Twilight Tunes, Tall Ships Are Signs of Summer in Grand Haven
Byline: Mike Michaelson
It's a summer-evening tradition in Grand Haven, Mich., finding a spot along the river to relax and enjoy a performance by what is billed "the world's largest musical fountain." It provides a spectacular display of music, lights and water choreographed to themed programs, such as music written and recorded by the Beatles.
"I know this song," exclaimed a teenager, part of a family group watching the performance from a riverside park. His parents smiled wistfully and continued bobbing their heads to "Hard Day's Night."
Across the Grand River from downtown, the Musical Fountain operates nightly from Memorial Day through Labor Day and on Fridays and Saturdays during May and September. Shows begin at dusk.
Grand Haven, along the Grand River close to where it flows into Lake Michigan, was founded on the early fur trade and, later, on lumber produced at a score of local mills and shipped to communities around the Great Lakes. Today, tourism helps fuel the local economy as visitors flock to Grand Haven to stroll the 2.5- mile boardwalk, explore rolling sand dunes, snap photogenic lighthouses, take boat rides and, of course, enjoy performances of the Musical Fountain (plus free weekly band concerts).
They also come to pedal more than 100 miles of paved bicycle trails, including one that follows the lakeshore south to Holland. Others make the 25-mile drive southeast to Comstock Park (seven miles north of Grand Rapids) to catch a minor-league baseball game as the West Michigan Whitecaps, Midwest League affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, play Class A professional ball. Shoppers find plenty of one-of-a-kind boutiques, as well as the stylish Michigan Rag Co. that produces distinctive hand-printed clothing.
Visitors head out onto Lake Michigan under canvas for sunset sails and supper cruises aboard the 61-foot schooner Wind Dancer. Others opt for an alfresco meal or a drink at the ever-popular dining decks of restaurants and watering holes such as Snug Harbor. It gives them a ringside seat to watch ships go by, including Grand Haven's charter-fishing fleet, German and French cruise ships that dock overnight and Windy II, a tall ship out of Chicago.
It is not surprising that Grand Haven State Park is Michigan's most visited, with 1.5 million annual visitors. It is right on the beach and practically downtown, a strip of squeaky sand that is so popular with overnighters that it is imperative to make reservations for campsites well in advance.
Building sandcastles and flying kites are among the simple pursuits of summer that Grand Haven celebrates on its full calendar of festivals.
The 23rd Annual Sand Sculpture Contest (June 26) gives individuals, families and other groups a two-hour time limit to exercise their creativity, followed by judging and prizes and attracting plenty of spectators. That same weekend, the Grand Haven Art Festival includes fine arts, drawings, pottery and stained glass and offers up to 100 booths as well as live music and food concessions.
The Great Lakes Kite Festival (May 21-23) is the Midwest's largest and features professional stunt kite teams, monster kites more than 100 feet long, a kids' tent and test fields with free kite-flying lessons. Special events include an indoor fly and an after-dark fly in which illuminated kites light up the sky. …