You cannot beat a weekend in Saugatuck-Douglas, Michigan, the Midwest’s only gay resort area. The art coast of Michigan is full of fun things to do in an area of rolling sand dunes and fruit farms along Lake Michigan.
The local peaches and apples are ripe (and a few blueberries may be found), the weather is still good, and Lake Michigan is still warm. The beaches of the area cannot be beat. My favorite is the Wau-Ke-Na Preserve near Fennville, where you hike through a forest to the beach. The Glenn Beach and Pier Cove, as well as County Park, are excellent, as is the world-famous Oval Beach. Look for the gang at the north end or just hang out at the pool at the Dunes Resort in Douglas and enjoy a cocktail from the bar. The people watching is nice, and they have cabanas to rent for lovers of the shade.
Saugatuck-Douglas has been an LGBTQ-friendly destination since the late 1800s. It transformed from a lumber and fruit shipping port into an arts colony and tourist destination after that, where steam ships delivered tourists from Chicago. The Ox-Bow School of Art is still in existence today.
Unlike the cookie cutter, often bland, lookalike Midwestern cities, you will find few chain stores or chain motels in the charming, unique, and walkable area.
Things to Do
Rent a bike from In The Elements Rentals and enjoy the lakeshore on the new Beach to Bayou Trail. Across from the post office in downtown Saugatuck, they also rent beach gear, kayaks, and paddleboards.
Bring your swimsuit for a hike and swim at Saugatuck Dunes State Park. A half-mile hike through old growth maple and hemlock forests takes you to a beautiful beach area, which is great for swimming.
Enjoy the 100 years of LGBTQ history exhibit (A Century of Progress: 100 Years of LGBTQ History) at the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center in Douglas across the street from the Pride Celebration Garden honoring Larry Gammons and Carl Jennings, the founders of the Dunes Resort. The Center also features another great exhibit, “History Book: LBTQ Portraits” upstairs. Details are at org. Don’t miss the shipwreck museum and gardens behind the Center.
Rent a kayak at Third Coast Paddling in Douglas and enjoy the Kalamazoo River and Wade’s Bayou.
Take a walk or go for lunch in the very walkable downtown Douglas.
Hike to the top of Baldy
Watch the sunset at Oval Beach. Hike the trails of the nearby Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area after that.
Go wine tasting at Fenn Valley Vineyards or the Modales Wines, which is also close to a new cider distillery, Virtue Cider (virtuecider.com).
The Saugatuck Center for the Arts has plays, as well as beautiful gardens and a farmers’ market.
Where to Stay
The Dunes Resort in Douglas is my favorite. It has great midweek specials, regular rooms, and cabins. You can enjoy the indoor and outdoor bars, dance the night away, or stop by for karaoke. Don’t miss the Sunday T Dances and barbeques. Upcoming events include Lambda Car Club Weekend (September 15–18), Mr. Michigan Leather Weekend (September 23–25), and Hoedown at the Dunes (September 30–October 2).
The Campit Outdoor Resort south of Fennville at 118th Street is my other favorite and perfect for value travelers. Tent sites start at just $10; a bunkhouse and cabins are also among the options. A nice pool and food truck plus a dance floor are a lot of fun. Upcoming events include Fire and Arts Weekend (September 15–18) and LeatherBear Weekend (September 30–October 2). Learn more at campitresort.com.
The AmericInn by Wyndham just down the road from the Dunes is another great option.
Where to Eat
The What Not Inn in Fennville has a great Friday fish fry. The perch basket is also very good. The Pennyroyal Café and Provisions is one of the hottest new restaurants in the area. Food is prepared the old-fashioned way with local ingredients that highlight the bounty of West Michigan farms. The Farmhouse Deli has great salmon, sandwiches, and fresh juices. Try the Zinger with fresh carrot. Grab a slice of tasty homemade pizza or a sandwich at the Lakeshore Party Store just north of the Dunes.
Isabel’s Market and Eatery across from the Dunes has great coffee and Italian treats. The Guardian Brewing Company has 22 beer taps and 14 wine taps at the Old Red Barn. Very LBGTQ-friendly. Have coffee at Uncommon Coffee Roasters Grounds in downtown Saugatuck. The LGBTQ-friendly spot roasts its own coffee and also has pressed juices.
For dessert, try one of Cookies on Call’s five homemade chocolate chip cookies inside the Butler Pantry in Saugatuck.
You won’t run out of things to do in the art coast of Michigan. Plan a trip today.
Bill Malcolm is North America’s only syndicated LGBTQ value travel columnist. He is a former resident of Royal Oak, Michigan, and has been coming to Saugatuck-Douglas-Fennville for 20 years. His column now appears in publications in Toronto, Seattle, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and other cities as well as on the travel blog section of IGLTA.org.