If you’re like many Michiganders, you’re ready to hit the beach. You know you’ll have to eat while you’re out there, so you might as well enjoy it!
MICHIGAN—West Michigan’s coastline along Lake Michigan is one of the best regions for a sightseeing—and tasting—journey in Michigan. Although Lake Michigan doesn’t have the longest shoreline of the Great Lakes (that would be Lake Huron) nor the largest volume of water (that would be Lake Superior), many of Michigan’s most popular beaches and coastal towns can be found on its shores… and that means restaurants.
Several of the most popular towns on the Lake Michigan shoreline—Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington, and Manistee, for example—started out as lumber mills, with Muskegon once taking the title as Michigan’s leading lumber producer. Today, however, these towns have thriving tourism industries and plenty of hidden foodie hotspots to discover.
If you’re ready to take a trip to the Mitten’s west coast for a day (or two) trip, we’ve got a few suggestions for the best places to stop for a bite to eat, in ascending northern order.
The Stray Dog Bar and Grill (New Buffalo)
245 N. Whittaker St., New Buffalo
For Michigan natives and visitors alike, one eatery has become the most significant pit stop after crossing the Michigan state line: The Stray Dog. This waterfront restaurant is synonymous with the first exit on I-94, but its fare won’t break the bank. It’s become so popular among travelers throughout its two decades of operation that The Stray Dog’s licensed apparel from The Gear Store is commonly seen in far-flung places like Disney World.
The Stray Dog serves up American favorites and bar food like burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and plenty of appetizers. One of the best attractions at The Stray Dog is its rooftop dining and bar area, accessible only to guests over 21 years of age. The rooftop, which offers scenic views of New Buffalo’s Municipal Marina, is so noteworthy that Yelp named it Michigan’s top rooftop restaurant. The rooftop opens mid-May. But for guests under 21, the main restaurant has a warm and welcoming atmosphere, with the large fireplace standing out as a customer favorite for its added ambiance.
Greenbush Brewing Company (Sawyer)
5885 Sawyer Road, Sawyer
Whether you’re looking for craft beer, making a stop for food off I-94, or just looking for takeout to bring to Warren Dunes State Park, Greenbush has you covered. Greenbush is popular for their comfort food favorites like barbecue, mac and cheese, fried chicken, brisket, and pulled pork. Their extensive menu of sandwiches makes for perfect beachgoing fare. Or you can stay awhile and enjoy appetizers like loaded tots, bacon blue dip, pimento cheese, pork rinds, and charcuterie.
Greenbush’s best beers are its IPAs, with Star Chicken Shotgun, an American IPA, and Brother Benjamin, an Imperial IPA, serving as the more popular options. But also check out their dark beers like Distorter, a porter/stout hybrid, or Delusion, an imperial cream stout. If you’re not into the heavy stuff, just take a tall, summer-ready glass of 400 Divine Rabbits, an agave wheat ale, or Traktor, a golden cream ale.
Before you leave, take a walk over to Sawyer Garden Center for local produce like apples and asparagus as well as wines. If you’re looking to expand your tour of craft breweries, also check out nearby small craft beer operations at Transient Artisan Ales and Tapistry Brewing in neighboring Bridgman.
Emma Hearth and Market (Bridgman)
9709 Red Arrow Hwy., Bridgman
Emma Hearth and Market’s pizza is so popular that its mushroom pizza landed on the Chicago Tribune’s list of best food and drink in 2016. Their famous wood-fired pizza can be cooked in as little as 90 seconds, making it easy to snag the by-the-slice pizza if you’ve gotta get lakeside. The pizzas can be made in authentic Roman style, a thinner crust with crisp edge; New York style, a hand-tossed chewy, thin crust; Detroit style, a crispy-on-the-outside and chewy-on-the-inside square pizza; or Pizza Altaglio, which has a thicker pan crust.
The gelato and sorbetto flavors are a decadent way to chill out on a summer day. The former flavors include fresh lemon, tiramisu, spumoni, roasted pistachio, banana caramel praline, and even Mackinac Island fudge.
The Mason Jar Cafe (Benton Harbor)
210 Water St., Benton Harbor
There’s nothing more heavenly than enjoying brunch in a Michigan beach town. Benton Harbor’s Mason Jar Cafe is not only the top-rated restaurant in the area on TripAdvisor, it’s got the best brunch for miles around. But it’s also great for grabbing an iced coffee for your outing to Jean Klock Park, Whirlpool Compass Fountain, or the lighthouses at Silver Beach County Park and Tiscornia Park.
The Mason Jar Cafe is a cozy little restaurant located in downtown Benton Harbor. It has a sunlit patio that’s perfect for people-watching while enjoying all your breakfast and brunch favorites. The huevos rancheros, a Mexican breakfast dish of eggs and tortillas, is one of the most popular items. The coffee is also a big draw, with varieties like cappuccino, macchiato, Americano, cold brew, iced, and more—all optionally available with house-made syrup. The superfood lattes are especially interesting, incorporating organic ingredients like turmeric, beetroot, ginger, coconut, and even dandelion root. Mmmm!
Clementine’s (South Haven)
500 Phoenix St., South Haven
The port city of South Haven might be a resort town now, but it has a lot of history. You can soak up some of that history with a delicious fish dinner at Clementine’s, one of the most popular South Haven dining experiences for locals and tourists alike. Clementine’s is located in downtown South Haven in the historic Citizens Bank building, originally built in 1896. Details like the stained glass, tin ceiling, and globe chandeliers are meant to be admired. It makes for a relaxing beginning to the day or evening visit following a trip to one of South Haven’s many beaches.
The most popular dishes at Clementine’s include its pan-fried yellow lake perch and potato-crusted Canadian walleye. But there’s a little something for everyone at Clementine’s, with other options including steaks, ribs, fried chicken, grilled sandwiches, pasta, burgers, and more. You can also check out their location in St. Joseph, cutely named Clementine’s Too.
The South Haven location is surrounded by plenty of window-shopping opportunities. Before you leave, make sure to check out The Blueberry Store just down the street. Here, you’ll not only find fresh, dried, and frozen varieties of South Haven’s trademark crop, blueberry, but a cornucopia of other offerings as well; there’s blueberry jam, honey, salsa, salad dressing, barbecue sauce, coffee, soda, cookies, and even smoked sausage.
Sherman’s Dairy Bar (South Haven)
1601 Phoenix St., South Haven
It’s not a Michigan summer without Blue Moon ice cream, and South Haven has one of the best ice cream spots around to get it.
Located right off I-94, Sherman’s Dairy Bar is a convenient stop no matter how much time you’re spending in South Haven. It’s a classic outdoor service ice cream stand where customers line up to place their orders. But it’s definitely worth it; the ice cream comes in big portions and loaded with mix-ins. If that’s not enough, there’s fruit, nuts, and syrup available as toppings.
What makes Sherman’s so good? Its commitment to old-fashioned ice cream traditions. They use many flavors with a rich and creamy base that’s not too hard on the wallet. Sherman’s is a longstanding part of the South Haven community, with the original Sherman selling dairy as far back as 1916. The ice cream store has been in business now for almost seven decades of creamy goodness.
Farmhouse Deli and Pantry (Douglas)
100 Blue Star Hwy., Douglas
The Saugatuck area is one of Michigan’s best beach getaways. You’ll find several beaches in the area, including Oval Beach, which was listed on Condé Nast Traveler’s Top 25 Beaches in the World. There’s also great parks for picnics, so your best bet is to stop at a nice sandwich shop like the Farmhouse Deli and Pantry for some great picnic food.
The Farmhouse Deli and Pantry is best known for using locally-sourced ingredients to craft both cold and hot artisan sandwiches, salads, baked goods, and more. The banh mi, a sandwich derived from South Vietnamese cuisine, is a popular option, possibly because it comes in either the classic pork recipe or a vegan alternative. The beet and kale salads are also best-sellers.
Just last spring, the Farmhouse Deli and Pantry expanded its operations to increase the indoor seating capacity and add more outdoor seating. But there’s also plenty of great spots around to take a packed lunch. Check out Douglas Beach Park or Wade’s Bayou Memorial Park for a lakeside picnic that’s just down the road.
Deboer Bakkerij (Holland)
360 Douglas Ave., Holland
Bakkerij is just the Dutch word for bakery, and Holland is known for celebrating its Dutch heritage most famously during the annual Tulip Time Festival—but also year-round. So if you can grab some authentic Dutch pastries or a Dutch breakfast while you’re in town, all the better.
The Deboer Bakkerij has two locations, one north and one south of Lake Macatawa. The south location, which provides fast service for on-the-go travelers, is very close to Kollen Park. The north location, intended for a more full-service, sit-down restaurant experience, is within walking distance of Howard B. Dunton Park. Both locations offer a variety of bakery items including Dutch Currant bread and Dutch coffee cake. The north location is the original, serving up breakfast and brunch with European-inspired cuisine. Some favorites include the New Amsterdam and Old Amsterdam omelets, Klompen Cakes, and Belgee’s Waffle.
The south location, on the other hand, has both on-the-go breakfast sandwiches and hand-dipped fried chicken tenders and sandwiches. These are often perfect on-the-go meals to give you energy on your tour of Holland’s many attractions, such as Windmill Island Gardens or the Holland Museum.
The Toasted Pickle (Grand Haven)
112 Washington Ave., Grand Haven
Pickles are definitely a love-’em-or-hate-’em type of food. But if you fall more into the former category, you’ll definitely want to check out this pickle-themed restaurant in Grand Haven.
The Toasted Pickle is one of four restaurants that will deliver food to Odd Side Ales, direct to the table. So, if you’re looking to experience one of Michigan’s best sources for craft beer and hard seltzer, you can’t go wrong with a sandwich from Toasted Pickle on the side.
Two of the Toasted Pickle’s most well-known sandwiches have been featured on Food Network’s Cooking Channel: the Green Goddess Grilled Cheese, which has a uniquely sweet homemade pesto sauce; and the Nashville Hottie, a spin on chicken and waffles that features a sweet, spicy sauce. Another noteworthy creation is the Pickle Popper, a fried dill spear with pimento cheese inside. You also can’t miss the customer-favorite truffle fries.
Whether you grab a sandwich on-site or to-go, they’re a perfect addition to a Grand Haven itinerary of hitting the beach, seeing the Grand Haven Musical Fountain or the Grand Haven Lighthouse, or maybe checking out a historic train ride or the Midwest Miniatures Museum.
The Deck (Muskegon)
1601 Beach St., Muskegon
The popular boating destination of Muskegon has one beachfront restaurant and it makes it so you don’t have to go down south for a Spring Break experience. The Deck is called an “adult playground,” located right on the beach of Muskegon’s Pere Marquette Park.
Whether you prefer a full dining experience or the grab-and-go counter-service vibe, The Deck has you covered. In the Below Deck area, customers can dig their heels into the sand, listen to live music, and go to the bar or takeout window for drinks and food. In the Top Deck area, customers get full-service dinner and drinks while enjoying breathtaking views of Lake Michigan. You even have the option of swing seating! The Deck also features live music all season long, most of which doesn’t require a ticket.
The fare includes a lot of reasonably priced barbecue and beachgoing food like smokehouse combos, sandwiches, hot dogs, sliders, and Tex-Mex inspired Beach Burro Bowls.
Make sure to also check out the nearby Muskegon South Pierhead Lighthouse and USS Silversides Submarine Museum while you’re in the area. Other attractions include the Muskegon Museum of Art and the Muskegon State Park, which features the Muskegon Luge Adventure Sports Park.
Silver Lake Chicken Shack (Mears)
8343 W. Hazel Road, Mears
Some of Michigan’s best beach towns are, well, small towns. Over one million visitors per year visit the Silver Lake Sand Dunes, known for its opportunities to explore the dunes in a dune buggy or fat-tire bike. But the little town of Mears is also worth exploring, especially if you need to stock up on protein.
The Silver Lake Chicken Shack might look deceiving from the outside, but it’s got some amazing chicken wings for great prices. And of course, it’s immensely popular for both locals and tourists visiting the Silver Lake Sand Dunes.
The wings are rotisserie-seasoned and gluten-free, made with a custom-made rub. You can order a total of eight different sauces like the trademark Billy Bones Mild BBQ, or other varieties like Sweet Habanero or Carribean Jerk. There are also classic sides like baked potatoes, French fries, baked beans, and coleslaw. No muss, no fuss.
The Silver Lake Chicken Shack is only open from Memorial Day through mid-September, so get it while it’s hot! Make sure to also try out go-karting, zip lining, or mini golf at Craig’s Cruisers Silver Lake just next door.
House of Flavors (Ludington)
402 W Ludington Ave., Ludington
This 1950s-themed ice cream parlor and restaurant is often the best part of visiting Ludington during the summer. House of Flavors was famous for holding the Guinness World Record for the longest ice cream dessert, at least until it was beaten by a Texas establishment in 2018 (ugh!). For more than 70 years, House of Flavors has been a delightful destination for many Michigan families.
Their signature flavor is Blue Moon, but there’s plenty more varieties of ice cream, sundaes, shakes, malts, and ice cream sodas. The food menu is diner-inspired, with turkey dinners being one of the most popular orders. There’s also a long menu of sandwiches and wraps, as well as a full breakfast menu. Make sure to check out the vintage ’50s jukebox, too!
House of Flavors is located within walking distance of the waterfront, with both the Ludington Municipal Marina and Harbor View Marina very close by. Waterfront Park makes for a perfect spot to enjoy an ice cream cone while soaking up the views of the water. You can also enjoy the Waterfront Park & Sculpture Garden. Stearns Park Beach is also nearby. Make sure to also check out Ludington State Park, home to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse.
The Daily BakeHouse (Manistee)
76 Division St., Manistee
Manistee’s restaurant scene might be better known for frequent fish fries and “catch-and-cook” restaurants, but the baked goods at the Daily BakeHouse are the diamond in the rough. The Daily BakeHouse has placed first several times for best bakery in the region with Traverse Magazine.
True to its name, the goodies at the Daily BakeHouse change, well, daily. The Facebook page frequently updates with the fresh offerings of breads, as well as whatever cookies, scones, cinnamon buns, or other sweet treats they might have cooked up. The Daily BakeHouse is only a few blocks away from the Manistee Riverwalk, so it’s the perfect place to stop by for a snack to take on a leisurely walk by the Manistee River.
Stormcloud Brewing Company (Frankfort)
303 Main St., Frankfort
There are plenty of great breweries in Michigan, but Stormcloud Brewing Company is one of the state’s best-kept secrets. This small brewery in the harbor town of Frankfort has a big claim to fame: It was named 2022 Brewery of the Year at San Francisco’s USA Beer Ratings competition. And its flagship beer, Rainmaker Ale, earned a gold medal in the same competition.
Aside from the award-winning Belgian-style craft beer, Stormcloud Brewing in downtown Frankfort is one of the better food options in the area. The flatbread pizzas are by far the stars of the food menu, but there’s other options like beer cheese, sandwiches, salads, a grain bowl, and mac and cheese. The Parkview Taproom just down the road also has different food trucks daily.
Since it’s located right in downtown Frankfort, there’s plenty of scenic downtown to enjoy nearby either before or after your meal. The Frankfort Municipal Marina is within walking distance and there are other attractions nearby like the Oliver Art Center.
Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate (Empire)
11590 S. Lacore St., Empire
Whether you use it as a sweet beginning or a sweet ending, you can’t go wrong with Grocer’s Daughter in Empire, just minutes away from the massively popular Sleeping Bear Dunes. The team operates both their original chocolate shop and a newer gelato and sweets shop.
Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate is a women-owned company that ships nationwide. The owners are committed to ethically sourced chocolate, and, as their product offerings have grown, they have expanded to locally sourcing as many ingredients as possible. Their most popular products are handcrafted European-style truffles and honey caramel made with directly sourced Ecuadorian chocolate.
The Gelato and Sweets Shop is new as of 2022 and features seasonal flavors of homemade gelato and sorbet as well as cookies, shakes, floats, and affogatos. You can even book an apartment above the gelato shop through AirBnB.
There are a lot of attractions nearby to enjoy in Empire, such as Empire Beach and Empire Bluff Hiking Trail. Check out Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak if you’re interested in kayaking and don’t have your own equipment.
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