Port Sanilac: A Hidden Gem

Just 90 miles from Detroit, Port Sanilac is a small village with a big harbor and bigger heart.
Long known as a Lake Huron port that caters to seasonal and cruising sailors, its harbor is often packed with sailboats in summer. // Photography by iStock/summersetretrievers

Just 90 miles from Detroit, Port Sanilac is a small village with a big harbor and bigger heart.

Its recipe for success? “The views, the nice people and the fact that everyone makes you feel at home,” said Sandy Miller, who with her husband, Tom, recently bought the local Huron Shores Golf Course and restaurant.

A quiet refuge perched on the edge of Lake Huron, Port Sanilac is where you suddenly feel “up north” in the Thumb. The main crossroads in town — actually, the only crossroads — is the corner of M-25 and M-46. Go north, and you will hit Port Austin. Go west, and you could drive straight to Muskegon. Go east just a block, and you end up in Lake Huron.

Old fashioned and less touristy than nearby Lexington, the village of about 580 people is dominated by the outsized harbor that in summer is packed with boats. One of Michigan’s “Harbors of Refuge,” Port Sanilac particularly caters to sailors. The harbor has two full-service marinas and a sailing school, plus a playground, ice cream shop, dive shop and kayak rentals. Stroll or fish off the break wall. Visit Village Beach, which is next to the harbor and suitable for young families. Offshore is the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve, featuring 16 shipwrecks for divers.

For such a small village, Port Sanilac has surprising cultural amenities. It has a theater — the Barn Theatre — whose season runs June through August. The restored Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) is privately owned but offers tours in summer. Visit the historic mansion and vintage buildings that make up the Sanilac County Historic Village and Museum. Play 18 holes at the public Huron Shores Golf Course or come for Fourth of July fireworks and a parade. A farmer’s market — locally sourced products only — runs Friday afternoons in season.

Lodging in Port Sanilac is almost entirely rental homes, either in town or spread up the lakeshore. This part of Lake Huron has sandy beaches good for sunbathing or evening campfires. Beachfront homes range from modest cabins to luxury digs. The private, modern Lake Huron Campground is five miles to the north.

Placid Port Sanilac is busiest in mid-summer when popular restaurants like the Stone Lodge and Uri’s Landing draw crowds for steaks and perch. Mary’s Diner, arguably the heartbeat of downtown, is beloved for breakfast. Over fluffy pancakes and bacon, all problems are solved. The village has minimal shopping, but do not miss Raymond Hardware. The state’s oldest hardware store and lumber yard began in 1850. With a cozy warren of narrow aisles towering with nails, bolts, hammers and wrenches, it is open year-round.

On summer evenings, drive a few miles west of Port Sanilac to see a little-known gem — the Hi-Way Drive-In. It is Michigan’s oldest drive-in, dating from 1948, and still operates. A few miles beyond that is Green Thumb Blueberries, which offers plump
u-pick berries in July and August. And before you leave Port Sanilac, stop at Blue Water Sports Bar, where you can lift your glass and toast life’s simple pleasures.

For more information, see portsanilac.net and portsanilacharbor.com.

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