73 summer ideas for your Southwest Michigan bucket list
Southwest Michigan is bursting with ideas about what to do this summer. It was tough narrowing this bucket list to 73! Here are some traditional and quirky ways to fill your days and nights. But don’t stop with just these. Spend the next few months at our region’s most popular events, hiking our trails, taking in our galleries, learning our history and, of course, enjoying the Great Lakes shoreline. Try to check off each one of these items on this ultimate Southwest Michigan summer bucket list. Add more to your list and then contact us with your suggestions of where to go and what to do. We will use them to update the bucket list each summer and share it with other travelers.
Bring your pet along!
We love pets all year round in Southwest Michigan. For pet friendly destinations in this list, look for the paw icon that doubles as a link to a comprehensive list of places to go to and things to do.
One of the best reasons to visit Southwest Michigan in the summer is what’s ripening in our countryside. This is one of the juiciest, crispest, most-delicious seasons in Southwest Michigan. Check out our farmers market blog to find out where to get locally grown goods and home-baked treats.
2. Pick produce
Pick fresh fruits and vegetables at our many farms! Check out our harvest guide.
3. Tour the North Pier Lighthouse
Go inside the inner lighthouse in St. Joseph! Where you can look out onto Lake Michigan from its lantern. If you prefer not to tour, you can visit the outside for free, or see them from our beaches.
Take a ride past beautiful beaches and hop off where you’d like! The Pere Marquette line travels between Grand Rapids, Holland, Bangor, St. Joseph and Chicago. Board at the depot in St. Joseph outside of Silver Beach Pizza.
5. Take the Water Taxi
Ride along the St. Joseph River and choose to hop off and one of four stops in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Did we mention it’s free? Ride any summer weekend!
Our boutiques sell home decor, apparel, locally made art and unique items that your friends at home won’t have! We also have several adorable pet shops where you can get special treats for man’s best friend.
7. Pedal the CycleBoat
This is St. Joseph's first and only Cycleboat! Tour the St. Joseph inner harbor with up to 16 of your friends, family, strangers or co-workers with a certified Master Captain. There are two stops at local bars/restaurants.
Whether inland or by the coast, Southwest Michigan’s sunset game is strong. Pick a beach, vista, park or waterfront restaurant and end the day in a colorful way.
9. Go to the Market
Shop around, grab a bite to eat, take a cooking class, sample fine cheeses, support local artists or farms and much more! This collection of shops has so much to offer to keep you busy for hours.
Located in South Haven, the GingerMan Raceway course layout simulates the full spectrum of driving situations: high speed straights and short sprints, long sweeping corners and tight apexes, heavy and light braking, and elevation change. Bring a picnic and watch drivers zip around the track!
Try these fun foods
11. Grab an ice cream!
Enjoy an ice cream or frozen yogurt cone on a bench swing along Lake Bluff Park in downtown St. Joseph. Get delicious dips in your favorite flavors at Cabana’s, Chocolate Cafe, Kilwins or State Street Treats. The lake bluff views of Lake Michigan are spectacular, especially at sunset!
12. Silver Beach Pizza
Watch the Amtrak passenger train and freight trains roll by while eating at Silver Beach Pizza in St. Joseph. It’s home to some of the area’s best pizzas — draft beer schooners.
13. Hot Dog Kart
Grab a Chicago-style hot dog from the Hot Dog Kart on the corner of State and Broad in St. Joseph. They serve Vienna beef dogs in a steamed poppy seed bun and smother it with your choice of toppings.
Watch them make slabs of creamy fudge on cool marble tables at Kilwins Ice Cream-Fudge-Chocolate Shoppe in downtown St. Joseph. Just follow your nose to their screened door. You won’t leave empty-handed.
Wow! Watch Fire & Ice Pizzeria & Creamery in St. Joseph makes the coldest, creamiest ice cream in seconds with a blast of liquid nitrogen. It’s almost as much fun to see them make your favorite ice cream flavor as it is to eat it!
16. RyeBelle’s rooftop
Request a seat on Ryebelle’s Restaurant & Bar’s rain-or-shine rooftop in downtown St. Joseph. Then order your favorite beverage from the full bar. The Lake Michigan views are mesmerizing.
17. Have a farm feast
Enjoy dinner on the farm — you will rarely taste food this fresh and delicious! Granor Farm, a certified organic grower in Three Oaks, prepares and serves meals on Fridays and Saturdays. The vegetables, grains, herbs and other ingredients come from their farm and local farming neighbors.
Grab a snack or a meal from Southwest Michigan food trucks. They serve tacos, barbecue, cajun, burgers and treats all summer. Find them at Lookout Park in St. Joseph, Warren Dunes State Park in Sawyer, Watermark Brewing Co. in Stevensville, Arclight Brewing Company in Watervliet and at special events and festivals.
Get an ice cream cone or sundae at Sherman’s Dairy Bar in South Haven. If you think the baby dip cone is BIG, wait until you see the Pig’s Dinner. This place loads every scoop with flavor!
20. Play the Creative Connections Game
Earn prizes while exploring the vibrant and rich art, history and culture of Southwest Michigan! This game is played year round and gives you plenty of good reasons to come back.
Take a colorful tour through our towns by seeing all the murals we have to offer. Several of these works of art actually pay homage to the history of the buildings they are on or the towns they are in!
Southwest Michigan is home to many sculptures by famous artists who have left their mark on the area. Follow along this blog for some starting points.
Catch one of the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchesta’s shows! SMSO is a professional orchestra with highly-trained musicians who travel from cities as far away as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville and Nashville to perform.
24. The GhostLight Theatre
This state-of-the-art venue is home to a slate of thought-provoking and innovative theatrical productions, featuring talented performers from the community and beyond.
25. Art hop
Quarterly, local businesses, restaurants and galleries invite the public to celebrate art and local artists in this walkable downtown setting. Art Hops are free, family-friendly and open to everyone. Many of the participating organizations provide light refreshments for guests. Additionally, throughout the summer, visitors can enjoy Arts in the Park events which feature local artist’s booths, music and food.
26. Benton Harbor Arts District
Whether you want to shop around a record store, learn glass-blowing techniques, visit galleries, see a play, enjoy farm-to-table food, drink craft beer or simply read in the park, this is the place to be!
27. Culinary Cottage
The Culinary Cottage offers hands-on themed cooking classes. You’ll learn from someone who has been in the business for years and makes prepping a full meal seem easy and fun!
28. Berrien County Historical Association
Visit Courthouse Square to see Michigan’s oldest existing county courthouse, built in 1839. Then, explore Berrien County’s storied past through exhibits and other historic buildings onesite. Look for family friendly events happening here, too, like Croonin’ at the Courthouse concerts.
Back in the day, visitors were enthralled by the House of David’s semi-pro home baseball team with its long-bearded players. Today, you can watch a game on the grounds and see volunteers dawn uniforms similar to the ones that players wore decades ago!
30. Eden Springs Train
While you’re there, hop over to the miniature train for a ride around Eden Springs! This train and other amusement park attractions brought visitors here from all over the country back in the House of David heyday.
31. Sail on the Friends Good Will
The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven is the home port to five on-the-water exhibits made up of both replica and historic vessels. You can view the museum fleet from the docks or on the water. Sailing on the 1810 tall ship replica Friends Good Will is something you will talk about for years.
32. Benton Harbor African American History & Literature Gallery
Learn how our local history is essential to America’s history. This gallery engages our communities in fostering unity in differences and developing an appreciation for the African American experience through the arts, history and culture.
Looking for a day of activity? This 33-mile trail linking the cities of South Haven and Kalamazoo is the perfect opportunity for biking, hiking, running, horseback riding and more!
Are you looking for an amazing tourism experience? Go stargazing at one of Michigan’s three International Dark Sky Parks and an official Michigan Dark Sky Preserve. With no light pollution, you will see a spellbinding vista of our universe and its stars, planets, moons and nebulae.
35. Disc Golf
Visit Madeline Bertrand County Park for an 18-hole disc golf course, designed by the world's leading course architect, is contained within Bertrand's pine and hardwood forests. Each hole features a cement tee-off area, a pole target and tee sign that indicates hole number, distance from tee to hole, and par. Bring your plastic flying discs and enjoy the fun!
36. Learn to surf
Great Lakes surfing is an exciting hobby, especially in the summer! Third Coast Surf Shop has the professional experience to teach beginners how to master our waves. They even have summer surfing camps for your little ones.
Rent a kayak or paddle board and paddle down the Paw Paw River. Third Coast Surf Shop offers rentals in Benton Harbor, but there are several spots to launch and exit from, including near North Pier Brewing Company in Benton Harbor, where you can enjoy a beer and burger before continuing on.
Composed of upland & wetland habitats, this nature park features a 300' Canopy Walkway that leads to a 60'-high Marsh Overlook Tower and a 600'-long Marsh Boardwalk that leads to a river viewing and fishing Platform.
39. Fish off the pier
Don’t have a boat? The pier in St. Joseph is very popular among fishermen. The types of fish most frequently caught include perch, trout, salmon, whitefish and catfish. Public use of the North and South Pier is allowed at your own risk. Please use caution and keep off the pier during storms or high waters.
40. Fly a kite
Grab a kite from one of our small town shops, and take it to the nearest beach! Watch your toy soar high in the sky over the waves of Lake Michigan. On a windy day, it will be joined by several kites.
41. Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve
Fernwood is a special place where people, plants and nature come together. Beautiful gardens surrounded by forest are tucked into a landscape of 105 acres of cultivated and natural areas along the scenic St. Joseph River valley. Fernwood's nature preserve, with its tall trees, tranquil ponds, abundant springs and carpets of wildflowers, is a magical place that draws people back again and again.
42. Mountain Biking at Andrews University
Want a challenge? Head down to Andrews University Trails in Berrien Springs. The thrill awaits on one of the most technical mountain biking trails in the area. This ten-mile, single-track trail system has a variety of features and with more than 1,000 feet of elevation per lap, it will get your heart pumping.
43. Intermediate biking
Southwest Michigan is home to intermediate trails, too, including the new Lakeview Trail on Whirlpool Corporation’s Benton Harbor campus and the 10-mile single track at Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park in Vandalia.
44. Beach volleyball
It wouldn’t be summer without a round of beach volleyball! Bring your friends and family together for a fun game in the sand. Several beaches have nets already set up, you just need to bring a ball.
45. Ironman Steelhead Triathlon
For extreme athletes, taking part in the Ironman Steelhead Triathlon is a great way to challenge yourself and see a lot of the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor area. Athletes start their day on a scenic journey through Southwest Michigan, traversing through wine country and beaches to the finish line.
46. Makers Trail tour
Several of Southwest Michigan’s makers offer a chance to see their behind-the-scenes production. Sample their craft beverages and see how local grape and grain make some of the most popular drinks in our region.
47. Journeyman's Welters Folly
This is one of the largest putting greens in the world! At 30,000 square feet, this is a one-of-a-kind way to enjoy a handcrafted cocktail.
48. Bowl at Peat's Cider
Housed within a 1960's bowling alley, Peat's Cider Social is a place to open your palate to new hard cider and seltzer waters. And you can still bowl, too! There are also old arcade games to play, and food trucks out back occasionally.
Create buckets of happy memories with your kids
Most of the 73 ideas on this list can be enjoyed by all ages, but here are some that babies to college-aged travelers would add to their bucket lists, too.
49. Silver Beach Carousel
Your children’s grins will spread from ear to ear the moment they walk through the Silver Beach Carousel House doors in St. Joseph. The toughest part is choosing which of the 48 magnificent, hand-carved menagerie figures and two chariots to ride first. Before you leave, ask for a passport and set a goal to ride all 50 over time.
50. Whirlpool Compass Fountain
Bring a beach ball or Frisbee, a towel, and clothes that can get wet to the Whirlpool Compass Fountain in St. Joseph. Then dance, splash, twirl, laugh and feel the refreshing water cascade over your head and down to your toes. The area’s biggest splash pad is free from late May to early September.
51. Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone
When you need a place to get out of the sun or rain, this is it! Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone will easily fill a couple of hours of your day. Toddlers to pre-teens love the Lake Michigan water table, lighthouse climbing tower and pin wall, plus dancing and being silly by the interactive Recollections exhibit.
These massive ships do not come into St. Joseph Harbor every day, but when they do, they are breathtaking. The best places to be awed are the piers by Silver Beach County Park and Tiscornia Park, Margaret B. Upton Arboretum and the turning basin by the Inn at Harbor Shores. Have your camera ready!
53. Movies in the Park
Pack snacks and a blanket or chairs to watch a free outdoor movie with your family and friends at several parks in St. Joseph. The films start at 7:30 p.m. Check the July and August calendars for each Saturday’s film title and park location.
54. Toy shopping
Treat your child to a new toy, game, puzzle or book from a downtown St. Joseph store. The Toy Company staff does a fantastic job recommending right-age choices. Plus, G&M, Forever Books, Oh My Darlings and State Street Stuff are stuffed with selections you won’t find in big box stores.
Include Scooter Joe's in St. Joseph on your kid-friendly activities bucket list. The surrey bikes are a must, but you can also rent an individual beach cruiser, fat tire, tandem and electric bikes. There are also Lily Pads, kayaks, canoes and pontoon boats for the water. You won’t hear “I’m bored” from your teens.
Romp at the Warren Dunes State Park dog beach in Sawyer. Leash up your dog and walk down to the designated pet area at the north end of this renowned park. It’s a great place to splash in the waves, chase balls and sticks or walk six miles on hiking trails.
57. Antiques on the Bluff
May to October | St. Joseph | First Sundays of the month
This rain-or-shine event brings around 50 antique and vintage vendors to Lake Bluff Park.
58. Dockside Music
Late May to early September | Plank’s Tavern, Inn at Harbor Shores, St. Joseph | Evenings, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
Pick an evening to let the live music waft over you like the breezes from the harbor basin.
59. The Acorn shows
- Late May to early September | Live music, tribute bands, entertainment, competitions and festivals | Three Oaks | Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays
This intimate theater is an arts and culture hub and one of our top must-go-at-least-once summer destinations. Attending just once will make you want to fit more shows on your calendar.
60. Makers Trail Festival
Second Saturday of June | Weko Beach, Bridgman
Southwest Michigan craft beverage makers will pop corks, tap kegs and pour bottles all afternoon as you seek out your favorite Southwest Michigan craft wines, beers, ciders and spirits. There’s also dancing and chilling to regional bands and savoring summer flavors from local food trucks. Year after year, this is one of our best beach parties.
61. Lest We Forget
Third Saturday of June | St. Joseph River, St. Joseph
This festival is themed around one of the U.S. conflicts from World War I to now. This is your chance to ride an amphibious landing craft on the St. Joseph River — it’s FREE.
62. Juneteenth Parade & Celebration
Third Saturday of June | Downtown Benton Harbor
Attend this culturally rich afternoon to mark the end of slavery in the U.S. and promote African-American history, art, culture, economic development and community cooperation.
63. Lumberjack Weekend at the Square
Fourth Weekend of June | Courthouse Square, Berrien Springs
See lumberjack demonstrations, participate in hands-on opportunities and listen to experts share their love of Michigan’s logging history. It’s a tree-mendous time for the whole family!
64. Baroda Fourth of July Fireworks
Early July | Baroda, St. Joseph and South Haven | Dusk
Check the Southwest Michigan events calendar for the dates, locations and accompanying entertainment.
64. Krasl Art Show
Second weekend of July | Lake Bluff Park, St. Joseph
This juried event is one of the premier art shows in Michigan showcasing the talents of over 172 artists from across the United States. Bluff-top views of Lake Michigan and proximity to shops, restaurants and hotels, bring visitors back year after year.
65. Lake Breeze Music Festival
Second Saturday of July | Shadowland Pavillion, Silver Beach, St. Joseph
A diverse selection of music, food and drink on the beautiful sunset shore of Lake Michigan.
66. Summer Festival & BBQ Competition
Friday & Saturday, Mid-July | Downtown Dowagiac
A BBQ competition sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbecue Society plus music and dance, children’s interactive entertainment, games and rides, food trucks and summer sales.
67. Mike Yore Memorial Car Show
Friday, mid-July | Lake Boulevard, St. Joseph
Get a close look at over 150 eye-catching classic cars, talk with the owners and enjoy listening to classic music hits.
68. Blues & Brews Festival
Saturday, mid-July | Round Barn Winery & Estate, Baroda
Sit back, relax and enjoy the smooth rhythms of live classic jazz and craft beers, wines and spirits in the vineyards.
69. Chalk the Block | First weekend of August | Downtown St. Joseph
This annual favorite showcases the imaginations of amateur and professional chalk artists as they fill Broad Street with their creativity.
70. Coloma Glad-Peach Festival
First weekend of August | Downtown Coloma
Come for the grand parade, baking contest, food vendors, arts and crafts show, gorgeous flowers and the tastiest, juiciest peaches.
71. National Blueberry Festival
Second weekend of August | South Haven
This lake resort town knows how to celebrate these delicious berries! Come for the parade, pie eating contest, 5K run/walk, craft show, live music, farm day, kids’ activities and rides.
72. Berrien County Youth Fair
Third week of August | Fairgrounds, Berrien Spring
Midway rides and games, grandstand entertainment, blue ribbon competitions and lots of fair food favorites make this one of the best weeks of the summer.
73. Tri-State Regatta
Labor Day Weekend | St. Joseph River & Harbor
Watch racing sailboats complete the first leg in St. Joseph on Friday, join the all-day party at the St. Joseph River Yacht Club on Saturday and see the boats off on Sunday morning.
Book your stay now
Summer is a great time to take a day trip to Southwest Michigan, but it’s even more relaxing and fun filled when you can stay for one or more nights. This time of year, it’s never too early to reserve a room at one of our lodgings. To get your best pick of dates, amenities and rates, put booking your stay at the top of your bucket list. Then see how many of these 73 ideas you can check off before Labor Day!