Outdoor Weekend Getaway in Saugatuck and Douglas, Michigan

  • Distance from Chicago: 140 miles
  • Best time: June to September
  • Best for: Arts and CultureFood and WineOutdoor

We double-up on Saugatuck and Douglas to make the most of your weekend time. Just a mile apart, Saugatuck sees most of the bustle of activity, whereas Douglas is smaller and quieter. Together, they make up one of Chicago's favorite places for a nearby escape full of art galleries, incredible local eats and drinks, and outdoor options like exploring the local sand dunes and simply relaxing on the beach. Plus the gay-friendly atmosphere has also given the area its "Provincetown of the Midwest" moniker. With the festive vibe you'll find here, you're bound to have a fun weekend. –By Elisa Drake

Friday

Saugatuck and Douglas Cheat Sheet

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1.Dive right into the local art scene at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts. Every summer evening, students and staff open their studios to showcase their works. At other times during the year, there are musical performances and free gallery exhibits, so check the schedule in advance.

2.Our pick for dinner is Hercules Bar and Grill, which serves a loosely Greek-influenced menu of raved-about grilled rainbow trout, fresh Greek salad, chicken marsala, and piled-high pastitso, with a perfectly light topping of parmesan and bechamel custard. Get some fresh air on the garden patio or screened-in porch when it's warm.

3.Head across the lake for a nightcap at Douglas bar and restaurant Zing, where summers bring live cool jazz every Friday and Saturday night. Top sips on the "Zingtini" list include pomegranate and gin martinis.

Saturday

Insider Tip Consider yourself a gourmand? Then a gastronomical trek through Saugatuck Hungry Village Tours (www.hungryvillagetours.com) makes a perfect way to spend a few hours. You'll sip and taste treats at some of the area's specialty food and wine shops, learning secrets like how the local bakery makes its famous cookies.

1.Ron and Vicki Beisel have put their heart, soul, and lots of TLC into their 2012-opened Douglas spot, Vicki's Family Diner—and it shows. Especially in the big, beautiful blueberry pancakes and Belgian waffle with strawberries and whipped cream; three-egg omelets done up right in a sauce pan; eggs Benedict with shaved ham; and all-American breakfasts with eggs, meat, potato, and toast. Local artwork decorates the walls and is all for sale.

2.Grab your towel and sunscreen and make your way to Oval Beach, a brilliant stretch of white sand beach that brings everyone out in warm weather. Concessions and facilities make it easy to stay awhile and soak up the Lake Michigan shore scene.

3.When you've dragged yourself away from the beach, head for a light lunch at Everyday People Café in Douglas. Behind its nondescript exterior is an art deco-styled breath of fresh air and creative food. Try the Prince Edward Island mussels, the smoked sea salt- and peppercorn-crusted burger, or the B.E.L.T., a bacon, fried egg, bibb lettuce, and tomato sandwich with organic goat cheese, arugula, and avocado mayonnaise.

4.Get your art back on with a browse through downtown Saugatuck's four-block radius of galleries surrounding Butler and Water streets. Local co-op the Discovery Art Center covers multiple genres including painting, weaving, jewelry, photography and polymer clay. Each artist takes a turn manning the store, so be sure to ask them about their work and inspiration.

5.Drive north and jump into the open-air truck of the Saugatuck Dune Ride. Prepare to be jostled around on this "scenic thrill ride." The 35-minute excursion takes groups over the dunes and through the woods for fun and some historic info, stopping at one of the area's highest dunes to stretch your legs and—optional for adults—roll down the hill.

6.Back in town, settle into the recently re-energized Toulouse for classic French dishes. Try the coquilles Jacque with sea scallops, mushrooms and a marsala cream sauce or the cassoulet, bursting with flavorful great northern beans, bacon, duck breast, housemade duck sausage and duck confit.

7.Keep the night going with a stop at Coral Gables, where four different bars offer something for every type. We recommend the Annex Piano Bar where even the most modest sing along and the outdoor Tiki Bar with pure summertime vibe.

Sunday

1.Nearly 25 years together give locals Kate Casey and Heather Barton bragging rights to one of the best breakfasts in the area at Monroe's, complete with plenty of Marilyn memorabilia. The hollandaise in the eggs Benedict is made from scratch, with that perfect hint of lemon. Or go for some green with the asparagus omelet special.

2.Squeeze in the quick round trip across the Kalamazoo River on the Chain Ferry. Built in 1857, the hand-cranked chain ferry is the only one of its kind left in North America.

3.Wind down your trip with a wine tasting at Fenn Valley Vineyards and Wine Cellar amidst the rolling hills of nearby Fennville. Depending on the time of year, you can explore the cellar or vineyard. Self-guided tours are year-round; guided tours typically pick up in the fall with a stroll through the vineyard.

Where to Stay

There are so many adorable bed and breakfasts, picturesque inns, and incredible home rentals, it's hard to choose. But one of our favorites remains the BaySide Inn (rooms from $160/night). For starters, this renovated 1927 boathouse boasts a scenic setting along the Kalamazoo River. Its 10 rooms feature downtown Saugatuck or water views, and the four suites have fireplaces. Enjoy breakfast and afternoon snacks, like homemade cookies, on the riverfront patio.

Another top lodging choice is the beautifully decorated Maplewood Hotel (rooms from $185/night), within walking distance of downtown Saugatuck. A misnomer because it's actually a 15-room bed and breakfast, the 1860s Greek-Revival property exudes charm, from its green-and-white-striped awnings and pillared façade to its floral-wallpapered rooms and its sunny glass-enclosed porch.

When to Go

It's no surprise that this lakeside resort town sees its small population of less than 2,500 soar during the summer. After all, its main beach has been rated one of the best in the country.

During the off-season, many restaurants and attractions keep limited hours and some inns go into hibernation. But if you prefer to avoid crowds, you can also get some great winter deals on cozy bed and breakfasts.

How to Get There

By car: For this 2-1/2-hour trip, take I-90/94 East toward Detroit and continue on I-90/the Skyway until it meets back with I-94 in Indiana. Remember to bring money or your FastPass for steep tolls on the Skyway. Take I-196 north toward Holland/Grand Rapids and then Exit 36 for Douglas/Saugatuck.

By train: Driving is really the most practical way to get to Saugatuck/Douglas, but you can catch Amtrak's Pere Marquette service, which runs once a day from Chicago into Holland, Mich., about 12 miles away. It's a fairly inexpensive cab ride from Holland to Saugatuck, and once you're there, you can call for Saugatuck's Interurban Transit vans to get you from place to place once you're there.

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