There are plenty of things to do in Saugatuck for all visitors, especially in the summer when it seems there is something going on every day! Heading to the charming town of Saugatuck is one of the most romantic getaways to have in Michigan.
Originally a port and lumber town, Saugatuck became a notable artistic hub and tourist destination towards the end of the 19th century. Because of its location on Lake Michigan and its many art galleries and cute downtown area, Michigan travelers venture from all over to head here in the summer.
Where is Saugatuck, Michigan?
Saugatuck is in southwestern Michigan and sits right on Lake Michigan. It’s about 1.5 hours away from Lansing, 45 minutes away from Grand Rapids, and 1 hour from Kalamazoo. It’s a popular vacation destination and is one of the most gay-friendly small towns in Michigan.
Things to Do in Saugatuck
1. Have an Adventure in Saugatuck Dunes State Park
Covering some 1,000 acres, the beautiful Saugatuck Dunes State Park has more than two miles of shoreline along Lake Michigan and impressive scrub-covered sand dunes. Some of the mighty dunes reach up to 200 feet!
The scenic state park has a variety of activities for both leisure and adventure. There are excellent hiking trails to explore the rolling hills and steep inclines, with some routes leading to blissfully secluded beaches. In the winter months, the trails are great for cross-country skiing and Nordic walking. You’ll also find a cool disc golf course and a picnic area within the park.
One of the most thrilling experiences is with Saugatuck Dune Rides. Buckle up and get ready to bounce through the dunes, learning more about the area’s ecology and history as you soak up the sights and enjoy the rush. Rides are suitable for all members of the family.
Parts of the park have been left as nature intended, with rugged views and lots of wildlife. It’s definitely a great place for nature lovers and avid landscape photographers.
2. Spot Rare Wildlife
The landscapes of Saugatuck Dunes State Park are home to diverse flora and fauna, including a number of rare and unusual species.
Keen birdwatchers should keep their eyes peeled for sightings of migrating osprey, the at-risk common tern, the black tern, and the prairie warbler. Gaze into the trees, and you may even glimpse a majestic bald eagle – the proud national bird of the USA since 1782.
Rare fish swim through the waters, including the black buffalo, creek chubsucker, and lake sturgeon. The habitat also supports the native spotted turtle, the eastern box turtle, and the unusual Blanchard’s cricket frog.
3. Perfect Your Swing at Clearbrook Golf Club
The 18-hole Clearbrook Golf Course has a great reputation – top players have teed off here, and the course has been used as a qualifying site for the prestigious Michigan Open.
A par-72 course, it features long stretching greens and challenging slopes, all surrounded by lush vegetation and colorful flowers. Tree-lined fairways lead to bunkers and exciting water features. There are plenty of obstacles and hazards to really make you think about your game. Indeed, the fifth hole, in particular, has earned accolades. The course encourages you to use a variety of golf clubs – there’s no time to lose concentration!
The club has full practice areas, including a practice bunker, chipping green, driving range, and putting greens, and the pro shop is stocked with everything you need for a great game. Relax in the friendly clubhouse for a tasty home-cooked meal and amazing views.
4. Cross the River on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry
Crossing the Kalamazoo River to connect downtown Saugatuck with Oval Beach and Mount Baldhead, the unusual Saugatuck Chain Ferry is thought to be the last remaining vessel of its kind in the whole of the USA.
The crossing may only take five minutes, but it certainly provides an experience that’s different from the norm – the ferry is completely operated by hand! In operation since the late 1830s, the chain ferry uses three pullies to maintain its position. The driver turns a crank to move the ferry along a chain – it’s quite a unique sight!
5. Climb to the Top of Mount Baldhead
A mile-long looped track takes you to the peak of Mount Baldhead, from where you can enjoy glorious vistas across the city, shoreline, and lake. Hiking this short trail is one of the best things to do in Saugatuck. The route leads you across varying terrain, with sandy hills, woodland, and wooden stairs that seem to reach right up to the sky. Take a deep breath before your ascent – there are more than 280 steps to conquer!
6. Visit the First Congregational Church
The First Congregational Church in Saugatuck dates back to 1860 – it is the oldest church in the city. Originally just one room, the church has undergone expansions and changes over the years to become the charming brown-brick place of worship that it is today.
The church has lovely stained-glass windows, and a large cross is the central feature of the otherwise simple interior. Long at the heart of the local community, people gathered here in 1861 on learning of the start of the Civil War.
7. Sample Local Wines
The soils around the southwest of Michigan, combined with the weather, provide the perfect conditions for growing grapes. As such, this part of Michigan boasts some of the state’s wineries. Saugatuck is located on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail, and you’ll find plenty of places in the locale to sip on high-quality wines.
In the heart of downtown, Fenn Valley – Saugatuck Tasting Room has a wide selection of wines produced at the nearby Fenn Valley Vineyards. The expert members of staff can help you choose the perfect wine for you, and you can sample some of the winery’s popular beverages. Alternatively, travel a little out of the city for a splendid experience at the main Fenn Valley Vineyards. Tour the verdant vineyards and see how wine is produced before sipping a glass in a scenic setting.
You can combine fine wines with attractive art at Petter Wine Gallery Shop and Wine. More than 20 delectable types of wine are available by the glass, while the shop stocks a whopping 400+ bottles to buy. The store is also known for its excellent cheeses, bread, meats, and chocolates for the perfect wine pairing.
Grab your designated driver and take a trip out of the city to St. Julian Winery. Less than an hour from Saugatuck, this grand 100-year-old winery is the oldest in the state and is one of Michigan’s best places to visit in the fall. Of course, you can also enjoy a tipple (or two!) in one of Saugatuck’s bars.
8. Feel Inspired at Saugatuck Center for the Arts
Saugatuck Center for the Arts aims to create a sense of community through the arts, connecting people and making people happy. The center has three main focuses – entertainment, engagement, and education. A major hub for the performed arts, the center was created in 2001. Previously, despite Saugatuck long having had a thriving artist colony, there was no dedicated center at the heart of the community.
You can enjoy a wide range of performances and shows, from plays and musicals to comedy, dance, and concerts. There are also regular screenings of diverse films and documentaries. Visitors can develop their skills at a wide variety of workshops, and the center hosts inspiring talks and demonstrations. Additionally, the galleries house lots of attractive paintings and other visual arts.
9. Sunbathe at Oval Beach
You can’t visit here and not head to Oval Beach. It’s one of the best things to do in Saugatuck! On the edge of Lake Michigan, Saugatuck’s Oval Beach is often celebrated as being among the best freshwater beaches in the USA and has even been listed as one of the best 25 beaches in the world! The beach is well away from developments and has managed to retain a somewhat secluded and peaceful vibe, even when at its busiest. It’s definitely a must-visit when in the area.
The grassy sands and attractive dunes are perfect for soaking up the sun or exploring. The refreshing waters are suitable for swimming and perfect for splashing around with inflatable toys or having a go at stand-up paddleboarding.
Pack a picnic to enjoy on the sands or grab food and drinks from one of the many stalls and concessions. The beach provides beautiful views too and, if you stay until the evening, you can watch a magical sunset over the water.
10. Click a Picture of the Quaint Kalamazoo Lighthouse
Sitting on the southern edge of Kalamazoo Lake, the replica of Kalamazoo Lighthouse is a charming landmark in a scenic setting and is one of those Saugatuck attractions visitors love. The pretty red and white building stands in perfect contrast to the blues of the water.
The original lighthouse was established in 1837 near the mouth of the Kalamazoo River to help prevent accidents. There were several changes over the years, including new lighthouses and even the river mouth being repositioned. Although only remnants of wooden piers still mark the original entrance to the river and nothing remains of the historic lighthouses, you can still get a sense of history thanks to the replica lighthouse.
11. Cruise along the Kalamazoo River
Board an old 51-ton paddlewheel boat for a relaxing cruise along the scenic Kalamazoo River. One of the best things to do in Saugatuck for the whole family, the vessel drifts along the river before entering the lake, providing great views of charming homes along the water and local wildlife. You will also travel along the pier head, from where you can enjoy great views of Lake Michigan, and (depending on the conditions) the ride continues along the shoreline of the magical Lake Michigan.
The boat rides operated by Star of Saugatuck run regularly throughout the day from summer to fall, with the sunset trips particularly popular. For even more fun, why not book a place on a fabulous, themed cruise? The schedule is constantly updated, with experiences like pirate cruises and wine-tasting on the water.
Alternatively, experience boating of yesteryear with a river trip on a Retro Boat Rentals’ vessel. The rare fiberglass boats are considered classics in boating circles, and they date back to between the late 1950s and early 1960s.
12. Step Back in Time at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center
Sitting in the shade of Mount Baldhead and on the banks of the Kalamazoo River, Saugatuck-Douglas History Center is housed within an old pump house. The museum may be small, but it’s brimming with interesting historic artifacts and information. If you want to know more about the city’s history, heritage, and development, this is the perfect place to visit.
The collections include old photographs, documents, archives, maps, and more to really help you understand more about influential people, events, and general life in times gone by.
If you want to dig even deeper, the museum has another location in the Old School House in neighboring Douglas.
13. Taste Delicious Craft Beers at Saugatuck Brewing Company
Saugatuck Brewing Company has been producing tasty craft beers since 2005, with six regular brews available all year round, seasonal beers, and many specialty drinks. The pub is friendly and inviting, with a huge selection of beers on tap, in bottles, and in cans, all produced by the brewing company with love and attention to detail for the perfect sip.
Settle into your seat in the cozy pub or enjoy alfresco drinking on the large terrace. Beers range from traditional to experimental, with something to suit all tastes. Fans of pale beers should definitely try the Oval Beach Blonde. There’s a great food menu too, including favorites like burgers and pizzas, complete with tempting options for the kids.
If you’re spending longer in Saugatuck and want to take your love of beer further, book onto a brewing session. Spend four hours preparing your own delicious beer and simply pop back to bottle your brew three weeks later.
14. Go Window Shopping in Downtown Saugatuck
Relatively compact and easy to explore, Saugatuck’s charming downtown is filled with a cool array of boutique shops, cafes, restaurants, and galleries. Wander the vibrant streets and enjoy browsing the wide selection of goods available. You may want to indulge in a little retail therapy too – there are plenty of great souvenirs and gifts to take home with you.
Check out Camp Willow, Glick’s, and Urban Found for clothes, and browse ethical goods in Lucia’s World Emporium. Tuck’s of Saugatuck and Pink Patio are great options for unusual gifts, while Swell Times is a magnet for antique lovers. Admire and buy beautiful artwork in galleries like Good Goods and Amazwi Contemporary Art, and scour the titles in the lovely second-hand bookstore of the Book Nook.
15. Relax in Coghlin Park
Located next to Kalamazoo Lake, Coghlin Park offers tranquil fishing with terrific vistas. There are plenty of benches where you can perch alongside the walkway, as well as a small, covered picnic area. The open expanses of grass are great for kids who love to run around, and there are colorful flowers and art installations to catch the eye.
16. Photograph the Peterson Mill
One of the most photographed locations in all of Saugatuck is Peterson Mill. This piece of history is an interesting one to see as it’s still in working operation today, churning water just like it did the year it was built. Head here with a coffee and camera for a quiet afternoon around Saugatuck. Psst, You can also book a stay here!
Where to Eat in Saugatuck
- The Southerner: Southern–style dishes enjoyed on Lake Michigan.
- GROW Café + Bistro: Serves up American contemporary brunch + lunch during the day.
- Bowdies Chophouse: Well reviewed restaurant perfect for special occasions and date nights.
Where to Stay in Saugatuck
Being a tourist destination, there are plenty of cute and charming places to stay in Saugatuck. A lot more than you would expect for such a small town!
- Budget Option: Blue Star Motel – A basic but charming accommodation option that offers motel style rooms however it’s all been completely renovated and is modern. There’s a hot tub on site!
- Mid Range Option: Starlite Resort – Just 4 miles from Saugatuck Dunes State Park a great option for two travelers!
- High End Hotel: The Belvedere Inn & Restaurant – By far the most luxurious and expensive place to stay in Saugatuck. Save it for special occasions and make sure to book an evening dinner!
READ MORE MICHIGAN TRAVEL TIPS
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