By Andrea Nordstrom Caughey
Our famed eastern seashore and wild Pacific coastline are often top-of-the-mind with beachcombers. But for those in the know, the Midwest Riviera offers comparable jaw dropping scenery and equally charming seaside towns.
If you have a weekend to spare, or even a week, it is effortless to revel in a range of Lake Michigan beach towns spanning a 50+mile drive from South Haven, Michigan, on the south to Grand Haven, Michigan, on the north.
From artist colonies and historic cottage communities to vineyards, parklands and picturesque beaches, the four burgs of South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven offer ideal road tripping for any season.
Dubbed one of the “Top 10 Yachting Towns in the World,” tiny South Haven’s roots date back to the turn of the century, and its reputation as a popular destination from Chicago. While it’s population hovers around 4,400, its recreational moxie is enormous, with seven beaches and tempting trails, the longest of which, Kal-Haven at 33 miles, connects to the town to Kalamazoo. For paddlers, there is also the 20-mile Bangor/South Haven Heritage Water Trail, which connects the two towns via the Black River.
Historic restaurants, a maritime museum, scenic harbor with lighthouse, seasonal festivals (Blueberry Capital of the World) and brag worthy perch fishing round out this must-see town.
A renowned artists’ haven, Saugatuck has a storybook feel, with 19th-century architecture, quaint boutiques, restaurants and galleries. Wrapped around a beautiful harbor and riverfront, the town is routinely lauded as a top art mecca in the Midwest. It also checks boxes as a bed and breakfast hotbed and sought-after beach scene.
For an enchanting water overview, consider booking a cruise on a vintage paddle boat that travels along the Kalamazoo River to Lake Michigan and back, passing quaint cottages and stunning mansions.
Infused with Dutch culture from early settlers, Holland is a unique coastal getaway. It’s accented with vintage cottages, picturesque beaches, inviting boardwalks and an iconic harbor with the “Big Red Lighthouse.” A manicured, brick-clad downtown also offers visitors a thriving shopping, dining, art and brew pub scene.
Water lovers can head to the shoreline of Lake Michigan at Holland State Park and Tunnel Park, or complete the invigorating Mt. Pisgah Dune Climb for an aerial perspective. Children will love the iconic Windmill Island Gardens and Nelis’ Dutch Village, complete with canals, gardens and shops selling wooden shoes, Deft China and more.
A flashback to simpler times pervades nostalgic Grand Haven, a favorite of Midwestern day trippers. Its pair of 100-year-old lighthouses, retro trolley cars and famed, walkable pier complement eclectic boutiques and long-standing eateries.
To get your lake fix, stroll the 2.5-mile harbor-front boardwalk, relax at one of several beaches or swim at Grand Haven State Park, which also allows camping.
The Rosy Mound Natural Area is a treasured Great Lakes dune system that features stairs bridging the wooded dunes to the beach. Also, Grand Haven offers more charter boat services (shipwreck dives, cruises, tours and fishing excursions) than any other Michigan harbor town.