The Art Coast of Michigan: A Creative Haven in Saugatuck

Sunset over Lake Michigan as seen through the trees
Sunset in Saugatuck

Welcome to Saugatuck, Michigan, also known as the Art Coast of Michigan! This charming town has long been a haven for artists and art lovers alike, thanks to its rich artistic heritage and vibrant art scene. In this travel article, we’ll take a closer look at what makes Saugatuck such a special place for art enthusiasts and a sought-after travel destination. From the history of the Ox-Bow School of Arts to the must-visit galleries and public art installations, we’ll explore all that the Art Coast of Michigan has to offer. Whether you’re an artist yourself or simply appreciate the beauty of art, this article is for you! And we know the very best places to stay and dine during your visit to the Art Coast of Michigan. 

Artists with easels on a beach with water in the background
Photo Credit: Ox-Bow School of Art

The History of the Art Coast of Michigan

Saugatuck, Michigan is known as the Art Coast of Michigan due to its rich artistic heritage that dates back to the early 20th century. The Ox-Bow School of Arts, located in Saugatuck, was founded in 1910 by a group of progressive artists who were looking for a place to escape the hustle and bustle of city life and focus on their art. The school quickly became a haven for artists of all mediums, including painters, sculptors, writers, and musicians. In the early years, the school was called the “Saugatuck Summer School of Painting”. Back then, classes were held at the Bandle Farm, just a few miles from the current school location. In 1914, classes moved to the Riverside Rest Hotel in the village of Saugatuck. The Riverside Rest was later called the Ox-Bow Inn, after the ox-bow-shaped bend of the Kalamazoo River. The owners of the then Riverside Hotel, the Shriver Family had hoped that the area would be a major port for commerce along the Great Lakes. However, after the river channel was reshaped to flow directly into Lake Michigan, the area saw a great decline in both leisure and commercial visitors. Due to the shrinking clientele, the Shrivers agreed to lease their property to a group of artists visiting from Chicago.  That same building, now affectionately called “The Inn” by patrons of the school, stands proudly on the Ox-Bow campus and includes a gallery, offices, and lodging for students and visiting artists.

Over the years, the area around Saugatuck has continued to inspire artists from all over the world. The picturesque landscapes, beaches, water, charming towns, and vibrant culture have all contributed to the flourishing art scene in the region. Today visitors enjoy enthralling art galleries, studios, exhibitions, and numerous art installations throughout the town. The Saugatuck Center for the Arts, located in a former pie factory,  regularly features exhibits throughout the year including plays, films & lectures.

Shops and galleries line Butler Street in the Art Coast of Michigan
Shops and galleries line Butler Street in Saugatuck, Michigan.

The popular Fall Gallery Stroll in October is known as the premier art weekend in Saugatuck and the neighboring town of Douglas, as well as other seasonal events and activities. Visitors enjoy strolling the quaint streets, wandering through galleries and studios, chatting with artists, enjoying live music, and sampling local cuisine. In Saugatuck, you can experience art at its source!

Exploring the Art Coast of Michigan

Here are some of the must-visit galleries, studios, exhibitions, and public art installations in the Art Coast of Michigan which includes the surrounding areas of Saugatuck, Douglas and Fennville

  1. Saugatuck Center for the Arts– Vibrant art exhibits featured throughout the year
  2. Saugatuck Douglas Fennville Arts Initiative-  Launched in 2021, this initiative is dedicated to placing highly interactive visual, performing, culinary, healing, and horticulture arts in public venues at no cost
  3. Waterfront Invitational Fine Art Fair– This open-air art fair is hosted by the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club each year in July and attracts art collectors and art lovers from near and far.
  4. Amazwi Contemporary Art– this Saugatuck gallery celebrates contemporary African painters, sculptors, and craftspeople.
  5. Art Farm Fennville- a beautiful artists’s retreat in Fennville
  6. Aspen Glenn Studio-the working and home studio of Ellie Lotz Dietrich
  7. Blue Star Studio of Wood & Glass- Barbara Hogarth’s art employs a variety of techniques to create a multi-media experience.
  8. Brian Newton Studio– Specializing in turning exotic woods from around the world into unique pieces.
  9. Button Gallery– This Douglas gallery offers an eclectic mix of artists and expressions.
  10. Capizzio Studio– A fine art gallery specializing in modern and contemporary art
  11. Peachbelt Studio-Orginal oil painting by Dawn Stafford
  12. Petter Galleries– Fine art gallery in Douglas that includes a thoughtfully curated collection of artisan wines.
  13. Jeff Blandford Gallery-  Explore wheel-thrown ceramics inspired by mid-century modern aesthetic.
  14. Koorey Creations- These long-time jewelry masters create specialty pieces in their Saugatuck shop.
  15. Marcia Perry Sculpture Studio– Check out this studio of a sculptor in Saugatuck who is inspired by nature.
  16. The Laffing Glass– Handmade glass studio in Saugatuck

Best places to Dine in Saugatuck

Saugatuck and the surrounding area offer a variety of dining options to suit every taste and budget. Here are some of the best restaurants in Saugatuck and the surrounding area.

  1. Phil’s Bar & Grille-This American bar and pub is known for its burgers, sandwiches, and craft beers
  2. Bowdies Chophouse- This upscale steakhouse offers a fine dining experience with a focus on locally sourced ingredients.
  3. The Southerner restaurant serves up Southern-style comfort food, including fried chicken, mac and cheese, and biscuits and gravy
  4. Mermaid Bar and Grill- This seafood grill offers a variety of fresh seafood dishes, including fish tacos, crab cakes, and lobster rolls.
  5. Grow: This cafe and bistro serves up fresh, locally sourced food, including sandwiches, salads, and soups
  6. The Butler– Waterfront and outdoor dining
  7. Pennyroyal Cafe & Provisions– Seasonal farm-forward cuisine.

And here are some of the innkeeper’s favorites at The Hotel Saugatuck.

Side view of the Hotel Saugatuck painted grey with white trim with a tree on the side
The Hotel Saugatuck

The Hotel Saugatuck: A Luxurious Retreat

Now, let’s shine a spotlight on the Hotel Saugatuck:

  • Location: Situated in the heart of Saugatuck’s historical district at 900 Lake St, Saugatuck, MI, 49453, this newly renovated luxury bed and breakfast is a Michigan Historic Landmark.
  • Accommodations: The hotel offers 18 opulent King suites, each equipped with fireplaces, Jason Hydrotherapy tubs, and walk-in showers. Breathtaking views of Kalamazoo Lake unfold from various vantage points within the inn.
  • Personalized Touches: Guests enjoy gourmet breakfasts delivered to their rooms at their preferred time. Plus, a delightful homemade treat awaits you in the evening.
  • Art Coast Proximity: When you stay at the Hotel Saugatuck, you’re within easy reach (walkable or bikeable) of numerous world-class galleries. Outdoor art shows and exhibits occur throughout the year, ensuring you’ll leave with inspiration and perhaps a new favorite piece of art.

Whirlpool tub enclosed with glass at the Hotel Saugatuck

Luxury at its finest and hospitality like non-other. All of the rooms include a bath similar to the one shown above. Two wicker chairs looking out of windows with a lake view

Imagine, enjoying these views of Kalamazoo Lake during your stay! For more information, visit the Hotel Saugatuck website. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or seeking a romantic escape, this charming corner of Michigan awaits your exploration! 🎨🌟 The Hotel Saugatuck is quality-assured by the Michigan Bed and Breakfast Association for your peace of mind and is a perfect homebase for your next visit to the Art Coast of Michigan!