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Explore Harbor Country Michigan 2023

harbor country michigan

Harbor Country Michigan may be one of the state’s best-kept secrets.

Located along southwestern Michigan’s Lake Michigan shoreline, this charming area has been my go-to spot in Michigan for years for vacations, road trips, and even quick day trips.

There is simply so much to see and explore here, from the wide, sandy beaches and hiking trails at the city and state parks to the chic and unique cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. There are wineries and breweries, too, and Berrien County’s wine scene is one of the best in the state.

Harbor Country has long been a popular vacation destination for visitors from Chicago, too; my mother-in-law (a Chicagoan) had many fun tales to tell about frolicking along the shores of Grand Beach with Mayor Richard M. Daly’s family years ago.

I’ve put together a travel guide with some highlights and some of my favorite things to see and do in Michigan’s Harbor Country.

michigan's harbor country
Downtown New Buffalo

About Harbor Country

Michigan’s Harbor Country is made up of eight small towns. There are seven small lakeside towns that include New Buffalo, Grand Beach, Sawyer, Harbert, Union Pier, Lakeside, and Michiana along a 15-mile span of Lake Michigan shoreline, as well as the town of Three Oaks, which is inland.

A naturally beautiful area with lots of opportunities for outdoor adventures along the lakes and rivers, you’ll also find great shopping and dining, as well as art galleries, too.

What I love best about Harbor Country, though, is that although it’s just 90 minutes from both Chicago and Grand Rapids, there is a true feeling of escape in this mostly rural area.

From the towering sand dunes along the coast to the fertile, rolling farmland rich with fruits and veggies to supply the area’s farm-to-table eateries, Harbor Country is for me, and many others, a place where you can relax and take a deep breath.

harbor country michigan

Harbor Country’s History

The Harbor Country region began attracting vacationers from Chicago in the early 20th century, according to Geoffrey Baer of Chicago on Vacation, continuing to grow in popularity with visitors from other areas in Michigan and the Midwest.

A real estate investor from Chicago dubbed the area “Harbor Country” in the 1970s, and the label stuck, transforming the area into an upscale vacationland paradise also known as the “Hamptons of the Midwest.”

Musuems like The Railroad Museum, which celebrates the role that railroads played in the development of the midwest with New Buffalo at center stage, and the Region of Three Oaks Musuem, tell the story of the development of the area and preseve its rich history.

The area continues to grow as tourism increases and ex-pats from city life bring new businesses to the area.

The wild Lake Michigan surf and endless miles of hiking, biking, and water trail have attracted the attention of outdoor enthusiasts, too, and new shops and boutiques attract seasoned shoppers. That means even more year-round opportunities for fun in Harbor Country.

New Buffalo is definitely the largest of these communities, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only one offering amazing things to do.

Read on to discover more about New Buffalo and the other towns that make up Harbor Country.

new buffalo beaches

Things to Do in Harbor Country MI

Hit the Harbor Country Beaches and the Singing Sands

The first you’ll notice about the beaches in the Harbor Country area is the soft, squeaky noise that the sands make as you walk. The “Singing Sands” of the beach are a natural phenomenon only occurring on Lake Michigan shores: you can literally hear the sands resonating at a high pitch as you walk the beach.

If you’re visiting from Chicago, New Buffalo City Beach is the first public beach in Michigan after Michigan City in Indiana.

It’s a beautiful one, too, with a nice beach for swimming, and splashing. You’ll find concessions here too, for ice cream and other treats, as well as picnic tables and grills.

If accessible travel is something you are looking for, please note that wheelchair-accessible walkways are available. You’ll also find clean restrooms and a children’s playground.

Townline Beach in Union Pier is a quieter choice for a beach day, and just as lovely. Park along the road and take the steps down to this quiet beach. It’s great for swimming and is rarely crowded.
Use our complete guide to beaches in Harbor Country for even more amazing southwest Michigan beaches.

southwest michiagn wineries

Take a Tour of the Southwest Michigan Wineries

The Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail includes more than 20 amazing wineries, many of whom produce award-winning wines and ciders.

As the largest of Michigan’s grape-growing regions, the southwest corner of the state is home to some of the best wineries in Michigan.

Located in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA ( American Viticultural Area), this wine region produces some of the most diverse wines in the state, thanks to the “lake effect” weather along the Lake Michigan coastal area.

harbor country michigan

Hike the Dunes at Warren Dunes State Park

First, it’s dog-friendly, so bring your pup along to enjoy the wide Lake Michigan shoreline at the park in Sawyer, MI. This popular spot is a gem of the Michigan State Park system and features sand dunes that tower above the beach at more than 260 feet.

You don’t have to trek all the way to the top of the dunes for stunning views: the expansive shoreline provides beautiful Lake Michigan vistas and lots of room for splashing in the clear, blue water.

PRO-TIP: Don’t miss the chance to take a picture of the Love Tree, an iconic tangle of trees with an exposed root system.

Head to the Harbert Swedish Bakery

Luisa’s Harbert Swedish Bakery & Market in tiny Harbert is a must if you are in the area, with a cozy, Nordic vibe and some amazing sticky buns.

The Swedish term “Hygge,” meaning a feeling of coziness and contentment, just might have been invented with this place in mind. Serving everything from fresh-baked Swedish Limpa and Potato Rosemary Sourdough Bread to soups, sandwiches, cakes, and coffee cakes, the Harbert Swedish Bakery is a long-time favorite stop.

Stop in at Journeyman Distillery

Journeyman Distillery is an organic spirits distillery, near New Buffalo in Three Oaks. Located in a historic former corset factory, Journeyman is one of the few certified organic & kosher distilleries in the country, and “production is truly grain to glass.

It’s a neat place to visit, even if whiskey isn’t your thing: you can peek through the glass in this historic building to view the distillation process and see how the whiskey is made.

harbor country

Shop New Buffalo New and Old

Harbor Country is an antique-lovers paradise: you’ll find small shops like Poppy Hill Vintage in Three Oaks, where you’ll find re-purposed cottage décor; and the Sawyer Antique Mall on the Red Arrow Highway where you’ll find housewares, collectibles, art, and more.

The Randolph Street Market, an urban antique market in Chicago, also holds a festival in the area annually. You can also find some new treasures at some of the unique boutiques and shops. Hearthwoods Custom Furnishings in Lakeside makes custom indoor and outdoor reclaimed wood furniture, flooring, beams, mantles, and home accents that are truly unique.

Sweet Pea Studio in Sawyer also offers unique, custom hand painted furniture and other home decor items. Don’t miss Frolic in New Buffalo for a carefully curated collection of clothing, shoes, accessories, and home décor; or Indian Summer Boutique, for women’s clothes and accessories.

restaurants in new buffalo

Where to Eat in Harbor Country

Whistle Stop Grocery in Union Pier offers great sandwiches, coffee, pastries, and more at their popular market; they make an amazing turkey club. Redamaks in New Buffalo, right off the expressway, should be on everyone’s Michigan bucket list for their hamburgers and hand-dipped milkshakes.

Froelich’s Bakery in Three Oaks makes one of the best breakfast wraps around, and their turnovers made with Michigan cherries are even better. Brewsters in New Buffalo is a charming Italian restaurant with amazing meatballs and a pretty patio for outside dining.

The Stray Dog in New Buffalo is a popular spot featuring American fare for waterfront dining. Greenbush Brewing in New Buffalo is a microbrewery that offers amazing barbeque alongside its craft beer, and Oinks Dutch Treat features at least 50 different ice cream flavors.

harbor country michigan

Seek Salvation at the Beer Church in New Buffalo

One of the coolest Michigan craft breweries is the Beer Church Brewing Co in New Buffalo. That’s right: there’s a craft brewery in a restored Civil War-era church, and it’s one of the top destinations in the area.

You’ll find pours of small-batch beers in the church and outside in their beer garden, but it’s the amazing Neapolitan-style pizza that brings me back year after year. I’m not alone: those fresh wood-fired pizzas have developed a large fan base, so plan accordingly on those busy summer evenings.

Catch a Wave on the Great Lakes

It’s not the Pacific coast, but if you’ve ever seen the Lake Michigan waves on a windy day, you might think otherwise… they are big.

Whether you’re an experienced pro or new to the sport, head over to New Buffalo to do some Great Lakes surfing. The Third Coast Surf Shop offers both surfing gear and private lessons to have you hanging 10 in no time. It’s not just a summertime pursuit either: experienced surfers know that the autumn and winter bring some truly epic waves to the coast, so make sure you have a dry suit handy.

More Things to Do in Harbor Country

Here are a few more things to do in Harbor Country, Michigan.

  • Rent a waverunner at Oselka Marina in New Buffalo
  • Hike Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary to see more than 400 different plants and wildflowers
  • See some local art at Judith Racht Gallery in Harbert
  • Go horseback riding at Spring Creek Equestrian Center in Three Oaks
  • Try the Middle Eastern Cuisine at Cafe Gulistan in Sawyer
  • Go ice skating in the winter or fishing in the summer at Harbert Community Park

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