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Mellowing Out



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For more than 100 years, tourists have sought refuge from the stress of everyday life in the Saugatuck/ Douglas area - a peaceful place where no one rushes and no one rushes you.

Today the area's ability to act as a natural tranquilizer is especially important in relieving the high anxiety caused by maddening traffic jams and hectic work schedules. Visitors to these neighboring resort towns can leave their tensions and stressful schedules behind. They can mellow out in surroundings reminiscent of vintage, small-town America, whose hallmarks are scenic beauty and a unique collection of shops, restaurants and art galleries. For those who want to mix relaxation with excitement, the area offers a year-round calendar of fun-filled activities and events. No wonder the National Trust for Historical Preservation designated these towns as one of the nation's Dozen Distinctive Destinations!

The two towns, nestled among towering sand dunes, are bordered by the winding Kalamazoo River on its way to Lake Michigan. Activities abound on the two waterways. Both towns maintain public beaches on Lake Michigan for swimmers and sunbathers. Saugatuck's Oval Beach has been rated by Condé Nast's Traveler Magazine as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world and one of America's 11 great Beachtowns. National Geographic Traveler Magazine agreed, rating it one of the top two freshwater beaches in America. More recently, the Chicago Tribune ranked it number one out of the Midwest's five best beaches and Life Magazine judged it Best Dune Town.

A number of scenic city parks - two of them adorned by Victorian style gazebos - dot the riverside. They are unhurried spots where you can spend the day picnicking, reading or watching the sailboats slip by.
An old-fashioned sternwheeler shuttles passengers on tours of the river and along the Lake Michigan shoreline. These water-bound excursions are punctuated by cottages, extravagant homes, forests, wetlands, a panorama of dunes and the Ghost Town of Singapore.

Visitors can enjoy an even more leisurely boat ride by hopping aboard North America's only hand-cranked chain ferry for a trip across the river or board a WWII "Duck" that provides ferry service between Saugatuck and Douglas. Strolling along a winding boardwalk offers another impression of the river - homeport to some 900 yachts and sailboats. Anglers can charter boats to go after salmon, trout, pike and perch. Those who want to make their own waves can rent boats, kayaks, jetskis, pontoons or charter sailboats or yachts.

Back on dry land, the adventuresome can climb 302 steps to the top of the Mt. Baldhead sand dune. For their heart-pounding effort climbers are rewarded with a stunning bird's-eye view of the harbor and lake below. Another aerial view is in store for visitors who take a freewheeling ride on a converted pick-up truck, known as a "dune schooner", across some of the towering sand hills. Back on level ground, the area has one private taxi service plus the Interurban bus. Both offer visitors hassle-free, door-to-door transportation. Golfers can hit the links at three 18-hole championship golf courses, one designed by golfing legend Arnold Palmer.

History buffs wanting an overview of the area's past can take an historic walking tour, or visit the award-winning Historical Museum where annual exhibits trace the historical roots of Saugatuck and Douglas back to the area's earliest settlers.

For those wanting old-fashioned exercise, a number of rental businesses offer canoeing or kayaking and horseback riding. Equestrian instruction and horse boarding is also available in the area. Fitness enthusiasts can work out at our local gym or take a closer look at the area's natural beauty with a hike through Saugatuck Dunes State Park and/or the Allegan State Forest, or by touring a local vineyard. Then pamper those aching muscles at a local spa or holistic wellness center.

For arts enthusiasts the area boasts more than 35 art galleries, a chamber music festival and is host to the Waterfront Film Festival each June - ranked 3rd after Sundance and Cannes by Screen Actors Guild Magazine. Mason Street Warehouse professional theatre company presents Broadway-quality "uptown theatre in downtown Saugatuck" at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts throughout the season. The SCA, itself, also sponsors year 'round professional productions, as well as The Children's Film Festival in November and a Farmers Market on Fridays. The Red Barn Playhouse highlights local talent, community theatre and a film study series. Both arts venues provide numerous opportunities for hands-on creativity, lectures, concerts and other artistic programs.

Also, the public is welcomed to visit Ox-Bow, a summer school affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The school was established in 1910 after artists, clued in by early tourists, migrated to the site in search of inspiration and sanctuary. Every Friday night throughout the summer both students and staff open their studios for salon-style showcases and demonstrations.

Saugatuck's other summertime events include art fairs, a Fourth of July Parade and a Harbor Days/Venetian Nights festival that concludes with a lighted boat parade and fireworks. Late in the summer, the area's restaurants create their culinary best at the annual Taste of Saugatuck and in autumn they enter a friendly competition to determine which makes the best chili - the Good-Time-Old-Time-Just-for-Fun Chili Cook-Off!

For those who prefer shopping as an activity, both Saugatuck and Douglas offer a charming mix of 19th century architecture and 21st century merchandise. There are clothing, gift, antique and home accessory shops galore. Area businesses run the gamut, from Douglas' exclusive interior design shops to Saugatuck's galleries and fashion boutiques.

Hungry visitors have no problem finding a restaurant to suit their tastes. The area is home to well over two dozen eating establishments, serving continental, Greek, American, French, English and Italian specialties. There are four area coffee shops and a variety of ice cream, pastry and fudge shops to satisfy the proverbial sweet tooth.

Tourists are treated to the same diversity when it comes time to bed down for the night. They can choose from retro auto courts, motels, resorts, cottages, and Bed & Breakfast inns. With more than 30 Bed & Breakfasts in operation, the area has become renowned as the "Bed & Breakfast Capital of the Midwest."

Although the Saugatuck/Douglas area has earned a reputation as a summer vacation paradise, there are plenty of activities to attract the visitor in search of an off-season escape. Early spring events include the Douglas Mardi Gras, a St. Patrick's Day Parade and The Waterfront Film Festival. Charter fishing, hiking and biking are activities that start in the spring and end in the fall.

Exclusive to autumn are make-your-own color tours of the area's forests, a Heritage Festival celebrating local history and architecture, the 42nd Annual Gallery Stroll, several open house weekends by Blue Coast Artists, the Halloween Harvest Festival and one of the largest corn mazes anywhere!

Autumn also invites visitors who want to sample the fruits of labor from area berry patches and orchards in the rolling countryside. They can even taste the fine wine made by a local vintner or sample farm-fresh pies at a local cider mill.

As fall leaves drop to usher in winter, Saugatuck/Douglas decks itself out in the spirit of Christmas by blanketing both downtowns with a vast array of twinkling Christmas lights, which become the backdrop for a festive parade. On weekends, horse-drawn carriage rides are available in downtown Saugatuck and Douglas; and a homespun rendition of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens rounds out the wintertime entertainment schedule. Winter is also the time for invigorating cross-country skiing and cozy themed weekend packages promoted by area Bed & Breakfasts.

Year 'round, Saugatuck/Douglas is the place to unwind and mellow out and is no longer just for tourists from the Midwest. Increasingly, the town's fame as a "stress buster" is enticing visitors from across the country and even overseas. S/D

 
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Copyright Saugatuck/Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau All Rights Reserved 1996
Photography by Felicia Fairchild - All Rights Reserved