BY ROBERT GLAZE
Saugatuck is a small city in Southwest Michigan that sits along Lake Michigan, the Kalamazoo River, and around Kalamazoo Lake. Originally a port and a lumber town, it became a tourist destination and an art colony in the late 19th century. Today, people are drawn to the charming downtown, the galleries, unique shops, and restaurants—and the beauty of the beaches nearby. I have been going for many years to visit Chicago friends who have homes there and really love exploring the area, which also includes Douglas, Fennville, and Holland.
Where to Eat in Saugatuck
There are some great restaurants in town for both casual and fine dining.
I enjoyed a great meal and service at Hercules (236 Culver Street), an attractive, upscale restaurant downtown with Mediterranean, Greek, and American influences. They have a lovely garden in back for dining during the summer months, while the comfortable back dining room is a great spot to dine on colder nights. They have a number of entrees from salmon and perch to chicken marsala and lamb chops. I loved my roasted duck entree with a raspberry glaze and toasted pecans.
Uncommon Coffee Roasters at 127 Hoffman Street in downtown Saugatuck is a great spot for a coffee and one of their fresh, locally-sourced bakery items.
During the summer season, make sure to stop in for ice cream at the Saugatuck Drug Store Soda Fountain, located in the rear of the local drug store at 201 Butler Street. It is a classic that has been there since 1913.
Other popular spots include Phil’s Bar & Grill, Marro’s Italian Restaurant for classic Italian dishes, The Southerner for southern-style dishes on the water, Bowdie’s Chop House, Ida Red’s Cottage for breakfast and brunch, Wally’s, The Butler, and Lucy’s Little Kitchen. Pumpernickel’s Eatery is a fun spot for breakfast and lunch, while Mermaid Bar & Grill offers casual dining on the waterfront.
Where to Stay
There are several good places to stay in the downtown area. I recommend:
Wickwood Inn (510 Butler Street) is a charming bed & breakfast just north of downtown Saugatuck. It has lovely common areas and rooms. They provide wines and hors d’oeuvres in the afternoon and a gourmet breakfast in the morning.
Renovated and reopened in 2016, Hotel Saugatuck is a lovely 18-room, luxury bed & breakfast. Recommended by locals—as well as the Wall Street Journal—I made a point to stop in for a visit at the hotel was very impressed. I will definitely stay there on my next trip to the area. It is a short walk to downtown at 900 Lake Street.
The building was originally built in 1865, serving for many years from 1922 as the Twin Gables Inn. Some of Al Capone’s gang used to stay there during Prohibition in the 1920s. It has rooms in the main building as well as in several cottages on the property. There is no dining room but breakfast can be delivered to your room.
What to do in Saugatuck
In the past, I have enjoyed heading over on President’s Day Weekend in February for the Winter Break Gallery Stroll in Saugatuck and Douglas. The galleries feature works from local and national artists—including paintings, ceramics, sculpture, blown glass, and photography—along with special exhibitions, artist demonstrations, and food, and drink.
Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency was founded by artists from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Classes in painting started in the early 1900s. It moved to the site of the Riverside Hotel, where it remains today. It continues to be affiliated with the SAIC and a haven for artists. They feature one- and two-week classes for credit and non-credit for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students across all media. Classes are also held from early June to mid-August in the summer and during two weeks each January for the winter intensive.
Make sure to walk down Butler and Culver streets and stop in at the many shops and galleries. Some of my favorites include:
At 241 Culver Street, Kindel & Company Lifestyle Mercantile is a lovely store for home decor, accessories, clothing, and furniture.
Paper Mache (252 Butler Street) is a fun store featuring gifts and paper products including cards, notebooks, journals, and party supplies.
American Spoon (308 Butler Street) is the place for the best in jams, jellies, fruit butters, salsas, grilling sauces, maple syrup, dried cherries, granola, and more made from locally-sourced ingredients. I highly recommend the Sour Cherry Jam or Spoon Fruits.
A good spot for BBQ and grilling sauces, olive oil and balsamic vinegars is Saugatuck Jar Company at 201 Culver Street.
Douglas is a small town across the Kalamazoo River and Lake Kalamazoo from Saugatuck. It started as a small lumber mill town in 1851 until the trees were depleted. It then became known for growing and shipping fruit, particularly peaches, and as a tourist destination and destination for artists. Today, it is known for its many art galleries and restaurants on a charming main street. I have been a number of times and always enjoy a great meal and wandering through the galleries on Center Street.
Make sure to visit Everyday People Café (11 Center Street). Located in downtown Douglas, this is always one of my favorites when I am in the area. Formerly more of a casual lunch spot, it is now more of a fine dining restaurant in the evenings featuring small plates and entrees, wines and craft beer, plus a weekend brunch and raw bar. They also feature special monthly wine dinners throughout the year.
Respite Cappuccino Court is a fun spot for coffee in downtown Douglas near the galleries at 48 Center Street. They also feature a cafe menu with bowls, sandwiches, and salads.
Kismet Farm Bakery at 8 West Center Street features a number of breads and bakery items along with a menu of pizzas, soups, salads, and sandwiches. Their local Kismet Farm grows a number of the items that are used in the dishes and also sold in the bakery.
Saugatuck Brewing Company (2928 Blue Star Highway) is a local brewery outside of town that also features food. I sampled and really loved the Blueberry Maple Stout. It sounds sweet, but it was very smooth and tasty. According to them, it “tastes like you crammed a fat stack of blueberry pancakes into a pint glass and smothered it with maple syrup.” They also make a number of other stouts, IPAs, shandys, saisons, wheat beers, and a dry cider. They are also opening a distillery next door.
Next to Saugatuck Brewing Company is Saugatuck Antique Pavilion (2948 Blue Star Highway). I read about it as a recommendation for mid-century furniture fans who might enjoy it and possibly find some Herman Miller furniture. It covers 24,000 square feet and has over 175 dealers.
There are at least ten art galleries in and near downtown Douglas. Two of my favorites include:
Water Street Gallery
I started buying art from them when they were in downtown Saugatuck. The gallery moved several years ago to their current location at 98 Center Street and is now under new management. Featuring the work of over 40 artists, the quality of the art is still excellent, and I highly recommend a visit. They participate in a number of events including the Art on Center Gallery Stroll held on select Saturdays from June to October.
At 33-35 Center Street, this is another quality gallery in downtown Douglas that represents over 20 regional and national artists.
Fennville is a small, rural town southeast of Saugatuck. The rolling farmland is filled with farm stands, orchards, blueberry farms, cheese shops, wineries, and makers of cider. It is a fun spot to visit when you are staying in the area or just driving through. I have been several times and always love exploring.
One of my recent favorite finds is Virtue Cider, a local craft cider maker that uses 100% Michigan apples. It has a lovely facility with tasting room and store at 2170 62nd Street (122nd Avenue). I tried three of their dry apple ciders, with my favorite being The Mitten, a cider aged for a year in bourbon barrels with notes of vanilla, caramel, and charred oak. I had to buy some to take home! In late September and early October, they hold Apple Fest, featuring cider pressing demonstrations, live music, and works by local artisans.
Fenn Valley Vineyards and Wine Cellar makes a number of wines from their 40 acres of grapes, including sparkling wines, dry whites, reds, and a number of sweeter wines and ciders. I am not a fan of sweet wines, so I focused on their dry reds. The Meritage blend was very good. They have a large tasting room and patio. They are located at 6130 122nd Avenue and are part of the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.
Cranes Pie Pantry Restaurant and Winery has been the spot for lunch in Fennville since 1916. Located in a 150-year-old barn, they have a full menu plus amazing pies made from old family recipes. I enjoyed the turkey burger with avocado plus the flight of pies, which included cherry, raspberry, apple, and blueberry. All were great. They have a bakery onsite where you can purchase their fruit pies, breads, muffins, strudels, and cinnamon rolls. There is also a tasting bar where you can taste their local fruit wines and ciders, which are produced on site. They also have a u-pick orchard, where you can pick your own apples in the fall.
Locals also recommend Root Cafe, Coffeehouse and Spirits in downtown Fennville at 120 East Main. Known for its locally sourced ingredients, it also features works by local artists.
Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery (1824 66th Street) is a small farm that makes some wonderful artisanal cheeses from cow and goat’s milk in small batches. They feature some that are washed with local cider and beer to finish the process. All were very good. They have a small store where you can taste and buy a number of their cheeses.
In the height of blueberry season, Blue Star Farms (2648 68th Street) is the place to stop and buy some amazing local berries.
Fennville also has number of local artists that are featured each October on the annual Blue Coast Fall Tour of Studios.
Holland is the largest city in the area that is located on the shore of Lake Macatawa, just north of Saugatuck. Its much-photographed Big Red Lighthouse stands by the channel that connects Lake Macatawa to Lake Michigan. It has a nice downtown area with a large number of restaurants, shops, galleries, high-end boutiques, and brew pubs. I went back recently after many years and enjoyed my time exploring downtown.
My recommendations include:
Butch’s Dry Dock
Butch’s (44 East 8th Street) has a formal dining room and adjacent casual pub featuring traditional fare plus an extensive selection of wine and beer. This is a fun spot for lunch downtown. I loved the reuben sandwich! Next time I want to try Boatwerks Waterside Restaurant.
Located in downtown Holland (4 East 8th Street), Alpen Rose features a casual cafe and bakery, as well as more formal dining rooms where you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner with many dishes in a classic European setting.
Hops at 84 East
This is a fun, casual brewpub featuring brick oven pizzas and a large selection of craft beers from Michigan and around the US, located at 84 East 8th Street.
New Holland Brewing Co.
New Holland is a local craft brewery that makes a number of beers including porters, ales, and stouts. They also have New Holland Artisan Spirits, which features their Beer Barrel Bourbon from aged beer barrels, a Zeppelin Bend single malt whiskey, and a Zeppelin Bend Reserve, which is aged in sherry casks and a Beer Barrel Rye. I loved the Beer Barrel Bourbon and bought a bottle to take back to Chicago. It’s excellent!! You can visit their New Holland Pub at 66 East 8th Street downtown, like I did, and enjoy the food alongside one of their whiskeys or craft beers. They also have the Knickerbocker brewpub at 417 Bridge Street NW.
For more travel destinations and recommendations, visit globalphile.com.