By Bob Glaze
South Haven is a charming small town of 4,400 people along the shores of Lake Michigan in southwest Michigan, two hours from downtown Chicago. I spent the night in town on my recent trip to Detroit and Ann Arbor. I was very impressed with the quality of the hotels, restaurants and things to do. I highly recommend the experience.
In the past, South Haven was known for its passenger steamship travel. From 1880 to 1940, thousands of visitors arrived in town aboard steamships. The City of South Haven and the Iroquois were among the ships that offered passenger service between South Haven and Chicago.
The famed SS Eastland capsized at a Chicago dock in 1915, killing over 800 people, making it the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck on the Great Lakes. Prior to that, the Eastland offered passenger service between Chicago and South Haven from 1903 to 1908.
South Haven has a very walkable downtown with a number of restaurants, cafes, and shops, plus breweries and tasting rooms for both wine and spirits.
Where to Eat in Downtown South Haven
Taste: I enjoyed my dinner at Taste restaurant downtown at 401 Phoenix St. They feature small plates, salads, sushi, soups and sandwiches. I recommend the pear and blue cheese salad and the fish tacos.
Tello Italian Bistro is another recommended restaurant that features upscale Italian dishes including pastas, pizzas, seafood and desserts. They also feature live jazz.
524 Phoenix St.
Clementines: This is a popular downtown restaurant in an historic building, featuring seafood, pasta and grilled meat classics.
Phoenix Street Cafe: This casual café has a menu of breakfast classics, omelets, scrambles, sandwiches and salads.523 Phoenix St.
Flying Saucer Coffee is a fun local coffee shop at 204 Center St. Also, for coffee
The Living Room Community Cafe, another great spot at 520 Phoenix. It is a non-profit community coffee shop. I enjoyed visiting both while I was in town.
Old Harbor Village: At 515 Williams St. in downtown, this is a small group of local shops, bars and restaurants including Warner Vineyards, Biggby Coffee, the South Haven Brewpub and the Old Harbor Inn. I enjoyed visiting several, including Warner Vineyards.
What to do in South Haven
There are many activities to do while in the area from visiting the beaches and climbing the sand dunes in Van Buren State Park, hiking, fishing charters, kayaking, golf, visiting nature preserves, and horseback riding. In the winter there is skiing, snowmobiling, and snowboarding. There are nearby farms and markets in the summer where you can pick your own blueberries, peaches, cherries, and apples. The city hosts a Summer Art Fair in July.
You can also catch a movie at the historic Michigan Theatre at 210 Center St.
I enjoyed seeing the South Haven South Pierhead Light, an historic red lighthouse located near downtown at the west end of the South Pier at the mouth of the Black River. It was first lit in 1872 and is still operational. You can also visit the Michigan Maritime Museum at 260 Dyckman Ave.
Wines and Spirits in Downtown South Haven
There are many breweries, distilleries, bars and tasting rooms to visit when you are in town. My recommendations include:
12 Corners Vineyards – South Haven Tasting Room: Located at 511 Phoenix Rd., this is the local tasting room of a Benton Harbor based vineyard making dry, sweet, dessert, and fruit wines along with hard cider. I enjoyed tasting the Cabernet Sauvignon. They also have tasting rooms at the vineyard and in Grand Haven, MI.
Warner Winery Tasting Room: This is the local tasting room of Warner Vineyards located in Paw, MI. Since 1938 they produce several reds, whites, roses along with sweet, sparkling, and fruit wines. The 2 Cab/Merlot made with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon was very smooth and full bodied. They also produce cider and craft beer. 515 Williams St.
Gravity Tasting Room: Having been to their Baroda, MI location in the past, I made sure to stop in to visit their tasting room in South Haven. I loved the newly released Pinot Noir aged in oak barrels. 512 Phoenix St.
Harbor Light Brewery: At 516 Phoenix St., Harbor Light Brewery produces 20 original house-made beers on tap and 6 ciders. They also feature live music.
New Holland Spirits – South Haven Tasting Room: Located downtown is the local branch of the New Holland Brewing Co. They offer a large menu of cocktails made with the company’s spirits from their bourbon, whiskey, and gin. You can also buy their products. I have been to the Holland location and love the bourbon that I bought there.
Black River Tavern: Located downtown at 403 Phoenix is this casual tavern and restaurant offering cocktails, craft beer on tap and pub food. They also feature live music and comedy shows.
Where to Stay in South Haven
Carriage House at the Harbor is a lovely B&B right on the harbor a short drive from downtown. I enjoyed my stay there and highly recommend the experience. Located in a historic Victorian mansion from the 1890s, they have attractive rooms and a nice dining room for breakfast with great views. My room, the Caleche, a queen deluxe room, also had a great view of the harbor. It has 12 guest rooms. 111 Woodman St.
Yelton Manor Boutique Hotel/Bed & Breakfast gets good reviews. It is near the Carriage House at 140 N. Shore Drive.
Also getting good press is the Victoria Resort and Bed & Breakfast at 241 Oak St.
I hope that you enjoy your visit to South Haven!