Where do you go when you have a hankering for New England, but need to remain in the Midwest? The Third Coast, of course! Oh, you've never heard of it? Well, neither had I until a friend pointed out that factoid. The travel industry also calls the Great Lakes the “Inland Seas.” Who knew?
We picked harbor towns in Lower Michigan for our three-day adventure with our missionary friends, who I affectionately call our ‘Covid Buddies.’ Names like Grand Haven, Saugatuck, and St. Joseph are noted for their lakeshore appeal with iconic lighthouses, boating and beaches. Guess which state has the most lighthouses? Yep, Michigan!
And how can you recognize the state of Michigan on a map? Right again—its in the shape of a mitten.
Since we had only three days, we picked four to visit: South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven. Some we spent only an afternoon exploring. Others, the good part of a day. All were similar, but each had its own unique flavor.
Saugatuck: an Artist’s Haven
For instance, Saugatuck is definitely an artist’s haven; small, walkable and eclectic, both in eateries and shops. One can easily visit in a long afternoon (or morning, if preferred). The downtown shopping area is centered on one main street, with another parallel a block over alongside the harbor. The three streets connecting them have businesses as well, including a coffee shop and the well-loved Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream which is always a welcome sight on a steaming summer’s day. I was so enthralled with the shops that I took only the photo above of the Michigan lounging chair!
Grand Haven: Something for Everyone
If you're looking for a family-friendly place where there is something for everyone, Grand Haven is your choice. There's a gorgeous beach (below) with an RV Park next door, and a lovely waterfront path to bike or stroll with an iconic lighthouse to reward you for your efforts at the end. Plus, there are quaint shops of all varieties and Kilwins (of course)!
South Haven, although on the list, is quite ordinary. Yes, it has a lighthouse, and a walking path around the harbor with historical plaques (nice), but the shops are not remarkable. But, hey, at least there is a Kilwins. (Are you getting the idea?) And I must say, some lovely landscaping dotted about (below), and a stellar tourist board or chamber of commerce with beautifully printed material and a charming grey cat who's been a resident for years! Oh, and yes—there are many types of motor and sailboats ready to take on tourists for a short trip out into Lake Michigan.
Holland, Michigan: Dutch Culture at it's best!
And last, but not least, is Holland, which attracts shoppers, nature lovers, and historians. And what do you know? They have a Kilwins! It's also a college town, home to Hope College (Reformed Church of America), an authentic Dutch Village, and features a tulip festival in the Spring. Visitors come from miles around to see the sunset at Holland State Park, along with another iconic lighthouse named Big Red. Take a look at the slideshow below:
So, there you have it. Take your pick. Depending on your interests, you have four harbor towns within 3.5 hours of Chicago. Next time you feel a pull to the waterfront but can't travel far, take a trip to Michigan’s Third Coast. It's the next best thing to New England.
If you are looking for more coastal inspiration, check out my blogpost on the Basque city of San Sebastian
Where do you like to go for a quick getaway in the summer? Let me know below!
My MG Biblical fiction "The Heart Changer" debuted in 2019 with Ambassador International.