Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival: What to Do, Where to Go

grand haven coast guard festival guide for kids new

FUN FACT: The Coast Guard Festival Attracts 350,000+ People Each Year

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

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


The Coast Guard Festival has Something for Everyone

This festival is loaded with entertainment for the entire family. Come see fireworks, ship tours, parades, a car show, craft show, street dance, 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.

The festival runs from Friday, July 29 – August 7, 2016.

The Coast Guard Festival is just one of the many incredible Michigan festivals and fairs.

Coast Guard Festival Highlights


Kids Parade (10:30 AM) – Saturday, July 30

Grand Parade (11:45 AM) – Saturday, August 6

WATCH SHIPS ARRIVE: approx. 1:00 PM on Monday, August 1, 2016

CAR SHOW: Sunday, July 31

KIDS DAY: Tuesday, August 2 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM

DOWNTOWN CARNIVAL: Tuesday through Saturday, August 2-6, 2016

CRAFT FAIR: Friday and Saturday, August 5-6

FIREWORKS: Saturday, August 6 at dark.

FREE SHIP TOURS: Monday through Saturday, August 1-6, 2016

back of cutter kathy schafer
View from back of the Cutter. Photo: Kathy Shaffer

A festival of this magnitude can be overwhelming for first-timers. We’ve polled our Facebook family for their top tips on navigating the National Coast Guard Festival.

Favorite Coast Guard Festival Events

There is a Kids Parade (Saturday), and a Kids Day (Tuesday). Watching the ships come in on Monday is another fun thing to do. Many moms enjoy shopping the Craft Fair (second weekend).


There are two parades during Coast Guard Festival. The Kids Parade is the first Saturday of the festival, July 30, 2016. The Grand Parade is the following Saturday, on August 6. The Kids parade starts at 5th and Franklin and makes a loop, turning first on to first street, then Washington. It’s recommended that parade-goers get to the route early for best seats…even putting chairs out early that morning if possible.

MOM TIP:  Bring a wagon that’s good for hauling chairs and kids. – Sandy

Coast Guard Festival Parade - credit kathy shaffer
Coast Guard Festival Parade in Grand Haven, MI. Photo: Kathy Shaffer


Tuesday, August 2 from 10:00 AM – 2:00 PM. Head to Mulligan’s Hollow for Kids Day! Fun includes games, displays, storytelling, face painting, arts and crafts, and the Prince and Princess contest.


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.


Only original, handcrafted items are accepted for this show, making it a delight to explore the 165 booths. The craft fair is held in Central Park, downtown Grand Haven.

MOM TIP: The arts and crafts fair is one of the best ones I have ever been to. If you get there early enough for the start of the arts and crafts fair you’ll be able to park close to it and won’t have to walk as far to the rest of the Festival. But you will have a bit of a wait in traffic when you leave. – Betsy


Blankets are set out early in the day for the fireworks. REALLY EARLY. But these fireworks are also REALLY worth it.

And not just because they are accompanied by choreographed music from the Musical Fountain.


MOM TIP: For the parade and fireworks, park east of 31. It is faster to walk out than to sit in the traffic that is trying to leave downtown. – Lisa


Ship tours are available Monday through Saturday and they’re free!

There are a few things to know before joining a ship tour:

  • Strollers aren’t allowed on ships. If you’ve got a little one, they’d benefit from a ride in a baby carrier.
  • Ships are not air conditioned and can be stuffy and hot. Use caution if you or your kids may struggle with this.
  • For a schedule of tours and tour rules, check here.
Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival Mackinaw
Mackinaw at the Coast Guard Festival


It’s a carnival; enjoy the thrill of the rides with a side of some great carnival food!

MOM TIP: Buy the all-day bands instead of individual tickets. Bring extra cash for the carnival games. They have rides for younger children at one end and then the bigger rides are at the other. Some of the kiddie rides require another person of a certain height requirement to ride. It’s a lot of fun, but a lot of money can quickly be spent! – Kerry

MOM TIP: Saturday is crazy, so go during the week to do things like the carnivals.- Lisa

Practical Tips for Doing Coast Guard Festival With Kids


There is LOTS of walking and waiting at the Festival. Lots of activities that everyone wants to attend. People wouldn’t go it if wasn’t a lot of fun. But it’s a lot of fun coupled with a lot of waiting.

MOM TIP: Pack a LOT of patience. A fun place to park with kids for fireworks is the YMCA. The kids can play at Imagination Station and see the fireworks later. (Note: while you can hear the musical fountain from here, you won’t be able to see it.) – Sandy


This event is all about walking around outside. Dress your kids in quality shoes and perhaps even in sun shirts.

MOM TIP: The sun glints off the water so sunhats won’t always protect your face. Remember to wear sunscreen. – Betsy


Parking is the biggest obstacle to attending the festival. It makes sense that there isn’t normally parking for 350,000 in little Grand Haven!

To give you an idea of cost, one reader paid $10 to park last year and still walked about 10 blocks

Plan to pay for parking.

MOM TIP: If you know a local, exploit the relationship and ask for parking privileges in their driveway. Better yet, on their lawn if they’re on the parade route! Many churches rent out spots in their lots as a fundraiser. -Sandy

MOM TIP: Park along US31 and walk in. It’s a long walk, but makes for a quick getaway at the end of the night when traffic closer in is at a standstill. – Tiffany


MOM TIP: Because you will likely have a bit of a wait in the car as you are on your way home from the fireworks make sure everyone in your party has visited the bathrooms before you go. Also, by that time in the day the bathrooms have probably run out of toilet paper and soap. Pack some toilet paper and sanitizer for your personal use. More than once I have been grateful for the napkin that happened to be found in my pocket. – Betsy


coast guard festival for kids grand haven

Photo courtesy of Jason Hiscock

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