New Buffalo, Michigan
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2018
The ‘Gateway to Michigan,’ New Buffalo is a charming beach and harbor town set on the majestic southern shore of Lake Michigan. Known for small-town character and elevated amenities, New Buffalo is a uniquely friendly and walkable destination for boaters with a taste for great food, drinks, and adventure. No car needed.
New Buffalo’s shallow draft recreational harbor consists of over 1,000 slips accessible through a federally-maintained channel. Transient reservations for 30’-46’ slips are offered by both the City Marina and Oselka Marina. Typical amenities like power, water, restrooms, and grills can be found at both. Oselka Marina also provides wireless internet, a pool, ship store and fuel station, as well as Jet Ski and Sea-Doo rentals. A stunning public beach, waterfront dining, and a newly redeveloped downtown district are all steps away.
Home to the largest freshwater dune system in the world, views along the south Michigan shore are breathtaking from the water, with miles of uninterrupted coastline covered with grasses and old-growth forest. A short ride north of New Buffalo takes you to Warren Dunes State Park, where you’ll find a towering 260’ dune (named Tower Hill) followed by a long stretch of undeveloped, protected land. It’s a special sight reserved for boaters and hikers, as there is no automobile access to the north end of the park.
Like most harbor communities, fishing is a favorite past time for locals and visitors alike. King and coho salmon, steelhead trout, and lake perch are the likely catch. Forget your gear? Fishing rods, bait, and coolers are available for rent or purchase nearby. Forget your skills? Brush up with a chartered fishing excursion.
You’ll find all manner of water sport on the New Buffalo lakefront. Whatever your speed, there’s a place and space to do it. But, adventure doesn’t have to end when you dock the boat. New Buffalo’s quartz-covered ‘singing sand’ public beach is the main attraction. Head over to treasure hunt, throw a Frisbee, or pick up a volleyball game. Climb the dunes for a bird’s-eye view. Rent kayaks or stand-up paddleboards for a peaceful glide along the Galien River. Or let the kids loose at Third Coast Surf’s day camp. On the way back, stop for an amazing strawberry milkshake at Nancy’s, or pick your favorite among three ice cream shops in town.
Despite its size, New Buffalo has a remarkable dining scene. From stylish waterfront taverns to nostalgic, family-run institutions, you’ll find a wonderful assortment of independent restaurants and cafes within walking distance of the harbor.
Terrace Room is the newest waterfront hotspot, with a busy bar and lovely indoor and outdoor seating. Open for dinner and weekend brunch, the rustic Italian menu features tasty seasonal entrees, handmade pastas, and a thoughtfully curated wine list. Pets are welcome on the patio. For a more casual experience, visit Redamak’s for ‘The Hamburger That Made New Buffalo Famous.’ A regional landmark serving legendary Velveeta cheeseburgers to legions of fans for over forty years. There are no words. You’ve just got to have one.
If you ask, locals will tell you David’s Delicatessen is the place to go for morning coffee and delicious deli sandwiches. Don’t let the funky, laid-back vibe fool you. These folks are serious sandwich artists.
And, for a nightcap, The Stray Dog’s 21-and-over rooftop deck is New Buffalo’s most popular warm weather venue. Plenty of adult beverages, cool lake breezes, and unparalleled people-watching make for an experience that feels distinctly ‘on vacation.’
Like the dining scene, shopping in New Buffalo is comprised of small, independent operators offering home goods, clothing, jewelry, global imports, surfwear and, of course, beach and boating supplies. The seasonal downtown farmer’s market on Thursday evenings is a fun destination for local produce and crafts, food truck fare, and live music. And, when your galley is running low on supplies, the local market is just a few blocks from the marina.
Although you could never tell from the lake, Four Winds Casino is just ten minutes inland of downtown New Buffalo. A premier gaming resort with live music and entertainment, free hourly shuttle service runs daily just a block from the transient marina. Wine fan? Consider a convenient chartered or hop-on tour of southwest Michigan’s wine country. Just 25 minutes from the harbor, tours are an easy way to explore small batch vintages, meet the makers, and experience the peaceful agricultural landscape of the region.
Events during the boating season include a days-long Fourth of July Celebration with fireworks, a beachfront symphony concert, and 5K run. Come August, the annual Ship & Shore Festival brings the party to the streets. Finally, October celebrates the region’s agricultural bounty with a lakefront Harvest & Wine Festival. And, just for 2018, New Buffalo will host a brass brand celebration of its new downtown streetscape on June 14. For detailed events information, visit newbuffalo.org.
While New Buffalo’s high season is without a doubt June, July, and August, the shoulder seasons have become increasingly popular among boaters not subject to school schedules. September and October, in particular, can be a spectacular time on the lake with spacious beaches and waterways, mild temps, fall color, and all the amenities of the summer season. For pictures and more travel inspiration, visit newbuffaloexplored.com.
This article first appeared in the Launch Issue (May/Jun) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.