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St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

Lindsay, Texas
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St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

Hi, we are looking to spend 2-3 days in southern Michigan along the coast line. It will only be me and my husband-no children. It looks like there are great wine tours which we will definitely partake in but I'm having trouble deciding which town would be the best for us to stay in. We're looking between New Buffalo, Union Pier, South Haven, and St. Joseph. We will definitely want to spend a day on the beach and a day around town so which town has the best beaches and best shops/dining? We were pretty set on New Buffalo until I started seeing some mixed reviews on the beaches (rocky, e.coli contamination in the water, dirty beach, etc.). It is hard to tell from the internet which town holds the most character/things to do. Any input would be greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance!

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1. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

swmichigan.org/most-popular/wineries.html

Saint Joseph, MI is my pick for you based on two things. Wine tours daily that you do not need to hire a private tour company for and i do not believe you have that option in South Haven, MI. Two, it is the largest beachside town of the region (as Holland, MI does not rest on the lake, nor Muskegon, MI) so shopping and eating options by the beach would be best, though this does not mean South Haven is in short supply. In fact, i would direct you to South Haven if it not for no hotel wine tour pickups there.

New Buffalo, MI is Chicagoland getaway town. Beach is not quite as nice and town is smaller. The casino, however, is the largest in the state.

Www.eyeonmichigan.com will give you a decent town map. Www.experiencegr.com has a great west Michigan winery map.

Www.beachtowns.org gives you area highlights of each town. Union Pier isnt actually a 'real' town.

Based on your long trip, however, you could consider the states top wine dog around and full of beauty. ..Traverse City, MI

www.wmta.org and www.mynorth.com can help more.

They have much to offer including many world class resorts and waterparks as well is Sleeping Bear Dunes by ..Empire, MI.

Rensselaer, Indiana
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2. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

How experienced are you with swimming in an ocean? Because that's what Lake Michigan actually is - an inland, fresh-water, non-tidal ocean. Doesn't have tides but has rip currents.

Re the e. coli bacteria count: Can happen anywhere along the shoreline. Just depends on the circumstances and conditions of the area.

You should be more concerned with possible rip currents during this particularly stormy year. You can read about them here:

south-haven.com/pages/…beach_pier_safety.html

www.harborcountry.org/beaches/

newbuffalo.com/newbuffalo-beach-parks.shtml

www.berriencounty.org/parks/?dept=1&pid=193

You can also take a look at this URL: www.glsrp.org/ The statistics show where each drowning fatality occurred as well as the circumstances. You will see at least two in this immediate area you are discussing.

I'm not trying to scare you off - but you do need to pay particular attention to this if you plan on going swimming. The thing is, rip currents don't only occur when there is a "high surf". Can happen anytime, even on calm days. So just prepare yourself - and please swim only where and when there is a lifeguard on duty.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, wherever you decide to go, the better lodging will probably have 2-night minimum stays - except Labor Day weekend, they may require 3-nights.

JMHO, the further north you go, the better it would be. I personally like the Saugatuck/Douglas area better than those you've mentioned. Fenn Valley is a winery about 10 miles inland from either, just outside of Fennville. You were asking which have a great deal of dining/shopping available - look at the websites for these as well as dining reviews.

RE the Michigan wines...might be a good thing to do a little research on the subject. Like if the winery uses MI-grown grapes. There is a MI live article online which has a bit of age to it (2011) but it might be worthwhile for you to read to understand.

That being said, you might be interested in this: michigan.org/road-trips/…

Edited: 01 August 2016, 11:43
Rensselaer, Indiana
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3. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

'You will see at least two in this immediate area you are discussing." That should be "...at least two very recent incidences..." Sorry, I didn't see that before.

Chicago's North...
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4. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

IF you were going with kids, i'd say st joe, hands down.... but since you said no kids, you can take or leave st joe... why? because lodging is super pricey, especially on the weekends, and the beach tends to get super crowded, again, especially on the weekends....

for a similar beachtown experience, but maybe a tad less expensive/crowded, would be south haven, which is only 20 minutes north via the blue star highway.... if you stay at either town, it's an easy drive to visit the other....

i'd scratch new buffalo.... the beach isn't as nice as the others, and the downtown is much smaller/less lively than the above.... the casino is very nice, but it's several miles from town, so you'd be nowhere near the lake.... there are a coupla nice resorts in town, on the harbor.... we've stayed at the marina grand resort---it's really nice, but again, it's pricey.... but it will be a half hour drive to get to a nice beach.....

if you're looking for a much more quaint, romantic experience, i'd go for union pier.... it's like staying in the Northwoods, without actually being in the Northwoods... no downtown to speak of, but there are a few inn's and b&B's in town. the inn's are a short walk to the beach..... the beach is small in comparison to the others, but it's a short drive to st joe.....

other options in the general area are grand haven, which gets high marks in this forum, but i think there isn't much in the way of wine activities...... for a more artsy fartsy experience, saugatuck is also very nice, BUT it isn't directly on the beach.... lot's of B&B's..... again, it's only about 20 minutes north of south haven.... not sure about the wine scene....

as for swimming in the lake---use common sense. if it's calm, then no worries.... if there's a swell, then use caution.... if you plan to go in the next month or so, the water should be mild---it's been in the mid 70's for much of the past month....

Rensselaer, Indiana
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5. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

"...as for swimming in the lake---use common sense. if it's calm, then no worries.... "

That's not correct, s_t. A very common misconception, too. They can happen at any time at all.

Read: ripcurrents.noaa.gov Fifth line down.

Rensselaer, Indiana
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6. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

Here's a page from Michigan City Park & Rec Dept.'s website which describes how rip currents can form and what to watch for: michigancityparks.com/index.php/additional-r…

Chicago's North...
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7. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

great weather doesn't necessarily equate with great swimming conditions.... you can have stellar weather, with a swell...and yeah, rip currents can occur..... even a small swell can sweep a CHILD, as happened at north ave beach a few years ago....

if the water is calm or glass, there is almost ZERO chance for rips to occur....and what little rip that MIGHT occur is even less LIKELY to sweep an ADULT..... if you were informed enough to know how and where they form, you would know the chances of ADULTS drowning due to rips in calm water is NIL.... that's not to say a person can't drown due to alcohol/drug/collision with a boat/stupidity (it all pretty much runs together), but to insist on your usual scare tactics and nanny tendencies is a disservice to the TA forums.....

to the OP, if you're even reading this thread anymore, don't be afraid to swim in lake michigan.... millions of people do it every year.....just use your best judgement..... i couldn't imagine going to the beach and staying out of the water.....sheesh.........

Chicago, Illinois
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8. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

Union Pier has GREAT beaches. They are framed by trees (nothing on the shore but inns and homes), and accessed by small paths. There are a number (4-5, maybe) of small public beaches, which are typically used by locals/ renters who can walk from where they are staying. (There is very limited parking.) Union Pier is only a 10 minute drive from downtown New Buffalo, so you can have the best of both worlds if you stay in Union Pier. The trick is finding a rental that is less than 7 days during peak... nearly impossible unless you book very far in advance. (Trust me, I look every year!) Look in Sawyer and Lakeside, too, and make sure you know how far the rental is from the public beach. For shorter term rentals, also try The Inn at Union Pier if you like the B&B atmosphere. It is just a short block from the Berrien St. beach.

The above said, in my opinion South Haven has a much, much nicer downtown than New Buffalo (which is kind of "meh", in my opinion). If you are looking for restaurants, shopping, etc., consider South Haven. The primary beach is huge, with lots of space and people. (I do prefer the Union Pier beaches myself.) South Haven is a really nice town, with good energy. There are a few Inns (Inn at the Park), so finding a weekend rental could be easier (but not easy!). Fall opens up a lot of options in western MI, and the beach is still great in Sept.

Have fun!

chicago
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9. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

What about grand haven? St Joe would be my pick out of your named choices.

Rensselaer, Indiana
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10. Re: St. Joseph vs. South Haven vs. Union Pier vs. New Buffalo

s_t, you are operating under the opinion that certain visible lake conditions must be present for there to be rip currents, which is not always the case.

Not six weeks ago, there were rip currents warnings out for Lake Michigan when they were "nearly invisible". The media was involved (as they often are) alerting the public to the situation. I suggest that anyone interested could read dnainfo.com's article dated June 16, 2016 entitled "Stay Out Of Lake Michigan: It Looks Safe, But Has Deadly Rip Currents Today" to gain some insight.

Or, if you wish to take a look at the Great Lakes Coast Guard's blog on "Safety" - 7th paragraph, last line where they discuss what conditions may be visible when rip currents are present. As you may know, Grand Haven is "Coast Guard City, USA".

As you can see by my above response, I started this out by telling the OP the conversation re: rip currents was to inform and prepare them. That's why I gave them all those URLs from the various authorities, municipalities, etc. to review. Now, if you should have anything to the contrary from an official source, I urge you to post the URL for it, so these people can see that information.

The important objective is for others to enjoy swimming in Lake Michigan SAFELY.

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