Marquette is home to the UP Fall Beer Festival (Saturday, September 9, 2023) as well as the historic Marquette Harbor Lighthouse (: @MichiganSherry)
Michigan is one of the top states in the country for the number of craft breweries. It also ranks high for the number of public golf courses, registered watercraft and the overall agricultural landscape.
When it comes to the miles of freshwater coastline and number of lighthouses to protect those shorelines, the Great Lakes State comes in #1 at 3288 miles and nearly 129 historic beacons.
The first lighthouse in Michigan was constructed in the 1820s. Fort Gratiot on Lake Huron near Port Huron, is the oldest standing active beacon dating back to 1825—twelve years before the state entered the union and even pre-dating the first neighborhood brew pubs.
As you’re traveling around Michigan in search of suds and shorelines, check out these communities that boast at least one lighthouse and brewery.
The first single-story stone lighthouse was built here in 1832, making it the second oldest lighthouse on Lake Michigan even though it wasn’t recognized by the federal government. A new, two-story light was built on a bluff in town in 1859 which was used until the Red Cross took over the building in 1924. In 1907, a pier was constructed which today houses one of the Great Lakes’ last remaining pier range light systems. At that time, keepers lived in a private home along the river—next to a large depot which housed supplies for all lights on Lake Michigan until service was transferred to Milwaukee in 1917.
Over years, the depot and keepers’ residence were used by various branches of the military service until becoming one of Michigan’s early craft breweries (albeit briefly) in the 1990s. Today, these historic structures are owned by the St. Joseph River Yacht Club.
Silver Harbor Brewing Company opened at 721 Pleasant Street in downtown St. Joseph in April 2016 with the motto: “Eat. Drink. Beer Happy.” Located just a short walk from Lake Michigan and its historic Silver Beach, this brewery features a locally inspired, American-style menu (lunch and dinner) and 14 handcrafted beers on tap. Plan a visit, grab a seat (inside or out) and sample Tourist Trap, Shipfaced, Golden Ticket and So Heffen Good, or any of the other unique beer recipes.
In nearby Benton Harbor, visitors will find The Livery (LiveryBrew.com) and North Pier.
This shoreline community is home to two historic lights—the Ludington North Breakwater, which was built along a half-mile pier in 1924 and the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, built in 1867 and located two miles down a sandy path inside Ludington State Park. Those who want a unique experience should sign up for the Volunteer Keeper program at Big Sable—hosting tours for visitors, running the gift shop, aiding in keeping up the grounds and sharing the light’s history during its seven-month season (May through October).
These two lights, along with Little Sable Point Light (1874) in Mears and White River Light Station (1875) in Whitehall, are under operation of the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association (splka.org).
In the late 1800s, the building which houses Jamesport Brewing Company was home to Red Andrews Saloon and the Central House Hotel, giving a long-standing history of hospitality to the space. Opened since 2000, this year-round brewery serves up classic pub fare like their famous Cheese Ale Soup, Perch Sandwich or Cottage Pie, paired with brews like Sess-Qui-Centenni-Ale – a new session IPA (3.8%) commemorating Ludington’s 150th birthday! Curious about what’s going on in this harbor town at any given time? Jamesport even has a Harbor Cam linked on their website…check it out!
Ludington Bay Brewing Company offers 20-24 different brews on tap daily including the core beers which can be found in retail outlets around the state. Popular beers include Lake Phantom, Summer Fling and Ry-Fi – a rye IPA. You’ll also find a tasty lunch and dinner menu, with outside dining – weather permitting.
The Straits of Mackinac are home to more lighthouses than any other region of the state. Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was first lit in 1892 at the “tip of the mitt” to guide ships safely through the narrow and rocky passage that connects Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.
When the Mighty Mac was completed in 1957, this light became excess property and service was discontinued. Today, it is part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks (along with Colonial Michilimackinac and Historic Mill Creek in Mackinaw City and Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island) and is open for public tours.
Just a short drive west of downtown Mackinaw City stands McGulpin Point Lighthouse, built in 1869. A short trail takes visitors to the rocky shoreline, with historical installations along the way. The tower is also open to the public. To view the offshore lights, Shepler’s Ferry offers a variety of tour options throughout the boating season.
Biere de Mac Brew Works was the first brewery in this town, which now boasts three. Open year round, you’ll find unique beers like Dock Porter, Bateau Brown Ale, Second Beach French Grisette and a Blueberry Wheat (complete with floating berries). A full menu is also available—including appetizers, soups, salads, burgers, sandwiches and even dessert and a kids’ menu.
Maciknaw City is also home to the Dixie Saloon Brewery – named for the historic road which spans north and south through Michigan, and Rusted Spoke Brewing Company.
By 1870, Cheboygan was home to a growing number of sawmills and a population of about 800 people. A lighthouse soon followed. Work began on the front range light tower and keepers dwelling in 1880. A rear range skeletal light completed the system whereby ship captains line up the lights until they are vertical to indicate the safest part of the water to traverse. Over time, however, the forests were depleted (as they were in many shoreline communities around the state) and the focus turned to tourism.
Today, the lights still serve as active navigational aids to pleasure boaters and the front range building remains in Federal ownership. The Coast Guard used the building as its primary station for northern Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac until the mid-1980s and after that the U.S. Geological Survey and the Department of Fisheries used it as their operations base in the western Great Lakes. In 2001, the building became excess property as part of the National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act and ownership was transferred to the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association, who worked to restore the historic beacon.
The current Cheboygan Brewing isn’t the first to operate in this Lake Huron town. The First operated in the late 1800s (about the time the lighthouse was built) as a place for local residents and business owners to gather. Time-honored brewing techniques combined with the pristine water of the Great Lakes Watershed help make this beer the “nectar of the north.” Among the flagship brews are Lighthouse Amber Ale (which features a lighthouse on the packaging), Blood Orange Honey and IPA #11—a golden ale named out of respect for the Brew Master’s family at Fire Station #11. The brewery also features live music, June through Labor Day.
There has been a light station in Alpena since the late 1800s, however the current “Little Red” steel skeletal tower wasn’t built until 1914. The beacon, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, is viewable from the boat harbor and breakwall.
Several other lights can be found along the coast in near Alpena, including the Old Presque Isle Light (1840), New Presque Isle Light (1870), 40 Mile Point in Rogers City (1896), Sturgeon Point in Harrisville (1870), Thunder Bay Island Light (1857) and Middle Island Light (1905)—which is available for overnight rental. (VisitAlpena.com/7-lighthouse-adventure/).
Opened in 2015, Austin Brothers offers 16 rotating beer on tap, as well as seasonal and year round canned beers like Woody Wheat, Paralyzer Double IPA, Blood Brothers and Austoberfest. The classic gastro-pub style menu features scratch-made foods like pub burgers, pizza and hefty platter such as sriracha chicken mac n’ cheese, tacos and a Polish platter (with smoked sausage, kraut, perogies and stuffed cabbage).
HopSide Brewery came to fruition in 2018 after five local friends decided it was time to share their passion with the rest of the world. Stop by and sample On The Beach, Kona Sunrise, HiBrewscus and Smoke on the Water, among other favorites. You’ll also find sandwiches, wraps, pizzas, salads and zachos (nachos with house-made corn chips).
John Terry was to be the first lighthouse keeper of the Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba, but he died before the light was complete. His wife, Mary, was appointed to serve in his place and was on duty on May 13, 1868, when the fixed red signal was shown for the first time. She was one of nearly 50 women who tended lights in Michigan.
In March 1886, Mary was killed a mysterious fire at the light. Local legend has it that some rogue broke into the light with the intent of robbing her when she confronted the intruder, as struggle ensued causing her death and the fire was started to cover up the murder. Some believe her ghost still haunts the light. This lighthouse is opened as a museum under the auspices of the Delta County Historical Society.
Located just blocks from the Sand Point Lighthouse sits Hereford & Hops with its long-standing U.P. history of crafting fine ales and seasonal brews like Hop Rocket, Oktoberfest, Soleil and Maibock, among others. A full steak-house menu is also available.
Upper Hand Brewery opened in 2014 and is owned by Larry Bell (of Bell’s Brewery), who has family ties to the Upper Peninsula that date back over a hundred years. The 20-barrel brewhouse delivers a tap house and bottled beers found throughout the U.P. and Northern Wisconsin (but you won’t find them below the Mackinac Bridge). Year-round beers include Yooper Ale, Upper Hand Lager, Escanaba Black Beer and UPA—an Upper Peninsula Ale. A variety of seasonals and limited release beers are also available.
The first Copper Harbor Lighthouse went into service in the spring of 1849, and that original stone keeper’s residence is still standing. A new light was constructed in 1866-67 and nearly 100 years later the property was acquired by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and is part of the Fort Wilkins State Park. Today, a nautical museum can be found on both the first and second floors.
Sadly, the tower is not open to the public. While the light is located on mainland state park property, the lack of an access road means it is only accessible via state-chartered ferry boat. The 22-passenger “Spirit of America” offers a narrated cruise to one of Lake Superior’s oldest lighthouses.
Opened since 2013, Brickside Brewery has brought brewing back to the Keweenaw Peninsula as the first brewery to operate in over one hundred years in what is recognized as the northernmost town in Michigan. Back in the 1800s, it was customary for mining towns (along with those dedicated to lumbering, fishing and other early industries) to have their own brewpubs to serve not only the residents, but the local workers. Today visitors to the northern-most town in Michigan will find a variety of craft beers like Up Hill Both Ways – an 8.8% ABV DIPA, Park Bench Porter and Chocolate Oatmeal Stout, among a handful of others.
The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse sits perched atop a rocky bluff overlooking Lake Superior just outside of downtown Marquette. The original lighthouse was built in Marquette in 1853, four years after the city’s 1849 incorporation.
The present light was constructed in 1866 and remains the oldest significant structure in the city and one of the most historic navigational beacons on the lake. In 2002, the Marquette Maritime Museum acquired the light and 2.5 acres of shoreline from the U.S. Coast Guard under a 30-year lease. The light is open for tours and is a focal point of the area’s rich maritime heritage.
This coastal town is currently home to eight breweries (as well as the Michigan Brewers Guild UP Fall Beer Festival, on Saturday, September 9) – the oldest of which is The Vierling Restaurant & Marquette Harbor Brewery, which opened in 1995 as one of Michigan’s first brewpubs. Stop in and order up a pint of Honey Wheat Ale or Red Ale to pair with one of the many menu features (like Lake Superior whitefish).
While in town, be sure to also check out Barrel + Beam, Blackrocks Brewery, Drifa Brewing Company, Kognisjon Bryggeri, Lake Superior Smokehouse & Brewpub, Ore Dock Brewing, and Superior Culture.
Other Michigan coastal towns with lighthouses AND breweries include:
Captain James S. Donahue was this town’s most noted lighthouse keeper—a job he secured after losing his leg in battle during the Civil War. His former keeper’s residence is now owned by the Michigan Maritime Museum. Breweries include Harbor Light Brewery and Three Blondes Brewing.
The Kalamazoo River Light no longer exists in this town, but a replica sits proudly between Saugatuck and Douglas. These quaint towns are home to Guardian Brewing Company, Saugatuck Brewing Company – where the “Brew Your Own Beer” program is quite popular, and The Mitten Brewing Company.
Home to the Holland Harbor Light (affectionately known as “Big Red”) and several breweries including Big Lake Brewing, Brewery 4 Two 4, New Holland Brewing Company and Our Brewing Company.
Featuring two lights in a pier range light system, along with Burzurk Brewing Company, Grand Armory Brewery, and Odd Side Ales.
The first light was built here in 1851, yet today the channel is guarded by the towering red South Breakwater Light and the South Pierhead Light. In town, visit Pigeon Hill Brewing and Unruly Brewing.
White River Light Station was first lit in 1875 thanks to the efforts of William Robinson, who served for more than 40 years at this light. This museum is managed by the Sable Point Lighthouse Keepers Association. Honor Captain Bill’s history with a craft beer from Fetch Brewing in Whitehall or Sawyers Brewing Company in Montague.
The Frankfort North Breakwater Light has stood proudly just a stone’s throw from downtown since 1912, while the Point Betsie Lighthouse north of town dates back to 1859. North of town, the stately Point Betsie Lighthouse has been guiding the shoreline since 1859 and today welcomes visitors to explore its historic halls. Stormcloud Brewing Company is named for the often-treacherous weather conditions which made these lights so important to the Great Lakes. They operate their downtown brewpub and their production facility pub on the outskirts of town.
The current Grand Traverse Lighthouse was built in 1858 and today this nautical museum is a highlight of Leelanau State Park. In town, The Mitten Brewing Company operates its northern Michigan taproom.
This island in northern Lake Michigan is home to two lighthouses – the Beaver Head Island Light (built in 1858) and the St. James Harbor Light at Whiskey Point near the village (originally built in 1856 and staffed for many years by Elizabeth Whitney VanRiper Williams). The island is also home to Whiskey Point Brewing Company. Beaver Island is accessible by the Emerald Isle car ferry or two airlines that operate out of Charlevoix.
The Au Sable Light Station has been an active navigational aid in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore since 1874 (well before the national designation). Lake Superior Brewing Company can be found just down the road of this small coastal town.
Probably Michigan’s most noted lighthouses is Whitefish Point Light Station near where the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald sank on November 10, 1975. Tahquamenon Falls Brewery & Pub is located a bit inland, inside Tahquamenon Falls State Park and within earshot of the mighty falls (the only brewery operating inside a Michigan state park).
The Tawas Point Lighthouse was built in 1853 and today sits within the Tawas State Park. The light is closed for 2023, as it undergoes much needed restoration, but you can still get pictures of the exterior. The Boathouse Beer Co. & Boozery is found nearby and offers great views of Lake Huron.
The privately-owned Saginaw River Lighthouse was built in 1860 and while it is not open to the public, it is visible from the water. It is rumored to be haunted by the ghosts of either Peter Brawn or George Way, former keepers who died at the light—both of whom were married, consecutively, to Julia Tobey Brawn Way. The light is currently owned by Dow Chemical, and maintained by the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society which is restoring the light with hopes of opening it for regular tours starting in 2024. The town is home to Tri City Brewing, which has been open since 2006, offering a selection of draft craft beers including their Charity Island IPA (featuring the historic 1857 lighthouse on the label).
For more information on Michigan’s historic lighthouses, visit the website of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association.
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