Whether you’re interested in a romantic weekend getaway or a longer family vacation, South Haven offers plenty of exciting activities to suit every taste. While many visitors come here to admire Lake Michigan and the beautiful countryside along its shores, others may be more interested in South Haven’s rich history or some of the fun activities on offer, such as ice skating and motor racing.
If you’re planning a longer stay, fill your rooftop cargo box or rooftop basket with everything you’ll need for kayaking along the Black River, paddling across Lake Michigan, or hiking along the Kal-Haven Trail. There’s so much to do here, you can’t possibly fit it all into just one month.
Explore by foot, ski, bike, or kayak
With its enviable position on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and at the mouth of the Black River, South Haven boasts a rich variety of scenery that makes it a perfect destination for hiking, cross-country skiing, cycling, and kayaking. South Haven is officially designated a Pure Michigan Trail Town.
To the south of the city, you’ll find Van Buren State Park with its woodland trails, popular swimming beach, and lakeside sand dunes. Casual hikers will enjoy the 0.6 mile Van Buren Park Dunes Loop Trail, which is also suitable for dog walking and, in winter, cross-country skiing. You’ll be impressed by the scenic views of the lake and the beautiful woodland.
Between Van Buren State Park and South Haven is the North Point Conservation Area, which features wetlands and forested dunes. You can explore unmarked trails through a beech and maple forest to reach a raised viewpoint overlooking the lake.
To the east of South Haven is Black River Preserve, an area of floodplain meadow dotted with fallow upland fields and wet meadows. This is an excellent destination for keen birdwatchers, who can observe a wide variety of birds in their natural setting, such as green herons, American woodcock, southernwood ducks, hooded warblers, and Louisiana waterthrush. The 2.3-mile Mainstem to Corral to Ravines River Loop with its trailhead on 8th Avenue leads you along the riverbank and into the forest.
To the north of the city, you’ll find the trailhead of the Kal-Haven Trail. This 34-mile trail follows the route of an old railroad line from South Haven to Kalamazoo. It crosses 7 bridges, including a covered wooden trestle bridge crossing the Black River that’s a popular photo stop. If you’re more interested in a family-friendly, short hike, you can follow the Kal-Haven Trail to 70th street, which provides a more moderate 4.3-mile out-and-back trek. In the winter, the trail becomes a popular cross-country skiing route.
Both the Black River and Lake Michigan are excellent destinations for enthusiastic kayakers. If you enjoy exploring wetlands from the water and under your own power, paddling is the way to go. You’ll come closer to wildlife and cause no damage to the environment.
Learn about South Haven’s rich history
Walking around the city, you’ll see plenty of evidence of its rich history. The South Haven South Pierhead Light is arguably the most notable landmark. Other notable historic structures include the 1891 Scott Club on Phoenix Street (home to a women’s literary society), the 1906 neoclassical Carnegie Library, and the Old Hartman School.
Originally constructed as a wooden tower in 1872, the current cast-iron lighthouse was constructed in 1903 but utilized a lantern room transported from Muskegon that was already 40 years old. An original catwalk connects the lighthouse to the shore and the impressive 1872, 2½-story keeper’s house. The restored keeper’s house now houses the Marialyce Canonie Great Lakes Research Library.
The Michigan Flywheelers Museum is a wonderful place to learn about the history of local farming, old tractors, and antique steam engines. The museum features a sawmill and shingle mill, a 1920s “Olde Town”, and an exhibition of old farm machinery. Come along to see how ancient flywheel engines are restored and preserved.
The Michigan Maritime Museum is a fantastic place to learn about South Haven’s role in the history of Lake Michigan. The museum offers permanent and changing exhibitions concerning maritime history, a fleet of replica and period vessels, and a boat-building workshop. You can explore the river about the historic Lindy Lou electrically powered river launch or sail into Lake Michigan aboard the replica Friends Good Will tall ship.
Sample tasty food and fine local wines
Though South Haven is a small city, when you’re hungry, you’re spoiled for choice. There are many fine dining options, such as Sophie’s Steakhouse, Taste, Hawkshead, and Tello Bistro. And family groups can enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere at the Black River Tavern, Maria’s, Joe’s Bar & Grill, Su Casa, Phoenix Street Café, and the historic Clementine’s housed in the 1896 Citizen’s State Bank. For a tasty dessert, don’t forget Sherman’s Ice Cream.
Because of its proximity to Lake Michigan, the countryside surrounding South Haven experiences relatively mild winters and cool summers. That makes the farmland perfect for vineyards. Many local wineries, such as Fenn Valley Winery and Warner Vineyards, offer fun and educational tours and wine tasting where you can sample fruit wine, red wine, white wine, and cider.
Experience an adrenaline rush
South Haven is home to GingerMan Raceway, a road race track used for motorcycle and car racing and site of the annual Gridlife Festival. The 2.21-mile track is designed for driver safety and holds the Safe Track Award from Victory Lane Magazine.
The raceway is open to both track day drivers and experienced racers. If you’re an amateur racer, you can take your ride onto the track for around $195. The whole family can enjoy race days as a spectator with affordable admission rates to most events.
During the winter months, the outdoor, covered South Haven Ice Rink is a great attraction for the whole family. Within walking distance of downtown, you’re welcome to bring your own skates or hire them at the rink. With an under-ice cooling system, the rink is even open during warmer days.
Winter sports fans might be interested to attend the curling lessons run by the rink. You don’t even need to be able to skate to have fun sliding stones across the ice toward the target.
Get involved in the arts
Since South Haven has been home to the Scott Club literary society since 1883, you won’t be surprised to learn that the city has a strong artistic tradition. The South Haven Center for the Arts displays the creations of local artists year-round, and the Blue Coast Artists organization boasts 7 member studios in the area. You can admire and maybe purchase hand-blown glass, ceramics, and paintings.
In June, the city hosts its annual South Haven Art Fair. This is a 2-day festival held in Stanley Johnson Park. As many as 120 artists participate drawing thousands of visitors. Go along to admire paintings, sketches, sculptures, photographs, hand-blown glass, ceramics, and “wearable art”.
Take in a show, concert, or festival
During summer, Riverfront Park hosts a free outdoor concert on Thursday evenings. Year-round, you can enjoy rock, country, blues, and acoustic performances in Foundry Hall. And the local Our Town Players stage regular performances at Listiak Auditorium.
South Haven also sees a succession of local festivals, such as the Gridlife Festival, Festival of Cars, Harbor Fest, and Blueberry Festival. In February, the Ice Breaker Festival features a free chili cook-off and an ice carving competition.