brewing, also downtown, is a good bet for burgers, sandwiches and pizza. As we left town, we saw signs of a new permanent outdoor exhibit on “The Wizard of Oz” that pays tribute to author L. Frank Baum and the time he reportedly spent writing the book in nearby Macatawa. In Holland’s Centennial Park, a vibrant 10-foot-by-12-foot floral artwork, composed of thousands of plants, depicts the cover of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” If you stop by, sculptures of Dorothy and Toto may be there to greet you, too.
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