Michigan’s big cities and nationally-recognized destinations are certainly worth a visit. But to taste the true flavor of the Great Lakes State, you will want to spend time in some of these under-the-radar towns in Southwest Michigan.
Many of these cities, towns, and villages are often overlooked by travelers in favor of other cities in the state, but you would be remiss if you didn’t check out at least one or two of these places. Featuring scenic views, local charm, and fewer crowds, these are the best small towns to explore in Southwest Michigan.
Known for its beautiful waterfront and artistic community, Saugatuck is a charming small town with a lot to offer. It’s a great place for those who enjoy beaches, galleries, and a relaxed atmosphere.
In Saugatuck, sophistication and cultural appreciation permeate the atmosphere, adding a cosmopolitan touch to Michigan’s Sunset Coast. While the finer things in life may be prioritized in Saugatuck, it’s worth noting that this community is still as down-to-earth and welcoming as any other beach town in the state.
When visiting Saugatuck, you will want to browse the many art galleries throughout downtown. From contemporary artists known for complex, modern pieces to classically-trained artists who specialize in landscapes, you will discover that beauty lies around every corner in this community.
Mount Baldhead Loop & Oval Beach
For those glittering waterfront views, hike the 1-mile-long Mount Baldhead Loop, which includes more than 300 steps that lead to an overlook where you can enjoy panoramic views of Lake Michigan.
Once you’ve enjoyed your workout for the day, you can head to Oval Beach for an afternoon of relaxing on the soft, sandy shore.
Known for its picturesque lighthouse and beautiful beaches, South Haven offers a charming small-town atmosphere with a rich maritime history. It’s a great place for those who enjoy a walkable city with scenic views and a relaxed vibe.
Featuring all the attractions the most iconic destinations in Michigan are known for, South Haven offers all the charm without the throngs of tourist crowds that soak up the authenticity of a community. Best known as a summer vacation destination, this waterfront community is famous for its quiet atmosphere and family-friendly attractions.
Michigan Maritime Museum
One of the most popular attractions in South Haven is the Michigan Maritime Museum. This waterfront museum tells the stories of Michigan’s maritime past but also has an innovative on-water fleet of historic vessels that visitors can explore.
For instance, visitors have the opportunity to sail aboard the historic tall ship Friends Good Will and learn more about what life was like for Great Lakes sailors in the past.
Often paired with Saugatuck, Douglas is its quieter neighbor, offering a similar artistic and beach town experience but with a more laid-back feel.
As an up-and-coming destination that is known for its sense of class and sophistication, Saugatuck is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. If you are searching for a more authentic and immersive experience, though, consider visiting the city next door — Douglas.
In Douglas, you can enjoy all that Michigan’s west coast has to offer. There are sand dunes to climb, beaches to enjoy, and art galleries to explore. When you stay in Douglas, you will feel like one of the locals, and it won’t take long before you begin to understand why they are so passionate about their hometown.
Located on Lake Michigan, St. Joseph is a historic and vacation-friendly lakefront city. It’s great for families and couples looking for a mix of history and leisure activities.
Considered by many to be the Gem of Southwest Michigan, St. Joseph is a charming city that feels as if it was ripped out of the pages of a storybook. Its beachfront location and quiet atmosphere make it one of the most appealing places to visit when you are seeking rest and relaxation.
Silver Beach Carousel
Like any waterfront city in Michigan, St. Joseph offers beachfront access and a historic downtown area. Its most iconic attraction, however, is completely different from anything else found in the state.
St. Joseph is home to the Silver Beach Carousel — a gorgeous, historic carousel that includes more than 40 hand-carved horses for riders to enjoy. Thanks to its year-round hours, you can ride on this carousel whenever you choose to visit the city.
While St. Joseph is known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant downtown, Benton Harbor has a growing arts district.
While other communities in Southwest Michigan have retained their same sense of charm and overall identity for centuries, Benton Harbor has transformed and is currently in the midst of a remarkable revitalization effort.
Benton Harbor Arts District
At the center of its renaissance is the Benton Harbor Arts District, which has attracted artists and makers from around the country and become the anchor for new shops, restaurants, and other small businesses. Within the district, you will find:
- A nonprofit glasswork studio that is not only an art gallery but also an educational facility where people can learn how to work with glass
- An innovative theater that hosts community shows and performances in a former warehouse space
- A performing arts center that aims to help people of all ages and backgrounds develop their skills in dance and musical performance
This small city is a popular destination for its harbor, beaches, and quaint downtown area. It’s a great spot for those looking to enjoy Lake Michigan’s beauty in a less crowded setting.
Considered to be the gateway to Southwest Michigan, New Buffalo is a rising star among the state’s top tourist destinations. In fact, it was ranked as one of the best places to travel in the country by Travel + Leisure in 2022, largely thanks to its ideal location and unbeatable views.
As one of the first places that people encounter when they arrive in Michigan from Indiana, New Buffalo is the perfect welcome center. It offers access to more than 16 miles of sandy dunes and lakefront shoreline and is the ideal starting point for any Southwest Michigan wine tour.
Offering a mix of urban flair and relaxed Midwest charm, it’s easy to see why New Buffalo is considered a fan favorite among Michigan travelers.
Known for its historic downtown and scenic riverfront, Allegan offers a blend of history, nature, and small-town charm. It’s a great place for those who enjoy outdoor activities and exploring local history.
If you are the kind of person who likes to surround yourself with nature’s beauty, Allegan is the Southwest Michigan destination for you. Ideally located in the heart of the Allegan State Game Area, this community attracts people who love to spend their free time hunting, hiking, fishing, and boating.
While Allegan may not be a Lake Michigan destination, it still offers unparalleled waterfront views thanks to its prime location on the shores of the Kalamazoo River. Before you leave the city, take a photo with the iconic Old Iron Bridge in the background. Built in 1886, it is one of the most historic and well-known sites in the city.
Famous for its vineyards and wineries, Paw Paw is a delightful village for wine enthusiasts. It also features lovely lakes and a quaint downtown area.
Situated in the heart of Michigan’s Grape Country, Paw Paw is the perfect destination for those who like to sip and savor wine. While several vineyards and wineries are in the area surrounding the village, the most famous is St. Julian, which is known as Michigan’s most-awarded winery.
St. Julian boasts more than a century of history in the wine-making industry and has been owned by the same family for more than four generations. Stop by its Paw Paw location to learn more about how the longest-running winery in Michigan operates and to sample a flight of wine. During the summer months, you can even take your flight on the patio.
A small village known for its artsy vibe, antique shops, and the historic Acorn Theater, Three Oaks is a great destination for those interested in culture and history.
Considered to be the cultural hub of Harbor Country, Three Oaks is well worth the visit. Just one quick stroll through the village’s historic downtown area will show you that creativity and color define the local lifestyle. Eclectic displays, handmade signs, and public art can be found around every corner, creating an enchanting Bohemian vibe.
Home to the beautiful Gull Lake, Augusta is a hidden gem for nature lovers who enjoy outdoor activities like fishing, boating, and hiking.
Sometimes, the best experiences can be found where you least expect them — at least, that is certainly true in the tiny village of Augusta. Home to less than 1,000 people, it would be easy to drive past Augusta and keep heading toward larger, more well-known destinations. However, this community is truly a hidden gem.
Anyone who loves to spend their time among Michigan’s flora and fauna will love its sparkling Gull Lake. In addition, this community is home to the Gull Lake View Golf Resort, a premier golf resort that boasts six championship courses.
A quaint village known for its historic charm, Vicksburg offers a peaceful small-town atmosphere with a variety of local shops and a rich history.
Many travelers will tell you that a visit to Vicksburg will replenish your spirit and rejuvenate your soul, as this charming village feels like a relic from an era gone by. The historic downtown area is within walking distance of Sunset Lake, a tiny inland lake that is eternally calm.
The quiet nature of the community combined with the peaceful waters makes this a popular destination for those who love paddleboarding and kayaking.
This small village is known for its community feel and local wineries. It’s a great place for those who enjoy a slower pace of life and the charm of rural Michigan.
If you need an escape from endless construction traffic or you simply need to find respite in a slower, easier setting, then Mattawan may be the perfect Michigan day trip for you. This rural community features wineries, hatcheries, and plenty of hiking trails, allowing you to rest and relax however you prefer.
Regardless of whether you are planning to hike the trails at the Portman Nature Preserve or sip wine at Cody Kresta Vineyard & Winery, make time to visit the Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery. There, you can learn all about the history of hatcheries in Michigan, and even take a guided tour of the facilities to better understand the operations.
A small village with a friendly community, Lawton is known for its local vineyards and annual wine festival. It’s perfect for those who appreciate the quieter side of life.
Located just 35 miles from South Haven in the heart of Michigan’s fruit-growing region, Lawton is equal parts beautiful and exciting. It’s a recreation-lovers dream come true, thanks to its premier location along Kal-Haven Trail State Park.
Whether you are riding on a bicycle or a snowmobile — or traversing the trail on your own two feet — you are sure to find the thrill you are seeking, coupled with some of the most spectacular views in the state.
This small city offers a unique blend of agricultural heritage and small-town living. As such, Bangor is ideal for those looking to explore rural Michigan and its natural beauty.
Nestled between two of Southwest Michigan’s most well-known destinations — Kalamazoo and South Haven — Bangor is a one-of-a-kind destination that offers travelers an opportunity to adopt a slower pace and soak up the natural beauty of this region.
In addition, the local restaurants in this community give you a taste of the city’s flavor, as well as a touch of its welcoming hospitality. If you are planning to stay in Bangor, make it a point to visit the Bangor Tavern Bar & Grill or Frida’s Cantina.
Known for its apple orchards and rural charm, Decatur is a great destination for those who enjoy outdoor activities and a laid-back lifestyle.
Some of the words that people often use to describe Decatur include peaceful, serene, and tranquil. It’s a true respite, especially compared to some of the larger and busier tourist destinations in the state.
If you are looking to see what it might be like to live a quiet, rural life, then you will certainly love all that awaits you in Decatur. Some of the best things to do in this community include:
- Visiting Rajzer’s Farm Market for fresh, seasonal produce during the summer growing season
- Grabbing a drink at Final Gravity Brewing Company
- Canoeing at Fred Russ Forest Park
Nestled in the heart of Michigan’s fruit belt, Fennville is known for its orchards, vineyards, and artisanal food producers. This small city offers a charming rural atmosphere with a strong focus on farm-to-table dining.
With its rolling hills and abundant fields, Fennville showcases the true beauty and potential of the Michigan fruit belt. Here, flavor and freshness define the local lifestyle, and everyone can indulge in the ripest fruit and the most delicious artisanal food.
Crane Orchards is one of the largest Michigan apple orchards in Fennville and has earned statewide recognition for its seasonal experiences. Throughout the growing season, you can head to the orchards to pick your own fresh fruit.
During the fall, families come in droves to meander through the corn maze and find the perfect pumpkin. And amid the festive holiday season, Fennville locals and visitors alike enjoy a wondrous holiday light show at the farm.
Known as the “Magic Capital of the World,” Colon is a quaint and peaceful small town ideal for those seeking a quiet getaway. It offers a serene environment with beautiful lakes, including Palmer Lake and Long Lake, perfect for fishing, boating, and relaxing by the water.
While most other small towns in Southwest Michigan are known for their vineyards, orchards, beaches, and hiking trails, Colon has a surprisingly whimsical reputation. Known as the “Magic Capital of the World,” this idyllic village is home to a handful of magical destinations that delight young and old alike.
On your magical tour through Colon, be sure to stop at:
- The Grand Magic Theater for a fantastical performance by a local magician
- Sterlini Magic MFG & Theater for all of the best magic supplies
- Abbott’s Magic Shop for high-quality magic products to showcase your favorite tricks
Discover Beyond the Under-the-Radar Small Towns in Southwest Michigan
Whether you are looking to escape the crowds or simply experience someplace you have never visited, you will find that these under-the-radar towns in Southwest Michigan fit the bill.
You will have a chance to soak up the views and atmosphere that each place has to offer, and you will get a chance to meet the people who make these towns the wonderful communities that they are today.