Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival 2024: Your Complete Handbook

Grand Haven MI Coast-Guard-Festival

The Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival runs July 26 – Aug 4, 2024

The Coast Guard Festival on Lake Michigan is one of Michigan’s biggest festivals.

Each year 350,000 people pour into Grand Haven in one week. That’s more people than in the entire city of Grand Rapids!

What is it about this festival that makes it so popular?

Everything. And it’s on majestic Lake Michigan, so it’s the epitome of a summertime festival.

Come see fireworks, ship tours, parades, a car show, craft show, a carnival and lots of musical entertainment, including Grand Haven’s ever popular Musical Fountain.

All of this in celebration of our amazing United States Coast Guard servicemen and women.

in this article

Best Things to Do at the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival

1 – Watch the Parade of Ships

Grand Haven boardwalk & Lake Michigan pier
Monday, July 29, 2024, 1 PM

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:

People love cheering on these magnificent vessels as they come in to dock, horns blaring. And the Coast Guard onboard love the support they feel from everyone on the shore.

This is a great opportunity to teach your kids about the Coast Guard and the important jobs they take on to keep our waters safe.

2 – Choose From Two Parades

Downtown Grand Haven

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:

Everyone loves candy, floats, music and fanfare! And the Grand Parade is pretty large.

Kids Parade
Saturday, July 27, 2024, 10:30 AM

The Kids parade starts at 5th and Franklin and makes a loop, turning first onto 1st Street, then Washington.

It’s recommended that parade-goers get to the route early for the best seats…even putting chairs out early that morning if possible.

Grand Parade
Saturday, August 3, 2024, 11:45 AM

Watch as over 100 entries full of pomp and pride for the U.S. Coast Guard travel through Downtown Grand Haven.

If you’re there for the candy, watch for parade goers to hand it out along the route. Throwing candy/prizes is strictly prohibited so no worries about your kids darting into the street for lone Tootsie Pops.

Use this map of the parade route to find your spot. (See below for tips on getting a spot for a parade.)

3 – Watch Incredible Fireworks

Grand Haven Musical Fountain – Waterfront Stadium, 1 N Harbor Dr, Grand Haven, MI 49417
August 3, 2024

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:

The Coast Guard fireworks may be one of the best fireworks shows in the state. Set in front of the Musical Fountain, get ready for a big, colorful show with musical accompaniment.

Like the parades, people set out blankets early for the fireworks show.

Or you can buy a ticket to the mainstage show that night, which includes the absolute best spot to watch fireworks.

This year you can see Yachtley Crew and catch the fireworks basically front row, for $30.

4 – See a Mainstage Event

LMCU Waterfront Stage
1 N Harbor Dr, Grand Haven, MI 49417

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:
Tribute bands and a cardboard boat competition are just a few of the things you’ll find at the mainstage this year.

Located right on the channel, the waterfront stage is a beautiful spot for live music and entertainment.

5 – Attend the Carnival

Harbor Front and Covenant Life parking lot

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:

This family friendly carnival has over two dozen rides, lots of great food, games and more. This carnival prides itself on having friendly, helpful staff for the best experience.

Tips for the Coast Guard Festival carnival:
– Buy all-day armbands instead of individual tickets (price varies by day).
– Bring cash for carnival games.
– Rides for younger kids are at one end with larger rides at the other.

6 – Tour a Ship – for Free!

Escanaba Park – 673 S Harbor Dr, Grand Haven, MI 49417

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:
When else can you tour these massive, decked out Coast Guard ships for FREE?

Ship tours are available Monday through Saturday. This is the ship tours schedule.

Coast Guard Festival Ship Tour tips:
– Strollers aren’t allowed on ships. Bring a baby carrier for small children.
– Ships are not air conditioned and can be stuffy and hot. Use caution if you or your kids may struggle with this.

7 – Shop the Craft Fair

Central Park – 421 Columbus Ave, Grand Haven, MI 49417 
August 2, 2024, 9 AM – 6 PM
August 3, 2024, 9 AM – 5 PM

Why It’s One of the Best Things to Do at the Coast Guard Festival:

This craft fair is one of the best artisan’s markets in West Michigan so come ready to SHOP.

Only original, handcrafted items are accepted for this show, making it a delight to explore the over 100 booths.

Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival FAQs

What is the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven?

This festival is a 10-day celebration honoring the men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard who gave their lives in service to their country.

While its official purpose is to honor the fallen Coast Guard members, it’s really a celebration of all our Coast Guard, past and present.

Coast Guard dignitaries from around the country come to this festival, as well as impressive Coast Guard ships that you can tour.

When did the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival start?

Grand Haven has been nuts about our amazing Coast Guard for nearly a century!

1924 marks the first Coast Guard celebration in Grand Haven, but it was really just a cool picnic and rowing competition for service members stationed here.

It bloomed into a festival in 1937 and became an official event in 1971.

What is a Coast Guard City?

A Coast Guard city is a specially-designed town that supports the Coast Guard and its service members. It fosters understanding in the community of the Coast Guard and builds morale.

Grand Haven became the nations’ first Coast Guard city in 1998 when the United States Coast Guard bestowed this honor upon it.

And we are guessing a lot of this had to do with their massively popular festival.

Today there are 29 Coast Guard cities across America.

Coast Guard Festival Parade - credit kathy shaffer
Coast Guard Festival Grand Parade

Tips for Visiting the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival

As a very busy festival, you’ll want to be ready for anything.

1 – Save Your Seat for the Parades

Put out a blanket or chairs to save your spot along the route.

Many people do this the night before, though the city’s official stance on parade seats is that items cannot be placed until after 12:01 AM the day of the parade.

Regardless of when you claim your spot, everyone seems to respect the call for dibs.

2 – Coast Guard Festival Parking & Getting Around

Plan to walk a lot for this festival. (So wear appropriate shoes!)

Because once you park, you’re on your own. You likely won’t find a single Uber or taxi that will come anywhere near downtown during this massive festival.

Historically Harbor Transit has offered bus services on the last day of the festival, but has not been announced for 2024 yet.

– Park at the first spot you find. Don’t wait to find a better spot – it probably doesn’t exist.
– Many neighbors will sell parking spots in their yards (going rate is $20).
– Tag Team It. Have one adult drop off the rest of the family close to the action and use cell phones to meet up.
– Use this map from the city of Grand Haven for public parking lots:

Coast Guard Festival parking map

3 – Where to Find Restrooms

Public restrooms are found mostly along the waterfront and at Harbor Island.

Coast Guard Festival restrooms map

4 – What to Bring to Coast Guard Festival

It’s the top of summer during the Coast Guard festival. Be prepared for sun and hot temps.

Travel light. Leave extra items in the car if you have an extra adult that can walk back to fetch things.

Recommended gear for visiting the Coast Guard festival with kids:
– Sunscreen
– Water bottles
– Baby carrier, instead of stroller (unless you’re cool with navigating a stroller through massive crowds)
– Snacks or buy good eats from the many vendors available

What Did We Miss?

What’s your favorite part of the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival?

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