A couple of years back, Phil and I took a trip out to Saugatuck- a picturesque lake town in the heart of Michigan’s “fruit belt.” It was early fall, the air was starting to turn crisp, and the fruit trees were exploding with their sweet and tart flavors. It was the perfect time for apple-picking, which was at the forefront of our minds. But what we didn’t realize was how much there would be to explore in this town full of flavor.
Saugatuck is an art-centric community on the eastern coast of Lake Michigan. The town consists of beach properties, quaint neighborhoods, boutique shopping, funky coffee shops, beautifully curated art collections, and a yacht club. Not to mention the waving pastoral countryside steps outside of the city, dotted with vineyards, orchards, and fruit farms as far as the eye can see.
In other words, if you’re looking for a relaxing trip full of variety, look no further than Saugatuck, Michigan. Being a lakeside community, Saugatuck really wakes up on Memorial Day and slows down after Labor Day. Springtime and summer are the busy seasons here for a reason; you can enjoy Lake Michigan to the fullest in the warmer months. And naturally, some of the local businesses will close once the cold weather hits. But we found early fall to be a lovely time to visit, especially with the fall harvest in mind. Here’s a glimpse at our experience.
The Wickwood Inn makes for a delightful retreat. With a mix of cozy Bed & Breakfast meets trendy boutique hotel, it fits right in with the charming energy of Saugatuck. Located on Butler Street, a centralized location with boutique shops and restaurants, the inn is a block away from the Kalamazoo River, where ferries and yachts cruise alongside the scenic downtown.
We found the inn to be warm and inviting, with classic, cozy, and at times quirky decor. It was clear that our comfort as a guest was a top priority and making our stay as enjoyable as possible, a passion. For example, the inn provides detailed booklets to guests with suggestions on what to see, eat, and drink in Saugatuck, which I found very helpful.
But I’m not alone when I say what shines here is the food. The website boldly states, “Wickwood is for food lovers,” and our experience would echo that sentiment. The local harvest shines in their complimentary farm-to-table breakfast, afternoon sweets, and small plates and wine by a cozy fire in the evening. The decadent food spreads were both gorgeous and delicious.
at Crane’s Orchard
Agriculture will draw me into a trip more often than anything else. And that’s precisely why we ended up in Saugatuck, Michigan- for apples! And let me tell you, there were plenty. Driving through Lake Michigan’s coast in the fall is something spectacular. You can actually smell the apples in the air. We picked, snacked, and sampled apples of all varieties- fresh, baked, and cider-ed.
And if it’s apple picking you are looking for in Saugatuck, most will point you to Crane’s Orchard. Located in Fennville, this U-pick farm is an enjoyable 15-minute drive from downtown Saugatuck, and it is sprawling with apple trees. I’ve been to many an apple farm, but this one is undoubtedly the largest I’ve seen and with so many different varieties! All gorgeous and robust- from a soft white-yellow to pastel green. Blushed pinks to ruby reds. It was simply a delight just walking through the orchards, let alone enjoying the crisp and juicy fruit picked fresh from the stem.
Stunning beaches run up and down Michigan’s eastern coast, alongside Lake Michigan. Saugatuck claims Oval Beach, a 12-minute drive from the Wickwood Inn, and it certainly is breathtaking this time of year. The mild early autumn weather made this sandy oasis a perfect retreat throughout the week- ideal for picnicking, walking, and relaxing in a cozy sweater. And with it being after Labor Day, there was much less foot traffic, making it a more peaceful spot. I especially fell in love with these gorgeous grasses- the colors jumped out against the beach’s sandy backdrop. And how they would sway together in the breeze was simply mesmerizing.
Tastes of Saugatuck
There is a cornucopia of restaurants in Saugatuck using the fruits of Michigan’s harvest season. Most are within walking distance from each other, with the Kalamazoo River and her boardwalks within view. My favorites:
- The Butler, for the best burger in town with a view of some beautiful yachts.
- The Southerner, for southern cooking with an elevated twist served on your Granny’s china.
- Marro’s, for some “delizioso Italiano” while treated like family
- Uncommon Coffee Roasters, for small-batch high-quality coffee (or some tasty hot apple cider)
All those apples growing on Lake Michigan’s coast aren’t just for snacking and baking. We discovered Virtue Cider along our way to Fenn Valley Vineyards in Fennville. And it was quite the treat because I am all about cider in the fall. We sat down with a cheese and charcuterie board in Virtue’s barn-like setting and tasted six different cider varietals. If you’re into ciders or wines, I found these to be on the drier side, which I prefer. They were all delicious, with profiles quite different from one to the other, making it a fun tasting.
A handful of other cideries, wineries, and breweries pepper Michigan’s lakeshore coastline. In addition to their U-pick farm, Crane’s Orchard also offers a wine and cider tasting at their Pie Pantry Restaurant and Winery. We loved their ciders as well- very well-balanced and flavorful. While we were out in the beautiful countryside of Fennville, we stopped into Fenn Valley Vineyards to taste some local wines. They say the Great Lakes produce an excellent grape, and I have to say I agree. Saugatuck has its own brewery- Saugatuck Brewing Co. Also nearby, McIntosh Cellars, offering fruit wines, hard ciders, and craft beers.
And a Feast for the Eyes
I mentioned that Saugatuck is an artsy town. The city’s welcome sign displays a paint palette just in case you didn’t get the memo. So, naturally, a trip to Saugatuck must include digesting the local art. There are plenty of beautiful shops to choose from, but if I had to choose a favorite, it’d be J. Petter Galleries. The space itself is lovely – roomy and divided – not unlike an art museum. You can tell how much care goes into the curation and display of these incredible pieces. It was here I discovered one of my favorite artists, Nina Weiss– her works pictured above. Plus, they offer a wine gallery as well. And what could go better with local art than local wine?