Anyone who has spent summers on the Great Lakes knows that this American playground has specific charms that vary from shore to shore. But life among the historic storefronts and along the bustling waterfront’s boardwalk of this town on Lake Michigan’s eastern shore has an old-fashioned spirit that stands out among so many gems. Known as “Coast Guard City, U.S.A.,” Grand Haven’s embrace of every manner of maritime life, including fishing and boating of all kinds, combines small-town living with big-lake pleasures.
Grand Haven by the Numbers
Population: 11, 062
Average July high: 81
Average January low: 19
Median home price: $182,500
Average commute time: 20 minutes
Number of sunny days: 159
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Best Beaches and Other Attractions
Dog-friendly Grand Haven City Beach connects to Grand Haven State Park beach, making for a single strand of pale sand with terrific views of the town’s two landmark lighthouses (there’s even camping allowed on the beach).
A stroll along the Grand Haven Boardwalk is the easiest way to tour this charming town. The 1.5-mile boardwalk runs the length of Grand Haven’s harbor before turning up the banks of the Grand River and connecting to a long pier ending at the lighthouse. Parks, shops, and restaurants are just a few steps away as you go.
Get a great view of Lake Michigan by climbing the stairs to the top of a wooded, 200-foot sand dune at the remote and lovely Rosy Mound Natural Area. There are actually one thousand stairs up and over to the dunes, but it’s worth it. And to get out on that beautiful lake, book on a cruise about the schooner Wind Dancer. Take a turn at the wheel or just kick back with a cocktail and enjoy the sunset.
And once the sun goes down, head to the Grand Haven Musical Fountain. Its choreographed water, music and light shows were cool decades before Vegas’s Bellagio got into the business. The free 20-minute shows start at dusk on summer nights.
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Where to Eat and Drink
Start your morning right. Tucked into Grand Haven’s historic Armory building, Aldea Coffee pours house-roasted batches raised in partnership with farmers in Guatemala.
The corn dog is the unofficial junk food of the Midwest, and Pronto Pups has been battering and deep-frying franks for Grand Haven beachgoers since 1947. The menu is delightfully simple: $1.75 meat on a stick and pop (that Michigan lingo for soda — go with the Orange Crush if you really want to feel like a local).
Where to Stay
The Bluewater Inn is the only hotel located directly across the street from Grand Haven State Park, which has broad, sandy beaches on the shore of Lake Michigan; the hotel is also a quick walk from the town’s landmark red lighthouse and boardwalk. Book one of the second-floor suites for limitless views of Lake Michigan.