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A Forgettable Trip to Benton Harbor, Michigan

Have you ever taken a road trip somewhere and then realized that the whole trip was a complete letdown? Well, I have to say that we experienced this feeling to an extent during our recent trip to Chicago!

Flying out early Saturday morning at 6AM meant it was an early start for us as we had to drive to Memphis Airport around 4AM. We landed at Chicago’s Midway International Airport around 7:35AM and immediately headed over to the rental car center. A short wait for the shuttle bus lead to us taking a 5 minute ride to the Alamo rental car area. Our ride for the weekend – a Kia Soul!

The decision was made to take a road trip early Saturday morning from Chicago to Michigan. Our final destination – Benton Harbor, Michigan!

You may be asking why did we pick Benton Harbor as our Michigan location? Well, if you take a look at the map there are not many locations within relative short driving distance from Chicago unless you are willing to drive further to the likes of Kalamazoo or Grand Rapids. Plus our research on Benton Harbor led us to believe it would at least prove to be a spot on the Lake that would offer some beautiful scenery and a few things worth exploring.

Heading out of the Chicago metropolis through several tolls (I would highly recommend taking advantage of the rental car companies offer for the I-Pass which is a pre-paid tag that allows you entry through all Chicago and surroundings state tolls!) which are certainly plentiful in this part of USA.


Crossing the Michigan State Line

The drive to Benton Harbor took around 90 minutes, the highlight along the way being a quick stop at the Michigan Welcome Center. One thing we were unaware of was that driving to Michigan saw us cross into Eastern Time Zone (if you ever drive to Benton Harbor, be aware of this time zone change because there are not too many notices letting you know!) but given that we drove back that same morning it didn’t make much of a difference.


Benton Harbor, Michigan

Benton Harbor was in all honesty a major disappointment! The downtown area was small with very little to see and explore. A few bookstores, coffee shops and a run-down look was all this town on the side of Lake Michigan to show. Maybe we didn’t explore enough but we didn’t even get to see Lake Michigan.

We did come across the Harbor Links Golf Course which is hosting the US Senior PGA Championship in a couple of weeks but apart from that we were really struggling to find anything worthwhile.

We also stopped for breakfast at McDonald’s (yes, there wasn’t much in terms of options!) before we headed back on the drive to Illinois as we attempted to justify going 1 1/2 hours out of our way. Did we succeed? Probably not but that’s random road trips for you and they don’t always work out the way you plan them.


I don’t want to judge the state of Michigan purely from this short road trip because the reality is that there are likely many beautiful spots throughout this state that are more appealing than Benton Harbour. But I have to admit that we were both slightly disappointed by our experience simply because our expectations were much higher of this location on the Eastern coast of Lake Michigan.



Had we visited here during the US Senior PGA Championship, I am sure I would probably be writing a more positive review but if you have any desire to visit Michigan I would highly recommend visiting somewhere other than Benton Harbor.

Trips to upstate Michigan are by all accounts much more interesting and aesthetically appealing with beautiful scenery, but unfortunately our initial experience in this state leaves a lot to be desired.


I have to admit that the highlight of this trip was heading back into Chicago, especially with the gorgeous skylines we were treated to on a beautiful Spring day!

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Thursday 23rd of June 2022

You picked the wrong city should of went to Sagatuck, Holland, Muskegon, Benton Harbor is a up and coming area. The farther you go the prettier it is


Saturday 31st of July 2021

You need to see it from a different perspective. Sometimes blessings come in disguises such as your trip to a city such as Benton Harbor. It’s a blessing because your trip there you were literally experiencing history. Look beyond just with your eyes because although the town looks kind of disappointing, it has a very rich history and many great people came from such a town. The area there has beautiful scenery that you probably won’t experience elsewhere. The beaches are all beautiful and the country area of a Benton Harbor and surrounding areas are all mouth dropping beautiful. What you see of Benton Harbor today is a generational curse and unprocessed trauma that has been passed down from generation to generation and a good example of showing how black communities became the scapegoats of surrounding cities. You were in a town rich of history with so many beautiful things outside of just the town.

Jim Williams

Monday 8th of March 2021

I grew up in the Benton Harbor, Saint Joseph area back in the late 50's and 60's. I left the area in 1977 to serve my country. While in the Air Force I had the privledge to visit many countries and their cities. One of the places I had a chance to spend 45 days in was England. The British are some of the most pompous assholes in the world but when you take more than a few hours to explore a place you will find that England has some wounderful people with beautiful hearts. The country was not that impressive from my 1st impression. It is a cloudy rainy depressing place until you except the fact you are on an Island in the North Atlantic with so much history to explore. By taking some time & giving England a chance I had A chance to see the beauty of the country & the people. Benton Harbor area is in many ways just like my experience in England. It is not that impressive until you take the time to peal back the layers. In all of the world you will not experience sunsets more beautiful than what you can see over Lake Micchigan. You ate breakfast at a McDonald's and judged the area's cuisine. Little did you know you were with in a few miles of some of the world's best Italian, Greek, & some of the very best country cooking from the mom & pop restaurants. Southwestern Michigan was once a great industrial power house with pride. So many of todays conveniences we take for granted came out of this area. An example is refrigerated storage & transportation, the 1st automobile and so much more.


Thursday 25th of July 2019

There are some very lovely areas in Benton Harbor Michigan to visit once you are out of the city of Benton Harbor. Such places include: The Benton Harbor Fruit Market, family owned farms and farm markets, the Benton Harbor Arts district, vineyards, and nature centers. The city of Benton Harbor is in desperate need of help, and is nothing like the city of St.Joseph. St.Joseph Michigan is the place everyone should visit, it is very touristy between June and August, but very beautiful.

Japhy Bartlett

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

It's frustrating that you clearly missed all of the nice things about our area, but this article lives on, disparaging our city.

Between the Mason Jar, the Phoenix, and the Livery, there is so much good food, beer, and live music; eating at McDonalds is completely your fault! Look at all of these people writing that they were planning to visit and have now completely changed their minds. :(


Sunday 2nd of December 2018

Hi Japhy,

I first want to apologize that you stumbled across this post - clearly from a lot of the comments we didn't explore the best of what Benton Harbor had to offer and I in no way intended on this post coming across as negative as it did. It was simply a honest perspective but definitely one that I want to change! I am hoping that in 2019 we will have the opportunity to return to Benton Harbor and have a completely different opinion and take some of your suggestions to try them out. We are very different travelers now than we were when we first visited Michigan. I hope that our post hasn't stopped people from visiting this destination because this was by no means our intention. Thanks again for visiting, albeit on these terms (I am actually very curious as to how so many people have stumbled across this post - do you mind sharing where and how you found this?).