This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Historic Hotel Nichols.
Downtown South Haven has a rich history and offers a unique environment. In the early 1900s, it became a resort town and was often called The Catskills of the Midwest. During that time the blacksmith and wagon shops, now called Historic Hotel Nichols, were turned into a lodging destination.
Until the Great Depression, steamships would ferry more than 1,000 people at a time from Chicago to South Haven. And, now is the time to rediscover the walkability of this charming downtown — trails, beaches, parks, shops, restaurants, tasting rooms. Once you park at the historic hotel in the heart of the city, you won’t need your car for a few days because there’s so much to do within walking distance.
Go Biking in Downtown South Haven
A popular way to explore the nature of downtown South Haven and beyond is to hike or bike one of the trails. You can bring your own bike and put it in the designated storage area at Hotel Nichols.
Or, bike rentals are available at Rock n’ Road Cycle bike rental just two blocks away, which is about a 5-minute walk. They will deliver bikes downtown to hotel guests, or you can bike from its convenient location to the Kal-Haven Trail – less than one mile away.
On the other hand, you could scooter your way around downtown on a South Haven Scooter Rental. This company is right next to Rock n’ Road, offering open-air transportation without pedaling.
The Kal-Haven Trail
With a limestone and slag surface, the 33-mile Kal-Haven Trail used to be a railroad bed and links South Haven to Kalamazoo in the east. Along the way, it crosses bridges, rivers, and streams and passes through farmlands, wooded areas, and small towns.
About 4 miles from the Kal-Haven Trailhead in South Haven, you’ll come to Kal-Haven Outpost. This campground is a great place for a drink and snack break before you continue the journey or turn back.
The Van Buren Trails
It’s possible to follow a street route from the Kal-Haven Trail to the Van Buren Spur Trail. The beginning of this 4-mile paved trail is on Lovejoy Ave about 0.1 mile from Kalamazoo St. Before you begin, the Hotel Nichols staff will be happy to provide directions to their guests. You can follow the trail all the way to Van Buren State Park.
From the same starting point, you can ride the Van Buren Trail State Park. This 14-mile gravel path stretches south-southeast to Hartford. Although the first 2 miles of the trail are paved, a mountain bike is recommended for the rest. You could see a range of wildlife while riding — deer, eagles, foxes, rabbits.
Spend the Day at South Beach and Downtown Playgrounds
When exploring downtown South Haven, you can easily walk to South Beach and several parks in downtown South Haven via the Harbor Walk, which is right across Williams St from Hotel Nichols. The walk from Historic Hotel Nichols in downtown South Haven to South Beach only takes 10 to 15 minutes, and you’ll pass several cultural and historical features along the Black River. The beach has a concession stand, restrooms, play equipment, and the big red lighthouse — South Haven South Pierhead Light, which you can approach via the concrete pier.
Downtown South Haven Playgrounds
About a 15 to 20-minute walk from Hotel Nichols, Monroe Park and Kids’ Corner is a park with a one-of-a-kind wooden play structure for children. Adults and kids in South Haven worked together to design and build it. The fully accessible playground has a boat, maze, rope bridge, slides, tire bridge, and more. Picnic tables, grills, and a ball field with bleachers fill the rest of the park property. Across the street, a set of Blue Stairs connects the park to the southern strip of South Beach.
Walking the Harbor Walk from the hotel in the other direction takes you across the drawbridge to Stanley Johnston Park in about 10 minutes. This historic park is the perfect place for a picnic. You can eat at a picnic table or on a blanket under the old trees. Grills are available, or you could pick up a bite from North Side Memories, a great convenience store with a deli across the street. The park has basketball courts, swing sets, and restrooms as well.
Enjoy the Water on a Charter Boat, Kayak, or Museum Boat Tour
Do you want to fish for perch or just take in the nature that surrounds Lake Michigan and the Black River? South Haven Fishing Charters is located just a few steps up Williams St from Hotel Nichols. It offers a wide range of charter fishing packages to suit everyone’s needs — half (6am – 11am), full (6am – 1pm), and all day (dawn to dusk) — all of which are guided by a professional fisherman.
Kayaking the Black River
Since the upper part of the Black River isn’t busy with boats, it’s the optimal area for kayaking. You can rent a kayak at SoHa Surf Shop, which is less than a 5-minute walk from the hotel. You can rent a kayak or paddleboard and purchase apparel and accessories for the journey.
The best spot to launch your kayak or paddleboard is at the South Haven Boat Launch at Black River Park. This handicap-accessible launch is within walking distance of the hotel — follow the Harbor Walk across the drawbridge until you get to Black River St. The park is a short walk north and has restrooms and picnic facilities.
Museum Boat Tour
For a unique experience on Lake Michigan, join a Michigan Maritime Museum boat tour. There are five different boating experiences, each on distinct vessels — a replica 1810 topsail sloop, a 1941 boat that starred in the Disney movie “The Finest Hours,” and others.
All of the boat tours include admission to the museum, which is near South Beach. It features a variety of hands-on exhibits across five separate buildings. The museum holds events throughout the summer as well. For 2021, it will host the Antique & Classic Boat Show on June 19 and the Annual Fish Boil Fundraiser on July 10.
Peruse the Downtown Boutique Shops
Boutique shopping is something for which downtown South Haven is well known. We’ve created a list of seven favorites that are within walking distance of Hotel Nichols:
- Decadent Dogs sells breed-specific items, a range of toys and puzzles, clothing and accessories, and much more.
- Glik’s has clothes, accessories, and shoes for all ages on Phoenix St.
- Lakeshore Trends is a trendy shop with a wide variety of clothing, accessories, furniture, home decor, and other home goods.
- Crescent Moon has fashionable active and outdoor clothing and footwear for men and women here. It has interesting accessories and gifts too.
- The Blueberry Store specializes in everything blueberry. You can buy fresh and frozen Michigan-grown blueberries and an array of coffees, juices, syrups, dog treats, and more — all made with blueberries.
- Olive Cart features high-quality aged balsamic vinegars and extra virgin olive oils. The tasting room has fresh-baked breads, pesto, pastas, and other goods, as well as Michigan-made pottery gifts.
- Emma’s Boutique is a small store that sells fashionable and elegant clothing for young women.
Relax & Treat Yourself at the Spa
During or after your shopping excursion, stop by the LizRyan Salon & Spa for a relaxing treat. Located just two doors down from Historic Hotel Nichols, this salon offers services for hair, nails, makeup, eye lashes, and skin care. Since it’s also a spa, you can choose from a list of massages — classic, deep tissue, prenatal, ashiatsu, and hot stone.
Grab a Bite to Eat at Amazing Restaurants
Like with the boutique shops, there are many restaurant experiences to have in downtown South Haven. We’ve selected seven of our favorites — all within walking distance of Hotel Nichols:
- Black River Tavern serves traditional, quality tavern fare and has a full-service bar for beer, cocktails, and wine.
- South Haven Brewpub is a lively evening spot right across the street from the hotel. It’s the first brewery in South Haven and has 14 of its beers on tap alongside other drinks and yummy food.
- Captain Lou’s was voted among the Top 5 waterfront Michigan bars. It’s famous for perch baskets, signature cocktails, and dancing.
- Taste has an interesting love story behind the chef and restaurant. The martini bar has a diverse menu of small plates.
- Tello Italian Bistro is a fine-dining restaurant with an intimate atmosphere and serves authentic Italian creations.
- Venezia Restaurant is a “hole in the wall” hidden gem that makes authentic, thin Italian pizza. It has delicious antipasto salad and other Italian dishes as well.
- Maria’s Taste of Italy serves made-from-scratch Italian food using Grandma’s recipes and offers a family-friendly dining experience.
Beer, Wine, and Cider Tasting Rooms
Visiting the four tasting rooms in downtown South Haven is a fun and sophisticated activity. Since they’re really close together, you can easily walk between them and Hotel Nichols.
- Warner Winery Tasting Room features wines from Warner Vineyards, which was founded in 1938. You can get a taste of five wines for $8, and it offers beer and cider tastings.
- At 12 Corners Vineyards Tasting Room, you can get five samples of wines for $10. The many varieties are made from hybrid and vinifera grapes.
- From sweet summer wines to traditional dry reds, Gravity Tasting Room offers six samples of wines and ciders for $13 and includes a souvenir wineglass. You can purchase glasses and bottles of wine too.
- Featuring a distillery tasting room, New Holland Brewery Tasting Room lets you try its award-winning spirits. With snacks, cocktails, ciders, and wine available, this stop is ideal for happy hour or after dinner.
Stay at the Historic Hotel Nichols
At Hotel Nichols, you get to stay in a historic building that’s more than 100 years old. The original buildings were constructed in 1874 and used as blacksmith and wagon shops. The third building that was constructed became the first restaurant in South Haven in 1905. The owner served everyone of all colors and races decades before the civil rights movement.
The first lodging was offered above the restaurant on the property. In 1925, the buildings were combined and a second story was added, creating 37 guest rooms. There were only six toilets until 2001, and now Hotel Nichols has 19 rooms with modern amenities.
Also, it is one of the most family-friendly hotels in the area. It has two suites that are perfect for families.
Suite A can accommodate up to 8 guests comfortably with its three bedrooms, full bathroom, generous living room, dining area, and fully furnished kitchen. Suite B is the junior suite and the newest part of the hotel, featuring a full kitchen and back patio/deck.
All guests enjoy a hot breakfast of pancakes, French toast, and breakfast burritos, which are made fresh to order. In addition to being so close to city amenities, the hotel offers a complimentary Happy Hour on Fridays and Saturdays. If you’re looking for a hotel with exceptional customer service, you’ve found it!