20 Best Things to Do in South Haven MI, Including a Pirate Sailing Adventure!

South Haven MI

Sand, Shopping & Pirates in South Haven MI

Why Visit South Haven?

Michigan, bordered by multiple Great Lakes, is blessed with seemingly endless shorelines, beach towns, and vacation destinations. So why do families and couples decide to make South Haven MI their vacation destination?

South Haven’s Great Location

South Haven is an easy escape for those coming from Chicago, with a drive of a little over three hours.

For visitors from Kalamazoo, you’re looking at under an hour in the car to make it to the beach. This close proximity to Kalamazoo makes South Haven a natural choice for beach days for families from greater Kalamazoo.

map south haven mi

Small Town Charm

South Haven is a small town with big flavor. The city swells in size between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with a healthy fall season, too, as visitors fill the streets, shops, and restaurants.

South Haven has a different vibe than neighboring Saugatuck and St Joseph. If you can, take time to visit all three destinations and discover what’s unique about each Lake Michigan beach town.

Off-season visitors will find a sleepier town that’s easy to navigate and fun to explore.

Here’s how the year-round population stacks up against nearby Michigan beach towns:

South Haven MIpopulation 4400
Saugatuck MIpopulation 1000
St. Joseph MIpopulation 8300

Unique Things to Do

If you visit during the summer, you’re in for playtime in the sand along the shores of Lake Michigan, shopping along the harbor, and tall ships with pirates.

In fact, visiting South Haven during the summer is a bucket list item for our family every year.

We love to do the pirate sail (capture the scoundrels!) We love that we can walk from the museum to shopping, dining and of course, the beach.

In season, be sure to pick blueberries and enjoy the National Blueberry Festival.

Getting Around South Haven

Downtown South Haven is delightfully walkable. Trips outside of the city center will require a vehicle – there is no public transportation.

Bicycles are another option in South Haven. The Kal-Haven State park trailhead is in South Haven, and many of the roads in town feature bike lanes.

To fully experience South Haven, be sure to visit both sides of the Black River.

Pick up your own map at the South Haven Visitor’s Bureau at 546 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090.

Things to Do in South Haven

Here’s our list of top things to do in South Haven MI, in no particular order:

1) Hit the Beach

The beaches are where the action is at in South Haven.

With seven public beaches in the city, there is no shortage of options. Most beaches charge for parking.

The biggest beaches are North Beach and South Beach, adjacent to the Black River channel. Both are made of sugar sand and have playground equipment. South Beach is walkable from downtown South Haven.

South Beach
60 Water St, South Haven, MI 49090

South Beach is popular. Adjacent to the South Haven Lighthouse, splashpad, and downtown, it has a prime location. It’s also got lovely sand and a playground.

North Beach
45 Lakeshore Dr, South Haven, MI 49090

In addition to the sugar sand, playground, and channel-side location, North Beach also has a concession stand. Hot dogs, ice cream, shaved ice, beach toys, etc are available here, as are volleyball net rentals.

Parking at North Beach: $10 per trip parking fee (credit card or cash) or $30 for a weekly pass. 

You’ll find great beaches outside of the city limits as well. Take a short drive to find these treasures:

Deerlick Creek Beach (South Haven Township Park)
76773 13th Ave, South Haven, MI 49090

Deerlick Creek Beach is a small, sandy Lake Michigan beach with free parking. A small creek snakes along the shore, eventually flowing into the lake. It’s a fun play place for younger kids.

Leashed dogs are welcome here. The swimming area and creek bottom is a bit rocky – you may want water shoes if going into the water. Visitors have reported finding beach glass and cool rocks here.

Van Buren State Park
23960 Ruggles Rd, South Haven, MI 49090

Clocking in at 400 acres, Van Buren State Park is home to a mile of sandy Lake Michigan shoreline.

High waters over the past few years have caused significant erosion at this beach, making the main access inaccessible until repairs can be completed. Alternate hiking paths through the dunes are available for those wanting to reach the beach. The southern end of the beach property is an area designated for visitors with dogs.

Van Buren State Park
Van Buren State Park in South Haven, Michigan

2) Shop the Farmers Market

South Haven Farmers Market
539 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

Make sure that you check out the bounty of locally grown produce and farm products at the Farmers Market in South Haven.

The market is open Wednesdays (in the summer) and Saturdays.

3) Enjoy the Food

Clementine’s
500 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

For a late lunch, you might want to stop at the iconic Clementine’s. This family-friendly hangout looks like an old saloon with tin ceilings and heavy wood trim. It’s busy during peak times. Use their new take-out function for a picnic.

Taste
402 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

Small plates exploding with flavor are what you’ll find at this lunch and dinner spot. Taste has a great patio location overlooking the river and downtown.

Chomp
402 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

During the summer months, stop by Chomp for grab-n-go gourmet hot dogs.

Six Chicks Scratch Kitchen
364 Broadway, South Haven, MI 49090

For downhome breakfast and lunch, you’ve gotta go to Six Chicks Scratch Kitchen. Everything here is good and the portions are generous. From omelets to burgers, you won’t go wrong. They are open Wednesday through Sunday from 7:00 am to 2:00 pm for dine in, take out, and grab n go. Breakfast served all day.

Black River Tavern
403 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

Black River Tavern is the spot for craft beer and burgers on the patio. Online ordering for takeout is available.

Sherman’s Dairy Bar
1601 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090

A visit to South Haven isn’t complete without locally made ice cream at Sherman’s Dairy BarFamily members can share the “Pig’s Dinner” – a Sherman’s original. It’s served in a wooden trough if that gives a clue just how big it is.

Have energy left to burn off after eating ice cream?

4) Conquer the Aqua Obstacle Courses at Arvesta Sport Complex

Arvesta Sport Complex
06464 Arvesta Dr, South Haven MI 49090

What was once a sand mining operation has turned into the Midwest’s latest recreation destination.

Stay tuned as this destination continues to add features and has a spectacular 10-year plan.

New for 2021, Lake Arvesta Sports Complex is partnering with the City of South Haven for Red Flag Day Specials. If the South Haven beaches are flying a red flag, head to Arvesta Sports Complex for a 15% off discount that day (see their website for details.)

This beautiful venue features multiple on-site lakes, each tasked with a different purpose.

Many activities are offered, including:

  • Pickleball (12 courts, reserve in advance.)
  • Swimming area with shade and groomed beach
  • Cable Wakeboarding – all skill levels. Lessons & rentals available.
  • Aqua Park (Wibits – Floating obstacle courses) with toddler/little kids area for kids under 42″
  • Tubing and boat rides available by appointment
  • Kayaking/Stand Up Paddleboarding
  • Giant Waterslides
  • Onsite restaurant with outdoor beverages allowed
  • Special live mermaid events and drone shows
  • Private deck rental
  • Lifeguards on Duty

5) Monkey Around at a Cool Playground

South Beach Playground
60 Water St, South Haven MI

South Beach has a playground and on a scorching summer day, the kids can run for a quick dip in the lake. There is a parking fee at this beach.

Kids Corner Playground, Monroe Park & Beach
82 Monroe St, South Haven MI 49090

Kids Corner (perched across the road from the bluff off Monroe Street) is a large wooden play structure bound to make the kids rest easy at night.

6) Chase the Pirates on Historic Ship: Friends Good Will

We’d seen the tall ship many times while walking out to the lighthouse.

If you get a chance to experience South Haven standing at the bow, the wind blowing on our face, aboard the historic 1810 replica sloop – Friends Good Will – take it.

Sign up for The Pirate Chaser Sail and this is what you’re in for – plenty of adventure on the water and entertainment for all ages.

We didn’t have to walk the plank, but there was plenty of pirate fun to be had.

As part of your Pirate Sail Adventure, you’ll be given a special pirate coin to board the sail (and a sword to fight off the pirates, if desired),

After we toured the museum, all sailors met at the flagpole where the adventure on the high seas (aka Lake Michigan) was getting ready to begin.

The captain and the crew provide a brief overview of sailing terms. Kids are given hints on just how to recapture the stolen treasure.

Children are encouraged to help the crew with the ropes. Heading through the harbor, we enjoyed waving to the friends on land.

South Haven

Out to ‘sea’ – the adventure escalates with the pirates who had the treasure chest on a nearby boat. A canon is fired, and alas the treasure recovered. My children were on pins and needles the entire time watching the daring escapades.

With the treasure back on board, the crew distributed the treasure to the rest of the crew, including all of the kid pirates.

You’ll love the below deck tour while you learn a bit more about the history of the Friends Good Will. 

South Haven

The Pirate Chaser Adventure Sails begins mid-June, Wednesday through Saturday at 11:00 AM. The adventure is 90 minutes and admission to the Michigan Maritime Museum is included in the cost of the tickets.

  • Sailing occurs rain or shine.
  • Children must be over the age of four to sail on the Pirate Chaser Adventure Sail.
  • Seating is limited and you’ll want to be prepared to move around the ship during the sail. The crew needs adequate space to move around and work the sail.
  • There is plenty of opportunity for kids (and adults) to assist and the crew was amazing at instructing the children.
  • Friends Good Will offers a regular daily sail (non-pirate themed) at 1:15 PM and 3:15 PM
  • Tickets for all sailing excursions offered through the Maritime Museum can be purchased online.
Lindylou
Lindy Lou Boat Rides are also available at the Michigan Maritime Museum

7) Visit the Michigan Maritime Museum

Michigan Maritime Museum
260 Dyckman Ave, South Haven, MI 49090

If you’re in South Haven, you’ll want to tour the various buildings and exhibits at the Michigan Maritime Museum – especially if you’re going on one of their boating tours.

With five separate buildings offering a variety of engaging opportunities for the museum visitor, there is plenty to see and learn.

Don’t miss the changing gallery exhibits and the Working Padnos Boat Shed.

8) Scope Out the South Haven Lighthouse

South Haven Lighthouse
Water St, South Haven, MI 49090

The lighthouse sits at the West End of the South Pier at the Mouth of the Black River in South Haven MI.

The station was lit in 1872 and is still operational. If the weather is nice, you can walk out on the catwalk (original) for an up close view of the light.

9) Bike the Kal Haven Trail

Kal Haven Trail State Park Trailhead
66 Bailey Ave, South Haven, MI 49090
Rock ‘n’ Road Cycle of South Haven
315 Broadway St, South Haven, MI 49090

Clocking in at just over 30 miles, the Kal Haven State Park Rail Trail links the City of Kalamazoo with South Haven MI.

The rails-to-trails pathway passes through small towns and is perfect for an extended bike ride. Sections of the trail are crushed stone, while other parts are paved. Local bike rentals are available at Rock ‘n’ Road Cycle of South Haven.

10) Shop the Cute Downtown

South Haven’s downtown shopping area is perfect if you want to find unique treasures for any family member. From t-shirts to dog treats to toys to local finds, it’s probably tucked away in store in South Haven.

Be sure to visit the main street area (Phoenix St) as well as the Old Harbor Village area.

A few of our favorite shops in downtown South Haven include:

Props
528 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090
– Unique finds, gift boutique, definitely stop here.
Decadent Dogs
505 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090
– Dogs allowed! Everything imaginable for your furry friend.
Oh My Darlings
508 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090
– Cute toy store with all the best brands
Sweet Haven Candy
411 Phoenix St, South Haven, MI 49090
– Great selection of hard-to-find treats and sweets
downtown south haven mi shopping

11) Cool off at the Friends Good Will Splash Pad

South Haven’s splash pad is modeled after the Michigan Maritime Museum’s historic ship, Friend’s Good Will.

The ship is a replica of an 1800s sailing schooner. The splash pad is near South Beach along the channel. Picnic tables and modern restrooms are nearby.

12) Pick Your Way Through a Local Blueberry Farm

South Haven is blueberry central!

From July through mid August, South Haven MI visitors can pick blueberries. Drive through the area surrounding South Haven and you’ll see why – mile after mile of blueberry fields loaded with the delicious, healthy fruit.

Many U-Pick blueberry destinations offer extra family fun.

Bumbleberry Acres has a free petting zoo, playground, along with wagon rides, corn maze, and more in season.

You can also go on a Blueberry Tasting Tour at Bumbleberry Acres. In season, sign up for a 2-hour tour into the fields and taste a minimum of 3 different varieties of blueberries. You will be taken by the farmer on a tractor-drawn wagon tour of our farm and stop to taste varieties that rarely make it to u-pickers buckets. Learn the history, uses, and differences of each variety. Plus, you’ll have time to pick the berries of your choice.

Bumbleberry Acres
6785 Baseline Rd, South Haven, MI 49090
» U-Pick Blueberries, Petting Zoo, Activities & More
DeGrandchamp’s Blueberry Farm
76241 14th Ave, South Haven, MI 49090
» U Pick Blueberries

» More local places to pick your own fruit

13) Enjoy the National Blueberry Festival

The National Blueberry Festival takes over the South Haven area in mid August every year.

This year’s festival runs August 12 – 15, 2021.

Festival highlights include:

  • Farm Day: Thurs, Aug 12 – Visit U-Pick Blueberry Farms for a hands-on experience
  • Pie Eating Contest: Sat, Aug 14
  • Craft Fair: Aug 14 & 15
  • DeGrandchamp National Blueberry Festival Parade
National Blueberry Festival Pie Eating Contest
National Blueberry Festival Pie Eating Contest

14) Learn How to Drive a Racecar at Gingerman Raceway

Gingerman Raceway
61414 Phoenix Rd, South Haven, MI 49090

Sign up for Driving School or visit the raceway as a spectator!

The GingerMan Raceway is a motorsports venue that hosts a variety of events that offer a great experience to spectators and their families.

The admission fee for most events is $10. Kids 12 years old and under are free. Their complete schedule can be found on the Event Calendar page.

15) Rent & Ride ATVs on Awesome Woodland Trails

KJC ATV Rentals & Trails
24835 68th St, South Haven, MI 49090

Ride an ATV through miles of beautiful wooded trails. One and two-person rentals are available. Drivers must be at least 16 years old with a valid driver’s license. Passengers must be at least 8 years old.

Time slots are booked in hour increments from 10am – 4pm daily. Your session starts with a lesson, making this a fun outing for beginners and experienced riders alike.

They have horseshoes, corn toss, grill, picnic tables, and a fire pit which can be utilized before, after, or during rentals free of charge.

Open Daily, Spring – Fall. Weather may affect operating days and hours. Call 269-427-8635 to book.

South haven MI KJC ATV Rentals and Trail Rides

16) Catch a Flick at Michigan Theatre Downtown

Michigan Theatre
210 Center St, South Haven, MI 49090

You can’t beat the ticket prices ($4 matinees!) and popcorn prices ($3 buckets with $0.75 refills!) at this small, well-kept movie theater in downtown South Haven MI.

Michigan Theatre of South Haven

17) Get the High Score at Rocket Arcade

Rocket Arcade
237 Broadway, Ste 6, South Haven, MI  49090

Located just around the corner from the main street, retro games, pinball, and amusements are waiting for you at Rocket Arcade hands-on gaming museum.

Get an all-day Free Play Pass for $15, or a 4-Player Family Pass for $50. Come and go as you please throughout the day.

There are several games you can play that take quarters so stop in and give them a test drive.

They also have a snack bar with drinks, chips and candy.

OPEN PLAY HOURS

  • Wed – Fri 5:00 PM – 11:00 PM
  • Sat & Sun 2:00 PM – 11:00 PM
  • No reservations, just walk-in!
Rocket Arcade South Haven MI

18) Knock Down Pins or Sink a Putt at Lakeside Entertainment

Lakeside Entertainment
237 Broadway, Ste 6, South Haven, MI  49090

This indoor/outdoor venue is a 16 lane bowling alley with full service restaurant, along with an 18 hole mini-golf course that has four ponds with fountains, streams and waterfalls.

19) Go Rock Hunting at Pilgrim Haven Natural Area

Pilgrim Haven Natural Area
18th Ave, South Haven, MI 49090

You’ll find lots of rocks at this 27-acre public preserve.

Pilgrim Haven Natural area is open from dawn to dusk with no admission fee.

Several easy trails wind through the woods and grassy area leading to Lake Michigan.

20) Climb the Dunes & Hike the Trails at Van Buren State Park

Van Buren State Park
23960 Ruggles Rd, South Haven, MI 49090

Van Buren State Park is a short drive from downtown South Haven and is worth it if you’re looking for sweeping beaches, dune hikes, and retro camping.

Some of the dunes in the park are quite steep.

Trailheads are located on the main drive into the park (north end). These are set apart from other park attractions and are best accessed by bike or vehicle. These trails lead to Lake Michigan and are about a mile long each.

Van Buren State Park Map
Van Buren State Park Map
Beach Trails at Van Buren State Park

Where to Stay in South Haven MI

Hotels

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites South Haven, an IHG Hotel 
Flat-screen TVs and free WiFi. 24-hour fitness center
Comfort Suites South Haven
Hampton Inn South Haven
– Indoor pool and spacious rooms with free Wi-Fi.
Lake Bluff Inn and Suites
– Seasonal outdoor pool and views of the lake. Free private parking.
Old Harbor Inn
– Classic rooms on the river.
Historic Hotel Nichols
– Shared lounge, garden, and views of river. Close to Woodman Beach.
Baymont by Wyndham South Haven
– Indoor pool and daily breakfast buffet.
Inn at the Park Bed and Breakfast
– 1 block away from Lake Michigan. Bed and breakfast, suites with fireplaces. Free WiFi.
Monroe Manor Inn 
Opt for accommodations with massage services. Free WiFi.

Camping & Glamping

We stayed for a week at the Covert / South Haven KOA Holiday. Mad props to this campground for having wifi that could keep up with all of the school Zooms, no problem.

This campground has a huge jumping pillow and new glamping teepees. In season, you can u-pick blueberries right at the campground. They have a little dog park, too. One night, we texted the campground office for pizza delivery. That’s also how the firewood works.

We stayed in an RV rental from Nick at NV Trailer Rentals LLC. I made the campground reservation- Nick delivered and set up the camper. He let us bring our pup, too! Nick was great to work with.

South Haven Jellystone Park
03403 64th St, South Haven, MI 49090
Fun stuff: Themed weekends, laser tag, paintball, crafts, hayride, pool, more.
Covert/South Haven KOA
39397 M-140, Covert, MI 49043
Fun stuff: Pool, dog park, jumping pillow, corn hole, sand volleyball, basketball trampoline, activities, cabins, glamping teepees, fantastic wifi
Van Buren State Park
23960 Ruggles Rd, South Haven, MI 49090
Campsite at Van Buren State Park in South Haven
Pool at Covert/South Haven KOA

Map of Lodging Options

More to Explore

We barely scratched the surface of all the fun to be had at South Haven.

What’s your favorite thing to do in South Haven MI?

South Haven

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