What To Do On A Saugatuck, MI Vacation [Plus 11 Big Questions Answered By A Local]

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Looking for a relaxing getaway in West Michigan? The artsy town of Saugatuck on the Kalamazoo River should be high on your list. We have enjoyed the Saugatuck Douglas area many times and are here to give you the inside scoop.

With great places for swimming and shopping, relaxing at the spa, blueberry picking, and so much more, the two towns of Saugatuck and Douglas bring the best of Lake Michigan life to you. Keep reading to find great places to stay, dine, and lots of great activities to fill out a fun trip. We’ve got a great one-day itinerary as well as 11 big questions answered by a local.

Towns of Douglas and Saugatuck Michigan, What To Do On A Saugatuck, MI Vacation [Plus 11 Big Questions Answered By A Local]

What is this place the locals call “Saugatuck Douglas?”

The towns of Saugatuck and Douglas work together to create that authentic Lake Michigan beach experience. Douglas sits on the southwest side of the Kalamazoo River and gives access to the beautiful sandy beaches of the area.

Saugatuck is on the northwest side of the river and is the place to stay for the shopping, inns, spas, and riverfront dining experiences. The Kalamazoo River widens at Saugatuck and is called the Lake Kalamazoo Harbor, or, as we call it, Saugatuck Harbor.

Towns of Douglas and Saugatuck Michigan

Locals like to debate the differences between the two areas, pointing out Saugatuck has the cuter town experience, and Douglas has easier access to the great beaches. The towns are a mile apart united by the Blue Star Bridge over the Kalamazoo River. The Blue Star Bridge is the southern edge of the Saugatuck Harbor.

How to Spend a Day in Saugatuck—A Suggested Itinerary

A great day spent in Saugatuck should be a combination of great food, sun, water, and shopping. Put the swimsuit, sunscreen, and towel in your bag, along with a sweater for the evening.

Coffee & Johnnycakes

When you drive into Saugatuck, begin your day with a cup of sustainably sourced coffee at Uncommon Coffee Roasters, with plenty of covered outdoor seating.

If you prefer a big breakfast, stop at Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions on the Blue Star Highway for GF (Gluten Free) Johnnycakes or Buckwheat Crepes with fresh coffee from Detroit’s Macap Coffee.

For a traditional breakfast, try Ida Red’s Cottage with whole-grain griddle cakes or her famous french toast, described on their menu as “made like the old Greek diners in Chicago,” with eggs, cream, and spices.

Shops and galleries of Saugatuck in Lake Michigan resort town

Galleries & Shops in Saugatuck

After a relaxing beginning, explore downtown Saugatuck with its over 50 stores and 20 art galleries. Visit the James Connor Gallery to see the oil and watercolor paintings of scenic Michigan, including Saugatuck. Or stop in the James Brandess Gallery to see the oil paintings of beach scenes and landscapes from throughout the country.

With so many shops you can find note cards, great clothing, and so much more.

The Saugatuck Chain Ferry across the Kalamazoo River

A must-do for any visit to Saugatuck is to take the Saugatuck Chain Ferry across the Kalamazoo River. The chain ferry has been in operation since 1838 and runs seasonally.

For $2 cash per person one way (strollers and bicycles are free), you get a 10-minute crossing of the river to a path to Oval Beach.  The ferry holds up to 24 people and runs on a 400-foot continuous chain on three pulleys.

Find a Delicious Lunch

Head to the southern end of town for the delicious Butler Burger or any great sandwich at The Butler with its big windows and patio views of Saugatuck Harbor. Or for a simple well-made chicken, vegetarian, or vegan wrap, head to The Fresh Basil Cafe.

Houses and a boat dock in the beautiful little town of Saugatuck in Michigan, USA

Beach or Sailing Fun

The middle of the day is the time to enjoy Lake Michigan. If you like to bury your toes in the sand, Saugatuck Douglas has six public beaches to choose from.  Oval Beach and Saugatuck Dunes State Park both offer beautiful white sand beaches with easy parking and restrooms.

Oval Beach is an easy walk from the seasonal Chain Ferry from downtown Saugatuck. The state park has over 13 miles of trails through dunes which can be up to 200 feet high.

If sailing or boating is more your style, Saugatuck has you covered. You can do a 2-hour cruise on the two-mast tall ship Schooner Serenity. For a fun time on the water, give a donut boat or a classic runabout boat from the jet age, 1950s era at try at Retro Boats. They also have 12-passenger Duffy boats and pontoon boats for rent.

Golf at Arnold Palmer Designed, “The Ravines”

For the golfers in your group, the Ravines Golf Club offers a 7,070-yard 18-hole course designed by golf legend Arnold Palmer. The course’s signature hole is the par-3 17th hole with a tee shot over a 100-yard ravine. The clubhouse includes a restaurant and a large deck overlooking the 18th green as well as a pro shop and men’s and women’s lockers.

Summer in the Michigan resort, town of Saugatuck

Waterfront Dining in Saugatuck

After a full day of shopping and outdoor fun, dinner can be as casual or as elegant as you want. Most restaurants cater to the boat crowd, so a collared shirt and clean clothes are all that is necessary.

Enjoy the covered 2nd-story deck at Coral Gables for margaritas and fresh lake perch. Or enjoy classic Italian food at Marro’s Restaurant (seasonal).

For an award-winning meal, give The Southerner a visit where Chef Matthew Millar, a Beard Award Semi-Finalist, serves up specialties like Bobwhite Quail and Nana’s Fried Chicken.

Where Should We stay in Saugatuck?

Downtown Saugatuck Inns and Bed & Breakfasts:

  • The Bayside Inn has a great riverfront location as it was a former historical boathouse and includes a full buffet breakfast. Every room has a harbor or city view balcony.
  • The Beachwood Manor Inn offers three beautiful rooms or a cozy cottage plus wonderful rockers on the large veranda. Each morning begins with a gourmet breakfast.
  • The Maplewood Hotel is right on Butler Street at the heart of the galleries and shops. It gives you the historic experience with a full breakfast and afternoon treats.

Douglas Accommodations:

  • The Lake Shore Resort has deck recliners on its wooden patio along Lake Michigan itself. Enjoy a delicious breakfast before biking or kayaking or yoga. The resort was featured in a recent issue of Midwest Living magazine.
  • The Sherwood Forest Bed and Breakfast is a half-block from Lake Michigan, offers eclectic rooms, a heated swimming pool, and gourmet breakfasts.

11 Big Questions Visitors Ask about Saugatuck

1. Can We Swim and Fish in Saugatuck Harbor?

People do swim off their boats in the Saugatuck Harbor portion of the Kalamazoo River, but it is not recommended as the river has had a long history of paper milling and pesticide pollution.

Fishing is quite popular for small and largemouth bass, catfish, panfish, and carp. Catch and release are required to avoid any pollution.

2.  Are the Lake Michigan Beaches Public?

The Saugatuck Douglas area has six fully public beaches that anyone can visit. You may enjoy these beaches fully.

Enjoy a walk viewing private homes, as the State of Michigan law ensures a public easement along the water up to the normal high watermark (hard sand).

4. Is Saugatuck, MI Safe?

Saugatuck is a small town with well-lit streets, a public police presence, and a caring community, ensuring a safe place to visit. As with any public place, don’t leave the car unlocked or go places alone late at night. Uber and Lyft are available if you need a ride from a restaurant or other outing at night.

5. What activities can we do Saugatuck in the Fall?

As the leaves turn Michigan beautiful, grab a bike for a ride over the Blue Star Bridge out to Oval Beach. Head to an orchard for apple picking and a corn maze.  Through mid-October take the kids for a wild, dune buggy ride over the towering sand dunes with Saugatuck Dune Rides.

6. What Can We Do in the Winter in Saugatuck?

Winter landscape of the frozen shoreline of Lake Michigan near sunset

Michigan can be a winter wonderland from mid-December to March. Many of the bed and breakfast accommodations and restaurants operate year-round. Cross country skiing, ice fishing, and snowshoeing are popular.

Wild West Ranch in nearby Fennville offers 40-minute horse-drawn sleigh rides.

7. What is there to do in Saugatuck in the spring?

Saugatuck comes alive in the spring. Grab your boots to explore Saugatuck Dunes State Park’s 13 miles of trails. Climb the 302 steps up Mt. Baldhead to enjoy an amazing view of Saugatuck, Douglas, and Lake Michigan. See the old radar dome up close and imagine the Cold War with the fears of a Soviet militia attack over Canada.

8. How far is Saugatuck, MI from Chicago (and how to get there)?

Saugatuck is close to Chicago, three hours or less at non-rush hour times. From anywhere in Chicagoland, find your way to I-94 East.

In Indiana, go 64 miles east and then, take I-196 North/US-31 North Holland/Grand Rapids. Go 36.7 miles to Exit 36 County Rd A-2/Blue Star Hwy and follow signs for Douglas Saugatuck.

9. How far is Saugatuck, MI from Detroit (and how to get there)?

Detroit and its suburbs are three-plus hours from Saugatuck. Here are two driving options:

  • Take  I-96 West past Lansing, and as you approach Grand Rapids, take the M-6 West bypass to Holland (20 miles). M-6 merges with I-196 West. Take Exit 41 County Rd A-2/Blue Star Hwy and follow signs for Saugatuck Douglas.
  • Take I-94 West to Kalamazoo. Take US 131 North for 37 miles to Exit 49B to M-89 West (41 miles). Follow Saugatuck signs to turn on Old Allegan Road to Carver Street in Saugatuck.

10. Which is better: Saugatuck or South Haven, Michigan?

This is an impossible question. South Haven is better if you want the big beach experience with people everywhere having fun and then heading to the beach bar scene. Saugatuck is better if you want the quieter beach, art galleries, and a laid-back dinner on the deck overlooking the marinas.

11. Which is better: Saugatuck or Holland, Michigan?

Saugatuck is the place to get a slice of Mackinaw Island fudge or a big waffle cone ice cream at Charlie’s Round the Corner. Sit at Wick’s Park with your treats, watching the boat traffic head out to Lake Michigan.

Holland is the place for upscale clothing and great restaurants in the downtown district, which adjoins Hope College. Holland State Park is the #1 most frequented state park in Michigan with its huge beach, volleyball courts, basketball, and RV park.

Wrapping It Up

When you are ready for a relaxing weekend away, Saugatuck Douglass is the place to go only an hour north of Indiana on the beautiful Lake Michigan coast. Come for the water, stay for the shopping, great drinks, and relaxing on the porch of your inn.

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