A Guide to Michigan's Southwest Shore | Midwest Living

A Guide to Michigan's Southwest Shore

With more than 140 miles of soft sand, almost every beach is the right beach along Michigan’s southwest shore. But in the towns like St. Joseph, Holland, South Haven, Grand Haven and Ludington, travelers find distinct flavors catering to a variety of tastes. Check out our guide for what to do, where to eat and where to sleep along the Lake Michigan 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. Across the street, Silver Beach Center rings with the cheerful song of a carousel.

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.

Friends Good Will

Friends Good Will

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.

Experience the dunes! Take a high-speed dune ride in our video.

Trip guide


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. boxfactoryforthearts.org

Coppercraft Tour groups get a glimpse of the distilling process. Afterward, try a cocktail: The ingredient list changes seasonally but always includes locally grown fruits and herbs. coppercraftdistillery.com

Curious Kids’ Museum Kids make giant bubbles, create a newscast, drive an ambulance and explore 100 more hands-on exhibits in St. Joseph. curiouskidsmuseum.org

DeGrandchamp Farms Acres of blueberry bushes await pickers 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. degrandchamps.com

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. michiganmaritimemuseum.org

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. ghfountain.com

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. lakeshoremuseum.org/project/hackley-hume/

Harbor Shores This 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed course in Benton Harbor challenges with its diverse terrain. harborshoresgolf.com

Hungry Village Tours Discover the secrets behind popular Saugatuck restaurants during a leisurely three-hour culinary walking tour, with tastes at each stop. hungryvillagetours.com

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.  macwoodsdunerides.com

Mac Wood’s Dune Rides

Mac Wood's Dune Rides

Michigan State Parks All the beaches all have soft, clean sand. Solid options include: Saugatuck Dunes, Holland, Grand Haven and Ludington. michigan.gov/dnr

Michigan’s Adventure 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.  miadventure.com

Retro Boat Rentals Cruise around Saugatuck Harbor in vintage eye candy, like a 1959 Bell Boy Banshee. retroboatrentals.com

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.  saugatuckcity.com

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. silverbeachcarousel.com

Whirlpool Compass Fountain

St. Joseph fountain

Spring festivals A Blessing of the Blossoms opens the Blossomtime Festival in Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, and the Grand Floral parade wraps up the  state's oldest multicommunity event (April 28–May 4, 2019). blossomtimefestival.org In Holland, Dutch heritage comes alive at Tulip Time with 1,000 costumed dancers and more than 5 million blooms (May 4–12, 2019). tuliptime.com

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. silversidesmuseum.org

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. veldheer.com

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. beachtowns.org

Windmill Island Gardens In Holland, a 255-year-old 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. cityofholland.com/windmillislandgardens

Windmill Island Gardens

Windmill Island Gardens


221 Main 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. 221stjoe.com

Bowdie’s Chophouse The dining room seats just 25, ensuring an intimate experience at the steakhouse in Saugatuck. bowdieschophouse.com

Bread and Bar by Bit of Swiss The pastries resemble masterpieces in the artsy neighborhood of Benton Harbor. Grab-and-go sandwiches make the perfect picnic. breadbarbh.com

Crane’s in the City In Holland’s busy 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. cranesinthecity.com

deBoer’s Bakkerij and Dutch Brothers Restaurant IA second location just opened for this classic Holland bakery, the spot for Dutch pancakes or buttery krakelingen cookies. deboerbakery.com

House of Flavors Restaurant Pig out on the Original Pig’s Dinner: four flavors of ice cream, a banana and toppings, served in a wooden trough in Ludington. houseofflavors.com

Ludington’s House of Flavors.

House of Flavors

Jamesport Brewing Company A warm atmosphere and upscale pub food, such as onion rings topped with crab, pair with craft beers in Ludington. jamesportbrewingcompany.com

The Kirby House This former hotel in Grand Haven shelters a trio of restaurants. Try the tomato-bacon mac ’n’ cheese at the American Bar and Grill. thegilmorecollection.com

Lemonjello's Coffee 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. lemonjellos.com

New Holland Brewing Company After perfecting the art of brewing, it now distills spirits. A copper fermenter sits in the center of the Holland restaurant also known for its creative pizzas. newhollandbrew.com

New Holland Brewing Company

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 Mama Sampler. piggin-n-grinnin.com

P.M. Steamers Dine on tender, flavorful fresh fish, like Great Lakes perch, at this upscale restaurant on Ludington's waterfront. pmsteamers.com

Schu’s Grille and Bar Views of Lake Michigan accompany renowned burgers and potato soup in St. Joseph. schus.com

Sherman's Dairy Bar Single scoops look more like doubles at South Haven’s dairy bar, churning out ice cream since 1916. shermanicecream.com

South Bend Chocolate Company In downtown St. Joseph, this spot is part candy store, part coffeehouse and part ice cream parlor. sbchocolate.com

Taste Pair small plates such as filet bites or crispy artichokes with a signature ginger lemongrass martini at the casual space in South Haven. tastesouthhaven.com

Tello Italian Bistro Locally grown ingredients flavor items like spaghetti alla primavera at this chic South Haven spot. tellorc.com


CityFlatsHotel 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. cityflatshotel.com

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. innatharborshores.com

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.  nadersmotel.com

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. thepinesmotorlodge.com

Serendipity Resort Visitors craving privacy enjoy this Grand Haven resort’s six vacation homes. Suites occupy Victorian homes, carriage houses and cottages. serendipityresorts.com

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. victoriaresort.com

For more information:
Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau pureludington.com or beachtowns.org for other communities.

Comments (1)

writerightme wrote:
From the opening paragraph with its list of towns shoreline town to the list of State Parks, Muskegon seems glaringly absent, even though it is the largest town on this coastline. Muskegon not only has wonderful beaches, including Kruse Park for dogs, it has two State Parks, Muskegon and P.J. Hoffmaster, both with shorefront and great beaches. Muskegon State Park also boasts a Winter Sports Complex for a whole new perspective on Lake Michigan and its eastern shoreline.

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