Grand Haven captures everything I have ever dreamt of when I catch myself longing for summer. This quintessential lake town is a dream destination for those who want to relive those summer days of childhood. The sun does not set until 9:30 pm leaving ample time for endless bike rides along the water, lazy strolls down Main Street for some window shopping, lingering in restaurant patios enjoying live music, and dipping your feet in Lake Michigan to cool down. I absolutely love this little escape on the west side of Michigan and hope to convince you to get out of your city, head over to this lake town, and spend some of your best summer moments here soon too.
Below are my top ten things to do during two glorious nights in Grand Haven, MI.
1. Rent Bikes and Ride Them Everywhere:
Bike lanes abound throughout this small town and are the best way, in my opinion, to get around. During the few sections where the bike lanes come to an end, bicyclists are permitted to ride on the sidewalk allowing for a super safe ride at all times. Our bed & breakfast share their cruisers with their guests. However, there are several companies to rent bikes from during your stay. Rent your bike(s) so that you can hop on and off as you wish, which will be often as there are so many breathtaking views that you'll want to spend a few moments with as you get lost in your thoughts.
2. Head Over to Grand Haven South Pier & Lighthouse:
The two red lighthouses on the pier were established in 1839. Nearly two hundred years later you'll find locals and tourists meandering along the pier enjoying the vast views of Lake Michigan. Teens huddle in groups as they egg each other on to jump into the rather cold water, bikes zip up and down the long walkway, and revelers of nature sit still and stare into the wonders of our beautiful planet. The pier is pure summer bundled into 1,500 feet of bliss.
3. Stroll Through Downtown's Washington Avenue:
This Main Street of Grand Haven is lined with quaint shops, some dating back to over one hundred years. Washington Avenue is the epitome of a small, American town with big offerings. There are several retail shops, many restaurants, and of course the ubiquitous ice-cream and candy shops that sweeten any summer stroll. Downtown is just a few steps away from the boardwalk so make sure to make your way over there as well for a lovely walk along the waterfront.
4. Explore Ann Arbor, MI:
Home to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor is well-worth the two-hour and fifteen-minute drive from Grand Haven. Ideally, you make a stop in Ann Arbor on your way to Grand Haven if you're heading over from the east coast. But even if it is out of your way, it's worth the drive to spend the afternoon! This adorable university town offers eclectic shops, cafes, and many vegan dining options. State Street houses many of the university's campus buildings and Main Street is pedestrian-friendly for those wishing to absorb the local vibe fully. Zingerman's Deli is probably the biggest draw here. I never imagined that I would have to leave New York City to find the best Jewish deli in the USA. This delicatessen is insane and whips up the most innovative and delicious sandwiches, all served with a crunchy, homemade pickle that completes a perfect meal. I opted for the "Lila & Izzie's Skokie Skidoo" stuffed with Swiss Emmental cheese, coleslaw, & lots of Russian dressing on grilled farm bread. OMG. I would drive to Ann Arbor from anywhere in the country just for this sandwich.
5. Ride on the 11-Mile Loop Trail Along Spring Lake:
Biking enthusiasts will just love the trail around Spring Lake. It is well-marked and paved for the entire eleven-mile loop. Cycling through also offers a glimpse into the lake-side living in this part of Michigan. You'll ride through colossal homes that line the water, and through more humble neighborhoods too. You'll capture the patriotic pride that shines through as most homes proudly display an American flag. You'll find yourself saying "hello" to every single person that you encounter because every one of them will warmly greet you first. Of course, you'll also get to enjoy some time with nature as you ride over Spring Lake, along marshes, and through heavily dense vegetation as well. There is no better way to get a feel for a town than to ride right through it!
6. Take a Hike in North Beach Park:
You'll be greeted by lots of sand on this never-ending stretch of sea, I mean lake. I have to keep reminding myself that Lake Michigan is not an ocean. It is hard to not continuously mistaken it for an ocean when the lake appears to be equally never-ending! North Beach Park is a beautiful place to settle for the day for some fun in the sun and a dip in the clear waters of the lake. Or, if you're like me and don't particularly love frigid water temperatures, take the nearby dune hike instead. This easy and short hike up wooden stairs offers beautiful perspectives of the dunes below and the mammoth body of water ahead.
7. Soak in Some History in Muskegon
Just a 17-minute drive from Grand Haven will transport you to Muskegon, a lumber town that thrived in the mid-1800s and has remained beautifully preserved ever since. The streets are lined with historic buildings that are woven through newer structures along with many art sculptures and gardens.
Follow the Hackley Heritage Trail that honors Charles Huckley who built Muskegon's first schools, churches, hospitals, and parks. He is honored throughout the square and his home remains proudly erect in pristine condition. Learning about Hackley's history and influence will inspire pretty much anyone who takes the time to learn about how one man's vision made quite a mark.
8. Spend an Evening in Holland:
You won't be needing your passport for this Dutch-influenced town on the west coast of Michigan. Holland has three components to it: Windmill Island, Dutch Village, and Downtown Holland.
Windmill Island is an adorable tiny replica of Holland with a couple of windmills and loads of tulips. There is a small path to meander along and enjoy some fun photo opportunities.
Dutch Village was unfortunately closed when we arrived. Picture it as a mini- Dutch theme park with some Dutch architecture, retail shops stocked with clogs in every color, Dutch bakeries, and even some small rides for the younger children in tow.
Downtown Holland reminded us all of Main Street in East Hampton, NY lined with upscale shops in quaint storefronts along pristine sidewalks. It's truly a beautiful part of town worth exploring, shopping, and grabbing some bites while visiting. We spent the majority of our time in this part of Holland.
While in Downtown Holland make sure to stop in Holland Peanut Store, a local favorite for one hundred and fifteen years, to satiate your sweet tooth. The candy shop is filled with all your favorite childhood candies along with homemade confections. The dark chocolate sea salt caramel square I bought melted in my mouth.
If you have an uncontrollable need to stop in every candy store and ice-cream shop that you pass by as I do, then also make sure to check out Peach Wave Frozen Yogurt and Gelato as well (also located in Downtown Holland). In this dreamy frozen yogurt shop, you get to self-serve your flavors and toppings to your heart's (and stomach's) desire.
My idea of a perfect summer evening is exploring small coastal towns with ice cream in hand and no cares in the world. You'll find these easy, breezy moments in Holland, MI.
9. Stay at Bella Mia Bed & Breakfast:
To fully absorb Grand Haven's charm I decided to book us a stay at a Bed & Breakfast. I am thrilled with my decision to book Bella Mia in Spring Lake, just four miles outside of downtown Grand Haven. The property is lovely with every detail attended to. Waking up to the chirps of birds, sipping coffee on the patio overlooking the garden, and starting our day with a scrumptious breakfast is my idea of heaven. The owner has bikes for guests to use, which we took full advantage of each day that we stayed. I also love the location of the property as it is an easy bike ride to Grand Haven but also is on the eleven-mile bike trail that loops around Silver Lake. There are only five guest rooms on the property ensuring ultimate privacy and comfort. Nicole, the hostess, is incredibly helpful and accomodating ensuring a perfect stay throughout. Staying here really enhanced our experience while visiting the area.
10. Eat your little hearts out:
Surprisingly the food is quite good in the area (OK, maybe not great by New York City standards but let's just say better than I expected). There are plenty of solid options to choose from but keep in mind that most restaurants are closed on Sundays and Mondays and many do not accept reservations. When you plan your evening plan to arrive at your dining destination early to snatch a seat before the typical dinner crowd arrives.
The Kirby House
I was nervous about eating here because the dining establishment has low ratings from patrons. However, the hostess of our Bed & Breakfast recommended it so we gave it a shot and really enjoyed our visit here. The outdoor patio was packed with guests swaying along with the live music and breeze (the evenings here boast perfect temperatures). The food was quite good- I especially loved my Jerked Salmon Salad Bowl. The Kirby House is right off the boardwalk and on Washington Avenue making for an ideal location. I can confidently recommend this restaurant as a fun place for a meal in the area.
Located on Washington Avenue, you can smell the homemade waffle cones from hundreds of feet away. Not only does Kilwin's make delicious flavors to enjoy your summer scoops, but they also make a variety of chocolate confections that pleases all chocoholics, including myself.
Known for serving Mexican cuisine with a twist, Righteous Cuisine is a local favorite. This down-to-earth eatery mainly serves take-out but does offer a couple of outdoor dining tables that fill up fast. The staff was laid back in the nicest way possible and the food definitely has a unique flare to it. For example, our nachos were comprised of queso sauce, pinto beans, pico de gallo, ancho BBQ sauce, avocado mayo, and chipotle crema (it's not often that you see BBQ sauce on your nachos, but the flavors worked perfectly!). Also, my "wet burrito" surprised me when I bit into crispy potatoes that added to the delicious overall taste of my dish. This is a great lunch option in Grand Haven especially on a Monday when most restaurants tend to take the day off.
Boatwerks Waterfront Restaurant (Holland)
You can't beat the views at Boatwerks. This waterfront restaurant has a gigantic outdoor patio right on the water with the most stunning views. Their salads are incredible as well. We couldn't get enough of the fresh ingredient combinations in each of the three salad dishes that we ordered. Does it get any better than a healthy meal along the water with people you love? When in Holland make sure to make your way to this lovely spot.
We could have easily spent at least another two nights in Grand Haven. There are tons to discover in the town as well as surrounding areas. This "coastal" city is truly magnificent and allows for making many wonderful summer moments. If you have an extra night or two to spare then add them to your visit. Otherwise, two nights is pretty perfect too and will leave you with that lovely taste in your mouth of wanting to come back one day for more magic.