Along Michigan’s Sunset Coast, you will find a handful of tiny towns with Victorian-era charm — and St. Joseph (aka St. Joe) stands out as one of the most idyllic places to visit. Situated on the shores of Lake Michigan, this town has long attracted visitors who are interested in enjoying a quiet, lakefront getaway.
About St. Joseph Michigan
St. Joseph is, in many respects, the gateway to Southwest Michigan — and it shines as one of the best resort towns in the region. Known for its Lake Michigan views, sandy bluffs, and Victorian-inspired downtown area, the city is a year-round destination that appeals to all types of travelers.
With a rich history going back to the 17th century, a sprawling, sandy beach for the sun-worshippers and numerous restaurants, boutique shops, ice cream parlors, paddleboard rentals, and walking paths for the shoppers, foodies, and exercise enthusiasts, the Riviera of the Midwest is a must-visit Michigan destination.
Maybe unlike many other Michigan destinations, however, one of the great things about this town is that, once you park your car, you don’t have to drive it until you’re ready to head home. Everything is within walking distance, from the Lake Michigan beachfront to the downtown!
Where is Saint Joseph, Michigan?
Ideally located just four miles north of I-94 and a popular tourist destination about an hour and a half from Grand Rapids and Chicago alike, St. Joseph is a “short drive” destination depending on your starting point.
St. Joseph’s History
The city’s history spans centuries —starting in the latter half of the 17th century. French explorers discovered the region that would become St. Joseph, and they created a fort that allowed them to trap and trade furs with other Europeans and Native American tribes. However, it was nearly 100 years before a permanent settler arrived.
In the early decades of the 19th century, the region opened for commerce, and St. Joseph quickly became a prominent port town. While the city quickly grew and prospered, it transformed into a resort community by the 20th century.
Today, St. Joseph rests at the edge of the “Riviera of the Midwest,” welcoming visitors from around the state and across the country to experience the splendor of its quiet beaches and blufftop views.
Here’s a look at the top things to do in St. Joseph Michigan and reasons why so many choose it for their Michigan getaway destination.
Outdoor Things to Do in St. Joseph Michigan
With its endless lakefront views and billowing bluffs, St. Joseph is the kind of place that beckons people to get outside and explore the shore. As such, these are some of the best outdoor activities and attractions.
Soak Up the Sun on a Lake Michigan Beach
The bottom line — St. Joseph is a Michigan beach town, so you will find no shortage of beaches to explore in this community. Whether you are visiting during the chilly, early days of spring or the bright, sunshine-soaked days of summer, the Lake Michigan beaches in St. Joseph are irresistible.
Spanning nearly 2,500 feet, Silver Beach is not only one of the most well-known and well-loved beaches in St. Joseph but also, perhaps, the most popular beach along the Sunset Coast. Swimmers and sunbathers alike crowd the beach in the summer to enjoy its soft sand and refreshing waves.
Silver Beach has all of the features you need to enjoy a day of family fun in the sun, including access to the South Pier, kayak and canoe rentals, outdoor showers, restrooms, and playground areas. A lifeguard is stationed at the beach throughout the summer too.
Lions Park Beach
This smaller, beautiful beach is loved by families who enjoy bringing their young children to play in the sand and on the playground equipment. Also, it has a large pavilion, making it easy to pack a picnic lunch.
Lions Park Beach is not recommended for those who want to spend the day splashing in the waves — swimming is discouraged.
Most people refer to Tiscornia Park as the North Pier because it is a small stretch of beachfront park land that offers access to the popular North Pier Lighthouse.
While you are certainly invited to relax and play in the sand, most visitors come here to enjoy the walkway that stretches over the waters of Lake Michigan. It’s a popular fishing spot and one of the best places in the city to watch the sunset.
Warren Dunes State Park
About 20 minutes outside of St. Joseph, Warren Dunes State Park is still a popular tourist destination among visitors who are spending time in the city. This spacious park offers the best that West Michigan has to offer — towering sand dunes, forested trails, and swimming beaches.
From the tops of the bluffs, you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the lake — but you may also witness some magnificent birds in flight since this park is located on a migratory route.
Perhaps one of the most unique activities that you can enjoy at Warren Dunes State Park is hang gliding, but don’t forget that you need a permit to partake in the fun.
Embark on a Charter Fishing Voyage
With its prime location at the mouth of the St. Joseph River and near the Lake Michigan shoreline, St. Joseph is one of the best destinations in the region for charter fishing. Many tour companies will take you out on group or private excursions, allowing you to go fishing on the Great Lakes.
One of the most highly rated charter fishing tour companies is Big Bird Charters, which is operated by a local captain who has been going on deep, freshwater fishing adventures for nearly four decades.
This family-owned business truly passes on the tradition of deep-sea fishing to all of those who want to attempt to catch salmon or lake trout on the Great Lakes.
Ride the Silver Beach Carousel
Perhaps one of the most notable and iconic attractions in the city is the Silver Beach Carousel, a recreation of a classic carousel that first twirled around the shores of St. Joseph at the turn of the 20th century.
The carousel that operates today was built in 2010 and includes wood-carved horses that were built in the traditional style using classic patterns to reflect the beauty of an era gone by. Today, riders from around Michigan can choose their favorite figures and enjoy a whimsical ride on the beach.
From the elegant patriotic horse to the frolicking sheepdog, the figures on this carousel are sure to spark anyone’s imagination. This attraction is run entirely by volunteers, so the hours throughout the year may vary.
Visit the North Pier Lighthouses
Stretching over the waters of Lake Michigan is the North Pier, which is easily one of the most identifiable and well-known landmarks in St. Joseph. Along this pier, you will find not one but two lighthouses.
Built in 1907, the North Pier Inner Light and North Pier Outer Light are both listed on the National Register of Historic Places, yet they still play a critical role in assisting mariners who are navigating the oft-rough waters of Lake Michigan.
The lighthouses, which have been renovated to restore them to their 1932 configuration, stand proud and strong against the towering waves that crash into them throughout the year.
While the Outer Light is too close to the edge of the pier for visitors to explore, summer vacationers can take tours of the Inner Light. Public and private tours are typically available on the weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and they include entrance to the main level, the historical exhibit, and the tower itself.
Take a Tour of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail
Lake Michigan is sometimes described as an “inland ocean,” and the breezes created off this massive body of freshwater have created a unique agricultural growing region in the southwest corner of the state that is ideal for vineyards.
In fact, this American Viticulture Area is the largest in the state, and the conditions are ideal for red wine production. The result has been a burgeoning wine industry, and the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail includes 15 wineries that exist along the Sunset Coast.
St. Joseph is the perfect place to start your Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail tour. Some nearby wineries that you may want to visit include Baroda Founders Wine Cellar, Lemon Creek Winery, and 12 Corners Vineyards.
Splash in the Whirlpool Compass Fountain
Across the river from Benton Harbor, home to the world headquarters of Whirlpool Corporation, kids of all ages splash around in a giant splash pad equipped with ground sprays and mega water cannons situated just steps away from the beachfront.
Peddle or Paddle Along the Lake Shore
Rent a single, tandem, or group bike from Scooter Joe’s Wheel and Water Rentals and traverse the many trails along the shore and throughout the old beach neighborhoods where you’ll take in the historic homes dating back to the early 1800s dotted amid newer homes and expansive landscapes.
If you are looking for more water time, opt for a full-day paddleboard rental from Outpost Sports and target your core as you balance and paddle in the Lake Michigan waves.
Indoor Things to Do in St Joseph Michigan
From rainy summer days to chilly winter afternoons, there are times when you need to stay inside when you are in St. Joseph. Fortunately, the city is home to a handful of indoor attractions that give you a place to escape the elements while still making memories.
Explore Krasl Art Center
The Krasl Art Center is a focal point for the arts in the Southwest Michigan area. It offers a variety of experiences for art enthusiasts, including exhibitions, educational programs, and community events. The center is known for its commitment to bringing high-quality art experiences to the public and for fostering an appreciation for the arts in the community.
One of the highlights of Krasl Art Center’s community engagement is the annual Art Fair on the Bluff, one of the most prestigious and well-attended art fairs in the region. This event brings together artists from across the country, showcasing a wide variety of art for sale and attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Visit The Box Factory for the Arts
Contemporary art meets Victorian charm at The Box Factory for the Arts, an organization that works to support emerging local artists in the community while exposing residents and visitors to new and creative ways to engage with art.
If you are looking to spend the day shopping in St. Joseph, this location is one of the best places to start. Its art market is open during gallery hours, and it is one of the best places to buy a truly authentic souvenir to take home from your trip.
There are original paintings, handmade cards, artisan soaps, home decor and puzzles for sale — and that only scratches the surface.
In addition to shopping at the market, you may attend a concert or watch a local theater performance. The Box Factory for the Arts hosts classes and workshops throughout the year too, giving everyone a chance to try something new and explore their creative side.
It’s one of the most innovative and unique local businesses in St. Joseph and is an essential stop for any itinerary.
Take Your Little Ones to the Curious Kids’ Museum
Just a few steps from the magical Silver Beach Carousel, you will find one of the best family-friendly attractions in St. Joseph. The Curious Kids’ Museum is a hands-on museum designed for young children between the ages of 1 and 10.
For more than 30 years, this museum has been providing a space where kids can explore their surroundings and learn by interacting with new things. There are more than a dozen engaging exhibits at this museum, including a pretend play veterinarian clinic, a volcano to climb on, and a western-themed play space named Old St. Joseph.
This attraction is open year-round, but reservations may be necessary during peak times, such as school breaks. It’s best to check the website prior to your visit.
Sip Wine at a Downtown Tasting Room
If you’d rather enjoy a flight of wine indoors than on the patio at a nearby vineyard, you can always head to one of the Downtown St. Joseph tasting rooms. Baroda Founders and White Pine Winery at the two most popular.
While the winery and vineyard are located in nearby Baroda, Baroda Founders has a Downtown St. Joseph tasting room where visitors can enjoy all of its wines. With red, white, fruit, and dessert wines available, you are sure to find a bottle that delights the senses.
This winery is known for its delicious wines and cozy downtown tasting room, which is just steps from the Downtown Social District. This allows you to sample your wines in the comfort of the tasting room, or take your glass out into the city streets to enjoy the atmosphere.
Try Your Hand at Axe Throwing
Axe throwing may not sound like the kind of activity you typically enjoy during a Michigan getaway, but it’s entirely possible to swing an axe toward a target in St. Joseph.
Lumberjax is an indoor axe-throwing venue in which guests ages 10 and older are invited to get a few tips from a coach and attempt to learn the art of axe throwing. You can choose from 30, 45, or 90-minute sessions, allowing you to customize the experience and choose the level of instruction and competition for your skill level.
Local Restaurants in St. Joseph Michigan
The historic downtown area that anchors the St. Joseph community is filled to the brim with local restaurants that bring out the eclectic flavor of this resort region.
From fine dining with waterfront views to casual restaurants with authentic fare, you will find that all of the local restaurants in St. Joseph are worth visiting. Here are a few of the most well-known and note-worthy.
Thornton’s Home Town Cafe
For breakfast in St Joe, stop at Thornton’s. With its country, blue-and-white interior, stuffed scrambles, and dinner plate-size pancakes, locals and tourists alike enjoy the atmosphere and downhome cooking before walking Main Street.
When you are craving a simmering steak in St. Joseph, the first place you should go is 221 Main. Considered to be a local staple — and consistently rated as the best steakhouse in the city — this restaurant offers a menu that is bursting with flavor, as well as an atmosphere that is sophisticated yet welcoming.
While its steaks stand out on the menu, 221 Main also boasts a delightful seafood menu and casual options, such as burgers and sandwiches. So, it’s truly the kind of place that anyone can enjoy.
The Buck Burgers & Brew
The Buck Burgers & Brew, located in a historic building, emphasizes local ingredients and craft beers. Known for its industrial-chic ambiance and views of Lake Michigan, it offers gourmet pub fare and the largest beer selection in the area, earning accolades for its burgers and beer variety.
Silver Beach Pizza
Silver Beach Pizza is known for its unique location, exceptional pizza, and distinctive beer presentation. Situated in the historic Amtrak Depot, the restaurant offers a charming setting that combines history with a casual dining experience. Its proximity to Silver Beach on the shores of Lake Michigan makes it a favorite spot for both locals and visitors looking to enjoy scenic views alongside their meals.
RyeBelles Restaurant and Bar
Ryebelles offers an upscale dining experience and a rooftop bar offering panoramic views of the city and Lake Michigan. It has been recognized for its sophisticated ambiance, quality cocktails, and diverse menu that typically includes a variety of American cuisine with a focus on fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
Azul Tequila Mexican Bar & Grill
Bringing the taste of Mexican flavor to the heart of Southwest Michigan, Azul Tequila Mexican Bar & Grill sets itself apart from the other local offerings. It’s not only known for its authentic Mexican cuisine and unbelievably refreshing margaritas but also for its welcoming and lively atmosphere.
Plank’s Tavern on the Water
Many people who are visiting a Michigan lake town are in search of waterfront dining, and St. Joseph does not disappoint. Plank’s Tavern on the Water at Harbor Shores Resort is a fine dining spot with waterfront views, making it the ideal place to celebrate a special occasion or simply indulge in the beauty of your surroundings.
Overlooking one of the oldest harbors in the Great Lakes, this restaurant features an American menu that is designed to appeal to any type of diner. While it may be a fine dining experience, it strives to be a welcoming and inclusive place where everyone feels comfortable enjoying a meal.
Bistro on the Boulevard
The ambiance of Bistro on the Boulevard is elegant yet inviting, with a focus on providing a warm and sophisticated dining environment. It’s a favored spot for special occasions, romantic dinners, and anyone looking to enjoy a leisurely meal in a beautiful setting.
The restaurant’s menu is known for its emphasis on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, ensuring that dishes are fresh and of high quality.
Where to Grab a Sweet Treat in St Joe
Craving something sweet? Cool down with a treat from Yo Bubbs, a frozen yogurt joint with all the fixin’s, or Mimi’s Cupcakes with flavors like chocolate salted caramel pretzel, cookies & cream, and strawberry lemonade.
The creamy flavors of Kilwins ice cream in a waffle cone will cool your palate.
Better yet, hit up the Chocolate Café, a chocolate and coffee bar with chocolates, ice cream, coffee, and by-the-slice goodness for sale. My favorite is the 7-layer chocolate cake served dripping with chocolate fudge and a glass of milk. Plus, stop in at night for live music and entertainment throughout the summer months.
Hotels & Lodging in St. Joseph Michigan
As one of Michigan’s premier resort communities, there is no shortage of places to stay in and around St. Joseph. Small inns, boutique hotels and bed and breakfasts are incredibly common in this community, giving travelers a home-like place to stay during their Southwest Michigan getaway.
The Boulevard Inn & Bistro
The Boulevard Inn & Bistro stands out among the local hotels and bed and breakfasts in St. Joseph because it’s an all-suite hotel with plenty of space to stretch out and get comfortable.
Located just steps from the downtown area, it’s one of the most convenient and accessible places to stay in the city. You can choose between park view rooms to soak up infamous Lake Michigan sunsets each evening or city view rooms that showcase the vibrant downtown streets.
South Cliff Inn
Offering a coastal vibe in the heart of the American Midwest, the South Cliff Inn is a charming bed and breakfast and a favorite among local travelers.
With seven rooms to book, it is an intimate and peaceful accommodation that has earned a reputation for providing personalized upgrades designed to enhance guests’ stays.
Perhaps most notable is the perennial garden, which is complete with a fire pit and a palm tree. It is situated on the bluffs and offers uninterrupted Lake Michigan views. There’s no better place in St. Joseph to catch a colorful sunset!
The Inn at Harbor Shores Resort
St. Joseph has long been known as a resort town, but The Inn at Harbor Shores Resort is certainly the premier resort here. With more than 90 rooms available, it’s large enough to provide all guests with a luxury experience, yet it’s small enough to maintain a tranquil atmosphere.
While there are a lot of things to do in St Joseph Michigan, it would be tempting to spend all of your time on the grounds of this resort. Its amenities include a full-service spa, indoor and outdoor pools, and a fitness center, making it one of the best waterfront hotels in the area.
FAQs About St. Joseph Michigan
What is St. Joseph Michigan best known for?
St. Joseph Michigan is best known as a resort community that offers beautiful beaches, delicious restaurants, plenty of boutique shopping, and of course, convenient access to some of the best wineries in the region.
What are the best beaches near St. Joseph Michigan?
There are more than half a dozen beaches to visit in St. Joseph Michigan, but locals and visitors alike agree that two of the best are Warren Dunes State Park and Silver Beach.
No matter which beach you visit, though, you will be greeted by pristine white sands, grass-lined dunes, and crashing Lake Michigan waves, so you really can’t go wrong.
When is the best time of year to visit St. Joseph Michigan?
The summer season is one of the most popular times of year to visit St. Joseph Michigan, with visitors filling this resort community to the brim to enjoy its beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
However, St. Joseph is truly a year-round destination with opportunities to meander through the spring blossoms, go leaf peeping in the fall, and trek through a snowy wonderland in the winter.
Enjoy Blufftop Views at One of Michigan’s Premier Beach Towns
Home to two iconic lighthouses and a vintage carousel on the beach, St. Joseph is one of the most idyllic locales in Michigan. If you are looking for a quintessential Michigan experience in a place that feels like your own hidden secret, then this is the vacation destination for you.
Begin planning your next itinerary of things to do in St. Joseph Michigan today!
Special thanks to Katelyn Sandor for her contributions to this article.