Michigan’s west coast boasts 300 miles of gorgeous Lake Michigan shoreline. Visitors can spend an entire summer exploring the many small towns and lakeshore cities up and down the coast. But the city of South Haven, which lies along the southern area of the coastline and is only a 2-hour drive from Chicago, is a delightful town full of local charm and fascinating maritime history. South Haven is the perfect place to spend a day at the beach or explore the city.
I live just a 20-minute drive up the road from South Haven, and my husband and I love to take a mini road trip for an afternoon or evening when we want a change of scenery from our small town home. Here are nine incredible things to do in South Haven, Michigan.
1. Catch Some Sun On One Of The Beaches
South Haven is a great place to enjoy the beach. Or you can spend seven days at the beach, each day exploring a different one! That’s right, South Haven is known for its seven amazing beaches with distinct personalities.
- South Beach – walking distance from the downtown shopping district
- North Beach – family-friendly with play structures for the grandkids and a concession stand
- Woodman Beach Access – no public restrooms, but convenient parking
- Dyckman Street Access – smaller, more private area with a longer walk from parking to beach area
- Packard Park & Beach – clean and beautiful, has a wooden deck with seating for a perfect view of the sunset
- Oak Street Access – stairs or a dune walk to the boardwalk that leads to the beach, a quiet place to watch the sunset
- Newcome Beach Access – surrounded by private property, a stand-alone beach that’s a great place to have a picnic and enjoy sunbathing with less traffic
Choose a family-friendly beach with playground equipment and picnic tables if you have the kids and grandkids along. If adventure is your style, choose one of the beaches that offers paddleboats, jet skis, kayaks, or fishing boats to rent. Are you searching for a romantic sunset? Choose one of the town’s quiet and secluded beach areas and watch the sun slip gently below the horizon.
When it comes to South Haven Beaches, here are my favorite recommendations:
Van Buren State Park Beach
Van Buren State Park is situated about 10 minutes south of downtown South Haven and has a lovely beach area covered in smooth rocks, perfect for the collector! It also houses a modern campground and eating areas with grills and picnic tables. Van Buren State Park is just one of many State Parks in Western Michigan.
South Beach Park is just a short walk from the downtown area of South Haven. Once you arrive, take a stroll along the pier while enjoying the summer sunshine and the sound of the waves and water. Several picnic areas are available between the beach and the parking lot. Parking is $10 daily, but plan to arrive early as this lot fills up! The park is ADA accessible and a short walk sloping downward from the downtown shopping area.
Pro Tip: Stop at the concession stand at the beach to treat yourself to a hot dog or an ice cream cone!
2. Walk The Pier
A visit to South Haven isn’t complete without a closer look at the South Pierhead Lighthouse. Situated on the Black River at its Lake Michigan entrance, this lighthouse is one of the four remaining lighthouses that sits on its original walkway/pier linking the lighthouse to the shore. Not only is it historical, but it’s also gorgeous! Take a walk along the pier, look back at the town, or watch a magnificent sunset behind the lighthouse from South Beach.
Pro Tip: Park in the South Beach parking area for the closest access to the Pier, but arrive by no later than 11 a.m. because the lot fills quickly.
3. Take A Bike Ride And Enjoy The Artwork Around Town
South Haven is a town that truly embraces the arts. Whether walking through town or cruising along on your bicycle, look for the 18 Mural Bike Racks peppered about and placed in convenient locations around town.
A local artist fabricated the steel bike racks, and the South Haven Visitors Bureau distributed them to 18 select artists from the South Haven area. Each has done a stunning job representing their visions of South Haven. Look for the bike rack featuring Michigan’s state bird, the robin. Another bike is covered in a gorgeous Monarch butterfly pattern, and yet another depicts a beautiful sunset behind South Haven’s very own lighthouse.
4. Learn Maritime History
The Michigan Maritime Museum sits on the shore of the Black River and is within walking distance of both beach and shopping areas. Plan to spend a couple of hours wandering through the exhibits learning the history of shipping and boating on the Great Lakes. This museum is a treasure trove of information.
While at the museum, take a tour of the Friends Good Will, a replica of an 1810 top sail sloop. You can even ride on the Friends Good Will or one of the other four ships that are a part of the museum’s fleet.
Pro Tip: When you sail aboard the Friends Good Will, be ready to photograph the crew in period clothes!
5. Shop Downtown
Plan to take plenty of time to wander the downtown shopping area of South Haven. This delightful town offers everything from art galleries to antique stores and sports shops to home decor. Whatever you’re looking for, you will find it here. Many of the one-of-a-kind shops, boutiques, and breweries are family-owned, and you won’t find anything like them elsewhere!
The Blueberry Store is a local favorite and carries anything you can imagine made with blueberries. Like them dried? Check. Like them frozen? Check. Like them in coffee? Check. Look for blueberry syrup, juices, jellies, jams, and granola. Want all of it? Great! Let the Blueberry Store make you a gift basket to take home with you!
Decadent Dogs is a small, family-owned shop with everything you need to pamper your pooch! From specially crafted dog cookies to every doggy toy and accessory you can imagine, you won’t want to miss this darling shop! Even better, you can bring your dog with you; she will be treated like part of the family while visiting!
Pro Tip: Saturday evening is the busiest time for downtown South Haven, so plan on mingling with plenty of new friends while you travel up and down the friendly streets!
6. Taste The Local Flavors
After you’ve done some serious shopping, you will have worked up an appetite. Stop in at one of these fine establishments along Phoenix Street to refuel for the rest of your adventure!
Stop in for a bite of lunch (or dinner) at Kitchen 527. This neighborhood pub is the perfect place for a burger, some hand-breaded chicken, a gourmet salad, or a side of spicy fried pickles. You’ll love the variety of dishes available here and the down-home-friendly service. Pair your meal with a brew or a cocktail for the perfect relaxing lunchtime treat!
Pro Tip: If you love cheese, The Big Cheese sandwich is perfect for you with three kinds of cheese inside and wrapped in a fourth!
Golden Brown Bakery
The Golden Brown Bakery has been around for over 80 years and is still going strong! All of the bakery items here are created from scratch and are sure to tickle your taste buds! They make bread, donuts, scones, cookies and brownies, cupcakes, and other delightful baked goods. Pair your favorite with a coffee or latte while you’re here.
Pro Tip: Be sure to come early. The Golden Brown Café closes at 1:30, and the bakery closes at 2:30 daily. They are closed on Sundays.
South Pier Creamery & Market
Indulge in a sandwich or a sweet treat at the South Pier Creamery. The South Pier serves local favorite Sherman’s ice cream in various delicious flavors like Pistachio, Amaretto Cherry, and Michigan Pothole.
Pro Tip: Your ice cream will be even better when served in a freshly made waffle cone.
7. Sip Some Wine
You can’t leave South Haven without tasting some local winery favorites! You’ll have plenty of opportunities to feed your senses and tickle your tastebuds with these local tasting rooms.
12 Corners Vineyards
The 12 Corners Vineyards are just a quick 20-minute ride down the road in Benton Harbor, but you can enjoy their tasting room in downtown South Haven. All the grapes used are grown locally in their vineyards. They have a wide variety available for tasting and have won many awards for their delicious flavors. Both wine enthusiasts and inexperienced tasters will love the atmosphere here and are guaranteed to learn something new while visiting.
Pro Tip: If you’re coming with a group of six or more, call ahead to schedule your wine tasting experience.
Gravity Tasting Room
Look for the Gravity Tasting Room on the south side of Pheonix Street. Gravity is family-owned and has a great selection of wines and ciders for your tasting pleasure. The winery calls Baroda, Michigan, about 45 minutes south of South Haven, home. Gravity has been in business since 2011. This tasting room is perfect for getting a taste without traveling to the vineyard.
Pro Tip: Be sure to try the blueberry wine. It’s delicious!
8. Take A Sunset Cruise
Every visit to West Michigan’s lakeshore must end with a gorgeous Lake Michigan sunset. Enjoy your evening in style with a Sun Setter Sunset Cruise. Set sail before the sun sets and enjoy a look back at South Haven from the water. Enjoy your scenic tour all while watching the sun sink below the horizon in true West Michigan style.
Pro Tip: Pack a bottle of wine and a snack to enjoy during your cruise. Personal-sized coolers are permitted.
9. Sleep Local
You’re not alone if you find that one day just isn’t enough in charming South Haven! There are many options for spending a night in town so you can continue your exploration again on a whole new day! Here are my recommendations.
Yelton Manor Boutique Hotel
The Yelton Manor Boutique Hotel is steeped in local history, which you can hear all about when you stay with owners Elaine and Robert. When you head back in for the evening, you can treat yourself to one of several indulgences, including a freshly prepared charcuterie board with a bottle of wine or champagne. Finally, wake to enjoy your cook-to-order breakfast in peaceful surroundings with no crowds or lines. The dishes, all made with locally sourced ingredients, top off this delightful breakfast experience.
Pro Tip: Come early and hit the beach with a priority check-in for a small additional fee.
Another excellent establishment full of local history is the historic Hotel Nichols, located in downtown South Haven. The hotel has been in business for over 100 years and remains family-owned and operated. Be sure to call in advance to find a room at Hotel Nichols. This beautiful establishment fills up fast!
Pro Tip: Plan on sipping a cocktail on Friday or Saturday evening from 5 to 7 p.m. during happy hour, a year-round event.
No matter how you choose to spend your time in South Haven, Michigan, there is no doubt you’ll be charmed by the quiet charm and friendly people that inhabit this beautiful lakeside town.
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