Wonder abounds in St. Joseph: Coastal town a destination for adventure

The words from “The River Saint Joe” appear on one of the many outdoor sculptures that inhabit the coastal city’s downtown.

Writer Ben King, or Benjamin Franklin King, Jr., lived a short life. Born on St. Patrick’s Day in St. Joseph, Michigan, in 1857, the piano prodigy and poet presented a baffling nature to his peers, But his words, which exude grace, humor and parody, will forever wrap an artful context around the pleasures that still abound.

And why shouldn’t they? The city’s mantra, “Holding on to the past, reaching out to the future,” recognizes progress as a relationship that demands an appreciation for history and implies its significance not only for continued progress, but its sense of identity.

Like most beach communities, St. Joe is inextricably linked to its landscape. Silver Beach, named for the way the resplendent moonlight glimmers along Lake Michigan’s nocturnal surface, has long been a part of the magic that has made the city a magnet for business, tourism and excitement. 

In the early days, fur traders and adventurers would satiate their desire for entertainment and companionship in rowdy taverns. Later, as times became more refined, large hotels and department stores moved into the area.

On the cusp of the 20th Century, St. Joe emerged as a preeminent destination for tourism.

Beaches, modern spa treatments and lavish hotels attracted society’s upper echelon, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and legendary columnist Ring Lardner.

Before living in St. Joe, St. Joseph Today membership coordinator Tess Carragher lived in Maine. She says that in addition to offering the amenities that one might expect from a classy and diverse area, St. Joe has a cost of living that is really attractive.

“There’s a really great balance between the beauty, a vibrant community and it’s an awesome place to raise kids,” Carragher says. “People point to St. Joe as the destination for traveling greater southwest Michigan.” 

Carragher says that St. Joe’s main attraction continues to be “the lake and everything that comes along with it.”

The adorable quaintness of St. Joe is undeniable. Ample pavilions and sculptures make exploring craft fairs, festivals and markets inviting experiences.

In the summer, live music has become a staple. The outdoor music scene kicks off in late June and runs through the end of August at the John E.N. Howard Band Shell in Lake Bluff Park.

In addition to the myriad of restaurant choices and eclectic shopping options that can be found downtown, street vendors and food trucks have become customary as well. Whether you fancy a night on the town or a romp on a sandy beach, be assured you will find joy in St. Joe.

Where the bumble bee sips and
the clover’s in bloom
And the zephyrs come laden
with peachblow perfume.
Where the thistledown pauses
in search of the rose
And the myrtle and woodbine
and the wild ivy grows.
Oh, give me the spot that I once
used to know
By the side of the placid old
River St. Joe!

— Ben King, the Sweet Singer of St. Joe