Take a fall hike around Saugatuck Dunes State Park — Photo courtesy of Craig Watson
Fall is the best time of year to check out Saugatuck, Michigan. The small town sits on Kalamazoo Lake and along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, less than three hours from Chicago. You’ll find pristine beaches, a lively art scene, and vibrant fall colors, plus activities, leaf peeping, and adventure at every turn.
With fewer summer vacationers, autumn is the best time to book a cottage, boutique hotel room, or bed and breakfast. Snagging a table at one of the great restaurants is much easier. The beaches are less crowded, which means quiet walks along the water, or a vigorous hike up a sweeping sand dune. And gorgeous fall foliage abounds around the farms, wineries, and breweries.
One of the best fall getaways, here’s what to do, where to stay, and what to sip in Saugatuck.
Sand dune rides and more autumn adventure
Rent a boat for a fall cruise around Lake Michigan or the Kalamazoo River — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Michigan adventure does not slam shut after Labor Day; it just gets prettier with autumn’s arrival. Take a cruise on the Star of Saugatuck, an authentic paddlewheel boat that glides along the Kalamazoo River and Lake Michigan. Expect to see sand dunes and lighthouses in the distance, plus brilliant bursts of ruby, gold, and orange everywhere.
Retro Boat Rentals offers vintage mid-century boats with fins and fun retro colors. Scoot around the channels, along the Kalamazoo River, or on an inland lake, and take in all the fall colors. Retro also offers donut-shaped boats, plus Duffy and pontoon boats for groups.
Take a heart-pounding fall dune ride in Saugatuck — Photo courtesy of Craig Watson
If hiking or biking is more your thing, the picturesque terrain at Saugatuck Dunes State Park features towering coastal dunes, miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and trails, and deeply forested areas. Saugatuck Dune Rides takes you on thrilling tours of the dunes, some reaching 200-feet high. On the tours, you’ll get a little history of the area, info on the wildlife and natural environment, and time to snap some seriously Insta-worthy images.
Don’t miss a stroll or a sunset at Saugatuck’s Oval Beach, known as one of the best beaches in Michigan (and the Midwest). It’s a great spot for some autumn sun and downtime. Pick up a lunch and picnic along the sand.
The farms of Saugatuck
Bring a container to gather your apples and pumpkins at Crane’s U-pick — Photo courtesy of Craig Watson
One of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation, Michigan grows prized Montmorency tart cherries and sweet cherries, apples, blueberries, and so much more. The farmers markets are filled with just-picked fruits and vegetables, plus honey, maple syrup, and eggs straight from the farm. Plan a picnic with the artisanal baked goods, cheeses, and meats you pick up. Best part: Many markets are open well into fall.
On Fridays through September, The Market at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts showcases some of the season’s best produce from West Michigan growers, along with food vendors, crafts, and more. The Eighth Street Farmers Market in downtown Holland, another great pick, runs through November.
In South Haven, the weekly farmers market continues through October, as does the family-owned Barden’s Farm Market, where you can pick up everything from produce to apple cider donuts, sandwiches, and soups. Load up on fruit, flowers, and more at Lyons Fruit Farm and Market in Fennville, or bring a container to gather your apples and pumpkins at Crane’s U-Pick.
Michigan wineries, cider, and beer
Taste flights of wine at Modales Winery during the fall harvest — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Michigan, one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the country, has five American Viticultural Areas (AVA), with two in the Southwestern corner near Saugatuck: Fennville and Lake Michigan Shore. A diverse range of grape varietals are grown here, with wines that run the gamut from dry whites to fruit-forward reds and sweet dessert wines.
The best way to explore Michigan’s wine scene is with a guided tour. Several companies offer responsible transportation around Saugatuck, Fennville, and Douglas, including Coastal Tours, Untapped Sights & Tours, and Happy Trails Wine Tours. It’s more than just wine tasting, too. Many wineries have events that run through the fall, like live music at the Modales winery on Fridays, or Music in the Vineyards at Fenn Valley Vineyards on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Have a flight of crisp and complex hard ciders at Virtue Cider — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Hop heads should dip into the craft cideries and small independent breweries around the Saugatuck area. Sample fall seasonal beers and more at the Saugatuck Brewing Co., the area’s oldest craft beer spot. Stick around for snacks, burgers, and other pub fare, plus live entertainment on Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Guardian Brewing Company, an LGBTQ+ and women-owned craft brewery, offers beer from 24 taps, plus wine, cocktails, zero-proof drinks, and plenty of fun weekly events. Pop into Waypost Brewing Co., a small farmhouse brewery along the lake in Fennville, for tastings surrounded by fall foliage. Set on a 58-acre fruit farm that provides ingredients for brewmaster Hannah Lee’s award-winning saisons, there’s also shuffleboard, pinball, and darts in the barrel room for extra fun. Virtue Cider is another farm ciderie that offers tastings and year-round events.
The colorful spectrum of Saugatuck lodging
Take in the water views at Old Pike Cottages — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
Places around Saugatuck to rest your head include the 1937 Wickwood Inn, once the family home of the town’s first mayor and now a bed and breakfast. Enjoy Michigan sunsets, the chorus of Blue Herons, and farm-to-table breakfasts at the inn.
Enjoy the wrap-around veranda at the European-style Belvedere Inn & Restaurant, a stylish and historic spot with a full-service restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not only are the Old Pike Cottages walking distance to shops, galleries, and restaurants, they’re right on the water and offer beautiful views of Kalamazoo Lake. Plus: The heated pool stays open through October, longer than any other lodging in the area.
And there’s always something going on at The Dunes Resort, one of the largest LGBTQ+ resorts in the country, whether it’s DJ nights, karaoke or pool parties (in the summer).
Restaurants, cafes, and more around Saugatuck
Visit Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery for wine and pie flights — Photo courtesy of Harold Rail
You’re smack dab in the middle of Michigan’s fruit belt, so expect fabulous farm-to-table cuisine everywhere. Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery, located among the gentle hills of the family’s fruit farm, serves breakfast on weekends, plus sandwiches and comfort food during the week. Don’t leave without having a flight of wine, cider or pie slices!
Indulge in seasonal fall bounty at the wonderful Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dine on Kalamazoo Lake at the Mermaid Waterfront Bar & Grill, where you can get the fresh catch with a great view. Waterfront dining at The Butler has been a Saugatuck tradition for more than 60 years; get the Butler burger topped with Black Forest ham and American cheese. Specialties at The Southerner include fried chicken, grits and greens, and catfish po’ boys.
Michigan’s Art Coast
Check out the local art scene at J. Petter Galleries — Photo courtesy of Craig Watson
They don’t call it the “Art Coast of Michigan” for nothing. The town’s vibrant art scene is alive in charming galleries showcasing works by local artists. J. Petter Galleries in Douglas has been an art mecca since the 1930s. The Water Street Gallery is the Art Coast’s leading contemporary fine art gallery and sculpture garden with works from around the world.
For a look into the creative process, check out the Blue Coast Artists Annual Studio Tour or Saugatuck Douglas Gallery Fall Gallery Stroll, both popular events every October.