Every family trip to Michigan (my mom grew up there and her entire family still lives in the western part of the state) is packed with wholesome family fun. Long lake shores are reminiscent of the beaches back home in California and I am always surprised at the sheer amounts of greenery and the quaint towns.
Although I’ve only been to Michigan a handful of times, South Haven is a must-see every time. Although it has the same lengthy downtown stretch filled with shops and cafes as most of the towns in the area, the beach and the lighthouse are reason enough to stop by for a lazy day by the sea with your toddler.
By the Seashore
Park closer to downtown and walk along the Maritime District’s HarborWalk to the shoreline. The popular walking trail winds between green patches of grass and picnic tables that overlook the narrow channel where boats enter and exit Lake Michigan. If you want to head out on the water, try the Friends Good Will, an authentic replica of a tall ship that played a role in the War of 1812. Adults can learn all about the ship’s merchant and military history while toddlers watch the sails billow in the wind and the water ripple below.
If you’d prefer to stay on land, spend a day relaxing on the sand instead. With a backdrop of beautiful New England-style architecture and a green tree line just beyond the sand, the beach is a picturesque spot for families to set up colorful umbrellas and go for a swim. As the sun breaks through the clouds, it casts a golden glow on the smooth sand.
Talk a walk out to the South Haven Light, a bright red lighthouse that rests on an elevated concrete walkway. Little ones will love being up over the water as the waves crash below; just keep an eye on them, as there aren’t any railings here. Soak up the sun on this relaxing stroll as you watch the sailboats on the horizon.
When you leave the beach, the nearby Michigan Maritime Museum is worth a visit. In addition to operating the Friends Good Will voyages, the museum is comprised of five buildings that detail not only maritime history but also information on boat building and maritime skills. Changing exhibits often feature hands-on activities that toddlers will love, including a fun opportunity to chart shipwrecks in the lake.
A Trip Downtown
Most of Michigan’s quaint beach towns have long strips of shops in their downtown areas and South Haven is no different. However, South Haven is a pretty popular destination so expect locals and visitors to be milling around, wandering in and out of the clothing boutiques and gift shops filled with cute trinkets and home décor. Restaurants with small patios line the street and specialty stores offer unique finds like Michigan-shaped dog treats and knitting supplies.
As a berry connoisseur, my personal favorite was The Blueberry Store. They had blueberry everything. Syrups, pancake mixes, cookies, muffins, jams and jellies—even mustard, honey, BBQ sauces and salsas. They had frozen blueberries and dried blueberries and chocolate covered blueberries. Beyond the tasty treats, they had more unique products like perfumes, lotions and soaps. If you’re a family of fruit lovers, this is the spot for you. They also sell gift baskets filled with various items and blueberry-themed cookbooks. While toddlers may want to get their hands on something good to eat, you can also grab a plush blueberry buddy or a coloring book filled with facts about various types of berries.
Down the street, see a flick at the Michigan Theatre. The old-school building features a brilliant neon sign and the theater is small so you can get cozy with your little one for a family-friendly film. They also sometimes hold film festivals here.
One Last Stop
When you head away from downtown, there’s one more place you’ll need to go: the Sherman Dairy Bar. Serving delicious ice cream since 1916, this large ice cream shop is famous among locals. You’ll know you’ve found the place when you spot the bright blue cow sitting up on the roof.
Head inside where you will be greeted with a standard dairy bar. Little faces can peer into the glass at the colorful variety of ice cream flavors that are created one batch at a time. Don’t want a cone or a cup? Choose from a sundae, a milkshake, a banana split or even a frozen banana. A great option for families is the Tour of Sherman’s—sample six different flavors with full-size scoops.
Sherman has classic flavors like strawberry, cookies and cream and pistachio, but they also have unique options like black raspberry, blueberry cheesecake, Mackinac Island fudge and the ever popular (and ever colorful!) Superman.
So when you’re searching for a Michigan beach town in which to spend a lazy day, head to South Haven for casual strolls and extra-special sights.