We’re always thinking about our next summertime escape. Soaking up the sun on a private Cannes beach, snorkeling on the shores of St. John, or a day of wine tasting and beach going on Waiheke Island. But we never thought our daydreaming would lead us to the award-winning eastern shores of Lake Michigan.
Michigan’s “Art Coast”, a long stretch of dune-protected white sand and lakeside towns, has long been known for its creative, welcoming culture, especially for the LGBTQ+ community. Summertime tourists flock to Saugatuck/Douglas’s thriving art scene to experience art galleries, culinary delights, and festivities along the miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. The towns are especially well-situated on the eastern side of this inland sea, making it the perfect place to sink your toes into the sand, listen to the waves lap, and enjoy a memorable sunset into the water.
While the freshwater of Lake Michigan might be a little chilly, its deep blue hues and lack of salt make it ideal for soaking in the sun all summer long. Here are the favorite beaches of Saugatuck and its nearby neighbors.
Condé Nast Traveler named Saugatuck’s Oval Beach one of the world’s twenty-five best beaches, and travelers seem to agree. With the sands filling up quickly during the summer season, it has long been a favorite place for visitors, particularly the beach’s northern end. For the best first impression, take the Saugatuck Chain Ferry across the Kalamazoo River from downtown Saugatuck, then summit the 230-foot-high Mount Baldhead for a spectacular view of Lake Michigan and the Saugatuck Douglas area. Then walk through the rest of the trail through the sand dunes to access the beach. When you get hungry, head back to downtown for dinner at Bowdie’s Chophouse & Grill.
If you drive, parking is $10 for the day and you’ll want to arrive early to grab a spot. Consider a stay at one of the romantic cottages at The Hotel Saugatuck for a truly magical experience.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park
If you’re in the Oval Beach area but want a quieter spot, then head just a few miles north to Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Here, you can find miles of trails in the sandy dunes. For beach access, follow one of four marked trails from the parking lot (the yellow ‘Beach Trail’ is the shortest). You’ll be greeted by 2.5 miles of pristine coastline and not too many people to share it with. On your way in or out, consider taking a tour of the Felt Estate, a historic mansion sitting close to the edge of the park. There’s a $10 fee to enter the park for non-residents.
Head down to Douglas Beach in the evening for that picture-perfect moment as the sun sets into the waters of Lake Michigan. It’s quite small and more secluded than the nearby Oval Beach. Parking is very limited so consider using public transport like the Saugatuck Interurban Bus which offers on-demand services to the beach for just one dollar. Or experience the 120-year history (and hospitality to match) of the Rosemont Inn Resort, conveniently located across the street from the beach.
Pier Cove Beach
Bring a good pair of shoes to explore Pier Cove’s rocky beach, just a ten minute drive south of Saugatuck. It happens to be one of the top beaches for amateur geologists hunting for ‘lightning stones’, a unique kind of fossilized coral. The public area of the beach is technically very small, just sixty-six feet wide with limited parking to match. However, Michigan law states that the public can access any beach area up to the high water mark, so if you stick close to the water you can explore further. Finish up your day with a tour or tasting session at the nearby Michigan Wine Company.
Located between the small towns of Saugatuck and Holland, Lake Town Beach is an adventure in itself. The long hike from the parking lot over the coastal dunes ensures this stunning beach remains a hidden gem. Luckily there are sand-strewn stairs to assist you, and the reward for your journey is an expansive view of Lake Michigan and a secluded beach where you can relax for the day. Stay at the charming Cottonwood Inn B&B, where you can use their free bikes to explore downtown. While you’re there, stop by New Holland Brewery Co. to get a taste of their award-winning Dragon’s Milk Origin Small Batch.
West Side County Park
When you come to West Side County Park, come for the whole day. Find the perfect spot down on the sand or grab one of the picnic tables on the grass. Didn’t bring an umbrella? You can get some shade at the pavilions overlooking the beach. It’s also another great place for rock hunting. For dinner, swing by the locally-popular What-Not Inn on your way back into town.
While you’re in Saugatuck, visit the nearby beaches at another of Michigan’s premiere beach towns: South Haven. It’s home to seven public beaches, with North Beach and South Beach being the largest and most popular. You’ll find a picnic area, a few water parks, and splash pads that are perfect for families.
If you have more time, check out the expansive sandy shorelines of Holland State Park, Tunnel Park, or Ottawa Beach for more beautiful beaches, sun-basking, and sunsets.