Harbor Country, Michigan

Harbor Country, Michigan

day tripweekend tripMichiganweeklong getawaybeachwineries/breweries/distilleriesbikinggolfhikingshopping

Warren Dunes State Park
Warren Dunes State Park is a very popular spot for hiking, swimming, and lounging by the beach.
Harbor Country, Michigan

Just north of the Indiana state line in Michigan lies a string of eight, charming, little, lakeside towns just far enough away from Chicago for weekend getaways: Michiana, Grand Beach, New Buffalo, Union Pier, Lakeside, Harbert, Sawyer, and, slightly inland, Three Oaks.

The region developed in the early twentieth century as a haven for Chicago’s ethnic and racial minorities. Michiana became a Jewish enclave in the 1930s. Bethany Beach in Sawyer attracted Swedes. And in the 1940s and ’50s, Grand Beach began to draw Chicago’s Irish – including the late Mayor Richard J. Daley, who bought a summer home here in 1964.

Beer Churc Brewing Company exterior
Beer Church Brewing Company in New Buffalo, Michigan. Photo by Erica Gunderson

The region was dubbed Harbor Country by a former Chicago realtor in the 1970s as part of a plan to aggressively market the region to a more upscale clientele. And it worked. In recent decades, property values have skyrocketed, particularly along the lake, and a number of upscale shops, galleries, golf courses, wineries, and restaurants have opened.

Among those newer offerings are a smattering of repurposed old buildings making their own beer, wine, and spirits. They include a combination winery/distillery/brewery in an old barn, a brewery in a former church, and a distillery in a former buggy whip and corset factory once owned by a staunch prohibitionist – all making the old decidedly new.

But despite the influx of upscale visitors, the region still largely retains its small-town charm and is popular for backroad biking through the countryside.

And, of course, the area still retains the white sand beaches that lured so many visitors to its shores in the first place. Warren Dunes State Park is a very popular spot for hiking, birding, swimming, and lounging by the beach; there are also several smaller municipal beaches to choose from if and when the state park becomes too crowded.