Thanks to Pure Michigan for providing me with this free trip to Michigan.
The hard truth of family vacations is that young kids are not chill travel companions. They don’t like lounging by the pool with a book. They don’t care about that great hole-in-the-wall seafood place your friend recommended. In fact, they hate it and will order chicken fingers. They’re also forbidden by law and custom from enjoying the nightlife.
On the flip side, kids are really into cheap souvenirs, not sleeping in, and frolicking everywhere they go. Since adults and children have such different vacation goals, when planning a family vacation, your best chance at everyone’s happiness is to keep the days packed with activities fun for children and adults. Go ahead, let them tire themselves out, and then spend the evening relaxing while the kids slumber soundly.
I recently took a trip to Grand Rapids and Michigan’s Gold Coast, a popular regional destination that’s quickly gaining national attention. With its pristine coasts, friendly locals, outdoor adventures galore, and world-class dining, Michigan’s west coast beach towns are a fantastic place for grownups to relax and kids to do whatever their version of relaxing is.
1. Holland, Michigan
Holland, Michigan is a bustling small city that blends its Dutch heritage with modern amenities, lively nightlife, and outdoor fun. A sail on Lake Macatawa is a wonderful way to to take in the scenery, from breathtaking waterfront mansions to the old Heinz pickle factory.
Sailing lessons and charter boats abound, and are a wonderful way to get kids out on the water and in on the action. Captain Kim of the GT Sailing School helped our crew to learn sailing basics, while also giving insight into the industrial and maritime roots of Holland.
Holland is home to many recent Dutch immigrants, and authentic bakeries and breweries abound. Standouts include de Boers bakery and New Holland Brewing.
Kids will enjoy a mix of history and fun at Holland’s 1761 DeZwaan windmill, located on picturesque Windmill Island right in the city. Alisa Crawford, the only Dutch-certified miller in the United States, mills authentic graham flour on site using centuries-old, wind-powered milling techniques.
Windmill island is also home to a replica Dutch village, a carousel, gardens, and beautiful streams perfect for an afternoon picnic.
2. Saugatuck, Michigan
Saugatuck, Michigan is home to the Saugatuck dunes, a living dune system located one mile from the shore of Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Dune Rides give exhilarating dune buggy tours of the dunes, while also sharing the environmental and cultural history of the area, including the long-buried city of Singapore, located beneath the towering dunes and cottonwood trees.
Saugatuck is also home to a vibrant arts community, and the streets are brimming with artists, galleries, public art, and all kinds of creative expression.
3. South Haven, Michigan
South Haven is a quaint town nestled on the shore of Lake Michigan that’s filled with bustling shops and great food. It’s also home to the Friends Good Will, a replica 1811 square topsail sloop and member of Tall Ships America.
Tours sail out onto Lake Michigan and bring the ship’s history and role in the war of 1812 to life. Passengers of all ages can also hoist sails, and quite literally, learn the ropes.
4. St. Joseph, Michigan
The town of St. Joseph is perched high on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. St. Jo is home to a vibrant farmers market, the Silver Beach Carousel — a fully restored indoor carousel, and beautiful piers and lighthouses dotting the shores of Lake Michigan.
St. Joseph is also a great place to take in the natural world while kayaking on the calm waters of the Paw Paw River. Further out in the countryside, jewels like Shawnee Road Antiques and the nationally recognized Journeyman Distillery are all not to be missed.
5. New Buffalo, Michigan
Moving on from St. Joseph, you’ll hit nearby New Buffalo, where harbor-side dining at the Bentwood Tavern offers impeccably prepared seasonal cuisine with stunning views of Lake Michigan.More On