Shore Thing

Appears in the August 2022 issue.

Nestled along Lake Michigan and the Kalamazoo River—a three-hour drive from Naperville—Saugatuck, Michigan, has long had ties to the Chicago area. “It was a lumber town and after the Chicago Fire mills proliferated along the lake and along the river in order to get the wood over to Chicago,” explains James Brandess, a School of the Art Institute of Chicago alum who came to Saugatuck for a work-study program at the Ox-Bow School of Art. 

The nexus of the lake, river, woods, and bluffs makes Saugatuck heaven for a landscape painter like Brandess, who decided to stay and open a gallery here almost 30 years ago. The city has become a favorite of Chicago-area travelers, and it’s not too late to plan a weekend trip before the end of fall. “Summer [lodging] books out anywhere from a year to six months out, but fall is more like three [months] to one month out,” says Jonathan Schreur, co-owner of Hidden Garden Cottages & Suites. “We always tell people September is the best time to come to Saugatuck. We jokingly call it ‘adult summer.’ The kids are back in school, our town is lively, but the big crush of July and August is behind us. The weather is still great, and you can still go to the beach every day.” 

While in town, view the city from the water on the Star of Saugatuck paddlewheel boat tour ($20—$58,, which offers a 90-minute cruise of the Kalamazoo River, Lake Kalamazoo, and Lake Michigan. Saugatuck Dune Rides will take you on a rugged buggy ride along an off-road trail to take in the sights of the area’s picturesque sand dunes ($14—$25, For a stunning view, hike the one-mile loop at Mount Baldhead (769 Park St.) and climb the 302-step staircase up to the top.

The beach town also is known for its art and shops. Browse handcrafted jewelry, sculpture, and ceramics at Good Goods (; cool home decor and clothing at Urban Found (; and Michigan-made soaps, scrubs, and soaks at 42N Naturals ( When you’ve worked up an appetite, Brandess is a fan of Phil’s Bar and Grille ( across the street from his gallery. “Full disclosure, they have a number of my paintings on the wall, but the food is excellent,” he says. “Their burgers are really great.” Schreur recommends Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions (, helmed by executive chef Missy Corey, a former chef de cuisine at Publican Quality Meats in Chicago. “[Her] food is fantastic,” Schreur says. “It is, in my mind, the epitome of farm-to-table, and they really stick to that ethos.”  

Halfway There

Craving a Michigan getaway with a shorter drive time? Ninety minutes in the car will land you at the Neighborhood Hotel Grand Beach (, which opened earlier this year in Michigan’s Harbor Country, just south of downtown New Buffalo. Originally built as Pinewood Lodge in 1914, the property has been renovated and now offers a dozen suites with kitchenettes and two cottage homes, all with appealing modern rustic decor. When you’re not at the beach or on a hike admiring summer and fall colors, you can check out hotel perks such as the pool, yoga, and campfires. 

Photos courtesy of Saugatuck Douglas area Convention & visitors Bureau and The Neighborhood Hotel