We discovered our jewel by the sea quite by accident, while journeying back to metro Detroit from an extended vacation in the Colorado Rockies.
Make no mistake; the Rockies are awe-inspiring and beautiful beyond description. But what’s lacking there is water — real bodies of water on which Michiganders thrive.
As we hit the Michigan border, my wife, Susan, put it out there. “I missed the water. Let’s go find a place to stay for a couple of days.”
Veering north off I-94 onto the backroads, our drive paralleled an amazing American natural wonder: Lake Michigan.
About an hour north of the Michigan/Indiana state line, we pulled into South Haven, looked at each other, and smiled. We had arrived at the waterfront spot that would quench our psychological thirst. Scenic drives, spectacular views, green open spaces, world-class beaches, and parks provided the food our souls needed. And the beckoning water, including the Black River which snakes through downtown, complemented that peaceful, easy feeling.
South Haven, resting on this stunning shoreline, showcases consistently beautiful sunsets year-round. And that’s just the tip of its offerings. It’s called “haven” for good cause.
This community of 4,000-plus residents serves as a hub of western Michigan vacation attractions. The city earns great reviews as a mecca for bicyclists, hikers, power boaters, sailing enthusiasts, anglers, gourmands, sun worshipers, art devotees, sightseers, and those who just want to relax and enjoy the natural beauty or sugar-sand beaches.
As an avid cyclist, I know bikers feel secure in taking to many of the routes around town. South Haven is connected to the easy-riding Kal-Haven Trail, which runs all the way from South Haven to Kalamazoo. The more ambitious can peel off calories and that pent-up COVID-19 stress by pedaling the round trip of nearly 70 miles. Plenty of rest stops (resorts, bed and breakfasts, motels) are sprinkled along the route. Those with less energetic intent can chart a shorter ride to meet their desires.
The Kal-Haven connects with the 14-mile-long Van Buren Trail State Park, which runs south from South Haven to nearby Hartford, another family-friendly option for your outdoor experience.
Those interested in the arts can travel 20 minutes north to Saugatuck for a few hours or a day of browsing that town’s delightful art galleries.
For many people, just hanging around South Haven offers all they need and want. My wife and I discovered the Lake Bluffs Inn & Suites, which we just happened to bump into as we explored the area. It’s quiet and spacious.
Our days there were akin to our personal retreat center. Suspended high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, the inn’s grounds are surrounded by large groups of trees that provide privacy. Located south of downtown, it’s far enough away to maintain its air of solitude but close enough to make it convenient for shopping, beachcombing, or frequenting one of the city’s fine eateries.
Many of the rooms offer a fantastic view of the beautiful sunsets. The huge courtyard area is festooned with a pool and outdoor whirlpool, perfect for lounging about after a summer day of sightseeing.
Other visitors find the courtyard convenient for weddings; the inn prides itself on its wedding and reception services. A wide assortment of other hotels, bed and breakfasts, and resorts are intermixed with quality restaurants (because of what was happening at press time of this issue in the industry due to COVID, I won’t mention them here), museums (the Michigan Maritime Museum is especially cool), and craft brewpubs to please your palate.
We found the variety of nearby wineries intriguing. Visitors are surrounded on the north, south, and east sides of town by a selection of more than a dozen wineries within easy driving or biking distance.
In recent years, Michigan wineries have upped their game by offering competitive, quality selections to satisfy wine aficionados. You may very well find a new favorite, like we did, in this fun vacation getaway to remember your visit.
South Haven/Van Buren County
Convention & Visitors Bureau