First-Timer’s Guide To Summer in Saugatuck/Douglas
Stunning lakeshore views, exhilarating outdoor experiences, a thriving arts scene, and a renowned culinary and craft beverage scene—it’s no wonder why so many visitors flock to the Art Coast of Michigan each summer. If you’re visiting for the first time, it can be overwhelming when deciding on how to spend your time here. Save yourself hours of planning by checking out our recommended first-timer must-dos, along with our helpful pro tips. Visit us just once, and we'll have you eager to come back and explore more.
Experience The Iconic Art Coast Attractions
While there’s no shortage of fun and interesting activities to do in the Saugatuck/Douglas area, there are a few that are part of the quintessential Art Coast summer experience. Our favorite, hiking "The Ball And Chain," involves several iconic attractions rolled into one unforgettable (and challenging) activity. Begin by riding the last remaining hand-cranked Chain Ferry in the US across the Kalamazoo River. From there, climb the 302 steps up Mt. Baldhead, a giant sand dune that offers incredible views of Saugatuck, Douglas, and Lake Michigan. During your ascent, you’ll also get a close-up view of the “Ball”—the historic Mt. Baldhead Radar Tower, a Cold War relic dating back to the 1950s. After your climb (and maybe a short respite), relive your childhood by running down the sandy dune on the west side of the mountain. This will bring you to Oval Beach, recognized as one of Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top 25 Beaches in the World.”
Other iconic summer must-dos include an excursion on the 51-ton Star of Saugatuck paddlewheel boat that traverses the Kalamazoo River out to Lake Michigan and an open-roof Saugatuck Dune Ride which will take you on a thrilling 40-minute jaunt over private sand dunes.
Pro-Tip: Make sure to bring cash. The Chain Ferry costs $3 per person to ride one-way but only accepts cash. There are also other local bars and restaurants worth visiting that only take cash, including Ida Red’s, Root Beer Barrel and the Sand Bar.
Explore The Outdoors
With miles of Lake Michigan shoreline to explore, you’d be remiss if you didn't spend some time digging your toes in the sand. Pick from six pristine beaches to soak up the sun, splash in the unsalted waves, or watch the sunset. Each beach has its own personality, and you can learn more about each here.
Other ways to commune with nature in the Art Coast include taking a hike along the forested paths of the Saugatuck Dunes State Park or on the gently rolling dunes of the Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. And for an entirely different view of the stunning local scenery, plan for a kayak excursion along the Kalamazoo Lake or River.
Pro-Tip: No need to bring your own kayak or SUP. Rent them from Big Lake Outfitters, Third Coast Paddling, or In the Elements Rental.
Scout Out All The Art
We’re known as the Art Coast of Michigan for good reason. Home to numerous galleries, studios, exhibitions, and public art installations, you’ll find much art to appreciate here, whether you’re an aficionado or just a casual admirer. Stroll through our many downtown galleries to discover fine art in every medium as well as finely crafted goods from a mix of local and national artists. A few of our favorites include Good Goods, Button Gallery, J. Petter Galleries, Amazwi Contemporary Art, and Water Street Gallery. You’ll also encounter lots of public art throughout our towns, such as Instagram-worthy murals and sculptures. For a chance to see an artist in action, make a point to visit a studio and discover a work in progress. For a complete listing of artful experiences and locations, check out our Arts Guide & Map here.
Pro-Tip: Plan your visit around one of our summer Gallery Strolls or during one of our juried outdoor art fairs for an even more exciting way to experience art. Event dates can be found here.
Listen To Live Music
Live music is part of the Art Coast experience, and there are many indoor and outdoor venues that feature live musical performances all summer long, including The Butler, Wally’s Bar & Grill, Red Dock Café, The BARge, Wick’s Park Bar & Grille, The Annex Piano Bar, Borrowed Time, and Coastal Society. Just take a walk throughout the downtown areas of Saugatuck/Douglas, and you'll hear music coming from every corner. With different featured artists and a variety of genres represented, we promise to keep your toes tapping throughout your time with us.
Pro-Tip: Plan a mid-week stay for the best access to free outdoor music. During the summer, there are a number of free outdoor concerts held each week, including Music in the Park every Wednesday at 7:00 pm in Wicks Park starting in late June, Music in the Vineyard held every Thursday at 5:30 pm at Fenn Valley Vineyards starting late May, and Music at the Felt happening every Thursday in July at 7:00 pm at the Felt Mansion estate.
Go On A Beverage Tour
Whether you prefer the fruit of the vine or lean more towards hops, we’ve got the craft beverage experience for you. Home to a number of craft breweries, cideries, and wineries, Saugatuck/Douglas is a must-visit destination for adult beverage connoisseurs to raise a glass, make a toast, and quench their thirst. Sample a host of flavorful craft beers with a visit to Saugatuck Brewing Company, Guardian Brewing Company, Waypost Brewing Co., and the Mitten Brewing Company. Or spend an entire day sampling different red, white, sparkling, and fruit wines unique to our region at Michigan Wine Co., Crane’s Winery, Fenn Valley Vineyards & Winery, and Modales Wines.
Pro-Tip: Charter a beverage tour through Coastal Tours, Untapped Sights & Tours, or Singapore Shuttles for worry-free transportation between breweries.
With such a dynamic food scene found here, one of the best ways to get to know the Art Coast is through our cuisine. Not only is Saugatuck/Douglas/Fennville fortunate enough to be located in the country’s second most agriculturally diverse state, but we are also situated within Michigan’s Fruit Belt region. With bushels of produce ripe for the picking within a 10-mile radius, farm-to-table fare here becomes elevated by the bounty of what’s locally harvested. Along with a wide variety of restaurants that feature innovative small plates to those that serve inspired casual homestyle cooking, there are produce stands and U-Pick farms where you can purchase local fruit and vegetables at the peak of freshness.
Also worth visiting while you’re here is the Outdoor Summer Market hosted by the Saugatuck Center for the Arts on Tuesdays from 10:00 am–2:00 pm and Fridays from 9:00 am–3:00 pm. This bustling seasonal market features freshly picked local freshly-picked produce, artisan baked goods, all-natural honey, maple syrup, small-batch coffees, and more. There will also be talented crafters, woodworkers, and artists showcasing their wares.
Pro-Tip: Mealtimes can get ultra-busy during the summer. We welcome you to join us in the Saugatuck, Douglas, and Fennville social districts while waiting for a table. Visitors can purchase alcoholic beverages from participating bars and restaurants and then enjoy them throughout each district's common areas. Or plan ahead and make a reservation at one of the following restaurants that accept them: Belvedere Inn & Restaurant, Borrowed Time, Bowdie's Chophouse, The Grill Room at Clearbrook, Coast 236, Coastal Society, Coral Gables, J. Paul's Dining Room at the Kirby, Pennyroyal Café and Provisions, Pumpernickels, Salt of the Earth, and Taverna Rossa.
More To Know Before You Go
Like other small coastal getaways, parking can be scarce during the busier summer months. Leave your car wherever you’re staying and just use the convenient Interurban to get around. This demand response public bus system provides transportation for Saugatuck and Douglas, offering curb-to-curb service.
Call 269-857-1418 to schedule your ride as early as 15 minutes in advance or make a reservation for a specific time. Fares are $1.00 for adults and children 12 and over and $.50 for senior citizens, children under 12, and persons with disabilities. Please have exact change in cash to ride.