South Haven’s sunsets are worth the trip

Beaches and a great small-town vibe with big-city amenities make South Haven, Mi., a great summer destination. Just 120 miles from Chicago on Lake Michigan’s west coast, South Haven has a variety of attractions and decent restaurants. And there’s just something about the sunsets.

Sand and surf are South Haven’s biggest draws, its beaches within walking distance of the quaint downtown. The town has seven public beaches along five miles of shoreline. Include the surrounding area and there are 13 miles of public and private beaches, including a dog beach about 10 miles south of town.

South Haven’s North Beach is very popular with wide flat swaths of smooth sand, playground equipment, beach volleyball pits, a wooden walkway that eases access for people in wheelchairs, and a real, old-fashioned concession stand that sells ice cream and lemonade and rents volleyballs. Plop down on one of the stools, dig your toes into the sand and watch the world go by.

South Beach is closest to the historic lighthouse that stands at the end of the pier, where the river empties into the lake. It’s close to the many activities taking place each year in Riverfront Park.

Cottage and condo rentals, hotels and B&Bs are among the options in South Haven. Prices and booking information can be found at the city’s tourism Web site, www.southhaven.org. There are many good choices, from old-fashioned, smallish beach cottages with sand and water outside your front door to more elaborate rental homes to elegant B&Bs to the recently refurbished and luxury Sleepy Hollow resort.

Dining options are varied, but two must-stop locales are the Sherman Dairy Bar on Phoenix Road just outside of town, near Interstate Highway 196, and Clementine’s (500 Phoenix Road) in the heart of downtown. Sherman’s ice cream is rich and creamy and comes in more than 50 flavors. Clementine’s draw is that it’s right in the middle of downtown and has cocktails and a kids menu and entrees ranging from fried perch to steak to sandwiches and salads. It’s good food at a decent price.

A more upscale menu is offered at Tello’s, 524 Phoenix St. (269-639-9898), featuring an authentic Italian menu with an emphasis on locally grown ingredients. Try the veal, it’s stuffed with sage, sauteed in lemon and accompanied by wilted spinach and the best polenta I’ve ever had. The last time we were there, my husband had the sausage risotto, which he enjoyed, but I had the winning dish of the night. For more information, check out the web site at www.tellobistro.com.

South Haven's Carriage House Inn

Breakfast is worth getting up for at South Haven's Carriage House Inn. Photo by Terri Colby

South Haven has several lovely B and Bs. On a recent visit, I stayed at the Carriage House at the Harbor, 118 Woodman Ave., (269-639-2161) www.carriagehouseharbor.com. The Victorian inn features 12 romantic rooms, some with balconies and views of the Black River. Rates are reasonable and include a fantastic gourmet breakfast. The inn is situated within walking distance of beaches as well as all of South Haven’s downtown attractions. So park the car, put your feet up and settle in for some relaxation and romance.

And don’t forget those sunsets for which South Haven is famous.

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