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Explore Michigan’s Art Coast

Beauty, outdoor activities, dining destinations, and places to meet—Saugatuck and Douglas have it all

By Dianna Stampfler

sunset cruise on the star of saugatuck
Sunset cruise on the Star of Saugatuck || Courtesy of Saugatuck/Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Nostalgic charm meets modern flair in the art-centric small towns of Saugatuck and Douglas. For decades, these communities—located just 140 miles around the Lake Michigan coastline from Chicago—have welcomed all creative types and proudly promoted themselves as being LGBTQ+ friendly. Nestled between two of Michigan’s five federally recognized American Viticultural Areas, the region also is known for its deep agricultural roots and growing beverage offerings including wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries. Gerald R. Ford International Airport, located 45 miles away in Grand Rapids, is the closest transportation hub with service from Detroit, Chicago, and all points beyond.

Vibe: “There is a reason I not only live in but also write about Saugatuck and Douglas: It becomes a part of your soul the first time you visit,” says summer resident and author Wade Rouse. His novels, “The Summer Cottage” and “The Edge of Summer” (both penned under the pseudonym Viola Shipman), are set here. “The sister towns are known as the Art Coast of Michigan, but I refer to them as a modern-day Mayberry,” Rouse adds. “They are Currier & Ives quaint. The towns are filled with small businesses with big hearts—first-rate art galleries, restaurants, home design and gift shops, not to mention one-of-a-kind attractions.”

Hotels: Lodging establishments throughout Saugatuck and Douglas range from cozy bed-and-breakfasts and charming inns fit for smaller groups to modern boutique properties and homey cottages ideal for extended stays. The Rosemont Inn in Douglas has been receiving guests since 1901 and is the oldest resort property in the area. Open year-round, it offers 14 guest rooms, a seasonal outdoor heated pool, indoor spa and sauna, access to Lake Michigan beaches, and two private spaces ideal for small meetings, team-building retreats, or gatherings for as many as 30 people. Groups of up to 22 will find The Wickwood Inn within walking distance of eateries, shops, and attractions in downtown Saugatuck. Technology and food packages make planning a gathering easy, with plenty of off-premise activities such as boat charters, art studio tours, and golf. The Belvedere Inn & Restaurant was built in 1912 in the Prairie style popularized by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, with on-site meeting spaces able to accommodate 25 to 40 people. In addition to its 10 elegant guest rooms (three of which are suites), visitors will find a fine-dining restaurant and stunning gardens set on
5 sprawling, manicured acres.

Aerial view of Saugatuck along the Kalamazoo River
Aerial view of Saugatuck along the Kalamazoo River || Courtesy of Saugatuck/Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Venues: A half-dozen unique spaces are available for groups at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, just blocks from downtown. The outdoor multiuse pavilion can accommodate up to 250 seated attendees, while the vibrant and open lobby is suitable for 120 seated or 325 standing. The premier space is the Bertha Krueger Reid Theatre, perfect for musical performances, film premiers, presentations, and keynotes for up to 410 people. Consider a trip back to the Roaring ’20s at The Felt Estate, a historic site adjacent to the Saugatuck Dunes State Park. This expansive mansion features 25 rooms including a third-floor ballroom. Saugatuck Brewing Co. in Douglas welcomes groups of up to 65 in its Barrel Room, which features 15 beer taps, pinball machines, bumper pool tables, dart boards, and a stage for live music. The brewery’s Brew on Premise program enables groups of six to craft their own beer. Newer to the area is The Ivy, an elegant rural space set on 7 acres for corporate retreats, fundraisers, banquets, or galas. The 7,000-square-foot event space aligns with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines and can host up to 300 attendees. For something totally different, the 80-foot Star of Saugatuck offers an authentic sternwheel paddleboat excursion along the Kalamazoo River and into Lake Michigan, weather permitting. Private charters are available for up to 75 passengers, with access to both the enclosed lower and open-air upper decks. The lower deck is accessible for wheelchairs up to 27 inches wide. Refreshments and bar service are also offered.

Restaurants: There is no shortage of distinctive places to eat and drink in the Saugatuck and Douglas area. Enjoy Southern cuisine at The Southerner, with scenic views of the Kalamazoo River. Experience Saugatuck favorites at The Butler, a waterfront restaurant that has been serving locals and visitors for more than 60 years. Curb your hunger with the Famous Butler Burger, complete with grilled Black Forest ham and American cheese on a sesame seed bun, with a side of the Butler Clam Chowder. And enjoy it alfresco in season: The Butler’s two-story open-air patio deck seats 250 guests. Make memories at the Coastal Society in downtown Douglas, with its inviting outdoor patio and a selection of pizzas, appetizers, wine, and cocktails. Salt of the Earth in nearby Fennville offers an elevated farm-to-table menu, along with craft cocktails and live local music.

Salt of the Earth’s sidewalk patio in Fennville
Salt of the Earth’s sidewalk patio in Fennville || Courtesy of Saugatuck/Douglas Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Must-Sees and -Dos: The Saugatuck Chain Ferry is the only ferry of its kind still operating in the U.S. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it transports thousands of passengers (24 at a time) across the Kalamazoo River for access to Mount Baldhead and Oval Beach—a 100-yard stretch of golden sugar sand that is ranked among the best beaches in the country. Saugatuck Dune Rides offers one of the few experiences in Michigan where you can ride out on undulating dunes. These thrilling 40-minute trips travel near the ghost town of Singapore, known as “Michigan’s Pompeii,” with its abandoned ruins that have been lost to time and buried under the ever-shifting sand. For a more private experience, rent a Duffy electric boat or restored classic fiberglass runabout from Retro Boat Rentals.