South Haven with Kids

In the past (aka: every year of my life), my summer vacations have taken me to our familiar beach house on quiet Bald Head Island. Because of circumstances out of our family’s hands, we had to sell the home where our hearts belonged and are now out in the world of planning new beach vacations.

Where would we go? We didn't want crowds, nor a 12 hour drive or flight. I’d seen beautiful photos and heard stories of how wonderful the Lake Michigan coast can be. So, we thought we would find out for ourselves by trying out South Haven. At a mere 5 hours away, we were excited to go see what Michigan is all about. 

Our cottage
By far, the location of our cottage was the best part of our whole experience. I could definitely get used to walking across the street to the general store (which serves Sherman’s Ice Cream), 2 blocks to the beach, and a longer walk across the fun drawbridge to downtown. If you go, I would definitely recommend staying as close as you can to Dyckman Avenue/North side. You’ll want access to the drawbridge, which is the only way to get to the other side of the Black River. 

We had the right (East) side of the cottage and the other side was empty for most of our stay. At the end of the street is the beach!

This was our favorite establishment in South Haven. Hot dogs? Sand toys? Adult beverages? fresh sandwiches? Yep. 

Renting the cottage was an easy experience through VRBO, and we were lucky to get anything at all with booking just 6 weeks before we traveled. Do not wait this long!  It was clean and tidy, and had some great bonuses like a beach wagon, beautiful deck, and a fenced in yard for playing. But it was super small. We were on top of each other most of the time, and really missed having a dining table. We don't need a lot of space, but...this was a squeeze for us to be comfortable. 

Staying Busy

Like I said, the beach was at the end of our street. Dyckman was a small beach with private beaches on both sides. You can walk across the private beaches, just not set up camp there. We took several walks from Dyckman to North Beach, which is the perfect distance for little ones. There, you can find a simple slide and some swings. You can NOT access the lighthouse from here. 

 The perfect walk for this little guy, who was way too busy exploring to play in the water. 

Across the drawbridge, the downtown is adorable. We loved Harbor Toy Store, The Blueberry Store, and the various souvenir shops of course. This is a great place for moms to come during nap time and just browse all the pretty things. My favorite shop was Plaid Britches, with cute and trendy women’s clothes and accessories.

Also across the bridge is the catwalk to the South Haven Lighthouse on South Beach. It is a little tricky with a stroller, but definitely doable. You’ll need to hold hands, as there is no railing into the water. No one wants a swim lesson like that. There are informational signs all over the area to tell you about the history of the area and light house. 

South Beach is definitely more active than North Beach, and was our kids’ favorite area. The playground is huge, there is a great snack shack with lunch items and Sherman’s Ice Cream, and public restrooms. Sidenote: the neighborhoods surrounding South Beach are full of the CUTEST Victorian houses you’ve ever seen. Take a walk up the hill if you are a sucker for beautiful homes. 

One day, we drove out of South Haven to the zoo in Grand Rapids (John Ball Zoo). I loved all the shade, the natural play area, and the reasonable price ($35ish for our family of four). And everyone loves a zoo, right? Don’t miss the flamingoes and otters, which are up close and personal. 

There are a ton of neighboring cities that I thought we might visit (St. Joe’s, Saugatuck), and we just didn’t need to do it. Maybe when the kids are older and get bored more often (insert eye-roll here), that would be on the agenda. But for the 8 and under crowd, there’s really no reason to leave South Haven if they like the beach. 

There is a bike trail called Kal-Haven, which is supposed to be a great ride. This is a perfect town for bike-riding!

The days of taking both kids out to restaurants are kind of over for now, unfortunately. We do a lot of carry-out or just taking Larkyn out. On our trip, we mostly cooked in our cottage and then had meals from:

I know...I tried to switch seats with her, but she was intent on sitting here. In front of the giant MGD.

Maria’s Taste of Italy: We got amazing stuffed shells and pizza. Their gelato bar and housemade desserts looked great, too, but we had eaten about 12 desserts by dinner time. ALSO, they have an entire root beer menu for aficianados. 
Su Casa: This has a great patio overlooking the patio. I would recommend getting a drink and trying their chips and avocado salsa. This would be a good snack place to recharge. 
Captain Lou’s: Say hello to our favorite meal of the trip! Leave time to enjoy, as the wait time is not great (but the food and music are!) The fried shrimp and the Cajun fish tacos were SO good. Bonus: you get to watch the bridge go up and down while you wait (pictured above).
Bunde’s Bakery: One thing that will get me motivated in the morning is knowing that Starbucks is waiting. This bakery has the full Starbuck's menu, in addition to satisfying muffins, turnovers, coffee cakes, and pecan rolls, etc. I didn't get to try the fabulous looking ice cream bars in the corner, and that may be my biggest regret of the entire trip. 

The Weather

We knew that Michigan would not be HOT compared to the Southern vacations we usually take. But some days were pretty chilly. If you like warmer temps, definitely wait until July. But the water was not as freezing as we had heard. Larkyn did not hesitate to get in, so that tells me it wasn't freezing. Some nights, the water was warmer than the air, and felt great. Just bring a variety of layers and you'll be good. 

 Harborfest (This day was HOT...)

This day was cold!

We had fun exploring this quaint little lakeside town, and it was perfect for our pace. Next up, just photos and stories from our trip. 

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