We happen to live about 20-30 minutes from Lake Michigan and we try our best to take full advantage of this beautiful lakeshore area! We spend most of our summer time with our boat renting slips at municipal marinas exploring up and down the cost. But you don’t have to be a boater to enjoy the wonderful beach towns of Lake Michigan. These aren’t tropical beach locations but the beaches are lined with soft sand and sand dunes to climb or hike if you are feeling up for it. The water of Lake Michigan is very clear and you could easily think your on the ocean except that the water is fresh not salt!
Grand Haven is our favorite beach town along the Lake Michigan cost. There is a lot to do and a lot of great places to eat after spending a day at the beach or on the water if you happen to be a boater. The set up in Grand Haven is really nice and allows you to make the most of your time in the area. The downtown area is within walking distance of the water front area where the channel leading from the Grand River to Lake Michigan is located. Downtown is also within walking distance to the Lake Michigan beach area. The municipal marina is located along the waterfront area. This is also where all the charter boats leave from if you are looking to do some Lake Michigan fishing. The waterfront is lined with small shops were you can get snacks, ice cream, rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards, surf boards and other beach/water equipment. There is a nice walkway all the way down past the channel and out to the big lake. They have also recently renovated the pier so there is now a nice, wide walkway all the way out to the lighthouse along the south pier.
If you want to do some fishing there are several charter boats you can book with. We haven’t done this ourselves but we frequently see the charters come back in and hang all their fish on the hooks so guests can take photos before they clean the fish. If you have a boat or a friend with boat, the fish cleaning station at the Chinook pier is available to you if needed. The charters seem to do quite well here. Depending on the time of spring/summer you go you can catch lake trout, coho, king salmon and steelhead. We are still working on perfecting our fishing skills so we’ve only caught a few so far!
In the evenings/night all summer there are events along the waterfront you can enjoy. There are fireworks on the 4th of July which go off over the water. People will line the lawn and sidewalks all along the waterfront starting early in the morning the day of these fireworks so if you do plan to attend 4th of July here we would recommend securing your spot failry early in the day.
The Grand Haven musical fountain is located right on the waterfront near the channel. There is a fairly large viewing area with bleacher seats available, you can’t miss it if you are walking around the area. In the summer Months there are nightly shows after dusk. Show times are based on when sunset is so that you can get a good view of the lights and the fountain during the show. The shows run about 20-30 minutes long. There is a variety of music featured in the shows. For more details on the start time and the music selection for each night you can check the website https://ghfountain.com/showtimes/
Coast Guard festival runs around the last week of July/the first week of August each summer and brings a ton of people to Grand Haven. During this time there are some nights were there is live music playing on the waterfront in the musical fountain viewing area. If you are a boater you can book a slip at the municipal marina the first weekend of coast guard fest before all the big activities have really kicked off. The second weekend is the final weekend of the festival is when all the big events happen. To book a slip at the marina that weekend you have to enter a lottery and be physically present when they do the drawing in early spring. If you are not a boater and just going to Grand Haven for the coast guard festival we would recommend booking hotels well in advance as well. For a detailed list of events happening at the festival check out their website https://www.coastguardfest.org/
Food is of course the most important part! There are a lot of great options, here are some of our favorites
Paisley Pig- This place is not right downtown but it is only 5 minute drive from downtown. Everything we have tried there is really good and the portions are quite large. We end up ordering too much food every time we go. The nachos are definitely worth a try but if you do order them you probably don’t need much else, they are huge!
Odd side ales- This brewery is right down town. they make all different types of beers. They do not have a kitchen but you can order sandwiches and snacks from a sandwich shop down the street (Electric Hero) and they will deliver it right to your table. The brewery has plenty of tables both inside and outside and has dart boards you can play as well.
Mr Kozac- This place is great for fast take out or eating there. Their gyros are amazing and the portions are huge!. There is typically a line but it is worth the wait!
Pronto pup- This is a must while in Grand Haven but fair warning the line is typically quite long on a summer weekend. Pronto pup is a small shack along the water right next to Snug harbor. They serve only corn dogs and drinks (water, pop, non-alcoholic drinks). The corn dogs come on a stick for eating on the go. You can get them plain or ask them to put ketchup and/or mustard on it for you. They fry these up all day long right next to the order window so you can watch as they make them. Even if you are not a huge corn dog fan these are delicious. The batter frys up really crisp and is thin not super thick like on some corn dogs. Definitely a stable that you must try!
Snug Harbor- This restaurant is right on the water at the channel so you can sit outside on the patio and watch the boats come in and out from Lake Michigan. There is often a wait if you are going for dinner around sunset so that is something to be aware of. The food is good and they definitely have the best view of any restaurant in town. Prices are moderately high so don’t expect to have a cheap meal here but it is worth it for the view.
The Kriby House- This is a huge building right downtown. There are several restaurants inside so it can be kind of confusing- bear with us as we try to explain. On the main level of the building they have their Kirby house menu which is burgers, sandwiches, salads, pasta (a general variety of dishes). To the left of the hostess’s stand if you are facing it there is their more upscale restaurant which offers steaks, seafood (more expensive dishes). Upstairs inside is a pizza place with wood fired oven pizzas. There is also a patio outside on the upstairs and we believe they also serve a different menu. What makes this even more confusing is when you arrive and go up to the main hostess stand they will ask you which menu you want to eat from, if you want to go anywhere other than their main dining area they direct you to a different hostess stand where that host or hostess will then seat you. There can be a bit of a wait on a weekend night but it typically goes petty quickly since they are such a large restaurant. They do also do take out if you call ahead and want to pick up food and take it to go to enjoy outside by the water. Even with all the confusion it is still a place we would recommend for dinner. We have eaten in their main dining area off their Kirby House menu and we have eaten upstairs at the pizza place. Both menus are good and their bars have an extensive drink selection. They make a great old fashioned if you are a bourbon drinker! Their website can offer more information on each of their menus- https://www.thegilmorecollection.com/kirbyhouse/
Another great food spot is the farmer’s market at the Chinook Pier. This market is full of venders selling fresh fruits and veggies, homemade bread and other pastries. You can also find coffee, kombucha, salsa, honey and a few other goods at this farmer’s market. It is open every Wednesday and Saturday beginning at 8AM.
Summer is obviously the best time to enjoy Grand Haven. Do be aware it takes a bit for Lake Michigan to warm up so in spring and early summer you could still have quite cold water temps at the beach. July, August and early September are the best times to go. The lake shore is also beautiful in the fall you just won’t be taking advantage of the water as much that time of year.
We love Grand Haven and can’t wait for more summer adventures!