With its beautiful lakefront setting, tall trees and small-town friendliness, Grand Haven wraps the best features of Michigan into one charming package. The small city sits on the state's western edge where the Grand River empties into Lake Michigan, surrounded by forests and farmland. Don't be deceived by Grand Haven's pleasant rural feeling, however; the cities of Muskegon and Holland sit close by to the north and south, and sizable Grand Rapids lies just 35 miles to the east.
Residents of Grand Haven come to enjoy the city's safety, outdoor recreation and community-oriented atmosphere. Grand Haven comes to life in the summer as tourists from all over the state pour in to enjoy the beach and the cool lake breezes. In the winter, locals enjoy a few runs after work at the small ski hill in the center of town or explore the shoreline on snowshoes. The town's status as a tourism hotspot brings in a variety of restaurants and bars, ensuring that locals have ample opportunity for entertainment year round.
Restaurants & Nightlife
For a small town, Grand Haven houses an outsize number of restaurants, most of which serve American food at low to mid-range prices. Restaurants scatter throughout the city, but the majority line either side of Highway 31 and the south side of the Grand River.
Start your day with cinnamon rolls and chorizo hash at Morning Star Cafe, a popular breakfast and brunch spot on Washington Avenue. The cafe also serves a selection of hearty Southwestern meals, including Huevos Rancheros and a Marbled Corn Bread Scramble. After a day at the beach, locals often stop by the Pronto Pup food cart for a signature hot dog on a stick. Workers hand-dip each with a thin batter, pop it in the deep fryer and serve it with a swipe of ketchup and mustard.
Check out the upscale dining at The Grand, a sleek restaurant located in the lobby of the Grand Theatre. Sip on an Ella Fitzgerald Martini while you dig into an order of lobster and shrimp risotto, or try a lighter meal of fresh whitefish. If you're in a hurry, the restaurant also offers carry-out service.
Nightlife in Grand Haven varies throughout the year. Local bars fill with tourists on summer evenings and transform into more laid-back retreats during the off-season. Locals often forgo the tourist haunts and head straight for the Tip-a-Few Tavern, a dive bar known for its stiff drinks. Beer lovers shouldn't miss Odd Side Ales, a brewery located in a historic piano factory. Try a Bean Flicker Blonde, or order a beer flight to sample a variety of brews. If you're in the mood for live music, the Grand Haven Brew House hosts singers and bands from around western Michigan.
History & Culture
Grand Haven has undergone several transformations throughout its history. It began as a Native American settlement, and the local tribes used the town as an important stop on the trading route. French settlers later established a fur-trading post in the area. The city was incorporated in 1867 and became a center for shipping and industry.
Today, Grand Haven holds a position of pride as a center for tourism along Michigan's western coast. Tourists and locals learn about Grand Haven at the Tri-Cities Historical Museum, which displays a series of exhibits about local history. The town hosts a number of festivals each year, including the Coast Guard Festival, Frozen in Time and Wine About Winter. For arts and musical performances, locals head to the Circle Theatre and the Civic Theatre in nearby Grand Rapids.
Most locals get around Grand Haven by car, particularly during the long, cold winters. During the summer, however, the walkable downtown area fills with walkers and bikers. With over 100 miles of bike trails, Grand Haven provides plenty of safe options for bikers. Take caution when riding on the street, as the lack of bike lanes can present a risk.
Harbor Transit provides limited public transportation service to Grand Haven residents. The on-demand bus offers curb-to-curb rides in Grand Haven and the neighboring communities. If you need a cab, you'll need to call in advance. Uber does not provide service in Grand Haven.
Numerous free parking spots and parking lots dot downtown Grand Haven, ensuring that you'll never need to walk far. Pay attention to the posted time limits; some spots, particularly those along Washington Street, restrict use to two hours. Most spots in the neighborhood sit a few minutes from Highway 31, which runs through the center of town.
The cost of living in Grand Haven sits lower than the state and nationwide average. In fact, with the exception of transportation, you'll pay less for most goods and services than most Americans. The average rental rate for a home in Grand Haven sits at $703, with plenty of options for larger and smaller budgets.
To get around Grand Haven via the Harbor Transit bus, you'll pay a flat rate of $1.50 for a one-way trip. A pint of beer at a local pub averages $4 to $5. When you go to fill up your tank, expect gas prices that sit about 9 percent lower than the national average.
Thanks to its status as a tourist mecca, Grand Haven houses a multitude of charming boutiques. Most stores cluster in the downtown area, just south of the Grand River. The close proximity of the retail outlets makes it easy to spend a pleasant afternoon wandering from one store to the next. Stop in to The Bookman to browse through the stacks of books and magazines. The well-read employees at this independently owned store usually come prepared with recommendations, so don't hesitate to ask for advice. Families in Grand Haven love Mackinaw Kite, a small store that carries kites and high-end kids' toys. Small customers can play with the toys on display while parents shop.
If you're ready to splash out on the perfect piece of furniture, don't miss the upscale items at Lakeshore Antiques. The store owner uses a careful eye to curate a stock of high-end pieces, each in excellent condition. Allow ample time for browsing.
A number of large grocery stores serve Grand Haven, including Meijer, Walmart and D&W Fresh Market. Fill your candy drawer at Fortino's, which sells homemade chocolate and a variety of gourmet foods. Locals love the store's broad wine selection. For fresh cuts of meat, stop by Frank's Market on Washington Avenue. The Health Hutt caters to local foodies and lovers of health food with its selection of packaged organic foods, free-range eggs and vegan alternatives. From May through October, Michigan growers display their wares at the Grand Haven Farmers Market on the Chinook Pier.
Grand Haven features numerous public parks, ensuring convenient access to outdoor recreation. Mulligan's Hollow Park, the largest of the group, features a ski hill, skate park, tennis courts and ball fields. An off-leash dog area near Lake Avenue attracts local pet owners. Walkers and runners love the forested trails at Duncan Memorial Park and the long boardwalk at Lighthouse Connector Park.
During the summer, the white-sand beach at Grand Haven State Park fills up with tourists and locals who are eager to escape the heat with a dip in Lake Michigan. The park also features a campground, cabins for rent, a playground and several picnic areas. In July, locals pile onto the beach to watch the firework display that celebrates the Coast Guard Festival. To use the park, you must purchase a day or year pass; residents use all other parks in the area free of charge.