Planning a getaway in Southwest Michigan? Check out this extensive list of things to do in South Haven Michigan.
There are lakeshore towns, and then there’s South Haven Michigan. Considered to have the fourth-best beach in Michigan, this vacation destination is small but vibrant.
With miles of white sandy beaches, activities to fill your trip card no matter the season, and plenty of great eateries and places to spend the night, you’ll want to add this Lake Michigan town to your bucket list. Take a closer look at the history and many things to do in South Haven Michigan for an unforgettable stay.
A Quick Overview of South Haven Michigan
Though first developed by Ottawa, Miami, and Pottawatomie Native American Tribes, Judge J.R. Monroe is credited with founding the lakeside town in 1833 when he purchased 65 acres of land along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
As the settlement began to grow, so did its reputation. By 1870, South Haven Michigan was known statewide for its cultivation of peaches, lumber, commercial shipping, and fishing.
Settlement Turns Vacation Destination
By 1900, South Haven was becoming notorious for something else. Dubbed “the Catskills of the Midwest,” the small developing town established itself as a vacation destination, bringing 160,000 visitors to its shores.
Today, tourism is still the town’s top industry, welcoming over 400,000 guests each year. And for good reason.
South Haven in Spring
Though the waters may be a little chilly in spring, the wind is just right for sailing on the Great Lake’s waters. If you’d rather venture on land, over 40 trails cover almost 500 miles and are just waiting to be explored. Mid-April is also time for nearby Fenn Valley Vineyards to offer wine tastings of their newest labels.
Summertime in South Haven
With two renowned golf courses, a 34-mile biking trail, farm markets, and endless Lake Michigan activities, May to August is the peak season for this charming beachfront community. But if you think South Haven is just a summer destination in Michigan, think again.
South Haven in Autumn
Fall welcomes spectacular colors and lakeside sunsets to experience. Rent a kayak, spend a day on a fishing charter boat, or climb aboard Michigan Maritime Museum’s tall ship to enjoy the Lake from a different vantage point.
Visit local orchards for flavors that are ripe for the pickin’. Or walk along the quaint downtown streets to get in some early holiday shopping.
Wintertime in South Haven
Snow-covered landscapes beckon you to this Southwest Michigan shore in the winter. Take a spin on the South Haven Ice Rink, cross-country ski and snowshoe on its many groomed pathways, or snowmobile along the Kal-Haven Trail.
In early February, enjoy ice sculptures, horse-drawn wagon rides, cardboard sled races, and more at the annual Ice Breaker Festival. Ring in another trip around the sun at the New Year’s Eve celebration, or participate in the Break the Ice 5K Run/Walk and Kids Frosty Dash.
Outdoor Things to Do in South Haven Michigan
Have we mentioned that there are a lot of things to do in South Haven Michigan? If you’re the outdoorsy type or just enjoy being out in the warm sunshine and cool lake breezes, then you’re sure to love some of these outdoor activities.
There are seven public beaches where you can dip your toes in the fresh waters of Lake Michigan. North and South Beach are South Haven’s most popular, each with its own concession stand, restrooms, and play equipment.
Packard Park offers restrooms, grills, and picnic tables, while Woodman Beach, Dyckman Street, Oak Street, and Newcome Beach just provide quiet, sandy shores and spectacular sunset views.
Located on the west end of the South Pier, the ever-present South Haven Light on the Lake Michigan shore has been guiding boats and visitors to the town since 1872.
Though the original wooden structure was replaced in 1903 with the current metal version, the catwalk that leads you to the historical landmark is still the same — just one of four that have survived in Michigan. Get a photo op as you take a step back in time at this South Haven mainstay.
Once a railway that connected South Haven’s lumber industry to Kalamazoo, the Kal-Haven Trail now converges bikers, hikers, and walking adventurers with a glacial moraine, busy towns and small villages, open farmland, and orchards along its 34-mile, well-maintained all-season pathway.
And in the summer of 2019, the award-winning Kal-Haven Heritage Trail project was completed. You can read a series of informational panels that provide insight into the history of the people, places, and stories of the area.
Spanning 8 acres, the Casco Township Nature Preserve is a sight to see — from the breathtaking views to the brightly-colored beach glass that you’ll find along the way. Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to experience the flora and fauna along the paved walking path.
If you seek a place that protects nature, while still allowing you to get up close and personal with pebbled beaches, a lush beech-maple forest, abundant wildflowers, and resting habitats for migrating birds and monarch butterflies, then Pilgrim Haven Natural Area is just what you’re looking for.
This 27-acre natural oasis is perfect for any season, whether you’re hiking, paddling, swimming, or snowshoeing to get a glimpse of all the scenic views.
Once a summer camp for city girls, the lakeshore property was bought by a Kalamazoo-area philanthropist who was intent on keeping the area free from development and cost to anyone who wanted to visit.
About 50 vendors pack their wares into the Huron Street Pavilion from May to October on Saturdays and Wednesdays, as well as the first Thursday of every month during the evenings.
You’ll find locally grown produce, meats, cheeses, herbs and plants, baked goods, and handcrafted items at the South Haven Farm Market.
Rock, jazz, indie, Tejano, reggae, and just about any other type of music that you can imagine fills the air from May to September at Riverfront Park. Blankets, lawn chairs, picnics, families, and fun are always welcome at the concerts.
As expected, this lakeside community is teeming with boating tour options. For two hours, you and five others can take an afternoon or sunset sailing tour of Lake Michigan on a 37-foot blue water cruiser.
Or, embark on a 48-foot fishing tug for a sunset cruise, pirate treasure trip, or private party excursion and many tales of local lore. Take a leisurely tour of South Haven from the water and discover million-dollar homes, miles of sandy beaches, and unique clay formations aboard The Sun Setter.
Though there are only two public courses with South Haven addresses — championship 18-hole Beeches Golf Club and HawksHead Links Golf Club designed by world-renowned golf architect Arthur Hills — there are six other Michigan golf courses within 20 miles of the beachfront center.
There are so many family-friendly activities at Lake Arvesta Farms that you might have to make a day (or two!) of it.
Considered Michigan’s outdoor adventure venue, it has over 188 acres of outdoor fun — pickleball, disc golf, an aqua park with a floating obstacle course and water slides, and a firewater bar and grill.
Plus, you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, wakeboards, and beach cabanas. Also available with a reservation are water skiing, boat rides, and tubing.
South Haven Michigan Indoor Things to Do
Is the weather not cooperating for an outdoor day of adventure? Not to worry. There are plenty of indoor activities in this Lake Michigan beach town community to amuse, entertain, and engage.
If you’re ready for a truly immersive experience into Great Lakes maritime heritage, head to the Michigan Maritime Museum. Here, you can explore exhibits on and off the water, take a workshop on building boats, and climb aboard an 1800s replica vessel for an unforgettable ride back in history.
Or, stroll through a National Historic Site, garden, park, and educational outreach center at America’s “Father of Modern Horticulture” namesake museum — the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum & Gardens.
If antique gas/steam engines and trackers are more your speed, you’ll have a heyday at the Michigan Flywheelers Museum. This 80-acre farm machinery gallery also has a sawmill and shingle mill, as well as a 1920s “community” with a blacksmith and jail.
Have kids in tow? Don’t miss The Mitten Children’s Museum. Hands-on, Michigan-themed exhibits will keep the little ones entertained for hours with a bit of learning, developing fine motor skills, and more.
A local favorite, the Michigan Theatre in the heart of South Haven has three screens that show first-run movies at days-gone-by prices. Mondays are Guest Night, where two people can watch a flick for one low price. And Thursdays are for popcorn lovers — if you bring your own bag, you can fill it for free.
Art galleries abound in South Haven Michigan with its vibrant creative community of up-and-coming artists.
Spend some time at the South Haven Center for the Arts for glimpses into future muses with local elementary and high school students’ works on display, as well as art professors, Center members, and award-winning regional favorites.
For an eclectic mix of reasonably-priced art and unique native wood pieces, check out the Red on Blue Gallery & Woodworking. Or, try your hand at creating your own masterpiece at The Art Box, a paint party venue led by a group of experienced artists.
Downtown South Haven Shopping
A trip to this lakeshore town wouldn’t be complete without perusing a few of the local shops. Here’s a quick list of some fantastic stores to stop by while you’re walking in downtown South Haven:
- 42N Naturals is home to handmade, farm-to-product soaps, scrubs, butters, balms, and a terrarium bar.
- Bayberry Cottage has home furnishings from country primitive to fine linens.
- Black River Books has a cornucopia of page-turners, including first-edition, rare, collectible, signed, and used books.
- Daylily offers a unique collection of treasures.
- Decadent Dogs is a store just for your four-legged friend.
- Harbor Toy Company has items for any aged kid.
- Renaissance & Papyrus is a gypsy caravan of gifts.
- Biddy Murphy Celtic Goods sells real Irish gifts from real Irish people.
- The Blueberry Store has everything, well, blueberry.
If your idea of shopping is a little more eclectic — vintage, art deco, primitive, mid-Century Modern, salvage, or anything in between — you might want to take a look at the many antique malls and shops along Center, Eagle, and Phoenix Streets, as well as the Blue Star Memorial Highway.
Annual Events in South Haven Michigan
With over 10 miles of Lake Michigan prime real estate, dozens of great places to eat and stay, and plenty of seasonal activities, it’s hard to believe that South Haven offers more. But in addition to all of its regular offerings, it also packs in annual events.
Memorial Day Parade
Beginning in the morning, this annual parade filled with bands, floats, and participants of all ages winds around town until it reaches the Lakeview Cemetery. After the ceremony honoring our nation’s fallen soldiers, the American Legion hosts a free sloppy joe lunch.
The first festival of the summer, Harborfest kicks off in June with two fun-filled days of food, rides, crafts, live mermaids, music, dragon boat races, and crafts.
Fourth of July Fireworks
The Light Up the Lake Show is unlike any other Independence Day display. Thousands of spectators line the Lake Michigan shoreline to watch the fireworks illuminate the sky and freshwater landscape.
South Haven is regionally recognized for its burgeoning local art scene. And each July, a two-day juried fine art fair celebrates it. You’ll find everything from paintings to sculptures, photography, glass, wood, and clay to jewelry and other wearable art on display.
Home to the largest concentration of blueberry growers in the world — nearly 300 farmers in a 50-mile radius — it’s no wonder that South Haven hosts a Blueberry Festival every year. Each August for three fun-packed days, there’s a parade, pie-eating contest, 5K run/walk, craft fair, and street musicians.
Held at the Huron Street Pavilion for two days in September, this free, annual music fest is just five years young and headlines local and regional talent. Bring a chair to enjoy an evening of great music, great friends, and libations from the wine and beer garden.
This annual event takes you on a walking tour of some of South Haven’s most beautifully landscaped lawns. This one-day July event helps raise funds for the club’s community projects and scholarships for local students pursuing degrees in agriculture.
South Haven Michigan Restaurants
From authentic Mexican to grab-and-go gourmet dogs to quaint cafés to floating eateries, you’ll discover some unique and fresh, carefully-prepared meals to please just about any palate in this small lakeshore town. Here are just a few South Haven restaurant favorites.
A family-owned South Haven fixture since 1981, this spacious eatery has a menu filled with home-cooked meals — steaks, walleye, salmon, shrimp, award-winning baby back ribs, signature burgers, and oodles of noodles.
Centuries-old recipes dictate the true taste of Italy at Maria’s. Homemade, chef-prepared favorites like lasagna, Italian sausage, meatballs, pizza, ravioli, and breadsticks highlight the menu, but patrons also rave about happy-ending sweets — think gelato, cannolis, and mouthwatering pies.
This authentic Mexican restaurant has been delighting foodies since 1986. You’ll find everything you’d anticipate — like nachos, taco salad, quesadillas, and burritos — plus a little of the unexpected — made-to-order avocado dip, German hearty beef and pork stew, and hand-molded corn shells.
Made one batch at a time with nothing artificial, the rich, creamy frozen dessert at Sherman’s Dairy Bar is loaded with delicious ingredients, like strawberries, sweet black cherries, pecans, locally-sourced cream, Mackinac Island Fudge, and coconut.
Places to Stay in South Haven Michigan
Sure, you’ll find plenty of cookie-cutter accommodations in the area. But if you truly want something out-of-the-ordinary, with historical charm and memories to be made, then look no further than this short (but definitely not complete!) list of places to rest your weary head in South Haven.
Along with the architectural beauty of this circa 1884 landmark, the family and pet-friendly destination can sleep up to eight people.
If you don’t need that much space, intimate second-floor rooms overlook a rooftop garden or lively Williams Street for prime people-watching. Plus, there’s an outdoor veranda, made-to-order breakfasts, and complimentary weekend happy hours.
Open year-round, this B&B is more than just comfortable, family-friendly lodging. It’s a destination.
Though it’s within walking distance of the Lake Michigan shore and the heart of South Haven, the 99-year-old resort has all the R&R you need right on its grounds — from a swimming pool, tennis/basketball courts, and shuffleboard to fire pits, a flower garden, and a koi pool.
Not to mention in-room whirlpool tubs, cottages that can accommodate up to eight guests, and complimentary gift baskets with a two-night stay.
Nestled on 58 acres, this campground is a family vacation dream just minutes from the lakeshore. Whether you rent a cabin, pop a tent, or hook up your RV, you and your kids won’t easily forget your stay.
In addition to a heated and outdoor pool (plus, water balloon wars), there are other activities, like gem mining, laser tag, pickleball, horseshoes, and pedal carts … just to name a few.
Explore All the Great Things to Do in South Haven Michigan
So, you’re planning a vacation and want a destination with lots of amenities, fun, sun, and memories.
You’re thinking about a spot where you can bike, swim, kayak, hike, or sail … maybe even take a ride on a tall ship. You also enjoy discovering new treasures, taste-testing gourmet treats, and listening to a variety of tunes.
Look no further. South Haven Michigan checks off everything on your must-haves, plus a whole host of other things that you might have never thought your wish list was missing.