Saugatuck, Michigan, located on the state’s west coast, is a quaint Lake Michigan beach town. With miles of Lake Michigan beaches and plenty of water activities and hiking trails, outdoor enthusiasts will stay busy. Saugatuck, along with the adjoining village of Douglas, is also known as Michigan’s Art Coast, and art lovers will find studios, galleries, and art classes aplenty. Foodies will enjoy farm-fresh food from award-winning chefs.
Here’s what to do, where to eat, and where to stay on a visit to Saugatuck.
Things To Do In Saugatuck
A visit to Saugatuck is a multisensory experience. In summer, the sound of live music fills the air on various restaurant decks and patios. Breathe in the fresh air off Lake Michigan, feel the sand between your toes on the award-winning beaches, taste fruits and vegetables fresh from the farm, and enjoy the panoramic vistas from the top of Mount Baldhead.
Spend Some Time At Oval Beach
National Geographic Traveler has recognized Oval Beach as one of the top freshwater beaches in the United States, and Conde Nast Traveler has ranked it one of the top 25 beaches in the world. Oval Beach, Saugatuck’s primary beach, features rolling dunes and coastal grasses perfect for sun worshippers and those who enjoy building sandcastles.
Parking costs $10 per car, but they do take credit cards. Call the Interurban Transit Authority bus anywhere in Saugatuck or Douglas to receive door-to-door rides anywhere within their service area, including the beach.
Take A River Cruise
The cruises offered by Star of Saugatuck are another wonderful family adventure. The paddlewheel boat tours take place on a 51-ton authentic steamwheeler. While they have cruises throughout the day, our family’s favorite was the sunset cruise down the Kalamazoo River, where you can enjoy the stunning sunset over Lake Michigan while you’re on the water.
Climb Mount Baldhead
To reach Mount Baldhead’s summit and enjoy panoramic views of the harbor and town, you’ll need to climb 282 stairs. While there are benches placed throughout the staircase, it’s still a strenuous climb. Once at the top, you can run down the dunes to the beach, but remember that you’ll need to climb back up the dunes, too!
Cross The River On The Saugatuck Chain Ferry
The Saugatuck Chain Ferry is the only hand-cranked chain ferry of its kind remaining in the U.S. Originally used to carry horses across the river, it now assists tourists in their trek to Mount Baldhead and Oval Beach. The ferry crosses the Kalamazoo River every 15 minutes between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Ride The Dunes
Saugatuck Dune Rides offers a 40-minute dune adventure in an open vehicle. The exciting ride is a bit like a roller-coaster up and down the dunes. During the excursion, you’ll learn about the town of Singapore, lost to the sand. Nature lovers might see some wildlife along the way. When we took this ride, deer were out for a cold drink on the water. Be aware that you’ll have to sign a waiver before this experience.
Enjoy A Wine Tasting
One of my favorite vineyards is Fenn Valley Vineyards, located just 5 miles from the center of Saugatuck in Fennville. If you visit in the fall harvest season, take a tour of the vineyards to discover how the grapes go from vine to glass. Or have a picnic in the vineyard and enjoy one of my favorite wines, the Edelzwicker 2015, a Double Gold award-winner. Edelzwicker, which translates to “Noble Blend,” is a blend of riesling and traminette.
Another favorite for wine tasting is Crane’s Wine and Cider on Water Street in Saugatuck. In addition to beverages, you’ll find products made from local produce, including fruit preserves, apple butter, orchard honey, and hot fudge. These products make perfect gifts for family and friends.
Brew Your Own Beer At Saugatuck Brewing Company
If you enjoy craft beer, you’ll have fun learning to brew your own at Saugatuck Brewing Company. The process takes about 4 hours, and they provide the ingredients, recipes, equipment, and expertise. In about three weeks, you return to bottle and sample your brew. You can choose to start with a recipe you already like or work with the brewmasters to create something new.
Best Restaurants In Saugatuck
Michigan is second only to California in terms of the variety of its agricultural products. Many restaurants take advantage of this diversity to create fantastic farm-to-fork dining experiences. Here are my favorite places to taste that freshness.
Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions
Chef Missy Corey is at the helm of Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions located on Blue Star Highway. She competed on Food Network’s show Chopped and won. Corey uses local products sourced from farmers as well as heirloom produce from her own farm. The menu includes familiar dishes with a twist. For example, a favorite is their riff on the tuna melt -- it’s made with Michigan’s Great Lakes whitefish.
The Southerner provides Southern hospitality at its best. Located on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, it’s a fried-chicken joint run by Matt Miller, a two-time James Beard Award semifinalist whose cooking pays homage to Appalachian cuisine. In addition to the fried chicken, they’re famous for their biscuits. Combine both favorites with the chicken and biscuit sandwich.
Bowdie’s Chophouse on Culver Street is an elegant fine-dining establishment with a focus on steak. You’ll find 28-day dry-aged steaks that melt in your mouth. I enjoyed the filet mignon with au gratin potatoes; the diners next to us ordered the impressive 32-ounce ribeye for two. The signature cocktails are the perfect accompaniment to the steaks.
Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery
While Evergreen Lane Farm & Creamery isn’t a restaurant, you’ll want to make the trip about 5 miles from Saugatuck to their on-farm cheese tasting room. The farm raises goats, and they transform the goats’ milk into a delicious chevre. They also make cheese from the Jersey cow milk that they purchase from MOO-nique Dairy in Vandalia, Michigan. While you’re there, take some time to meet the goats.
Where To Shop In Saugatuck
Butler Street, named after Saugatuck’s founding father, William Gay Butler, is the main street in downtown Saugatuck. You’ll find many quaint shops and galleries along Butler Street.
If you’re looking for original art for your home or office, James Brandess Studios & Gallery features Brandess’s work representing Michigan’s Art Coast. Housed in downtown Saugatuck’s historic post office, the working studio allows you to immerse yourself in art.
Another noteworthy gallery is Good Goods, which features handmade art from 150 artists. You’ll find everything from jewelry to ceramics, furniture, and fine art.
Foodies will enjoy browsing The Butler Pantry for gourmet foods, specialty pots and pans, and kitchen gadgets.
Tucks of Saugatuck offers Christmas decorations and rave-worthy cupcakes.
Best Hotels In Saugatuck
Saugatuck has many bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels. Here are some of our top picks.
Located in the heart of downtown Saugatuck, BaySide Inn was initially built in 1927 as a boathouse and converted into a marina in 1945. After being partially submerged in the harbor for many years, Kathy and Frank Wilson transformed the former boathouse and marina into the elegant BaySide Inn.
All rooms have private baths, internet access, air conditioning, and an outdoor deck or balcony with views of Saugatuck Harbor. Some rooms feature fireplaces and jacuzzi tubs. Breakfast features a hot dish, like French toast, plus cold items such as fresh fruit, house-made bread, cereal, coffee, milk, and juice.
The Belvedere Inn
Built in 1912, The Belvedere Inn is about 2 miles from downtown Saugatuck. While it’s close enough to the action to be convenient, it’s far enough away to be a calm reprieve from the town’s hustle and bustle. Due to the beautifully manicured lawn and gardens, the inn has become known as a miniature Versailles.
The Belvedere Inn is a European-style boutique inn with 10 guest rooms and an award-winning on-site restaurant. The room charges include breakfast. The inn welcomes guests over the age of 13, but it doesn’t allow pets.
Another favorite bed and breakfast in the area is Wickwood Inn, located downtown on Butler Street just minutes away from the shores of Lake Michigan. It has 11 guest rooms with elegant touches like designer decor and fresh flowers. The owner of Wickwood Inn, Julee Rosso, wrote The Silver Palate Cookbook, so this place is sure to be a foodie’s delight.
Pro Tip: Memorial Day through Labor Day is the best time to visit Saugatuck. Many venues are open seasonally, so some experiences aren’t available outside this timeframe.