Family Road Trip Guide: Grand Haven

The gorgeous beaches, friendly atmosphere and easy drive make this Michigan getaway a top pick for families.

As we looked over our summer bucket list, making plans for one last getaway, we landed on Grand Haven. We’ve wanted to vacation there for some time now, so we made it happen and we’re so glad we did.

Grand Haven is a getaway destination for many – not just Michiganders. License plates from states near and far can be spotted here. Situated where the Grand River and Lake Michigan meet, this beach town features sandy beaches that go on and on, a beautiful pier and lighthouses. Muskegon is to the north of Grand Haven, then Holland, Saugatuck and South Haven all to the south along Lake Michigan.

Right before you get into town is everything you might need as far as drugstores and grocery shopping. There is so much history in this town that began as a trading post. Known as “Coast Guard City USA,” one of its biggest events each year is the annual Coast Guard Festival.

Whether planning a visit here as the main destination, or as part of a western Michigan summer tour, it will be sure to please.

Getting to Grand Haven

Head out west! From metro Detroit, take I-696 W to I-96 W and take M-104 W into Grand Haven. You’ll pass through Grand Rapids on the way.

Things to Do in Grand Haven

We had beautiful, hot weather every day that we were there, so we spent most of our time at the beaches. You can pack a cooler with some snacks or grab some sandwiches at The Toasted Pickle on the way. The parking lot at Grand Haven City Beach is rather small and gets full quickly, but Grand Haven State Park is right next to it with a lot more parking. Entry to the state park can be made with the Michigan State Parks Recreation Passport on your vehicle and can be purchased at the entrance if you don’t already have one for $17 and it’s good for the year.

Photo credit: Mervit Sam

Some other things to do and explore:

Take a stroll along the Chinook Pier with a small putt putt course, playground, splash pad and one of the most beautiful farmers markets we’ve seen. See the historic Pere Marquette locomotive, visit the shops and grab some treats.

Every night from Memorial Day through Labor Day (as well as Fridays and Saturdays in May and September), visitors can enjoy the amazing Grand Haven Musical Fountain show. There is an open-air amphitheater on Chinook Pier to sit down with some ice cream and enjoy the show that has been going on for more than 50 years! It is very impressive and not to be missed. We looked forward to it every evening at 9 p.m. during our stay.

Take a ride on the Harbor Trolley and see all the area has to offer. There are a couple of different routes and you can hop on at any of the stops or wave them down anywhere along the way. They will even pick you up if you are within ¾ of a mile of the routes. Fare runs $1.50 for adults and $0.75 children 12 and under (2 and under are free).

The downtown area has lots of great shops and restaurants. It’s so nice to head out for coffee in the morning and take a walk around town or along the boardwalk. The kids would join me and get a treat, too. Their favorite was the lavender lemonade from Aldea Coffee and I loved the oat milk latte. Another great spot to grab coffee is Oddside Side Bar, which also serves fresh fruit smoothies.

Where to Stay in Grand Haven

When it comes to accommodations, there are many options. From cottage and condo rentals, to inns and even camping at Grand Haven State Park, there is something for every traveler. Check them out on VRBO or Airbnb. We found a fabulous condo rental through Unsalted Vacations – a property management company that specializes in Michigan vacation rentals. One of the things we really loved about where we stayed was the location itself – right across from the Chinook Pier, between downtown and the beach. It was perfect! Located in an old piano factory across from the musical fountain, we had the perfect view for the show right from our balcony each night.

Photo Credit: Mervit Sam

Places to Eat in Grand Haven

Grand Haven has a very family-friendly feel in general. Here are just a few of the places to enjoy a meal, and maybe even a beverage for the grown-ups.

Our favorite restaurant was Anna’s House – we have since learned that they have various locations in Michigan, so if you are ever near one we highly recommend! We appreciated that they have a dedicated vegan menu (including vegan options on the actual kids menu which is rare). We loved it so much we had to go back there again for brunch on our last day.

Kirby House is a collection of venues – an American grill, pizzeria, steakhouse and nightclub in one. This meeting place is located at the edge of downtown, walking distance from the water.

Serving unique craft beers, Odd Side Ales offers menus from local restaurants to order food from and have brought right to your table. You can also carry-in or have food delivered from somewhere else as well.

Grand Armory Brewing Company is a craft brewery with a taproom that features a variety of ales, hand-crafted cider and wine. They open early, serving coffee and scones, and feature Dr. Rolf’s Barbecue, serving food later in the day.

Snug Harbor is a popular eatery on the water. The menu includes everything from salads and seafood to burritos and sushi. Enjoy lunch or dinner here while taking in the beautiful views.

For dessert there are a plethora of ice cream shops – so many, you’ll never have time to try them all, then again, that may be a fun challenge. A couple we loved were the non-dairy options at The Pump House and Dairy Treat.

Why Our Family Loves Grand Haven

It was our first time visiting Grand Haven, but it certainly won’t be the last. There are some trails and things we didn’t have a chance to explore. We would also love to see it in the different seasons, especially fall and winter.

Jumping waves, building sand castles — this spot got rave reviews from the littles. The absolutely gorgeous beaches top of the list of what we love most about this place. But we just loved the feel –so friendly and welcoming. An easy drive to make across the state with kids, we’ll definitely be back again.

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