Although I've lived in Michigan all my life, I haven't spent a lot of time visiting the west side of the state. I'm much more familiar with the beach towns in Ontario on the east coast of Lake Huron than I am with beach towns of Lake Michigan. I've been to Holland once when the kids were small, and I've been to Traverse City. If you count winter trips across the state I've been to Muskegon too. But that's it. So when it comes to evaluating Lake Michigan's beach towns, I don't have a lot of knowledge and experiences to draw on. At this point the town I'm most familiar with is St. Joseph, and I'm not very familiar with it!
The suburbs of Detroit each have their own personality and one could certainly say the same for western Michigan's beach towns. St. Joseph, for example, is a slice of small town Americana set on one of the most beautiful beaches Lake Michigan has to offer. One gets the impression that the residents tolerate the influx of summer tourists, appreciating the revenue they bring to the area, then breathe a sigh of relief when the fall comes and they can go back to the slower small-town pace of life they enjoy most of the year. Very family oriented. Charming in a quaint, historic sort of way.
South Haven, on the other hand, strikes me as a town that more than tolerates tourists. It seems like it's defined by them. The atmosphere feels a bit more commercial, more geared towards affluent boaters and the 30-something Yuppie party crowd. The beach is lined with multi-million dollar beach homes giving it a bit of a California-esque feel. It's hard not to like this town with it's large harbor, tree-lined streets, and enticing downtown shopping area. It beckons to you to stroll through its shops, stop in for an ice cream cone, and people watch from one of the many park benches placed around town. Still small town charming, but with a bit more cache.
South Haven is about a 30 minute drive from St. Joseph, an easy trip for an afternoon or evening visit. We left St. Joseph just after an early dinner, about 6pm, and returned just after sunset, about 10pm. Here's what we did during our time in South Haven.
We drove into town and were immediately struck by how many people were out and about town, walking, biking, and sitting on park benches. This isn't a town that rolls up the welcome mat early on Saturday evenings.
We noticed the tree-lined streets and antique lamp posts on our way down to the harbor/beach.
The lighthouse sits out on the south pier.
The north pier has something that resembles a lighthouse but isn't quite.
From the end of the pier, we were able to get a good view of the area. The beach houses...
And a wedding on the beach...
Then we headed back into town. We had an ice cream sundae (which I'll write about in another post) and then took a ride in a horse drawn carriage. The carriage driver was born and raised in South Haven so he had a lot of interesting stories to tell. Unfortunately, he wasn't using a microphone and didn't speak loudly so we had to strain to hear him. The carriage ride was nice though and we saw the Old Harbor area. That's an area we'll want to explore more when we visit South Haven again.
As you can see from the picture above, the sun was starting to get low in the sky. So when the carriage ride was over we headed along the beach to find a good place to take sunset pictures. Just a few blocks over from Phoenix Street (the "main drag"), on Monroe Blvd, sits St. Basil Catholic Church. It's a lovely old church that looks out over Lake Michigan.
Right across the street from the church is very pretty and convenient look-out point just at the top of the bluff.
We grabbed a park bench and took in yet another lovely Lake Michigan sunset...
There was a low layer of clouds on the horizon. We weren't sure if the sun would reappear once it set behind them.
But it did!
And then mother nature's show was over and it was time to head back home to St. Joseph.
We had a lovely evening in South Haven and I look forward to visiting again one of these days!