72 summer ideas for your Southwest Michigan bucket list

Silver Beach

Southwest Michigan is bursting with ideas about what to do this summer. It was tough narrowing this bucket list to 72! 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, visiting our art galleries, learning our history, and, for certain, enjoying Lake Michigan’s shoreline.

Set a goal to check off as many ideas on this ultimate Southwest Michigan summer bucket list. Add more ideas of where to visit and what to do, then contact us with your suggestions. We will use them to update the list next year and share them with other travelers.


We love pets all year round in Southwest Michigan. To find pet-friendly destinations, look through our pet-friendly guide and itinerary!


1. Farmers Markets

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, crispiest, and most delicious seasons. Check our farmers market guide to find out where to get locally-grown goods and home-baked treats.

2. Pick-Your-Own Produce

Pick fresh fruits and vegetables from our orchards and fields. Our harvest guide lists local farms and has a handy in-season harvest calendar from May through December.


a man shopping downtown st joseph

3. Tour the North Pier Lighthouse

Walk out on St. Joseph’s picturesque North Pier to the century-old inner and outer lighthouses. These sentinels still actively guide ships in and out of the harbor. It’s free to tour inside the inner light. Or, for a small fee, climb to the top of the tower for an incredible 360-degree view of Lake Michigan, the harbor, and beyond. Weather permitting, you can also view the outside for free from the pier and surrounding beaches.

4. Arrive by Amtrak

Ride past beautiful beaches and scenic countryside on the Pere Marquette line between Grand Rapids and Chicago with stops in Holland, Bangor and St. Joseph. The St. Joseph depot also houses the popular Silver Beach Pizza. It is within walking distance of downtown St. Joseph, the Silver Beach Center, Whirlpool Compass Fountain and Silver Beach County Park. Or take the Wolverine Line from Ann Arbor or Chicago to Niles or New Buffalo.

5. Take the Free Water Taxi

Hop on and off at four stops along the St. Joseph River in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Free rides every summer weekend! 

6. Go Shopping at Boutiques

You will find boutiques and shops in towns throughout Southwest Michigan. Find home decor, apparel, locally-made art, and unique items that friends at home won’t have! We also have several adorable pet shops where you can get special treats for your furry friend.

7. Pedal the CycleBoat

Have a blast pedaling this boat around the inner St. Joseph harbor. A certified Master Captain guides up to 16 of your friends, family, strangers, or co-workers. You will stop at two local bars/restaurants for food and libations or bring snacks and drinks to share on board. This river cruise is an unforgettable experience for bachelor/bachelorette parties, special occasions, and good times on the water.

8. Watch a Sunset

Whether you are inland or by the coast, Southwest Michigan’s sunset game is strong. Pick a Lake Michigan beach or park, vineyard vista, or waterfront restaurant, and end your day in a brilliantly colorful way. Here are some of our best sunset spots.

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 at the Market on Main Street in St. Joseph.

10. Picnic at GingerMan Raceway

South Haven’s 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!


a family enjoying ice cream

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, the South Bend Chocolate Cafe, and Kilwins. The views of Lake Michigan are spectacular, especially at sunset! Or take Southwest Michigan’s coolest tasting tour by checking out these 10 best places and satisfying your sweet tooth at each stop!

12. Silver Beach Pizza

This St. Joseph pizza place offers double the fun for families. It is repeatedly voted the Best Pizza in Southwest Michigan and adults love their cold,thirst-quenching draft beer schooners. You can watch the Amtrak passenger pull into the attached station and freight trains roll by on tracks that are within feet of your table.

13. Hot Dog Kart

Grab a Chicago-style hot dog, drinks, and chips on the corner of State and Broad Streets in St. Joseph. The Kart serves Vienna beef dogs in a steamed poppy seed bun and smothered with your choice of toppings. Eat along Lake Bluff Park or the St. Joseph River.

14. Kilwins

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.

15. 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. Then order your favorite beverage from the full bar and enjoy dining with a tree-top view of Lake Michigan.

16. Have a Farm Feast

Enjoy dinner on the farm — you rarely can 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 fields and local farming neighbors.

17. Feast on Food Truck Eats

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 special events and festivals. Here is a list of trucks to follow.

18. Sherman’s Dairy Bar

Get an ice cream cone, sundae, or shake 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!


people walking in front of a colorful mural of benton harbors golden age

19. Play the Creative Connections Game

Earn valuable prizes while exploring Southwest Michigan’s vibrant art, history, and culture scene all year round. The more connections you make, the more stamps you can collect and the more prizes you can earn. Get a Creative Connections brochure from any participating venue and start playing.

20. Mural Tour

Hunt for all the incredible murals decorating our Southwest Michigan towns. Learn about our history and culture while taking selfies.

21. Sculpture Tour

In Southwest Michigan, you can see many sculptures by famous artists who have left their mark on the area. Check out these major outdoor installations.

22. Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra

Catch one of the Southwest Michigan Symphony Orchestra’s summer concerts! Go to their events page to get dates for pop-up concerts, July fireworks performances, and family musical experiences. SMSO is a professional orchestra with highly-trained musicians who travel from cities as far away as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Louisville, and Nashville.

23. The Ghostlight Theatre

This state-of-the-art venue in the Benton Harbor Arts District is home to a slate of thought-provoking and innovative theatrical and musical productions. The shows feature talented performers from the community and beyond. Make it a dinner theater night with a meal at a nearby restaurant or bring takeout food to the park a few steps away from the theater.

24. Art Hop

Quarterly, local businesses, restaurants, and galleries invite the public to celebrate artists and musicians in this walkable downtown Benton Harbor setting. Art Hops are free, family-friendly, and open to everyone. Many of the participating organizations provide light refreshments. In the summer, you can enjoy artisan booths, music, and food during Arts in the Park events.

25. Benton Harbor Arts District

This is Benton Harbor’s neighborhood gathering space for delicious farm-to-table food, craft beers, art galleries, glass-blowing and bead-making classes, or watching a play or reading in the park! You will love its vibe in the summer!

26. Culinary Cottage

The Culinary Cottage offers hands-on themed cooking classes for adults and kids at The Market on Main Street in St. Joseph. Your teacher has been in the culinary business for years and makes preparing appetizers, pastas, meals, desserts, and more easy and you can pick up one of your Creative Connections stamps by taking a class!


a man driving a train at eden springs park

27. Berrien County Historical Association

Visit Courthouse Square in Berrien Springs to see Michigan’s oldest existing county courthouse, built in 1839. Then, explore Berrien County’s storied past through exhibits and other historic buildings onsite. This summer, look for family-friendly happenings such as their story trails, scavenger hunts, and the annual Pickle Festival.

28. Bear Cave

Explore West Michigan’s only cavern, formed over 10,000 years ago by glacial drift. With its fascinating geological formations and historical lore, Bear Cave in Buchanan offers a rare adventure. It was also one of Southwest Michigan’s stops on the Underground Railroad.

29. Eden Springs Miniature Train Rides

Hop on the miniature coal-fired or gasoline-fueled train for a ride around Eden Springs Park Benton Harbor! This train and other amusement park attractions are living history. Thousands of visitors from all over the country would arrive in droves back in the House of David’s heyday.

30. Sail the Friends Goodwill

The Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven is the home port to five on-the-water exhibits made up of antique vessels and historic replicas. You can view the museum fleet from the docks or on the water. Sailing on the 1810 tall ship replica Friends Goodwill is something you will talk about for years.

31. 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.


a man paddleboarding in front of st joseph lighthouse

32. Kal-Haven Trail Sesquicentennial State Park

Are you looking for a way to fill your day? This 33-mile trail linking the cities of South Haven and Kalamazoo is the perfect opportunity for biking, hiking, running, horseback riding, and more!

33. Stargazing at Dr. T.K. Lawless County Park

Are you looking for an amazing tourism experience? Go stargazing in Vandalia at one of Michigan’s three International Dark Sky Parks and an official Michigan Dark Sky Preserve. Since there is no light pollution, you will see a spellbinding vista of our universe and its stars, planets, moons, and nebulae. Here is this year’s schedule and stargazing tips.

34. Disc Golf

Visit Madeline Bertrand County Park in Niles for an 18-hole disc golf course, designed by the world’s leading course architect. Within Bertrand’s pine and hardwood forests, each hole features a cement tee-off area, a pole target, and a tee sign that indicates hole number, distance from tee to hole, and par. Bring your plastic flying discs and enjoy the fun here or at these nine other disc golf courses!

35. Learn to Surf

Great Lakes surfing is an exciting sport, especially in the summer! Third Coast Surf Shop in St. Joseph has the professional experience to teach beginners how to master our waves. They even have summer surfing camps for your little ones.

36. Paddle the Paw Paw River

Rent a kayak or paddleboard and explore the Paw Paw River. Third Coast Surf Shop offers rentals in Benton Harbor, but there are several spots to launch and exit from if you own a watercraft. A favorite launch or resting point is North Pier Brewing Company in Benton Harbor, where you can enjoy a beer and burger before continuing.

37. Walk the Towering Canopy at Galien River County Park

Composed of upland and wetland habitats, this nature park near New Buffalo features a 300′-long 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.

38. 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 water.

39. 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.

40. Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve

Fernwood is a special place in Niles 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.

41. Mountain Biking at Andrews University

Want a challenge? Head down to Andrews University Trails in Berrien Springs. Thrills await on one of the most technical mountain biking trails in the area. This 10-mile, single-track trail system has big hills, deep ravines, switchbacks and obstacles. With more than 1,000 feet of elevation per lap, it will get your heart pumping.

42. 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.

43. 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. The premier place to play is Silver Beach County Park in St. Joseph, but several other beaches have nets already set up — bring your ball.


A variety of beers at The Livery.

 44. Makers Trail Tour

Each of our Makers Trail wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries welcome you to their vineyards and tasting room. Each has a distinct vibe, so try several. All makers let you sample their craft beverages to see how locally grown grapes, fruits, grains, and hops make some of the most popular craft beverages in the region. Several makers offer a chance to see their behind-the-scenes production and many host some of the best musicians, festivals, and food for miles around.

45. Journeyman’s Welters Folly

This is one of the largest greens in the world! At 30,000 square feet, it is a one-of-a-kind way to enjoy handcrafted spirits, while competing with your family and friends on this course modeled after the famous Himalayan putting green in St. Andrews, Scotland.

46. Bowl at Peat’s Cider

Housed within a 1960s bowling alley, Peat’s Cider Social invites you to please your palate with new hard cider and seltzer waters. Have fun bowling and showing off your arcade game skills, too! Watch their Facebook page for when food trucks are stopping here.


little girl playing at the childrens museum with her mother

Most of the 72 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.

47. Silver Beach Carousel

When your children walk through the Silver Beach Carousel House doors in St. Joseph, their grins will spread from ear to ear. 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 your lifetime.

48. 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. 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 early May to late September.

49. Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone

When you need a place to get out of the sun or rain, this is it! Curious Kids’ Discovery Zone below the bluff in St. Joseph 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. At the top of the bluff downtown, the Curious Kids’ Museum stimulates curiosity with more learning fun.

50. Great Lakes Freighter Watching

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!

51. Free 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 listings for each Saturday’s film title and park location.

52. 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.

53. Scooter Joe’s Wheel & Water Rentals

Include Scooter Joe’s in St. Joseph on your kid-friendly activities bucket list. 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.

54. Warren Dunes Dog Beach

Romp at Warren Dunes State Park’s 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.


Live Music at the Makers Trail Festival.

55. 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.

56. 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.

57. The Acorn Shows

Late May to early September | The Acorn Center for the Performing Arts | Live music, tribute bands, entertainment, competitions and festivals | 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. It is one of the most diverse arts venues in Southwest Michigan. You will love the high-energy vibe, the interaction with the artists, and the ticket prices.

58. Jammin’ in the Vineyard

Weekends, May through October| Round Barn Winery & Estate, Baroda

Sit back and relax in the vineyards, enjoying your kind of music with your favorite craft beers, wines, and spirits.

59. 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. Dance and chill on the beach to regional bands and savor summer flavors from local food trucks. Year after year, this is one of our best beach parties.

60. Lest We Forget

Fourth Saturday and Sunday of June | St. Joseph River, St. Joseph

This festival is themed around one of the U.S. conflicts from World War II to now. This is your chance to see re-enactments on the St. Joseph River — it’s FREE. For an additional charge, ride in WWII-era aircraft!

61. 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.

62. Berrien Springs Pickle Festival

July 4 | Courthouse Square, Berrien Springs

Relish a good time with your family friends on this day filled with a pickle fling, big wheel races, old-fashioned pickle games, a pickle decorating contest, a Pickled Piper Tasting Room, and, of course, the Flamm Pickle & Packing Company relish eating contest.

63. Fourth Of July Fireworks

July 3 | Baroda, St. Joseph and South Haven | Dusk

Check the Southwest Michigan events calendar for the dates, locations, and accompanying entertainment for Baroda’s and other Southwest Michigan celebrations.

64. Krasl Art Fair

Second weekend of July | Lake Bluff Park, St. Joseph

This juried event is one of the premier art fairs in Michigan showcasing the talents of over 150 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

First Saturday of July | Shadowland Pavilion, 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

Take a closer look at over 150 eye-catching classic cars, talk with the owners, and enjoy listening to classic music hits.

68. 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.

69. Coloma Glad-Peach Festival

The 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.

70. National Blueberry Festival

The 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.

71. Berrien County Youth Fair

Third week of August | Fairgrounds, Berrien Springs

Midway rides and games, grandstand entertainment, blue ribbon competitions, and fair food favorites make this one of the best weeks of the summer.

72. 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.


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 72 ideas you can check before Labor Day!