Oval Beach in Saugatuck, Michigan has been rated by Cond, Nast Traveler as one of the 25 best shorelines in the world, while MTV has it ranked as one of the country's top five beaches. National Geographic Traveler takes it a step further, rating it as one of the top two freshwater beaches in the country. Those rankings come thanks to the area's combination of towering sand dunes, white sand beach, beautiful views, seclusion, and services, such as life guards and concessions.
Oval beach can best be reached via North America's only hand-pulled chain ferry boat, which crosses the Kalamazoo River from nearby Saugatuck. A climb of 282 steps then takes visitors to Mount Baldhead, where they are rewarded with a splendid view of the harbor and Lake Michigan. From there, visitors descend onto the grassy coastal sands and the stunning shoreline.
Along with the customary beach activities of swimming and sunbathing, visitors can also take a freewheeling ride on the "dune schooner'' - a converted pickup truck that traverses some of the towering nearby sand hills.
Visitors can also book some time on an old-fashioned sternwheeler shuttle that tours the river and the Lake Michigan shoreline, taking in a variety of sights, such as lavish area homes and cottages, wetlands, forests, and dunes, as well as the Ghost Town of Singapore that now lies buried near the mouth of the Kalamazoo River. There's also a WWII "Duck'' that provides ferry service between the towns of Saugatuck and Douglas.
Biking, hiking, strolling a winding boardwalk, and picnicking are also popular local activities, and there are a number of scenic city parks adorned by Victorian-style gazebos along the riverside. That makes the setting ideal for simply relaxing or watching some of the port's 900 yachts and sailboats glide by.
The area is also a haven for anglers, who can charter boats in search of salmon, pike, trout, and perch. And anyone who wants to make a bigger splash can rent anything from kayaks, to jet skis, to sailboats and yachts. Horseback riding and equestrian training are also available in the area.
Midwest Living magazine ranked the Saugatuck-Douglas area #5 on its 2007 list of Best Small-Town Getaways, and the two towns provide a variety of sights, shopping and activities for visitors. Together, they are known as "The Art Coast of Michigan,'' thanks to the number of artists who have taken up residence and operate studios and galleries in the area.
In addition to such small-town, rural charm, visitors will also find a number of unique shops, fine dining and lodging, professional summer theater, jazz music, and some outstanding golfing, including an 18-hole championship course designed by Arnold Palmer.
In Douglas, history buffs can take a tour of a floating, maritime museum, the S.S. Keewatin - a 350-foot passenger steamship once sailed the Great Lakes - or visit the award-winning Historical Museum for a look back in time at the area's earliest settlers. The Saugatuck Dunes State Park and the Allegan State Forest are also nearby, as well as a tour of a local vineyard.
The area is vintage, small-town Americas at its best - a combination of scenic, beautiful beaches, 19th-century architecture, and 21st-century shops and activities.