Growing up in Orange County, I’ve spent many sunny days wandering shops in little beach towns before grabbing lunch near the shoreline. But when I went to Michigan, the last thing I expected to find was a similar—and even more adorable—beach town.
The artist community of Saugatuck, Michigan is filled with stunning waterside scenery, sitting along Lake Michigan, Kalamazoo Lake and the Kalamazoo River. Spacious beaches and parks are filled with people during the summer (good luck finding parking!) but once fall arrives, the sleepy town has a magical, isolated vibe.
The Great Outdoors
With so much water around, a trip to the shore is definitely necessary. Oval Beach, set on the Lake Michigan side of town, is a must—the deep blue waves roll in over soft sand and, beyond the beach, soft green prairie grass blows in the wind. It is an extremely picturesque beach and has been gaining notoriety as one of the top freshwater beaches in the country. Summertime brings endless crowds of people, but in fall you can play in the sand, run through the surf or fly a kite in peace.
If you prefer grass to sand, head right downtown to Coghlin Park. The sprawling green lawn overlooks river below and is home to many of the town’s festivals and events throughout the year, including July’s Venetian Festival and October’s Fall Funfest. The park features colorful flowers, a gazebo, sculptures created by a local artist and plenty of picnic tables from which to watch children frolic in the grass.
Another great place to soak up the sun is Saugatuck’s memorial rose garden. Located downtown on the corner of Butler and Mason streets, it is like escaping the city in a teeny tiny piece of nature. The flowers are gorgeous and so is the gate that surrounds the garden.
Opportunities to Get Artistic
While visiting Saugatuck, allow your kids to explore their artistic sides. Art and creativity are both huge parts of the local culture. The Ox-Bow School of Art, affiliated with an art institute in Chicago, offers summer camp programs for children and teens. The weeklong programs, which last for a few hours from Monday through Thursday, teach children to do things like sculpt sandstone, create nature prints and explore color through various mediums.
Just south of Saugatuck in the neighboring Fennville, you’ll find the Express Yourself Art Barn, an old red barn converted into an art studio. Creative kiddos could easily spend all day here, crafting unique projects. Pay $8 to use the studio all day—projects cost extra but start at as little as $2. These projects include crafting your own jewelry, creating mosaics out of glass, painting and more. Your kids will have a blast making something new and you can get creative along with them.
To experience art you don’t have to make yourself, visit one Saugatuck’s numerous art galleries or head to a show at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.
A Bite to Eat
Hands down, the best place to eat in Saugatuck is Monroe’s Café-Grill, a small restaurant across from Coghlin Park. Tables and chairs line the sidewalk in front of Monroe’s, where you can sit next to the road overlooking the park and the river. You can also sit inside—little ones will be thrilled with the décor. Dim lights create a unique vibe and the tables are bright reds and blues. The walls are lined with photos of well-known icons like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley, and wooden cutouts of Dorothy and the Wicked Witch of the West. The food is delicious and the extensive menu gives you plenty of options, including a kid’s menu with dishes like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ribs and penne pasta with butter.
For dessert, there’s one place in particular that will have kid’s mouths watering. Kilwin’s Chocolates has a vast selection of homemade chocolates and fudge as well as cocoa products from countries like the Dominican Republic and Peru. They also serve old-fashioned ice cream and you won’t believe the flavors they have! Toasted coconut, huckleberry, pumpkin pie, s’mores…absolutely amazing.
Like all downtown areas, there are endless shops to explore, but Saugatuck is filled with mom and pop shops. Stop by The Olive Mill for olive oil tasting that the kids will love or visit Spice Merchants to pick up spices or tea for friends back home. Another great shop for gifts is Wine Sellers of Saugatuck.
But kids will have their own opinion about the best shop in town. Located in a bright yellow building, the Teeny Tiny Toy Store has plenty of toys for little ones. With quality items and a unique selection, you’ll have a hard time getting your kids out of here.
A day in artsy Saugatuck will leave your whole family feel happy, relaxed and refreshed. There aren’t many places you can go without seeing any chain stores or restaurants. The calming atmosphere and old-fashioned charm of Saugatuck reminds us to enjoy the finest moments in life—the ones spent with family.