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Mellowing Out in Saugatuck/Douglas

The Great Art-Doors


Attractions / Recreation
Calendar of Events


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 Historic Preservation designated these towns as one of the nation’s “Dozen Distinctive Destinations”; why Budget Travel ranked them among the top four “Coolest Small Towns in America”; and why readers of USA Today voted Saugatuck the number one weekend getaway in the US.

The two towns, nestled among towering sand dunes, are bordered by the winding Kalamazoo River on its way to Lake Michigan. Activities abound in the great art doors 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 Traveler magazine as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world and one of America’s 11 great beach towns. 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 among the Midwest’s five best beaches and Life magazine judged it “Best Dune Town”. The newly-acquired Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area extends opportunities for hiking, bird-spotting and sun-basking along this idyllic, unspoiled coastline.

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 paddle boat 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, soaring bald eagles, 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 – home port 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, canoes, paddle boards, jet skis, pontoons, and 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. Bicycles – both motorized and self-pedaled – and scooters are available locally for rental.

Golfers can hit the links at two 18-hole championship golf courses, one designed by golfing legend Arnold Palmer. For those wanting old-fashioned exercise, a number of rental businesses offer canoeing or kayaking and horseback riding. Equestrian instruction and horse boarding are 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, Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area, Allegan State Forest, or by touring local vineyards. Culinary tours are available in both downtowns and throughout the countryside, led by local tour operators. Pamper those aching muscles at area spas or retreat to the peace of our yoga center.

For arts enthusiasts, the region boasts more than 35 art galleries, a chamber music festival and “uptown theatre in downtown Saugatuck” throughout the summer at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. There are also year ‘round professional concerts and performances, plus a farmers’ market in-season on Fridays.The Lakeshore Arts Alliance highlights local talent and community theatre. Both arts venues provide numerous opportunities for hands-on creativity, lectures, concerts and other artistic programs. The public is also welcome to visit Ox-Bow, a summer school affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on Friday nights throughout the summer, where students and staff open their studios for salon-style showcases, demonstrations and auctions.

Saugatuck’s summertime events include art fairs, goldsmithing demonstrations, art gallery events, a Fourth of July Parade and Venetian 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 outdoor Taste of Saugatuck. For those who prefer shopping as an activity, both villages offer a charming mix of 19th century architecture and 21st century merchandise. There are clothing, jewelry, 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, Irish and Italian specialties. There are several 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 hip, retro designed auto-courts, motels, hotels, resorts, cottages, vacation rental condos and homes, and Bed & Breakfast Inns. With more than 30 bed and breakfasts in operation, the area has become renowned as the “Bed & Breakfast Capital of the Midwest.”

Exclusive to autumn are make-your-own color tours of the area’s forests, the 38th Annual Gallery Stroll, several open house weekends by Blue Coast Artists, the Halloween festivities and one of the largest corn mazes anywhere!

Autumn also invites visitors 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 local vintners or sample artisan wines from around the world in a fine art gallery setting. Or enjoy farm-fresh pies at a local cider mill.

As fall leaves drop ushering in winter, Saugatuck/Douglas decks itself out in the spirit of Christmas by blanketing both downtowns with an array of twinkling lights which become the backdrop for a festive parade and a homespun rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol which 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 & Breakfast Inns.

Year ‘round, Saugatuck/Douglas is the place to unwind and mellow out – no longer just for Midwest tourists. Increasingly, the town’s fame as a “stress buster” is enticing visitors from around the world.

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