Destinations for the perfect summer escapes are becoming overcrowded. It isn’t news to the world that with the accessibility of location based photography apps and blogs that we all typically see the majority of the world now from our homes. The places that are the most beautiful, the most unique and the most dramatic quickly become hotspots for travelers and tourists of all forms. They become overcrowded, overdone and well… boring after a while. There are some places, however, that are able to maintain their charm over time despite receiving an influx of visitors during the best touristic times and Grand Haven, Michigan is definitely one of them.
I was luckily enough as a child to grown up in this gorgeous, pristine beach town located right on Lake Michigan. The summers are by far the best in the world by my observation and they have stayed the same over my entire experience here. They are just the right temperature, the skies are bright blue and the lake water is always perfectly refreshing. The downtown area is vibrant at night, full of happy people walking the sidewalks in front of all the local stores that sell anything from clothing to candy. The restaurants are certainly worth talking about as well. Places like The Kirby, The Grand, Arturo’s Tacos and Paisley Pig come to mind immediately. There is definitely something here for everyone.
So there are stores and restaurants… no big deal, right? Every little city or town has them. Well, what almost no one knows is that Grand Haven is Coast Guard City USA. Every summer, at the very end of July there is a massive festival in Grand Haven to celebrate the United States Coast Guard. The downtown area, Washington Street to be specific, is filled with enormous carnival rides and the restaurants and bars prep themselves for the craziest week of the year. People from all over the USA come here for this festival, celebrities included, and yet it still goes relatively unnoticed by most people the rest of the year. Even during Coast Guard we only see an increase of a couple hundred thousand. That does sound like a lot but most of them are here for the big weekend celebration with fireworks and crazy bar nights. They leave immediately aftward and it is almost like it never happened.
Grand Haven should be known for more than Coast Guard though. It has more secret, secluded beaches than any coastline we have ever explored. There are more serene locations for picnics, family outings and relaxing weekends than most people may realize because they have only visited here for the one big party weekend of the year. There are countless B&Bs that line the Lake Michigan Coast, all with their own charm and hosted by owners just as amazing as the next. This is a small town and somehow we have managed to keep it that way.
If you are in need of a quick, USA based getaway during the spring, summer or fall, we really recommend adding this to your list of options. Look up some of the lodging options near Grand Haven State Park or rent an RV to drive up and park right by the beach (be sure to book in advance!). As this is a small, quaint place you will be able to walk downtown and back without much effort at all. The restaurants all have amazing food and the downtown area provides stores that will intrigue people of any age. It is a very family friendly destination but certainly caters to romantic getaways and memorable trips for groups of friends to go on.
This is also a location worth creating a little home base for other excursions nearby. Look into making some special trips a few hours to the north to check out Traverse City, Sleeping Bear Dunes and the Leelanau Peninsula. The dunes are the perfect place for a couple nights camping and hiking, Traverse City resembles Grand Haven but with a different charm, and Leelanau boasts Michigan’s wine country. There are vineyards up there as far as the eye can see and some of the most incredible blue waters you can find this far from the Caribbean.
Kelly and I spent a good amount of our summer in Grand Haven back in 2020 due to the pandemic. We decided to stay put and just explore where I grew up, rather than risk getting back out into the world to continue checking off our destination to-do list. We spent a few months never exploring more than the coastline and loved every minute of it. We found some incredible hidden beaches, crystal clear waters to float in, hiked the dunes and even spent a couple weekends indulging ourselves in the delicious wines we found in the vineyards just north of us.
If this sounds like an amazing getaway for you we recommend starting in Grand Haven and then heading north along the lakeshore. Spend a few days in each location we have mentioned before making your way back home. You won’t be disappointed!