A local’s guide to gay Saugatuck/Douglas, Michigan
Over the past few years, we’ve begun to hear more and more about the little towns of Saugatuck and Douglas, Michigan on the east coast of Lake Michigan. Is it the P-town of the midwest – is there a gay scene there at all?
Well, we noticed one of our own members, author, actor and B&B owner Salvatore Sapienza, is a Saugatuck local. Sal and his partner own and run the Beechwood Manor Inn in Saugatuck. So who better to ask for the local’s perspective?
Besides being a B&B owner, he is the author of Seventy Times Seven, a novel loosely based on his years as a religious brother in the Catholic Church. During that time, Sal taught at an all-boys high school and ministered to people with AIDS, working alongside Father Mychal Judge, the New York City fire chaplain who died in the World Trade Center attacks. Sapienza’s essay on his experiences with Father Judge will be included in the book, Queer Catholic Anthology, which will be out later this year. He has written several cover stories for The Gay and Lesbian Times and writes a pop culture column for ‘The Sentinel’ newspaper. Sal has also appeared in several films, including Runaway Jury, Mr. 3000, and A Love Song for Bobby Long.
So Sal, tell us a little about Saugatuck…
Saugatuck is known as the “Art Coast of Michigan,” and the best way to describe it is as a small, charming lake town with lots of art galleries, boutique shops, antique stores, fine dining and spectacular beaches. People come to Saugatuck to de-stress. It really has a calming effect on people. The area is quiet, safe, laid back and comfortable. It’s a peaceful way of life where you can be who you are.
Some of our readers mentioned that it’s not really like the Provincetown of the midwest, but just a nice (mostly straight) town that’s also gay popular.
Well, it’s certainly not as large as Provincetown, but I think the comparison is still fair. Saugatuck is like a small Cape town with lots of trees, water views, sand dunes, quaint older buildings and much history. As for the gay scene, there is really only one gay bar in the area at the Dunes Resort, which is the largest gay and lesbian resort in the Midwest. Although the gay scene may not be large, Saugatuck has a very high gay population. My partner and I are one of six gay/lesbian couples on our block alone! So, while there’s not a wild, circuit party scene, the gay presence is strongly felt here. And, every summer, Saugatuck is also home to the annual Gay Family Week, which welcomes gay and lesbian parents and their children from all over the country.
What should I do if I’m coming for the weekend?
There really is something for everyone. There’s Oval Beach, which has been ranked as one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde Nast. There’s the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, where the likes of Michael Feinstein and Bea Arthur have appeared in recent years and which is also the home of Mason Street Warehouse, an upscale theatre which has brought regional productions of shows like ‘Altar Boyz’ and ‘Cabaret’ to town. And, of course, there are so many unique boutique stores, art galleries and antiquing for those who love to shop.
Do you live in Saugatuck full time or is it a vacation getaway for you?
Saugatuck has traditionally been a summer resort community, but in recent years, more and more people are living here year round. My partner and I own a bed and breakfast, and we stay open all year long, as do a large number of the shops and restaurants. I love all the seasons here.
When is the best time to go there?
Most people come here in the summer to enjoy the great temperatures, the beaches and Lake Michigan. We rarely have to run the air conditioner in the summer months, as it stays quite cool here by the lake. However, the fall is also a very popular time to come to watch the leaves changing and to enjoy the fall foliage. Although things slow down quite considerably in the winter, it’s still a great time to come to Saugatuck. There’s cross-country skiing and the town sparkles with lights for the holiday season.
If I were visiting where would you suggest that I stay?
Well, I have to be a little biased here, as I’d highly recommend our bed and breakfast, Beechwood Manor Inn. All of our guestrooms have digital cable TV, CD players, WiFi and their own private baths. Our guests also love that they are within walking distance of all the shops, restaurants and theatre in Downtown Saugatuck. We also have a three-bedroom cottage for couples traveling together or people coming with children or small pets. In Douglas, there’s the brand new Roxie, a boutique hotel run by women, for women, and, of course, there’s the Dunes Resort, which offers a range of accommodations from motel-type rooms for the budget conscious to spacious cottages.
Saugatuck seems like a really great place, thanks for telling us about it!
You’re welcome. Saugatuck/Douglas is such a welcoming place, where you can be just as you are. It’s resort-life at its best. Wake up each morning to the sounds of birds chirping, spend the day shopping or at the beach, take an afternoon nap in an outdoor hammock, then have a wonderful dinner and maybe take in some live music. Many people who come here to visit for a weekend, end up looking at real estate, which in itself is a testament to how easy it is to fall in love with the area. Iâ€™m here to stay.