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Take a Romantic Retreat at the Center of Michigan’s Art Coast

Picnic amid the scenery that inspires that art; we created a two-day itinerary that includes relaxation and a hike.

Oval Beach   Photo: Christian Giannelli Photography

Set along the shores of Lake Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo River, just over the rolling dunes from one of Michigan’s most revered beaches, Saugatuck is more than another lakeside retreat. It’s the anchor of the so-called Art Coast—an area that plein air painters from Chicago established as an art colony at the turn of the century. We can’t think of a more intimate way to while away a weekend than picnicking amid the scenery that inspires the art.

Day 1

The luxe new Hotel Saugatuck takes bed-and-breakfast to the next level: The staff delivers a gourmet breakfast to your door—the perfect precursor to a balmy day at prized Oval Beach. Take a quick drive around the lake to drop and flop on the sweeping golden sands fringed by forested dunes. (Go-getters can park down the road and climb more than 300 steps to cross sandy Mount Baldhead to the beach.) Tip: You’ll need provisions for your difficult day of lounging. Try the Southerner, a riverside joint in town where James Beard–nominated Matt Millar whips up Creole-style rémoulade-topped fried whitefish sandwiches and buckets of Nashville fried chicken for a delicious grab-and-go option.

Tempting as it is to dawdle till twilight, regroup back at your room before an alfresco dinner. Snag a table on the patio at Everyday People Cafe in Douglas, just across the river from the hotel, and knock out some white-wine-drenched mussels. An early reservation will let you catch the legendary Oval Beach sunset. (Bring a blanket.) Back in your room, a dessert tray, courtesy of the hotel, awaits.

From top: Hotel Saugatuck; Jeff Blandford Gallery; fried chicken at the Southerner. Photos: (Hotel and gallery) Christian Giannelli Photography; (The Southerner) Courtesy of The Southerner

Day 2

Hike two and a half miles through the dunes and protected wetlands in the little-known 173-acre Saugatuck Harbor Natural Area. Sandy peaks offer views of Holland’s Big Red Lighthouse and Ox-Bow Lagoon (the old Saugatuck Channel).

Head back to town and shop gallery-strewn Butler Street for a piece of art that speaks to you. Maybe it’s an impressionist-style oil painting from James Brandess Studios & Gallery that captures Saugatuck’s coastal scenery, or a midcentury-mod ceramic vase from the sleek Jeff Blandford Gallery. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, the 36-ounce tomahawk steak for two at the white-tablecloth Bowdies Chop House should do the trick. Then, from the boardwalk that hugs the river, take in the sailboats moored in the harbor, where sunburned boaters sip cocktails as if to cue up another spectacular sunset.

Stay:The 18-room Hotel Saugatuck (from $369, breakfast included) opened in a restored lumber mill in November.

While You’re There:Browse artwork, bid at live auctions, see glassblowing demonstrations, and sip wine on open-studio nights (every other Friday, June 16 to August 11) at Ox-Bow, Saugatuck’s long-standing creative mecca, founded by artists from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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