Saugatuck Named One of the 25 Greatest Beach Towns in America

What do you see when you envision the perfect beach? For us, it’s pretty hard to beat Oval – the largest beach in Saugatuck/Douglas. Although our beaches are a beloved part of our community, our year-round attractions, local character, food scene and charm factor, all distinguished Saugatuck/Douglas from the rest when Thrillist Travel chose the “25 Greatest Beach Towns in America.”

Thrillist Travel described Saugatuck/Douglas as summertime hotspot for travelers with unique lodging options, a thriving arts and food scene and a popular retreat for LGBT travelers. Thrillist Travel says:

“Saugatuck is to western Michigan what Provincetown is to Cape Cod. It is thoroughly a tourist’s beach town – invaded in the summer, but its character is also impeccably maintained.”

Thrillist Travel hit the hotspots when it comes to food – mentioning coffee from Uncommon Coffee Roasters, Saugatuck Brewing Company, The Southerner and the newly-opened New Holland Spirits Tasting Room. Of course, Thrillist Travel listed Oval Beach and Mount Baldhead as a must-visit.

From our beaches, trails and waterways to our restaurants, shops and lodging options, Saugatuck/Douglas in summertime is truly hard to beat – come see for yourself! Plan your beach town retreat to Saugatuck/Douglas today at Saugatuck.com/stay.

Click here to read the full Thrillist Travel article.

Top 5 Autumn Activities in Saugatuck/Douglas

There’s lots to do in Saugatuck/Douglas all year round, but fall is an especially special time to visit. From traditional autumn activities like apple picking and color tours to more creative ones like gallery walks and beverage tours – spending time in Saugatuck/Douglas in the fall is an experience you’re sure to enjoy.

1. Fall Color Tour – Saugatuck Style

Taking a drive to see the fall colors is a popular Michigander tradition, but in Saugatuck/Douglas, we do color tours a little differently than the rest of the state. One of the most popular ways to see the colors around here is on the water. The Star of Saugatuck offers rides along the Kalamazoo River and into Lake Michigan, giving guests a view of the Saugatuck/Douglas colors that you can’t see from land.

For the active color-seekers, Saugatuck/Douglas offers many opportunities to experience the magic of a Michigan fall. Hiking through the 13 miles of Saugatuck Dunes State Park that lead into acres of rolling dunes is an amazing way to see the colors and get some exercise. For a more romantic color tour, try walking our world-renown Oval Beach for a view of the colors along the lake shore. Finally, what’s more refreshing than a fall bike ride through the colors? Ride along the 11-mile bike route that stretches from Saugatuck to Holland along the side of 62nd Street, 138th Avenue, 64th Street and Blue Star Highway.

2. Apple Picking/Cider Drinking

If you’re from the Midwest, you know that a visit to the local apple orchard is a must. Here in the Saugatuck/Douglas area, we live among a 30 mile stretch that is considered Michigan’s “Fruit Belt,” where apples and pumpkins are plentiful in the fall.

At Crane Orchards, getting the chance to pick your own fruit (u-pick) is only one of the fun fall outdoor activities to take part in. Their 20-acre corn maze is fun for the entire family, as well as a tour of the Crane farm, orchards and woods on a tractor driven hayride, or a cow train for the kids to enjoy. The Saugatuck Center for the Arts also hosts a farmer’s market every Friday, which sells local produce and goods through the end of September, a great place to get local apples or cider!

3. Experience the Arts

The arts are woven into the fabric of the Saugatuck/Douglas community and can be found at every turn throughout the entire year, but the autumn season is always accompanied by annual community arts events that shouldn’t be overlooked!

If you like live music, the Saugatuck/Douglas area is a year-round haven for local musicians, but during the fall months, venues like Salt of the Earth, Fenn Valley Vineyards, Crane’s Pie Pantry & Restaurant, Borrowed Time, and Saugatuck Center for the Arts host local, regional and nationally known musicians.

For live performance, theater, video and community arts events, the Saugatuck Center for the Arts is a venue that is known for bringing in Broadway level productions and nationally known live music. This year, you’ll find shows like A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, running from  August 16 – September 1.

If you’re a fan of visual art, galleries across Douglas and Saugatuck will be open for viewing, but a few special events make it worth the trip! On October 12, The 42nd Annual Fall Gallery Stroll is a yearly local favorite featuring dozens of galleries, special receptions, live music, drinks, demonstrations and more throughout Saugatuck and Douglas. If you want to see the colors in conjunction with artwork, join the Blue Coast Artists Tour, on October 5 & 6 to visit eight studios that are situated between South Haven, Saugatuck and Fennville.

4. Take a Beverage Tour

The Saugatuck/Douglas/Fennville area is rich with a great collection of wineries, breweries and cideries, all within our community borders. Let the drinks lead the way!

Start your beverage tour in Fennville with a glass of crisp apple cider at Virtue Cider, and then hop across the road to Fenn Valley Vineyards for some classic Michigan wine. While in Fennville, be sure to stop by Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant & Winery for a snack and perhaps more wine. Finally, don’t forget to stop by one of our area’s newest breweries, Waypost Brewing Company!

When heading back to Douglas, Saugatuck Brewing Company is your next stop for some craft beer before heading to Saugatuck to stop at some in-town tasting rooms like Tabor Hill Wine Port, Fenn Valley Tasting Room, Coppercraft Distillery Tasting Room, Crane’s Tasting Room, Ridge Cider Co. Tasting Room, and The Mitten Brewing Company.

5. Festivals/Parades/Special Events

Part of what makes Saugatuck/Douglas the charming, quaint small town that it is, is its unique local events. Below is a list of some of our favorite fall events happening in our region:

Plan your autumn getaway to Saugatuck/Douglas today! Check lodging accommodations and availability at Saugatuck.com/stay.

A History of the Mount Baldhead Radar Tower

Mt. Baldhead Beach

One of the most iconic sights along the Saugatuck shore is the moonlike sphere of the Mount Baldhead radar tower. This Cold War relic dates back to the 1950s, when the escalating arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had many Americans living in fear of an atomic bomb attack.

In 1949, the US Air Force teamed up with IBM and MIT to create the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system, a sophisticated computerized air defense network to watch over our northern border. This system collected data from hundreds of radar monitors across the country,  feeding it into one of the first true computer networks to keep an eye out for Soviet invaders. At the first sign of invasion, SAGE commanders would scramble fighter jets to intercept the threat.

However, because terrain obstructed radar signals along many parts of the border, additional “gap filler” radar towers were needed to create a complete view of low-flying aircraft. When the Air Force asked to lease 0.34 acres on the top of Mount Baldhead for this purpose, the Village of Saugatuck agreed—in exchange for the Air Force rebuilding the worn wooden steps to the top and planting vegetation to stabilize the dune.

Construction on the unmanned station began in 1956. Once complete, it featured a Bendix AN/ FPS-14 radar tower, supported by two diesel power generators, two motor/generator rotary regulators, a site monitor, and a data transmitter. The original antenna began sending radar data to the 781st Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron in Battle Creek in 1958.

By 1963, technology had taken another leap ahead, so the AN/FPS-14 radar and antenna was deactivated, removed, and replaced with an AN/FPS-18 radar and antenna, protected by the fiberglass dome you see today. However, its role was short-lived. As microprocessors led to faster, more sophisticated monitoring and communication, the SAGE system was eventually phased out.

When the Mount Baldhead radar was permanently deactivated in 1968, the Air Force terminated its lease, selling the building, tower, and radar equipment to the Village of Saugatuck for $250. While no longer operational, the site is still intact, and efforts are underway to add it to Michigan’s Register of Historic Places. And you can see a little piece of history up close, for the price of a little sweat equity. (See below.)

*Thanks to the Saugatuck-Douglas History Center for sharing background information.

Hike the “Ball & Chain”

 While you can see the Mount Baldhead radar tower from many parts of the beach, there’s nothing like climbing up to the top for a close-up view. The trail is open all year, but it’s even more of an adventure in summer with a little trip the locals call the Ball & Chain.

Crank the Chain

Start on the east side of the river in downtown Saugatuck and pay a dollar to board the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, the last working chain-driven ferry in the US. This hand-cranked boat crosses the Kalamazoo River on an underwater cable, providing a convenient shortcut to Mount Baldhead and other west-side attractions like the Saugatuck-Douglas History Museum and Oval Beach.

Climb to the Ball

Walk about .2 miles north from the ferry landing on Park Street, and look for the museum and the long wooden staircase to the peak. (Benches on the landings let you catch a breather if you need it. We won’t judge.) After climbing 300 steps to the top of Mount Baldhead, you’ll come face-to-face with the radar tower and peep over the trees to a enjoy a bird’s eye view of the harbor and town. If you’re up to it, follow the trail down the sand dune to cool off with a dip in the lake. Otherwise, take the stairs back down, wander through the museum, and have lunch after taking the ferry back across to downtown Saugatuck.

(Weather-permitting, the chain ferry runs all day from Memorial Day to Labor Day and costs $1/person each way.)