Forget the east and west coasts – fall in love with this lakeside paradise
OA year ago, I fell in love with a place in the United States that I had never heard of until a few weeks before: Saugatuck, Michigan. I was there as part of a state sunset coast road trip. Think of the huge lakefront dunes, charming waterfront towns, turquoise inland lakes, and fresh cherries, all of which come as a surprise to someone who grew up with coastal blinders. I even managed to fall in love while staying in a seedy roadside motel and without any planning or idea what this city was like.
This year, when I was invited by one of the area’s most famous properties, the Lake Shore Resort, I couldn’t say yes quickly enough. The property, which is perched on a ridge above Lake Michigan, is the latest pick in our series of exciting new and renovated hotels, The New Room with a View.
I’m not sure if people in the Midwest would be angry or happy that people on the coasts generally don’t know what Saugatuck and the Lakeshore has to offer (and since they’re from the Midwest, they’re probably too polite to say. ). Saugatuck is located on the west coast of Michigan a few hours from Chicago and a couple of hours from Detroit. It exploded as a summer destination around the turn of the century, attracting all types – religious groups, ferry trippers, artists, and the LGBT community. After the war, the general growth of this part of the country also led to the growth of summer towns. Much of the architecture, especially the motels along the Blue Star Highway, dates from the mid-century.
But Saugatuck (and neighboring Douglas) wasn’t your typical Midwestern summer haven. If you have time to visit the Saugatuck Douglas-School House History Center campus by next summer, there is an incredible exhibit dedicated to this area as an LGBT refuge akin to Fire Island Pines and Provincetown, a designation that has often led to conflict with the more button-down and conservative Midwestern world. Don’t miss the Saugatuck sections in Bob Damron’s Address Book, about the Dunes Resort (which has faced bomb threats and KKK threats), and all the sexy advertisements for gay clubs and saunas you’ll want to find and mentor.
The city itself is difficult to sum up in a few sentences. There is the charming town center with restaurants, shops and ice cream parlors. In the harbor you will find an endless stream of boats, some going up the Kalamazoo River, others along the canal and across the lake. You’ll find plenty of boats waving a Pride flag and the same goes for the Trump-Pence flag. There are great places to eat, whether it’s Pennyroyal Provisions or The Southerner (from the old Chopped winner Miss Corey) or even just buy sandwiches from Isabel.
As the city became a queer destination, the Lake Shore Resort was created by the grandparents of current owner Andrew Milauckas. They bought an abandoned fruit farm and turned it into a motel-style lodge by the water. Milauckas recently took over the property from his parents who managed it from the 80s to 2016 and gave it the update Daniel Rose could only dream of.
There are 31 rooms on the property, which is a one-story, horseshoe-shaped motel-style building. Each has been updated with modern accents but stayed true to the mid-century aesthetic. At the center of the property is a heated swimming pool followed by a lush lawn that falls to the horizon of the lake. It’s charm and drama at the same time, simple without being simplistic. Bikes are free and I would highly recommend one for a bike ride around town or near the Oval Beach. Rooms range from $ 275 to $ 410 a night in the summer and $ 245 to $ 340 in the fall.
There are two must-sees on the property.
The first sits just below the ridge line, a 150-foot bridge over the lake. (There are actually several bridges as you descend there, and all of them are favorite spots for the breathtaking view of the sunset over the lake.) Yoga classes are held there in the mornings, and it is possible to swim or get out of the kayaks in your footsteps.
The second is the lobby space, housed in a dark green house at the start of the horseshoe. Inside is a warm interior with its brick floors, library and café, but one is immediately drawn to the giant windows overlooking the wraparound porch and the lake.
It’s a sight that won’t make you wish you were anywhere else.