Summers spent in Michigan, both as a kid and now as a mom of two, are certainly some of my most cherished memories. There really is something to those Tim Allen “Pure Michigan” ads.
Time seems to slow down when you stroll on the beaches, relax in the sunshine and enjoy a boat cruise.
Saugatuck will forever be one of my favorite places on Earth, and I’m not alone in that opinion.
This colorful, lakeside art town has received numerous accolades, including #1 Best Summer Weekend Escape in 2014 and Best Small Coastal Town in 2016 by USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice.
Here are my family’s recommendations for a jaunt around this beautiful beach town and two neighboring destinations you shouldn’t miss.
Saugatuck’s Oval Beach has been hailed as one of the top in the world and best in the Midwest. This serene shoreline nestled between sandy dunes is perfect for a sunny day of building sand castles or gallivanting in the gentle waves. Stay for sunset snuggles and you’ll cement some magnificent memories.
Take a hilly car ride to the beach, or even better, visit via hand-cranked ferry. The Saugatuck Chain Ferry, believed to be the only remaining one in the U.S., has been in use since 1838. For a small fee, you can cross the Kalamazoo River, hand-cranked on a chain, and experience a piece of history. Star of Saugatuck, a large paddle-wheel boat, and Harbor Duck Tours are also great ways to enjoy the water without getting wet.
Saugatuck has a delightful downtown, dotted with colorful boutiques and interesting art galleries. Stroll through the eclectic stores and stop to enjoy tasty treats. Parents will love Uncommon Coffee Roasters, where you can order a frothy cappuccino, then swing around the corner to the Teeny Tiny Toy Store. Just be warned, you should probably set a budget with the kids first, because, although the shop is small, it’s bursting with every toy you can imagine.
Saugatuck Drug Store and Soda Fountain is another place you should hit. Hop on a stool and enjoy a hand-creamed phosphate. This retro drug store is a blast from the past, turning out sodas and malts for more than 100 years. Kids will enjoy shopping for souvenirs; silly T-shirts, toys and colorful kites are just a few of the fun options.
Without a doubt, Saugatuck Dune Rides are my all-time favorite activity in the area. Jump aboard a dune buggy for a giggle-inducing, heart-pounding adventure for the whole family. It’s like a roller coaster ride in the sand dunes, full of quick jokes, fast turns and scenic outlooks. Call ahead to reserve tickets, because summer days sell out quick.
For lunch, you will love Lucy’s Little Kitchen. It’s a cute outdoor café that serves locally farmed foods and fresh seafood. Our kids couldn’t get enough of the sugarcane juice bar.
And make sure to catch the internationally acclaimed Village Puppeteers, who stage free public performances, for a comic romp sure to please your whole crew.
Douglas, sister city to Saugatuck, has several family-friendly options. While Saugatuck can be a bed-and-breakfast town, my flock opted to stay at AmericInn Lodge & Suites due to its indoor swimming pool. That way, our early risers could get a dip in the pool and enjoy a free, hot breakfast before most people even got going for the day.
WayPoint Restaurant is where the locals go for hash brown omelets and super-friendly service. Cabbages & Kings is a delightful bookstore lined with precious children’s gifts.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner at a bowling alley? You just might be tempted to eat every meal at Alley’s Classic American Diner and Bowl. This cute, kitschy diner and bowling alley scored some of our best memories on our last visit.
Celebrating a special occasion or just looking for a fabulous meal? Fennville, a small farm town a few miles from Saugatuck, is the place to go. Salt of the Earth, a modern farm-to-table restaurant, right next to the Forever Curious Children’s Museum, is a delicious way to reward yourself for a day of supervising play. The rustic, seasonal menu showcases ingredients from within a 50-mile radius of the restaurant. I dove into my pan-seared sea scallops and had to fight my 4-year-old daughter for the fresh bread. Our son devoured his wood-fired pizza, and we all enjoyed the live music.
Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery comes highly recommended, and for good reason. This fifth generation family fruit farm, famous for grandma’s fruit pies, now also serves wine and cider. Pie flights are a great way to try all the tempting flavors. Parents will enjoy sampling the small batch wines and ciders.
Feeling artistic? Stop by the Express Yourself Art Barn, a whimsical art studio for all ages. Soon you’ll be painting, stringing beads, throwing pottery or whatever your heart desires. The art you create will be a lasting treasure from your vacation time together.
Cortney Fries is a freelance writer and Chicago mom of two.
See more of Cortney's stories here.
Let us plan your weekend with the best family events and activities in Chicagoland.
Start the week right with deals, prizes, parent life hacks and more delivered straight to your inbox.
Need last-minute ideas for a weekend of family fun? No worries. We've got you.
Get the inside scoop on the people, places and things we are loving right now.
Resources, tips, inspiration and more for parents of children with special needs.
Score exclusive offers from our fabulous advertisers.