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St. Joseph, Michigan: Things to Do and Vacation Review

Updated on September 6, 2017
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Scott Bateman is a professional journalist who specializes in writing about travel, health, and business.

Whirlpool Compass Fountain is a popular attraction by the beach in St. Joseph.
Whirlpool Compass Fountain is a popular attraction by the beach in St. Joseph. | Source

St. Joseph, Michigan is one of those quaint beach towns with charm, character, and plenty of fun things to do.

On sunny days, visitors stroll along sidewalks lined with outdoor restaurant seating, imaginative sea sculptures, and a wide range of shops. Look to the west to see an impressive Lake Michigan beach and children frolicking under the arching jets of water from the Whirlpool Compass Fountain while parents sit, watch, and relax.

St. Joseph isn’t overrun with commercialism like Myrtle Beach or Virginia Beach. Instead, it offers a pleasant atmosphere, plenty of shops and restaurants, and of course a popular beach.

The city is a regional tourism destination mainly during summer months. It is one of many waterside towns along Michigan’s western border with Lake Michigan. The state attracts more than 113 million tourism visitors every year including regional, national, and international travelers, according to Travel Michigan.

Vacation planners can visit St. Joseph for an entire week or include it among multiple stops along the lake. Like us, some visitors are willing to drive 12 hours to get there. Either way, St. Joseph has plenty of things to do.

The Silver Beach Carousel has 44 colorful, hand-crafted horses in a setting by the beach and fountain.
The Silver Beach Carousel has 44 colorful, hand-crafted horses in a setting by the beach and fountain. | Source

Best Things to Do Around St. Joseph

The City

St. Joseph is a city of 8,300 people that clearly thrives on tourism. Visitors will find plenty of shops, galleries and restaurants with outdoor seating. Whimsical sculptures of sea creatures occupy street corners.

Comfortable temperatures make the summer an ideal time to walk around. Most everything worth seeing is well within walking distance of each other.

Silver Beach County Park

The park is both an attraction in itself and home to several individual attractions that get special attention from visitors starting with Silver Beach. The park has 2,450 feet of frontage on Lake Michigan with Silver Beach getting 1,600 feet of the total.

Besides swimming, other activities include beach volleyball, fishing, picnicking, playgrounds, and kayaks. The park has a $12 per vehicle daily entry fee for non residents. Frugal visitors can park in town nearby for free or less than $12 and simply walk to the park.

Whirlpool Compass Fountain

St. Joseph is a family vacation destination thanks to Silver Beach County Park and also to the Whirlpool Compass Fountain, which is a stone’s throw from the beach. No small town we have ever visited has one quite like it.

Kids run through the fountains and scream with laughter at the arching jets of water that fly through the air and crash to the ground. Parents of course hang back and watch from a safe distance on a grassy knoll or a park bench.

Silver Beach Carousel

The Silver Beach Carousel is so popular that it even has its own website. The carousel is an explosion of colors with 44 hand-colored horses inside a building by Whirlpool Compass Fountain. The original carousel opened in 1910, closed in 1971 and came back to life just a few years ago.

Curious Kids Museum

If the above three things to do aren’t enough for families, they can go to the Curious Kids Museum. It also sits right by the beach, fountain, and carousel. This children’s museum has a series of events, programs, workshops, and interactive exhibits. The price is $6 per person.

A long pier extends out to the lonely St. Joseph Lighthouse.
A long pier extends out to the lonely St. Joseph Lighthouse. | Source

St. Joseph Lighthouse

The small, colorful lighthouse at the end of a long pier is a place of quiet contemplation by Lake Michigan. Walkers will enjoy the views, while photographers will enjoy the perspectives.

Grand Mere State Park

Anyone who wants more red meat in their recreation than Silver Beach County Park can drive 12 minutes or about seven miles south of St. Joseph to Grand Mere State Park.

The 1,000-acre park has 985 acres of hiking trails and more than one mile of beachfront on Lake Michigan. It also has hunting, fishing, and cross-country skiing.

Tiscornia Park

Visitors who plan to spend multiple nights in St. Joseph and like the beach may want to try Tiscornia Park as a quieter alternative to Silver Beach or Grand Mere.

Tiscornia is a small public beach with sand dunes, restrooms, picnic area and access to North Pier. The park is across the St. Joseph River from Silver Beach.

Sarett Nature Center

The 1,000-acre Sarett Nature Center has eight miles of hiking trails. It also has various educational programs including live animal displays, a butterfly house during warm months, a nature play area for kids, informational displays, cross-country ski rentals, snowshoe rentals, and interactive naturalist programs.

The center, 2300 N. Benton Center Road, is eight miles or about 18 minutes by car northeast of St. Joseph in the neighboring city of Benton Harbor.

Lions Park Beach

Is a beach an attraction if swimming is discouraged? It is an attraction for anyone who wants to get a suntan on a beach that doesn’t have crowds.

Lions Park Beach at the south end of Lions Park Drive, has shelters, grills, picnic tables, restrooms, and a playground. It has no lifeguards. Parking is available for a small daily fee.

Outdoor dining is common along the streets of St. Joseph during the summer.
Outdoor dining is common along the streets of St. Joseph during the summer. | Source

Camping Facilities

The St. Joseph area has more than a dozen campgrounds within driving distance of the town. Some of the campgrounds closest to the city are:

  • Eden Springs Park and Campground, four miles away at 793 M-139, Benton Harbor, MI 49022
  • Coloma St. Joseph KOA, 10 miles away at 3527 Coloma Rd, Benton Harbor, MI 49022
  • Weko Beach Campground, 12 miles away at 5237 Lake St, Bridgman, MI 49106
  • Shamrock Park, 14 miles away at 9385 Old U.S. 31, Berrien Springs, MI 49103
  • Dune Lake Campground, 15 miles away at 80855 Co Rd 376, Coloma, MI 49038
  • Land of Lakes Campground, 16 miles away at 93283 Co Rd 690, Dowagiac, MI 49047
  • Paw Paw River Campgrounds, 17 miles away at 5355 M-140, Watervliet, MI 49098

Weather / Best Time to Go

Gary, Indiana, 66 miles away, is the nearest major city with a 30-year weather history from the National Weather Service. Like St. Joseph, it lies on the coast of Lake Michigan.

Gary has an average high temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit in July, the hottest month of the year. The average high is 81 Fahrenheit in August, in the upper 70s during June and the low 70s in September. Otherwise, temperatures are often too cool to spend time on the beaches. They drop into the 30s during the winter.

The summer months also happen to have the most rain. The average is about four inches a month, which is usually not enough to scare people away from the beaches. It rains on average about 10 days a month from spring through fall.

Anyone who wants to spend time on the beach will want to go during the summer. People who just want to hang out around town and enjoy the ambiance should consider visiting in May when crowds are smaller and the average high temperature is 70 Fahrenheit.

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    • jo miller profile image

      Jo Miller 3 weeks ago from Tennessee

      I was looking at a map puzzle with two of my granddaughters the other day and they were asking me how many of the states I had visited. Michigan and Rhode Island were the only two states I had never visited, so this looks like a good place to start if I'm going to visit Michigan. Thanks for the info.

    • promisem profile image

      Scott Bateman 3 weeks ago

      Thanks, Besarien. The carousel was amazingly colorful. And St. Joseph is a nice change of pace from the hectic beach destinations on the coasts.

    • Besarien profile image

      Besarien 3 weeks ago

      Wow! What a gorgeous carousel! St. Joseph looks like a great place to visit. Great Hub, Scott!