Three great places for waterfront dining in South Haven –


John Gonzalez |
SOUTH HAVEN, MI – The reason we love Lake Michigan so much are all the beachside towns that dot the shoreline and bring us a summer of fun, adventure and dining.
On our search for Michigan's Best Waterfront Restaurant, we spent a day in South Haven to discover some of the favorites you nominated and voted on in the area.
We started at Captain Lou's, the poll winner for the region, followed by visits to the Idler-Riverboat & Dockside and then a quick, unplanned stop at Admiral Jack's.
Overall we traveled to 30 restaurants from June 17-29, 2019. We even visited a couple spots when we announced our search on June 4 in Detroit at Greektown Casino, our sponsor of this search.
Look for our Top 10 list and complete guide to all of our stops later this week.
Now, let's take a closer look at three great stops for waterfront dining if you're in the South Haven area this summer or fall. South Haven is located off I-196 about 30 miles south of Holland.
RELATED: Three great places for waterfront dining in Muskegon
RELATED: Michigan's Best Waterfront Restaurant: Must-see photos, highlights from our first 16 stops
RELATED: See the Poll winners for Michigan's Best Waterfront Restaurant

John Gonzalez |
Captain Lou’s
278 Dyckman Ave, South Haven, MI 49090

John Gonzalez |
Captain Lou's
Have you ever walked into a restaurant or bar and immediately felt at home? There's a warmth about the place that you can't put your finger on. Maybe it's the way you're greeted by the hostess or the genuine "Happy to see you!" smile from your server who is taking your drink order. That's what happened to us when we met general manager/server/bartender Meredith Sherrod, whose positivity and love for the region filled us up with excitement. A graduate of Western Michigan University, she came to work at Captain Lou's one summer and never left. That was 17 years ago. "People are on vacation and they're very excited to be here," said Sherrod, who is originally from the Chicago area. "It's a very positive place to be. I feel very blessed to live here." Winning the poll for Kalamazoo and Southwestern Michigan was a lot of fun for the crew, posting on their Facebook and encouraging the "Lou-sers" to get behind them. The win was well deserved. The more time we spent with Sherrod and fellow manager Erica Degrandchamp, the more we realized that Captain Lou's is some place special.
Located next to the Michigan Maritime Museum right on the Black River (next to the draw bridge on Dyckman Avenue) in downtown South Haven, Captain Lou's is a shack. It's a seasonal hot spot known for quality drinks, great food (perch sold five ways) and an original Perch Reuben sandwich (with 1,000 Island dressing, coleslaw and Swiss cheese on rye bread). It only has four tables inside for dining; the rest of the seating is outdoors right on the river. When it gets busy, the servers open up a back area where the party goes late into the night. Owner Cory Talcott (who has worked there for 25 years) allows the crew to be extremely hands on. They take the orders, run the slips to the kitchen, bus tables and make their own drinks. That's right. No bartenders.
"It's just easier that way," Sherrod said. The boaters love hanging out at Captain Lou's. Even though they do not have slips, there is a Dingy Dock available for those who want a quick trip from their boat at one of the four municipal marinas with 229 boating slips available for either seasonal or transient boaters. (Learn more about the Marinas in South Haven on city's website, Add an excellent craft beer menu, a classic rum runner on the rocks, a tasty Bloody Mary topped with an awesome pickle from Kalamazoo's Harrison Pickles, and you have a no frills, funky little spot waterfront experience. "We are what we are," Sherrod said. "We serve ice cold beer and we have the best views in town." If you're experience South Haven for the first time, make this your first stop. The crew will recommend other restaurants, other destinations and places to stay. They're like the area's unofficial Welcome Committee. "We feel like tour guides," Sherrod said. "If we show them a good time we feel they're going to come back because they love Southwest Michigan."
Open seven days a week at 11 a.m.; live music Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in summer; open the first weekend in May through mid October.

John Gonzalez |
We loved this happy crew at Captain Lou's in South Haven.

John Gonzalez |
Try the Cajun batter on the perch.

John Gonzalez |
We even found a tasty salad at Captain Lou's. Try the DeGrandchamp Blueberry salad with locally sourced berries.

John Gonzalez |
A classic bloody mary at Captain Lou's.
Totally awesome time at Captain Lou's in South Haven, be sure to get your perch with Cajun batter, you’ll love it! Views are pretty fine, and the staff is tons of fun. Go visit them now!
Idler-Riverboat & Dockside
515 Williams St #10, South Haven, MI 49090

John Gonzalez |
The crew at the Idler-Riverboat & Dockside.
Idler-Riverboat & Dockside
After we left Captain Lou's we walked to the Idler-Riverboat & Dockside, which is just over the drawbridge and on Williams Street. In fact, we parked on Williams Street as the drawbridge was up and down often because of the higher-than-normal water levels. Be patient this summer. What we discovered once we arrived was a beautiful riverboat that was constructed in 1897 and has led a storied life. It spent some time at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. It was once owned by the father of actor Vincent Price. And it survived a devasting fire. It eventually landed in South Haven in 1981 when it was purchased by the Nichols family where it was renovated. Today it is owned by the Kalamazoo-based Millennium Restaurant Group, which owns and operates 10 restaurants in the area. (Learn more about the history at
We were greeted by manager Shelby Green who took us on a tour of the dining areas in the upper and lower levels. It's there we met chef Dustin Marshall and sous chef Fran Smith, both dedicated to a New Orleans-influenced menu and even BBQ. Once back upstairs we met up with bartender Cameron Smith, who took us through some of the boat's most popular drinks, including the signature (and oh so tasty) South Haven Ice Tea ($8.75) and the Idler Margarita with a house-made sour ($7.50).
Chef Dustin then brought out some of his favorites, including the creamy smoked whitefish dip ($10.95) served with pita chips, the ahi tuna wontons ($12.75) with fresh ahi tuna and pub nachos with chicken and avocado ($12.50). As for the entrees, we loved the N'awlins BBQ Shrimp ($21.95) served with boiled red skin potatoes and corn on the cob and the Citrus Mustard Glazed Salmon ($19.95) served with corn on the cob and red beans and rice. Both were perfect dishes on a hot summer day. The menu also features about six sandwiches (fried green tomato BLT, Lobster roll), burgers, salads, ribs, fish and chips.
Open 7 days a week, 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; weekends open at 9 a.m. with a Survivors Breakfast & Bloody Mary Bar (9-11 a.m.) in the adjoining Dockside bar. (The Dockside also offers a Raw Bar, as well as grab an go oysters.) It's a party on the Ider-Riverboat. Insider tip: Ask bartender Cameron to make you the off-menu drink called the After School Special.

John Gonzalez |
Bloody Marys are good, and popular, any day of the week at Idler-Riverboat.

John Gonzalez |
Ahi tuna wontons.

John Gonzalez |
The top-selling  N'awlins BBQ Shrimp at Idler-Riverboat.

John Gonzalez |
Amy Sherman making new friends at the bar on the top deck of the Idler-Riverboat.

John Gonzalez |
Admiral Jack's
515 Williams St, South Haven, MI 49090

John Gonzalez |
The indoor bar at Admiral Jack's overlooks the Black River.
Admiral Jack's
We were only scheduled to visit two places in South Haven, but our "tour guides" at Captain Lou's said we really needed to check out Admiral Jack's, which is located right on the Black River near the Idler-Riverboat. We stopped because you always go where the locals send you. Opening in August of 2014, Admiral Jack's is constructed of six steel barges and is a permanently moored floating bar/restaurant vessel. It rests 120 feet strong alongside the waters of the Black River where you can see Captain Lou's and the waterway leading to the Big Lake. No reservations, but there are transient slips available near the outdoor Tiki Bar, which was getting a trim on the day we stopped in. Seafood is large part of the menu, including crab legs, grouper, shrimp linguine, crab cakes, Lake Perch, beer steamed shrimp, ceviche and more. The signature drink? The fresh-fruit Rum Runner ($10), which is frozen and served around the clock. It was one our favorites of the whole trip and includes fresh banana, strawberries, coconut and spiced rum.
Open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily; 12 noon-2 a.m. Sundays; live music most weekends.

Amy Sherman |
Perch and tots at Admiral Jack's in South Haven.

John Gonzalez |
The signature frozen Rum Runner at Admiral Jack's.

John Gonzalez |

John Gonzalez |
A great view of the Black River at Admiral Jack's.
Want to know what’s happening behind the scenes? We are always posting videos, photos and more on our Social Media channels.
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We use the hashtags #mibest. If you've tried a Michigan's Best pick, let us know at #ItriedMiBest
In addition:
Amy Sherman is on Twitter @amyonthetrail, as well as Facebook and Instagram @amyonthetrail.
John Gonzalez is on Twitter @michigangonzo, as well as Facebook and Instagram @MichiganGonzo.
Thank you Idler-Riverboat & Dockside in South Haven for showing us such a good time! #visitsouthhaven #mibest #bestwaterfrontrestaurant #puremichigan #amyonthetrail #michigangonzo #PureMichigan
They know how to have fun at Captain Lou’s in South Haven! #lousers #mibest #bestwaterfrontresturant #visitsouthhaven #amyonthetrail #michigangonzo
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What a great crew at the Idler Riverboat in South Haven. #mibest #bestwaterfrontresturant #amyonthetrail #michigangonzo #riverboat
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Couple of #lousers hanging out in @SouthHavenCVB at Captain Lou’s. Why yes, we’ll take the Cajun fried #perch and a #bloodymary please! @PureMichigan #PureMichigan
Another day at work…..#mibest @MichiganGonzo #amyonthetrail #bestwaterfront #imnotworkingyoureworking #southhaven #puremichigan #michigan #michigansbest #sunsoutgunsout
Happy Fourth of July! #fourthofjuly #michigan #usa
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