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Photograph: ShutterstockSunset on Lake Michigan in Saugatuck, Michigan

Saugatuck, Michigan

Michigan’s artsy lakeshore getaway has charm to spare

Will Gleason
Written by
Will Gleason
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Nestled next to the Kalamazoo River as it flows through scenic dunes and out to Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is a quiet lakeshore hamlet that’s the perfect setting for a relaxing getaway. From its award-winning beaches to its thriving art scene and walkable downtown, it’s a scenic gem that also boasts a welcoming culture and fascinating history. 

RELATED: 16 best Airbnb cabins for the perfect Midwest getaway

It's undeniable that the destination’s main draw is its prime location on the water, just a short boat ride down the river and out to Lake Michigan. If you’d like to take the journey with a side of history, try a trip on the Star of Saugatuck, a vintage paddlewheel boat that will take you out to the Big Lake while you hear stories about the surrounding area. History buffs can follow up a ride with a journey across the river on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry to pay a visit to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center.

After you hear more about how the small town developed over the years into a popular summer destination, you’ll probably want to check out the surrounding natural areas that have made it so popular. Spend a day at the popular and rightfully celebrated Oval Beach, an expanse of sand bordered by dunes and looking out onto the pristine freshwater lake. For more of a woodsy adventure, pay a visit to Saugatuck State Park for a short hike through forested dunes out to two-and-a-half miles of more secluded beaches. (You may also want to check out the historic Felt Mansion just next to the state park.)

When you’re not taking advantage of nearby natural attractions like Oval Beach or the state park, there’s plenty of food-and-drink options that are worth your while. For some delicious fried chicken in a campy setting on the river, consider The Southerner. (Pro tip: Go with the medium spice level, “Nashville Hot.” The spiciest option, “Habanero Hot,” will give you a full out-of-body experience.) If you want more of an upscale night out, Bowdie’s Chophouse is one of the best steakhouses in the region, with fantastic cocktails. A newer addition to the local food and drink scene, Pennyroyal Café & Provisions, is located a bit outside of town, but worth a trip for the great perch dinner, salads or a burger.

For things to do while you’re there, you can go in either a more or less active direction. Retro boats available to rent via The Old Boat House, offer a fun adventure out on the water. (They also have great food that you can order to take out on the boats.) LGBTQ+ visitors should be sure to pay a visit to The Dunes, the top LGBTQ+ bar and resort in the region and a large part of why the town’s earned its reputation as the Fire Island of the Midwest. For those looking to do some shopping, the walkable downtown offers plenty of charming local spots including the expertly curated For The Love of Shoes and the African-focused Amazwi Contemporary Art. You should also check ahead of time, to see what’s playing at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, an award-winning regional theater.

There’s a wide range of options for lodging in the area—from bed-and-breakfasts to larger hotels. The Campit Resort is a longtime popular option for LGBTQ travelers and offers both cabins and more traditional rooms available to rent in addition to spots for tents and RVs. (Yes, it’s literally camping!) If you’re looking to stay somewhere on the water closer to downtown, the newly renovated Old Pike Cottages offer a relaxing setting with great views and a lot of space. For a truly special or romantic getaway, consider booking a room at the Lake Shore Resort a bit south of downtown. Right on Lake Michigan, the chic destination has jaw-dropping views of Lake Michigan, fun amenities like free kayaks and impeccably designed rooms.

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