One of the destinations I get asked about the most is our yearly trip to St. Joseph, Michigan. From St. Louis, it is less than a 5.5 hour drive to this amazing family friendly vacation spot.
Since we are already up north in Chicago at least once a year to visit family, it is easy for us to tack on a couple more days for a mini beach getaway. St, Joseph features so many beautiful beaches, great food, and numerous family friendly attractions. The view below never gets old.
Things to Do
1. The Beaches
St. Joseph is known for it’s clean and beautiful beaches without the worry of sharks or jellyfish. There are several places around St. Joseph to stake out a spot and enjoy the sand, but the two closest to downtown are Silver Beach and Tiscornia Beach. Silver Beach is within walking distance from downtown and Silver Beach Center. It features a playground, restrooms, and a concession stand. Silver Beach was featured as part of the “Top Ten Beaches” list by Parents Magazine. It can get busy so it’s best to go early or go late in the afternoon or early evening.
Parking is $15/car for non-residents. You can also park in a nearby city lot for $10/day or in the lots or streets at the top of the bluff for free.
Tiscornia Beach is located on the other side of the St. Joseph River from Silver Beach and provides access to the North Pier Lighthouse. Parking is a little cheaper and there are restroom facilities here as well, but no playground.
2. Silver Beach Center
Silver Beach is the location of the Silver Beach Amusement Park which operated for 80 years before closing in 1971. While all traces of the amusement park are long gone, you can view a glimpse of what once was by visiting the Silver Beach Center. Located within walking distance of both downtown and the beach, the center contains our daughter’s favorite attraction, the Silver Beach Carousel.
The beautifully crafted ride was built in similar style to the carousel that once operated at the former amusement park. An antique band organ original to the Silver Beach Amusement Park supplies the music and provides a fun show to watch as well. Tokens to ride the carousel are $3 for one, 2 for $5 or 5 for $10. There is a machine to purchase tokens or you can purchase in the gift shop. Adults riding next to a child under 42″ tall are free. *Due to COVID, for 2021, reservations are now required and the ride is $8 a person for as many rides as you want in an hour.
Be sure to bring plenty of quarters to run the model train displays next to the carousel.
More quarters are needed for this fun model in the gift shop that narrates the history of Silver Beach and lights up corresponding areas of the display. The gift shop also has a mini museum with more photos and information on the Silver Beach Amusement Park.
The Silver Beach Center also contains one of two kids museums in town. The Curious Kids Discovery Zone is geared towards kids ages 3-12 and has both permanent and traveling exhibits. Admission is $6 per person or purchase a combined ticket to see both museums for $10. Our kids especially enjoyed the Lake Michigan water table and climbing lighthouse.
*Due to COVID reservations are now required.
3. Whirlpool Compass Fountain
Just steps outside Silver Beach Center is the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. This fountain is Michigan’s largest splash pad and sprays water 35 feet in to the air. The fountain runs 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. Memorial Day through September and is free.
4. Silver Beach Pizza
After all this fun at Silver Beach you may be looking for a place to eat. Just a few more steps away from the fountain is the amazing Silver Beach Pizza. Located inside the functioning and historic train station, this popular dining spot has delicious pizza and is kid friendly. They give you a disc that is red on one side and green on the other. If you need something from your server, flip the disc over to the red side and they will be with you soon. You may even get lucky and see a train go past if you are eating in the outdoor area of the restaurant.
5. Curious Kids Museum
Remember how I said there were actually two kids museums in town? Well the second one is located not far from the first in the downtown area just up the bluff. The main Curious Kids Museum contains two floors of fun exhibits for kids of all ages to explore. If you have little ones ages 3 or under, this is the location I would recommend as it has more toddler friendly exhibits. It has plenty of things for the older to kids to see as well.
*Due to COVID reservations are now required.
6. Eden Springs Park
Eden Springs Park first opened in 1908 in nearby Benton Harbor as an amusement park with a zoo, train ride, restaurant, hotel, mini cars, and other attractions. The park closed in the 1970s and fell into disrepair. A dedicated team of volunteers is in the process of restoring the site.
Currently they offer mini train rides on weekends from 12-5, Memorial Day through Labor Day. The ride is only $3 and offers a great view of the property and historic structures. Snacks and souvenirs are also available.
If you want to extend your stay, the park is also the site of a campground and cabin rentals.
7. Downtown Shopping
Now that you have satisfied your hunger and let the kids play more, it’s time for some shopping. This charming downtown area of St. Joseph has numerous shops, restaurants, and even ice cream. We always head to the Olive Cart for gourmet flavored olive oils and the Toy Company to let the kids have some fun shopping. A stop for treats at the South Bend Chocolate Company is also a must!
8. Take a Hike
If you need to work off those chocolate treats, there are many beautiful places close to St. Joseph to do some walking or hiking. Sarett Nature Center in nearby Benton Harbor has 8 miles of trails plus a nature center and an elevated tree top walkway. Admission is $3 for adults and free for kids.
Warren Dunes State Park is another beautiful place for a stroll. Rugged dunes rise above the 3 miles of beach and provide great views. 6 miles of trail ramble throughout the park. Admission is $9/day for non-residents.
9. Watch the Sunset
No trip to St. Joseph is complete without watching the sunset over the water. Whether from Silver or Tiscornia Beach or any of the other viewpoints in town, be sure to watch the sun slip below the horizon while dipping your toes in the soft sand. An added bonus is watching the active lighthouse light up for the evening.
Any combination of the above stops will make for a wonderful visit to one of our favorite Midwest beach towns. There are a few other places in the area that look fun but we have not made it to yet such as:
- Fernwood Botanical Garden & Nature Preserve – Beautiful gardens and trails along the St. Joseph River Valley. Includes a Children’s Adventure Garden and outdoor railway.
- Schuler Dairy Farms – Tours of this working dairy farm run Tuesdays- Sundays with fresh ice cream available.
Tips to Help Your Visit
- The water is crystal clear but also always cold. Our kids don’t seem to care, but if you want more time in the water then July or August will give you the best water temps.
- Beach parking is usually paid for by the day. There are cashiers at Silver Beach or pay machines at Tiscornia. Go early before 11 or later after 4 to beat the crowds.
- There is an hourly lot behind Silver Beach Center that is great and cheaper for visiting the center but it can close for private events.
- You can also park at the top of the bluff in the city lots or streets for free and walk down the stairs to all the Silver Beach area attractions.
- Parking at Silver Beach Pizza is only for diners. There is another city lot nearby for overflow or park up on the bluff. Silver Beach Pizza is popular and gets busy fast. Lunch is your best bet if you want to avoid a wait with kids. Wait times can be 2+ hours on a weekend evening.
- Hotels in the area can be pricey and few have a water view. Go with what fits your budget. We usually stay at the St. Joseph or Benton Harbor Comfort Suites. Vacation rentals are an option as well but many have minimum stay lengths of 3-7 nights.
Have you been to St. Joseph, Michigan? If so what are you favorite places? If you are looking for other Michigan trip ideas, don’t miss this post on South Haven. South Haven is another great destination 25 minutes north of St. Joseph.