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As tourists have known for over 100 years, Saugatuck, Michigan, is a peaceful, laid-back place where no one rushes you. To me, it felt like a bit of New England transplanted to the Midwest. It's small-town America with a distinctive nautical flare, thanks to two waterways. Saugatuck is bordered by the winding Kalamazoo River, just before it empties into what locals call the Big Lake, Lake Michigan. The words "ambience and serenity" seem to be turned up often by those attempting to describe this little town.

The village evolved from a thriving timber town to a tourist mecca in the late 1800s. The unusual name is derived from a Native American word for "river's mouth."

Butler Street is the tree-lined main thoroughfare of Saugatuck. It's named after the village's founder, William Gay Butler, who arrived in 1830 and registered his settlement as "Kalamazoo" in 1834. It wasn't until 1868, when the village was incorporated, that it was renamed Saugatuck.

They take art seriously in the Saugatuck/Douglas area. In fact, they have a long history as an artist's community and are home to over 20 art galleries. Summertime especially finds the arts community in full bloom. Between craft shows, gallery openings, chamber music concerts and summer stock theater, you'd be hard pressed to visit on a weekend without something to do.

Nearly everyone stops for an hour or so at the Joyce Petter Gallery, well-known in artist circles. With over 12,500 square feet of multi-level exhibition space, you might need more than an hour. I particularly enjoyed the Glass Gallery, and the Sculpture Barn is an impressive place, which has been called "an artwork in itself."

The public is welcome to visit a summer camp operated by the School of Art Institute of Chicago on the Ox-Bow Lagoon, between the town and Big Lake. The school was first established in 1914 after artists, clued in by early tourists, migrated to the area. Artists from around the world are drawn to this natural setting to teach and learn. A wide range of classes are offered.

But, art or no art, Saugatuck would be a pleasant place to visit. The village is postcard pretty, from its grassy parkway along the Kalamazoo River to its vintage homes, many converted to bed-and-breakfasts. The fine sands of Oval Beach and the neighboring dunes along Lake Michigan draw sunbathers. Recently Oval Beach was named one of the best beaches in the U.S. by MTV. Conde Nast Traveler placed it in the top 25 beaches in the world, high praise indeed!

Saugatuck/Douglas is often referred to as the Bed & Breakfast capital of the Midwest, with nearly 40 in the area. Some of the finest inns joined together to form Saugatuck Select Inns. Whatever your accommodation needs, you'll surely find it in this region.

North of town are the dune buggy rides and Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Experience the thrill of riding up and down giant dunes located along Lake Michigan. One of the last dune ridges in the state, you'll love the combination of wonderful scenery, educational tidbits and some corny commentary. The State Park also has miles of hiking and cross-country ski trails, all of them lead to an attractive secluded shoreline.

The SS Keewatin, built even before the Titanic, was one of the last Great Lakes passenger steamships. She is now permanently anchored and fun to explore in her current life as a maritime museum. Her cabins are tiny, but who cares when there was so much lovely mahogany and stained glass! A small fee is charged to tour the vessel.

Shopping is a significant activity in Saugatuck. A number of the shops are of the "trendy" variety, where you find the new, quirky or unusual. They also have their fair share of antiques and home decor. The Butler Pantry gourmet kitchen store and Ralph's Garden, which overflow with gorgeous flowering plants, topiary and patio accessories, are two favorites. The American Spoon Food store offers a tasty variety of preserves and other premuim-quality foodstuffs, most of which are made with Michigan-grown ingredients.

If you choose to go in off-season, Saugatuck has plenty of activities and events year round.