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Saugatuck, Michigan | A gay-friendly getaway

Michigan’s gay-friendly getaway charms us again.
Photograph: Jason A. Heidemann Gay & Lesbian, Saugatuck
By Jason A. Heidemann |

After driving 137 miles away from Chicago, I’m surprised to find myself once again on Halsted Street. That’s because at Campit (6635 118th Ave, Fennville; 269-543-4327), an outdoor resort for lesbians and gays nestled in the Michigan woods, all the gravel roads have been named after the streets of famous gay meccas. It makes perfect sense. After all, I feel right at home in my deluxe cabin for the weekend, a charming accommodation kindly donated for my visit by Campit’s friendly owners, Michael O’Connor and Sally Howard. The only difference is that the sounds of sirens and traffic jams have been traded for crickets and gentle breezes.

Campit’s 33 acres are a mishmash of vintage rental trailers, deluxe and budget cabins, and wide open spaces for pitching a tent. An inground swimming pool and clubhouse act as focal points for a weekend of grilling, boozing and cruising after hours in the woods.

It’s here that I meet a Chicago couple who refer me to Salt of the Earth (114 E Main St, Fennville; 269-561-7258), a true localvore gem. My soup, for example, features morel mushrooms the staff has foraged for nearby. I also order the whole-hog pizza, fried brussels sprouts, and raspberry-and-habanero-pepper sorbet. Amazing.

A drink is in order at the Dunes Resort (333 Blue Star Hwy, Douglas; 269-857-1401), the indisputable center of Saugatuck nightlife and a worthy lodging option if you want to be in the heart of the action. It’s here that I run into Jim Petzing, a former Chicagoan who has just opened up Zing (310 Blue Star Hwy, Douglas; 269-857-3287) across the street. He recommends I rise and shine early to hit the joint for breakfast, so I do just that.

Zing offers a counterpoint to Saugatuck’s relentless small-town vibe. Leopard prints and zebra stripes abound, and Petzing aims to make his martini lounge and piano bar the new toast of gay nightlife. At breakfast, I opt for the Croizingwich, a playful take on a croissant sandwich that I couple with a cup of coffee made from an Intelligentsia blend (a nice touch).

I spend the afternoon taking in as many recommendations as I can, including hiking up all 282 steps to the top of Mt. Baldhead, Michigan’s tallest dune, driving along scenic Lakeshore Drive (yes, Michigan has one too) and tasting gourmet licks at Charlie’s Round the Corner Ice Cream (132 Mason St, Saugatuck; 269-857-2100) where I can’t resist the Peppermint Patty (dark chocolate and mint ice cream) and neither should you.

Determined not to once again make the Dunes Resort the focal point of my nightlife, I instead opt for gay-owned Lakeview Lanes (229 Center St, Douglas; 269-857-1107), where I enjoy a tasty vegan burger with my gutter balls and occasional spares.

On Sunday morning I bear the long queues at Ida Red’s (631 Water St, Saugatuck; 269-857-5803), a local’s place for breakfast, and grab an oversized blueberry muffin as soon as it emerges from the oven. Afterward, I hit famous Oval Beach (698 Water St) for one last glimpse of the lake from Michigan’s gorgeous West Coast. Oval is a stunner. Backed by scruffy dunes (which see their fair share of action, I’m told) and home to gorgeous sunsets, the beach is filling up fast on this hot spring morning. Staring out over the lake, I feel as if I’m thousands of miles from Chicago. It’s hard to believe it’s just on the other side.

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