Chicagoans have many choices when it comes to picking a relaxing place for a weekend getaway. But if beautiful beaches are your thing it’s tough to beat Michigan. The Mitten State has more freshwater shoreline than any other state and some of the country’s best beaches are an easy hour- to three-hour drive from Chicago. There’s no better way to beat the heat than jumping into the fresh (shark-free) water of Lake Michigan. Visitors to the area can choose from a collection of cute towns that feel a world away from the hustle and bustle of urban living. Each one comes with its own charming character and they all offer something a bit different from art galleries, golf, breweries, wineries, and — of course — restaurants. These days there’s more delicious dining choices than ever to choose from. Here are our picks for some of the best places to eat while you beach in Michigan (plus a small part of Indiana).Read More
Where to Eat While Visiting Lake Michigan’s Beach Towns
Chicagoans can escape to the Mitten for a little pure Michigan
The Toasted Pickle
Those looking for something quick but different should check at this colorful sandwich shop located in the heart of downtown Grand Haven. The menu features a unique selection of sandwiches, soups, and salads all of which can be packed for a day at the beach. Options like the Italian Bomber (salami, Michigan ham, local bologna, aged provolone, spicy giardiniera, lettuce, tomato, red onion and aioli) are very well constructed.
Fricano's Pizza Tavern
Western Michigan’s most iconic pizzeria has been operating out of its current home since 1949. They offer pizza and drinks and that’s it. You can choose from just five topping options including anchovies and there’s just one size. Founded by two brothers who decided to introduce Western Michigan to a Sicilian style pizza their family had made and the rest is history with multiple locations today. That said, the original in Grand Haven is the one you want to try as the atmosphere is as important as the pizza, which is still cut with scissors by staff before being served. Order the “EBA” and you’ll get everything but anchovies.
Crossroads Blueberry Market
Michigan is the nation’s leading producer of cultivated blueberries and the Grand Haven area is where you’ll find the largest concentration of blueberry farms. Visit this market connected to one of those farms for blueberry everything including donuts, pies, ice cream, and boxes of the country’s best tasting blueberries when in-season (July through September).
James Beard Award semi-finalist chef Matthew Millar gave the Western Michigan area a colorful and laid back spot to indulge in his southern style cooking and they’ve embraced it big time. Whether customers want a full fledged fried chicken dinner or just some cocktails overlooking the banks of the Kalamazoo River it’s become the spot to check out when in the area. The dishes lean heavily on locally sourced ingredients while the menu showcases the chefs Southern roots.
Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions
If you’re looking for something more substantial than pizza and ice cream this day and night chef-driven cafe is a great choice. The menu features a well rounded selection of interesting options including a fried lake perch dinner served with fresh cut fries. Or try their campfire trout or the lamb agnolotti. Cocktails and locally brewed beers round out a menu that looks like it comes from a hip new spot in Chicago or Detroit rather than that of a beach town like Saugatauck.
The Farmhouse Deli & Pantry
After making the rounds as a chef and caterer Christine Ferris opened her dream deli in a lovely “Pure Michigan” setting. It’s a popular takeout shop dedicated to serving local goods and delicious sandwiches and such. Grab beach grub in the form of homemade salads and locally sourced meats from a deli case, breads from a baked goods case, caffeine from an organic coffee bar, fresh-squeezed juice from a juice bar plus a small retail selection featuring local products like the regionally loved Great Lakes Potato Chip Co. potato chips.
Pastor Willie Lark Sr. is also one of the areas best pit masters. He started out selling barbecue in an empty Benton Harbor lot and 25 years later it’s a well known eating establishment in the southwest Michiana area. While its new home is much spiffier than the original, the smoked meats remain the same. Meat is almost always being smoked in the busy summer time months as customers have been known to line up for rib tips served with a terrific sweet and smokey barbecue sauce that’s bottled on-site. Fried catfish is also considered some of the best in the area.
La Perla Produce Inc
The Harbor Country region has a number of supermercados with taquerias in the back that cater to the labor from the many farms found around the region. La Perla is the most popular and rightfully so. Families line up on the weekends for an outdoor street taco setup that includes al pastor cut from the spit, tender melt in your mouth lengua, smoky carne asada, and much more. Customers can also grab pounds of carnitas, barbacoa, and fresh grilling meats from the butcher section inside. There’s also a location on Napier.
Red Coach Donuts
Perhaps the epitome of a charming small-town doughnut shop, Red Coach Donuts offers an extensive lineup of styles that range from cake, yeast, and old-fashioned, to frys, twists, fritters, and Bismarcks in tons of sugary flavors. Weekend visitors should note that the shop takes pre-orders, so groups can build a custom box (subject to availability) and pick it up for snack attacks on the drive back to the city.
Emma Hearth & Market
A large hearth oven takes center stage at this pizzeria that doubles as a market selling curated products local to the area. Wood-fired pizza is served two ways one of which is a terrific grandma-style altaglio slice best tried with char-cup pepperoni. The husband and wife behind the operation also run a certified organic farm where many of the restaurant’s produce comes from. Sandwiches and salads make for great beach eats while families can enjoy a Roman inspired thin crust pizza on the picnic tables outside.
FLAGSHIP Specialty Foods & Fish Market
Another newcomer to the area’s growing regional food scene is this fishmonger that triples as a market and a takeout stop. Customers can take baskets of fried fish including cod and lake perch among other items to their picnic tables outside overlooking the Red Arrow Highway. Anyone searching for seafood to make at their rental or campsite will also want to stop and check out the day’s fresh catch offerings.
Located on a scenic corner in one of Harbor Country’s most charming little towns is some of the area’s best pizza all served from a walk-up window. Patellie’s takes great pride in “an honest approach to an old favorite responsibly sourced, high quality ingredients.” East Coast-leaning pies and the massive slices that come from them get decorated with fresh local ingredients. They’ve been a major draw since first opening so it’s best to call your order in ahead.
Skip the long wait for pre-cooked cheeseburgers at the overhyped place down the road and maximize your beach time with a box of broasted chicken from the area’s best grocery store. Barney’s has been supplying both locals and visitors with everything they need for their cook outs but they also make some addictive broasted chicken found in the deli section. It’s the perfect snack to bring to the beach and it’s popularity means there’s always some being fried up. Don’t miss the sensational ‘Pure Michigan’ craft beer selection from here if that’s your thing.
Stop 50 Wood Fired Pizzeria
Resting in the heart of the tranquil Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is one of the area’s first locally conscious and seasonal restaurant. When Stop 50 first opened in the summer of 2006 it was a unique thing for a local restaurant to take advantage of the local bounty. Stop 50 does so in the form of Naples inspired wood-fired pizza cooked in an open kitchen oven using fresh in-season ingredients. Non-pizza favorites include the wood-roasted sausage stuffed banana peppers an s'mores roasted over the wood fire.
Cool Runnings Jamaican Restaurant
Most of the bars and restaurants in the area live off their close proximity to the water and the allure of booze rather than the quality of food. The grub at this little Jamaican joint is one of the major exceptions in the area. Diners are treated to big plates of heavily seasoned Jamaican favorites such as jerk chicken, oxtail, and curried goat. Ice cold Ting and Red Stripes are perfect for washing it all down on a hot summer day.