The Coast Guard Festival unofficially began in 1924 as a Coast Guard personal-only picnic, which included rowing competitions for service members stationed in Grand Haven. Over the past 90 years, the festival has become a premier event in Michigan with an annual attendance of more than 350,000 people including the nation’s highest-ranking Coast Guard dignitaries from Washington D.C. Because of the city’s the long history with the Coast Guard, Grand Haven was named the official ‘Coast Guard City USA’ by the United States Congress on November 13, 1998. Needless to say, the Coast Guard Festival is a pretty big deal for us Grand Haven folks.
This year’s Coast Guard Festival is July 25th – August 3rd and it’s sure to be the biggest and best yet! So in honor of the 10 day festival, here are the 10 Can’t Miss Events of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival:
Coast Guard Festival Run
There is no secret to why over a thousand runners choose to participate in the annual Coast Guard Run. The race route is challenging but picturesque complete with stunning views of Lake Michigan and the famous Grand Haven pier and lighthouse. It even convinced this very non-runner to put on some running sneakers and participate in the event for the past two years. The view is a well-deserved reward after having to scale the notorious hills on Grand Avenue.
Shortly after the completion of the Coast Guard Run, families start claiming their spots in anticipation of the annual Kids Parade. Families, children’s groups, marching bands, and more are invited to take part of this community event. My little tradition for the past couple years has been to run the Coast Guard Run, have my favorite breakfast dish at the Dee-Lite in downtown Grand Haven, and then watch the parade. The perfect way to start a Saturday if I do say so myself!
Coast Guard Festival Community Picnic
Just like the first Coast Guard Community Picnic in 1924, this is a time for the community and Coast Guard personnel to celebrate the USCG’s long history in the Grand Haven area. The public is welcome to enjoy food, games, and music at Coast Guard Park in Ferrysburg.
Ship Arrivals & Ship Tours
The USCGC Hollyhock, USCGC Bristol Bay, and USCGC Biscayne Bay are set to sail into Grand Haven’s port. Everyone in town lines the Grand Haven boardwalk and pier to welcome the ships to the festival. I love walking down from our office to watch the ships parade down the river channel and back before they dock at Escanaba Park. After the ships arrival, the public is welcome to come aboard for free tours presented by the ship’s crew throughout the remainder of the week.
Downtown Grand Haven’s Washington Avenue transforms into a carnival midway complete with rides, games, and the sweet, sweet smells of elephant ears. In this unique setting visitors are entertained by carnival goers from street side patios of downtown eateries as the bright carnival rides light up the evening sky.
This event has long been a favorite to both locals and visitors during the annual festival. A block of Washington Street in downtown Grand Haven is closed for the evening so we can do as the event name promises – dance in the street! This year’s entertainment is provided by The Gents who will fill the street with your favorite rock and roll classics. With the carnival midway and historic downtown as your backdrop, get ready to dance the night away!
The Coast Guard Craft Fair is one of the most popular craft fairs in Michigan with over 170 crafters from around the state and nation. During this two day show, Grand Haven’s Central Park is transformed in to an outdoor market filled with original, handcrafted goods. There’s always something new and unique to see at the Craft Fair.
National Memorial Service
At the heart of the Coast Guard Festival is the National Memorial Service held at Escanaba Park along Grand Haven’s waterfront. During this moving tribute the attention is focused on the brave members of the United States Coast Guard, particularly those who have “passed over the bar” in the past year.
The Coast Guard Grand Parade is one of the largest and most popular parades in the state of Michigan. Nearly 100,000 people line the streets of downtown Grand Haven to show their appreciation for the men and women who serve in the United States Coast Guard as well as celebrate “Coast Guard City, USA”. In this 2-hour parade you’ll see marching bands, clowns, military units, Coast Guard dignitaries, local sports teams, colorful floats, and much more. I’m a HUGE parade lover and this one does not disappoint.
The Coast Guard Festival Fireworks are a 74 year old community tradition and one of the hallmarks of the annual festival. This fireworks display is known as one of the best in the state of Michigan and continues to get bigger and better each year. The show takes place after the completion of a special Coast Guard Festival edition of the Musical Fountain along Grand Haven’s waterfront. Paired with the carnival lights, large crowd, and music – it’s a magical scene.
Check out Coast Guard Festival in action in the video below!
Have you been to Grand Haven’s Coast Guard Festival? Tell us about your experience!
Stefanie Herder is the Customer Service Coordinator for the Grand Haven Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. She was born and raised in the Grand Haven area and graduated from Grand Valley State University with a degree in Hospitality & Tourism Management in 2006. Stefanie and her husband, Josh, enjoy taking full advantage of the four seasons Michigan has to offer including fishing, hiking, camping, snowshoeing, kayaking, golfing, and snowboarding.