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High Brow/Low Bräu, Saugatuck/Douglas, Mich.

High Brow/Low Bräu, Saugatuck/Douglas, Mich.

High Brow/Low Bräu, Saugatuck/Douglas, Mich.

Exploring the galleries and breweries (and everything else!) in these LGBT-friendly beach towns.

About 40 miles southwest of Grand Rapids, along the eastern shore of Lake Michigan, sit the sibling towns of Saugatuck and Douglas. It would be easy to simply describe these quaint, beachy, artist enclaves as the Provincetown or Fire Island of The Great Lakes State, but they in fact, have a unique personality all their own that attracts droves of LGBT tourists each summer from Chicago, Grand Rapids and South Bend, Ind. and are worth a trip from where ever you hail too.

One of the highlights of spending time in a beach town is, of course, the beach. Although there are a couple of lakeside choices, Oval Beach with its clear, fresh water and well-kempt shoreline continue to earn it a place atop "best of" lists year after year.

Later in the afternoon, pick up the pace a bit with a Saugatuck Dune Ride, but be forewarned this is not a leisurely amble along the beach in some wire cage of a car. Instead, Riders clamber into the back of a sawed off, repurposed pick up truck with twenty or so other people and hurtle up and down a sand track over hills measuring several stories high. Even with the I-can’t-help-but-laugh corny humor coming from the tour guide, this was about as close as you might get to a forty minute rollercoaster. The Saugatuck Dune Ride sells out, so be sure to make a reservation.

Between them, Saugatuck and Douglas have around two dozen galleries, artist coops and exhibit spaces; a quick stroll through their respective downtown areas will set you in the path of most of them. James Brandess, godfather of the local art community best known for his landscapes and floral still-lifes, has a large gallery housed in a former post office that sells his original works, prints, cards and other souvenirs. Nearby, young ceramicist Jeff Blandford offers a wide variety of glass and pottery in colorful, contemporary designs. And a few of the spaces such as Amazwi Contemporary Art, Saugatuck Artists Collective and Good Goods offer up works from multiple artists under one roof.

Left, James Brandess, "Butterflies in My Garden", giclée on canvas; right, various ceramic bowls by Jeff Blandford.

When meal time arrives, finding a great place to eat shouldn’t pose much of a challenge. Ida Red’s Cottage seems to be the local breakfast hotspot. Their whole grain hotcakes with boysenberry compote provided a hearty start to the day. The lobster roll (below) at Zing Eat Drink made for a perfect summertime lunch. And, Everyday People Café shines with its creative menu that takes cues from cuisines around the world. Their roasted gorgonzola pork chop with onion jam perfectly capped off the day.

Thirsty? Well, so close to Beer City USA, of course, there’s the Sagatuck Brewing Company with its fully functioning onsite craft brewery and pub as well as Virtue Farms in nearby Fennville that has tours and tastings of their various ciders.

Where to stay:

The Dunes Resort is the area’s gay mecca. Guests (as well as locals and other tourists) keep busy with its pool, dance club, outdoor deck club and show bar, yet manages to feel like a chill camp when staying in one of the individual cabins (there are also regular hotel rooms too.)

Saugatuck/Douglas seems to have fallen in love with the fifties and sixties again, at least as far as motels are concerned. If a retro motor inn with modern amenities is more your scene, you’ve come to the right place: check into either the Starlite Resort or the Saugatuck Resort Motel.

Should you prefer something a bit more luxurious, The Belvedere Inn occupies a former summer home (read: mansion) built in 1913 and sits on five acres of beautifully manicured grounds. They serve a scrumptious breakfast as part of the stay and each of the ten rooms is unique.

Top, The Dunes Resort and (inset) its Dance Club; lower left, the Starlite Resort; lower right, the fire pit at The Saugatuck Motel.

For our round-up of what to do in nearby Grand Rapids, click here

Need help packing? We’ve done the heavy lifting for you here

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Bryan Van Gorder