Blue water, waves, and white sand can all be found on the southwest Michigan shore within a half-day’s drive of Chicago and Detroit. From New Buffalo to Ludington, and the towns in between, beaches stretch out and harbors crowded with pleasure boats scallop the water’s edge. George Hendrix, a contributing writer for Michigan Travel Ideas, spent a weekend driving Michigan’s western shore, stopping and admiring each beach town along the way.
New Buffalo, in the heart of Harbor Country, is the starting point for my weekend trip, where sun-toasted sand and a quaint business district make it the idyllic beach town. The Red Arrow Highway takes me north to St. Joseph, where steps climb from Silver Beach to a shady bluff-top park and downtown. Schu’s, a local favorite, serves a famous potato soup at its downtown location, where outdoor tables offer a view of the harbor.
Shops and eateries scatter South Haven’s historic downtown and line the harbor. After marveling at a magnificent sunset on the pier, I head to my room at the Old Harbor Inn, where the phrase “room with a view” doesn’t do my balcony overlooking the marina justice. By mid-morning the next day, North Beach is nearly full. I dodge the crowds and drive to Laketown Beach, 5 miles off the Blue Star Highway between Saugatuck and Holland, which thankfully remains a relatively undiscovered gem.
The Blue Star Highway threads among tiny villages, interrupted occasionally by stoplights, and brings me to Saugatuck, where an artists’ colony thrives amid the dunes. Studios and galleries mingle with downtown shops, and sculptures dot most corners.
Downtown Holland, a short drive inland, has upscale shops lining shaded streets, but it’s the 12-story windmill overlooking Lake Macatawa and the Dutch Village north of downtown that capture my attention. Later, I’m determined to watch another incredible sunset, this time from Grand Haven, where the boardwalk links downtown to a wide beach and pier with a lighthouse that is a brilliant shade of red.
Stately early-1900s storefronts, a massive Union Depot and 10 public beaches attract visitors to Muskegon. Mountains of white sand entice me to explore the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, as does the great historical district in Hart’s quaint downtown on the lake. Water and woods embrace the port town of Ludington, once known for lumber mills, and downtown shops brim with maritime memorabilia. I shed my shoes the moment I see the velvety city beach in Stearns Park, happy to find yet another perfect sandy spot.
George Hendrix, a freelance writer and former travel editor of Midwest Living magazine, can’t name just one favorite Michigan experience. He has snapshot memories of several great moments including the most glorious sunset off the beach, and pancakes with just-picked blueberries in South Haven.