When Aaron and I were planning our first summer trip with our kids (and our extended family!), we had lots of advice to keep it simple. Oh, and keep it short distance. So that’s what we did. We searched really anything within a 6 hour window of us. We finally landed on Saugatuck, Michigan because many had told us it was Michigan’s version of Seaside, which is a favorite spot of ours. Sold, and it was only 5 hours away. Saugatuck is southwest Michigan, nearly directly across the Wisconsin/Illinois state line on Lake Michigan.
As far as accommodations in Saugatuck go, vacation rentals are the way to go, as large hotels (or even small hotels for that matter) don’t really exist. We rented this condo through TripAdvisor—it was excellent! I’d also recommend VRBO—it seemed like many of the cottages and homes were listed through them.
Ready for a daily recap? Here we go.
DAY 1 (Saturday)
We all arrived (my parents, my sister and her husband and our May clan) around 3 pm and checked out our home (and pool!) for the next week. Once we were settled, we walked downtown to check out the sites and grabbed a bite to eat at The Butler. The Butler is a big part of Saugatuck history and the outdoor dining has amazing views. The food was OK and the clientele was a little older, but was one of those places we were glad to check off our Saugatuck checklist.
The photo above is a great representation of the core of Saugatuck—water views everywhere you look (it’s on Kalamazoo River), yacht clubs, Americana, green spaces and lots of beautiful landscaping.
After dinner at The Butler, we explored the town and waterfront a bit. There’s my clan on the boardwalk.
This was our favorite yacht—a 95 footer named “Lukousaurus.” First, such a silly name for such a fancy thing and two, it’s the name of my sister’s husband. We may have touched it. Lightly, promise.
Our nights were spent on our patio, which was situated above downtown. The views were awesome, even if you had to squint a little to pretend all the powerlines weren’t there. 😉
Day 2 (Sunday)
I should do an entirely different post about our first experience traveling with our kids, but essentially, we tried to keep to their schedules as much as possible. This meant an early morning activity, followed by lunch and a nap (often for all of us!) and then an afternoon outing of some sort with dinner and a treat.
We started each morning with a coffee trip to either Uncommon Coffee Roasters or The Annex (which is a part of the big Coral Gables complex on Water St.). We loved Uncommon because it was stroller and pet friendly (as was all of Saugatuck!)… they had this awesome little walk-up window so we didn’t have to lug our strollers and pets inside. Also, I’ve learned since having the kids that the outcome of the day is directly related to the amount of caffeine we consume, so the more the better!
I’m not really a coffee drinker (tea all the way, or Diet Coke), but Aaron did manage to get me hooked on cold brew coffee while we were there. Plus, the added chocolate milk helped. Mmmmm.
And caffeine was needed, because it was pool time! Now that the boys are a little older, I was so excited to see how they’d react to the water. They did really well! Nixon was mostly content floating in his little spring float and Teller loved playing on the pool steps with my mom. We really couldn’t get Teller super comfortable with being in the water while we were there, but baby steps (literally).
That afternoon, we set our sights on some wine tasting. I was nervous to do this with the kids, but the vibe is so laidback (and kids are the norm) so it wasn’t a big deal at all. We hit up Tabor Hill Winery and Fenn Valley Winery, which essentially have pop-up shops within the downtown area. Don’t expect fancy wine and a fancy setting… the environment itself is pretty dated but the pours were healthy and the samples deep.
One of my favorite things about Saugatuck is that the parks and greenspaces were intertwined with all the shopping and dining. It was easy to chill in the park while we wait for dinner time, or take a quick break while we get the boys snacks and a diaper change.
We tried to do dinner early each night, around 5 pm or so, which guaranteed we rarely had to wait on a table. As far as how we chose where to eat, we essentially just made our way down TripAdvisor’s top restaurants list. This time, we checked out Phil’s Bar and Grille, which was located in an old cinema. This place did not disappoint… the food was AMAZING!! I am not a foodie at all and even I got excited about it. We talked about Phil’s for the rest of the week.
Afterwards, we grabbed ice cream and fudge from Kilwin’s. Kilwin’s is essentially Graeter’s (if you’re in the Cincinnatian)—same feel, same type of ice cream, with lots of little retail locations across Michigan cities. They make their fudge on the spot too, which was always fun to drool over while waiting in line.
Day 3 (Monday)
We had a late start Monday so as soon as we woke up, we went out… in our jammies! We grabbed coffee and headed to the playground for some swing and slide time. This was the first time my boys have been able to really play on a playground, like use the slides and walk across the bouncy bridge. SO FUN.
Also, Nixon isn’t quite over his swingset phobia. Look at his pitiful face!
After lunch and a nap, it was time for family pictures. I did some sleuthing the night before looking at professional family shoots in Saugatuck. It seemed like many of the photo sessions happened at Mount Baldhead Park and Pump House Museum, so that’s where we headed too. Except our “photographer” was our camera propped up on a dirty bucket Dad found behind the bushes ha!
Note: It would have been super easy to take the passenger-only Saugatuck Chain Ferry over to Mt. Baldhead, but we drove because we wanted to check out Oval Beach afterwards. I’d recommend the Chain Ferry!
My dad had the genius foresight to pack wine and cups, so once our photo session was over, we headed to the Mount Baldhead picnic area and hung out. Pokemon were caught, wine was drunk and we all laughed at the insaneness that is the Mount Baldhead trail challenge. Oh yea, and we did go through the Pump House Museum (just steps away from the picnic area) which is just a little two-room house with some photos on the wall. Nothing life-changing, but it was air-conditioned and something else for the boys to look at.
Before heading home we checked out Oval Beach, which is Saugatuck’s beach and a 3 minute drive from downtown. I have not seen Lake Michigan in all its splendor in a long time and man, it’s overwhelmingly beautiful. Looks just like the ocean! Oval Beach is stunning in and of itself, too—it’s rated the best beach on Lake Michigan and also one of the top beaches in the Midwest.
Day 4 (Tuesday)
Day 4 was a lazy day. The boys had a rough night the night before, so retail therapy that morning was the answer. The shopping in Saugatuck is a dream. The selection is great and the prices are reasonable. My favorite stores were The Brass Anchor Co, Urban Found and Pink Patio.
For lunch, Aaron and I headed to Wally’s Bar and Grill. They had a line going at 11:30, waiting for the place to open, so that was our hint that it had to be good. Think your typical bar food with just a little bit of twist. Al fresco dining was right next to the sidewalk, so the people watching was stellar. The boys loved feeding the birds their Cheerios. On the way home we stopped by Town Hall to read the historical markers and take a little tour.
We must have been feeling very brave that day, because we ate out a second time that evening, this time at Marro’s Italian. Get the garlic rolls!
Day 5 (Wednesday)
At this point, while we had drove by the beach, we were itching to get out on the water. The boys are a little young to be out on a boat for a long period of times (boat chartering is a big thing here), so a tour cruise was our answer. We did a 90-minute boat cruise aboard the Star of Saugatuck, which took us along the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan for a full tour. Did you know that Lake Michigan is 900 feet at its deepest? Now you do! Someone had the genius idea to pack a lunch for this trip—my sister and her husband made these killer hot ham and cheese sandwiches—so we dined while sailing the
ocean lake blue.
For dinner that night we headed to South Haven (about 20 minutes south of Saugatuck) to meet up with our cousin Jacob who is working there for the summer. We headed over a bit early so we could check out the South Haven sights, primarily the 1870’s South Pier lighthouse.
On the map, the walk from our parking spot to the lighthouse looked doable, but PHEW! We were sweating bullets once it was time to eat. We dined at Clementine’s (again, checked the TripAdvisor list) and indulged in more ice cream at South Haven’s Kilwin’s location.
Day 6 (Thursday)
The boys and my parents had a pool morning, while Aaron and I headed to Bella Vita Spa for a couples’ massage. Amazing, I know. (Pro tip: Always take the grandparents.) Bella Vita was located right in the middle of downtown (you can also stay there), so we were able to shop a bit before they were ready for us.
While the boys were swimming and Aaron and I were massaging, my sister and her husband headed to Douglas (neighboring town) to rent a kayak from Running Rivers. They kayaked on the Kalamazoo River for most of that morning and from what I heard, it was mostly upstream that day. They came back with a nice tan and bulging muscles.
That evening we headed to Saugatuck Brewing Company for some locally brewed beer and food. The real draw, however, was the giant antique mall next door, which we checked out as soon as we arrived. It’s your classic antique warehouse setup with rows and rows of booths from different vendors. I don’t think anything caught our eye, but again it was air conditioned. And so much stuff for the boys to look at (and attempt to throw off the shelves lol).
Day 7 (Friday)
Day 7 was our last full day in Saugatuck, so we packed a whole bunch of stuff in. We started the morning at Oval Beach. It was actually quite cold and overcast this day, about 68 degrees, but felt like we needed the beach and sand experience for the boys. We kept saying, “We can’t leave here without going to the beach!”
After a nap and some lunch, we headed downtown to visit anything we missed. Our goal was to go check out the chain ferry, and on the way there is this great string of shops. I picked up a Saugatuck jersey at Harborwear on Water Street and revisited the Pink Patio.
We never actually got on the chain ferry (because where it goes—Mt. Baldhead—we’d already been), but it was fun to watch. It’s the only hand-cranked ferry left in existence and to this day is hand-cranked back and forth across the Kalamazoo River. I laughed at one of the reviews while researching this trip. It said, “Not sure the reason for the ferry. You could swim across in 5 minutes” and while he’s right, it can’t be more than 50 feet across, it is convenient for those not wanting to stay dry.
We loved being along the boardwalk. The ducks were entertaining, there were constantly boats coming in and of course, the cranking of the Chain Ferry nearby.
Before heading home, we all were in a need of a quick snack we so we grabbed some drinks and appetizers at Wicks Park. Next door was the super cute spot called Borrowed Time, which had this awesome green space with cornhole and giant Jenga. It was always crowded when we were walking by, but looked so cute too! (Photo below is from Yelp.)
The next day, it was time to pack up and head home. We had so much fun and already are plotting ways to get back soon. It couldn’t have been more perfect for our first family vacation with our boys.
Pssst… here’s a really great map of downtown Saugatuck that we used to find all the popular spots.