Lake Michigan at Charleviox
Roadtrip.. Grand Rapids; Meijer Gardens,Van Andel Museum
We were hoping to get away for a little bit over the holiday weekend, with the prediction of sunshine and temperatures in the 80′s for Monday, the west coast of Michigan seemed an ideal place to go. We left Sunday morning and headed directly to Grand Rapids. We are regular visitors here, and have watched it change and reinvent itself over the years. There are so many things to see and do here, you can easily spend a few days in town.
We started with a visit to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, this place is incredible! The tropical conservatory is the largest in Michigan, along with a stunning collection of plants there are several water features, but that is only the beginning! The five-acre Children’s Garden is unlike any other I’ve seen, anywhere, and it’s not just fun for kids. There is an amazing tree house, get to it from a wooden stairway and elevated walkway, it even has a swinging bridge. Kids love to play in water, here the bodies of water are actually the shape of the Great Lakes, they surround the concrete patio area that is of course in the shape of Michigan, lots of splashing and giggling takes place here. The outdoor gardens are stunning, there are benches to sit and rest before visiting the Midwest’s most significant outdoor sculpture collection, seriously. Major works by artists with names like Rodin, Moore, Rickey, and Marshall Fredericks, very impressive. You can do a walking tour or take a tram. All in all there are 125 acres of nature and art, which go hand in hand beautifully.
While downtown has been making great strides, now surrounding districts are too. Streets like Wealthy and Cherry are seeing a surge in independent entrepreneurs; boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants are popping up in these neighborhoods. We had lunch at the Cherry Deli on, well, Cherry. Order at the counter from an extensive deli menu, then take a seat, we went Al fresco, and your order will be brought out to you. Ours was a panini with a stack of turkey, crispy bacon, and melted cheese, all smothered in a herb mayo, excellent. The Pasta salad was quite good too, no mushy noodles here, all in all good food for a good price. We needed some time to re-charge our batteries, The Sparrows Coffee Shop and Newsstand is a relaxing place to hang out. Serving organic coffee and tea, they also sell local pastries and over 75 magazine titles and newspapers. It’s a cozy space located in the lower floor of a historic building, it seems to be a favorite of neighborhood residents. We had iced coffees and some kind of multi-grained bar with pieces of dried fruit that was scrumptious.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum was next on our list, this is one of those spectacular museums with top of the line exhibits. With three floors of things to see and do plan on spending a couple of hours here. I always enjoy the “Furniture City” section, which is what Grand Rapids has been primarily known for. The “Streets of Old Grand Rapids” is very popular as is the “Habitats” display. There are life-size items suspended from the ceiling and in the galleria, learn about the history of Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan. One of the big attractions is the 1928 antique Spillman Carousel housed in the Cook Pavilion. It is one of only three of its style known to have been produced by the company. Take a ride; young or old, all are invited to enjoy a spin revolving to the music of a Wurlitzer band organ.
We had dinner at The Winchester on Wealthy Street, it is a restaurant and bar, but it feels more like a bar. We had a nice dinner at a fair price, but it was pretty loud. Afterwards we went for a walk in the Heritage Hill Historic District, this is one of the largest urban historic districts in the United States. You could walk for hours and never get bored looking at the homes. They just held their 42nd annual home tour in May, this is the first time they scheduled it in spring, instead of fall. We have been on the tour probably a dozen times, and enjoyed the variety of stately homes each time. Grand Rapids hosts a large scope of architectural styles running the gamut from Queen Ann and Frank Lloyd Wright, all the way to Mid Century Modern.
Back downtown we had a nightcap at one of the newer places in the city called The Viceroy. Come in the door and step back in time to the 1930′s. The decor is retro and cool, red is the preferred color here, from the tin ceiling and walls to tabletops and seats and it looks fabulous. A funky mix of musical styles play in the background adding to the atmosphere. Their cocktail menu is unique in that in features a wide variety of timeless cocktails; a Perfect Rob Roy, an Old Fashioned, or Kris’s selection for the evening, a Sidecar. I went the boring route with a simple glass of wine, which by the way, was excellent, because one of us needed to be able to drive back to the hotel. Kris found his Sidecar quite enjoyable, and we had a great conversation about Detroit with the manager who had moved to Grand Rapids only recently from Ferndale. It was really a splendid place to end the evening, unique setting, unusual cocktails, and peaceful enough to have a conversation without yelling across the table. Next time we’re in town we’ll definitely come back!
Just over two hours away from the D, Grand Rapids makes a great get-away.
Leaving Grand Rapids we had one goal in mind; Lake Michigan, through the years Kris has refined a scenic route. We leave Grand Rapids going west on Leonard Street, this is a beautiful road that winds along mimicking the Grand River. The roadside abodes are charming, many have elaborate gardens, it is a lovely drive. Leonard will take you into Spring Lake where you have to get on 31 to cross the Grand River and go into Grand Haven. The traffic in Grand Havenwas alarming, we couldn’t get near the lake, the town appeared almost vacant as everyone was at the beach. At last we made our way to Lake Shore Av and zigged and zagged as necessary before arriving in Holland. A lap around the north and east side of Lake Macatawa and we were back on South Shore Dr, aka the scenic route. Our habit is to take that to 64th street all the way to Blue Star Highway(A2), once you are there Saugatuck is just a hop and a skip away. As soon as we made the turn towards town we could see the crowds of visitors, our chances of getting a place to park and then go eat were looking slim when we gratefully came across a vacant spot right along the river.
We have been regular guests of Saugatuck for almost two decades now, it is one of our favorite escapes. We walked the town going in and out of shops, there’s a nice balance here of souvenir type items, art galleries, and boutiques. There is no shortage of places to eat; Kilwins has amazing chocolate, caramel corn and ice cream, American Spoon has a storefront here as well, restaurants and cafes are everywhere, and of course there is waterfront dining. We ate on the porch of a little cafe and did some people watching as well, afterwards a walk on the boardwalk gave us a chance to check out the boats. There is a pretty little park, Wicks Park, with benches and a gazebo that also makes for a great place to watch the boaters go to and from the big lake. We stopped in at Uncommon Grounds for a little break, I had an espresso shake, yummy, and Kris had an iced coffee with a delectable piece of coconut cheesecake. They have a nice deck with cafe tables to sit and overlook the activity on Hoffman St.
On the other side of Blue Star Hwy is the city of Douglas, you can’t go see one and not go see the other, the area is routinely referred to as Saugatuck/Douglas, both have that small town America feel, with that laid back, friendly attitude. Recently the National Trust For Historic Preservation selected these cities as one of the Dozen Distinctive Destinations in the United States.
Oval Beach is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde’ Nast, and one of the top two in the USA by National Geographic Traveler. Needless to say it is stunning! You can walk the white sand shoreline taking in the towering sand dunes, boats, and sand castles, time seems to stand still as you gaze out at the shimmering blue water. The road going into Oval Beach can be a madhouse, so be prepared. A lesser known alternative is Douglas Beach, parking is very limited, but we went late enough in the day that we secured a spot. Here you are on a bluff, so there is a set of wooden stairs that leads you down to the soft sandy beach. We ditched our shoes and started walking, after nearly two hours we knew we had to start the journey back home.
It’s always hard to leave such a beautiful place, but the time had come. If you don’t enjoy white sandy beaches, gorgeous sunsets, quaint shops and tasty food, Saugatuck is not for you. Otherwise, come on out!!
When the temperatures rise above 85 I can almost hear Lake Huron calling. We are lucky to live close enough that we can simply take a ride along the water beginning at Lake St Clair and ending in Port Huron. Nothing beats the heat like being on the water! Sunday was a gorgeous Summer day, the sky was blue and the sun was blazing. With all the windows out of the Jeep, a generous coating of sunscreen, and the company of friends in their convertible, we were off. As soon as we got near the lake you could feel the temperature drop, it is a beautiful ride skimming Lake St Clair and then the St Clair River. We had made reservations on the Huron Lady II for the 1:00 river cruise. Our timing was perfect; we parked at Desmond Landing, checked in and were able to board the boat right away. We snagged some great seats on the top deck under the canopy.
Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes and the third largest fresh water lake on Earth. The average depth is 195 ft and the maximum depth is 750 ft, Wow! By freeway Port Huron is only about an hour from Detroit,but take the scenic route if you have the time. The Huron Lady takes you on a two hour ride; Covered outdoor seating is available on the top deck and air conditioned seating in the cabin. There are restrooms, cold drinks and snacks, everything you need. We began our journey traveling down river; sunlight glittered off the water, the narration calling out points of interest. A steady stream of boaters passed and waved to passengers, freighters carried their loads both north and south, using the space between them we made our turn north to the big lake. Lovely homes line the US shoreline, historic or newly built all take advantage of their waterside locations. As we approached the Blue Water Bridge things got more lively, traffic overhead was bumper to bumper going both ways on the bridge, people lined the boardwalk on each side of the river. As soon as we flowed into Lake Huron the water seemed to go on forever, sailboats dotted the view making it quite a sight! Out into the lake a ways and then it was time to turn back, alas our voyage came to an end. You should definitely go for a ride sometime this summer, it’s well worth the trip.
It was now 3pm and the four of us were starved, if you are looking for good food and a unique atmosphere the Palms Krystal Bar fits the bill. Located on Pine Grove Ave just outside of downtown Port Huron they are best known for serving “Chicken in the Rough”. This is an old-time chain from 1936 that served fried chicken, shoestring potatoes, a roll and a bucket of honey, all without the luxury of silverware. It actually feels like 1936 when you walk inside, a mixture of kitsch and Art Deco all backlit with a pink glow. Waitresses are super friendly, the fried chicken; finger- licking- good, you have to try it! The menu offers a large selection; everything from salads and burgers to fish (get the Chicken) and home made desserts. Portions are nice-sized and prices fair, the place is so cool I’d come just to sit and enjoy the atmosphere.
Our friends had to be heading home, but we were in no hurry. We had passed a little place on Military street a few times and thought it was time to see what it was all about. The Atrium Cafe and Ice Cream Parlor has been open nearly two years now, the outside is unassuming brown brick, street side parking is easy and free, there is nothing from the street that hints to what you will find inside. The truth is we were looking for a simple ice cream cone, we stepped inside and immediately knew this was no ordinary ice cream parlor. The entire interior is finished with items salvaged from homes, buildings and even a church from days gone by. The wainscoting is actually vintage doors turned sideways, rows of theater seats are used as booths in the atrium. Everywhere you look is another amazing find. They have a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and of course ice cream! We were just going to get a cone “to go”, but they encouraged us to come in and have a seat, take a look around and enjoy our treat right there, I’m so glad we did. Somehow we went from a cone to a Turtle Sundae……Creamy butter pecan ice cream covered in Sanders hot fudge and hot caramel, whipped cream, nuts, and the traditional cherry on top. It was soooo good, the only challenge being you had to eat steadily to keep the butter pecan from melting, really, not a problem. This is just another gem waiting to be discovered in Port Huron.
Lexington Michigan is one of our favorite small town summer destinations. We made our first drive up for the season on Sunday, and Oh, what a day! The onlyway to get there is the scenic route of course, probably the best place to begin isNew Baltimore. Located in the northeast corner of Macomb County the city rests on the coastline of Lake St Clair, specifically Anchor Bay. There is a small beach , a playground, and a dock for fishing or just staring off into the lake. They have a Sunday Farmers Market beginning July 17, fresh picked local vegetables and herbs, and lots of homemade goodies to choose from.
From here get on M- 29, it will take you east, enjoy glimpses of the bay between cottages and restaurants, maybe stop in at a roadside vegetable stand, the road continues south through St John’s Marsh. Driving through the marsh is intriguing, there is water of some sort on each side of the road, look for wildlife in the marsh, swans and heron are a common sight. Finally you will head back north up the St Clair River. From here the scenery goes up a notch, the river is less obscured. Algonac is another little town on the water, it has a pretty riverside park where you can stop and stretch your legs. Marine City is the next teeny tiny little town, it has it’s own charm, and seems to be on the upswing. The historic downtown lies just east of M-29, paralleling the river. We stopped in at an old fashioned candy store called “The Sweet Tooth“, right on Water Street. It’s really cute inside, they have all the candies from my childhood; like giant Pixie Sticks, Zotz, Blow Pops, and those crazy Necco Candy Buttons; the little pastel candy dots that you end up eating as much paper as you do candy, yeah, those! It’s a place that brings a smile to your face everywhere you look. If it’s a nice day get a hand dipped Hudsonville Ice Cream cone and take it outside to Riverpark to enjoy. The view is as pretty as the ice cream is good.
Bask in the scenery as you make your way, the river is a gorgeous bluish green, it was such a spectacular day for our drive the sunlight danced upon the water. Elegant Victorians, richly decorated Tudor homes and cottages are intermixed on the west side of the road, each looking like they belong, newly built mansions sit back in the distance. St Clair is next, this is a higher end town than the others, the residences here reflect money. Palmer Park is perfect for sitting and watching the freighters go by or taking a stroll along the boardwalk. The St Clair Inn has been around since 1926 and is on the National register of Historic Landmarks. All done up in it’s English Tudor style, it takes you back to a grander place in time. Stop in for a meal or stay for the weekend.
Port Huron is the big city with the spectacular view, there’s just too much to list here, so look for a future post about it. I will say this, drive through the historic downtown, it is quite lovely, at its end veer right. Head back to the river and drive along taking in the sights of the Blue Water Bridge, sailboats, Canada, and of course Lake Huron. As you pass the Thomas Edison Inn follow Gratiot to continue the scenic path and avoid the malls and traffic of the everyday life.
I believe it is 22 miles north on M-25 to Lexington, it is truly a one stoplight town, so don’t miss it! As you make your right turn at that light, you will suddenly feel like you are on vacation. In the distance is Lake Huron, all blue and picturesque, on the right are quaint shops, and restaurants. Lexington T-shirts and hoodies hang in doorways, tourists carrying double dip cones and sporting hats and sunscreen peruse the sidewalks. For all the years we have been coming here Smackwater Jacks is where we eat, and what we eat is pizza, either a Smackwater or a New York, and a Greek Market Salad, you can’t go wrong with an order like that. Sit outside and feel yourself relax, do some people watching as sun worshipers head to the beach. After you have eaten head to the lake yourself, there’s a extensive pier that takes you out in the lake, bordered by huge rocks floated down from Rogers City. It’s an excellent getaway that lets you enjoy one of our states most significant assets, our Great Lakes, and Lake Huron certainly is great. UPDATE: Smackwater Jacks in Lexington is now closed.
Harsens Island; Then and Now
Picture yourself at the foot of Griswold Street standing alongside the Detroit River; it’s 1926, you are wearing your Sunday best, you have an overnight bag in one hand and a ticket for the steamship Tashmoo in the other. You gaze out in the distance and see the elegant steamer approach; excitement fills your body. Once aboard you find a place to look out over the railing as the ship heads north; destination Tashmoo Park and the St Clair Flats, also known as Harsens Island. Roughly 2 1/2 hours go by, the scenery splendid along the way, the park is in sight. As you leave the ship you hear music playing, visitors dance under an immense pavilion, a group of men are playing baseball at the athletic field, picnickers eat sandwiches and drink lemonade, the beach is sandy, it’s crystal blue water inviting. Tonight you will be staying at the Grande Pointe Hotel, sitting atop the highest point on Harsens Island you can hardly believe your eyes! The hotel is stunning; think Grand Hotel (Mackinac Island), Victorian in style it has a 300 foot long veranda, the perfect place to relax and look out on the St Clair River. Inside there are 125 rooms, a dance hall, bowling alleys, billiard rooms and parlors; the cost, about $3.00 a day. From about 1900 to 1936 the White Star Line of steamers carried thousands of people from Detroit to Port Huron with stops at Tashmoo Park, owned by White Star Line and the many hotels located on the island; Harsens was a summer paradise. The size of the hotels ranged from the 22 room Public House to the 150 room Star Island House; entertainment consisted of dance floors and slot machines. Outdoors you could ride bicycles, play lawn tennis, hunt, fish and go sailing. Hotel Mervue had the largest dance floor on the flats. There were private clubs for the wealthy Detroiters, bars, restaurants and markets. Alas, there was one problem that led to the demise of many of these remarkable buildings: fire. Back in the day buildings were constructed of wood, combine that with being located on an island with no roads, and no fire department, a recipe for disaster. The Rushmere Club was the first large hotel to burn down in 1908; some of the hotels and clubs rebuilt, but the St Clair Flats area was never able to recapture the glory days of the past.
It had been many years since our last visit to the island; we boarded the ferry in Algonac and crossed the North Channel. When we arrived on the island we turned right and followed Middle Channel Drive, the road that follows the shoreline; with few exceptions this area is mostly residential. As you look out into the water there are large areas of water and land that make up the St Clair River Delta; this is the largest freshwater delta in the world, the water glistens and is strikingly clear. The road ends, we turn around and go back the way we came, enjoying the view as much as we did the first time. This is how we remembered Harsens Island; pretty, but as a tourist, kind of dull….
We started taking 154, the main road, out to the other side of the island, Kris noticed the smaller, but more scenic, North Channel Drive; we follow the water making our way to South Channel Drive. Suddenly we find ourselves skimming along the South Channel; charming cottages and beautiful historic homes on one side, sparkling turquoise water on the other, hmmmm maybe there’s more to this place than we remember….Remnants of the past are visible here. We arrive in the town of Sans Souci on South Channel Dr; an old grocery store is now the Sans Souci Market, this is the business district of the island. We see the old fire hall has been turned into a museum by the Harsens Island St Clair Flats Historical Society, we park in the front and head in. The museum brings the islands past to life; photographs and postcards, dishes from the steamers, summer schedules of the White Star Navigation Co. are all on display. Maps of the Flats show the area in detail, memorabilia hangs on walls and fills up display cases. It is absolutely fascinating to see. Volunteers from the historical society answer questions and tell stories of life on Harsens, many have lived here their whole life. When you come out to the island be sure and visit the museum, it is wonderful and really gives you a sense of what a magnificent place this once was when people traveled from all over to come here.
We jumped back on South Channel Drive till it merged with 154, then headed to the Southernmost tip of the island, believe it or not at this point you’re about parallel with 14 mile road. The views of the channel and lake are beautiful; I bet the sunset view would be awesome. It was hot and sunny; it seemed every boater was out enjoying Muscamoot Bay, it was an amazing sight. OK, now we’re hungry! We had planned to have lunch at the School House Grilleven before we got to the island, many people have told us to give it a try. Located just off the main road on Columbine Rd the tan-colored brick school was built in 1934; it was one of Michigan’s only 2-room schoolhouses until it closed in 2005. In 2009 the building was brought back to life as a restaurant and wine bar, much to the delight of residents and visitors alike. We entered through the back door, a few steps led to the lower level where the main dining room and bar is located. The space is airy and attractive, the exposed ceiling painted black. We took a seat at the bar and ordered cold beverages to quench our thirst as we checked out the menu; everything sounded good. The bartender answered our few questions and we were ready to order. The Tuscan salad was delicious; mixed greens with basil, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts and shaved Parmesan topped off with homemade cashew honey dressing. The Deli 101 sandwich was an Italian style sandwich served on a warm ciabatta bread, also very good.
Back in the Jeep we drove back to South Channel Dr for one more look at the water; we noticed Sans Souci Bar has a covered patio and tables near the shoreline, we are so there! We considered taking advantage of the cooler temperature on the patio, but couldn’t resist the water view provided by tables overlooking the channel. We sipped our drinks as we watched the passing traffic on the waterway; freighters, jet skis, and boats of various sizes kept our attention. The color of the water is remarkable here, we found ourselves asking why we hadn’t come back sooner. Harsens Island is a great place to get away for a few hours without having to go very far.
Centrally located in the southern portion of the mitten, is the capitol city of Lansing. Currently Michigan’s 5th largest city, it is home to the Michigan State Capitol Building, the State Supreme Court, the Library of Michigan and Historical Center, Thomas M Cooley Law School (the nations largest law school), various museums, and of course, nearby, Michigan State University. Detroit was originally the capitol of Michigan; In the War of 1812 Detroit was captured by the British, the United States re-captured Detroit in 1813, but fears remained about the capitol city remaining so close to British-controlled Canada. The capitol of Michigan was moved from Detroit to Lansing in 1847.
Faced with another mild November Saturday, we pointed the car west for a day-trip. Located along the banks of the Grand River, downtown Lansing features many of the things you find in a typical city; beautiful historic buildings, museums, a farmers market, little business districts, they also have a delightful zoo. Potter Park Zoo has 20 acres with over 100 different species of animals. It is open year-round, admission is free from November 1 to March 31. Parking in the huge lot was a breeze, being Thanksgiving weekend most folks probably weren’t thinking about visiting the zoo. The exhibits begin pretty close to the entrance and you don’t have a great distance to walk from one resident to the next. The river otters are usually entertaining to watch, unfortunately for us they looked as though they had just eaten a big lunch and were a snuggled in their hollowed log napping, they were still cute. Peacocks wander freely throughout the zoo, you’ll see them everywhere; on the ground, perched on fences, overhead on anything they can rest on. Their colors are stunning, from the classic turquoise and blue to pure white, they seem to get along with everyone. The meerkats were out in number and very active, they behave as though they are as interested in us as we are in them. Since I love animals we always visit the feeding and petting area, or Farmyard Edventures as it is called here. Pigs, burros, chickens, a yak, and goats; I was particularly fond of a very friendly goat with an underbite. Check out the Aviary, besides housing birds it’s a cool old building . All the major animal species are represented; Lions, penguins, rhino’s, 3 new Amur Tiger cubs were born in September. It’s a great place to enjoy the outdoors and visit with nature.
The R E Olds Transportation Museum opened to the public in 1981. Located on Museum Drive, it is dedicated to Ransom E Olds; inventor, entrepreneur and financier. Ransom Olds founded 2 local companies: Olds Motor Works in 1897, and REO Motor Company in 1904, you and I would know the latter as simply Oldsmobile. As the museum takes you through the history of the automobiles it also defines the history of Lansing itself, Oldsmobile operated in Lansing for 70 years. In addition to beautiful vintage automobiles, exhibits include personal effects of R E Olds and his family, multiple engines, dealer advertising, and items significant to the city. For a time R E Olds even made lawnmowers! In 1987 they added “Transportation” to the title of the museum, it now includes many of the Lansing area’s contributions to transportation such as wheels and other makes of automobiles. It’s a great museum and surely worth a visit.
CLICK HERE FOR MORE VINTAGE AUTO PHOTOS
You may have noticed by now that we like old things; with that fondness in mind we had lunch at Clara’s on Michigan Avenue. Built in 1903 it was originally the Michigan Central and Pere Marquette Railroad Station, thanks to preservationists it has been turned into a charming restaurant. The outside is Romanesque in design, it’s quite elaborate with cut-stone arches and towers, the inside is enchanting! The interior has a distinctly Victorian feel about it; softly lit by a series of crystal chandeliers and stained glass light fixtures, magnificent antiques reside throughout the space. The cathedral ceiling is made of wood, a bronze chandelier hangs from above. If you climb the steps to the second level you get a wonderful overview. The antique pieces come from a variety of sources; many are local to Lansing, when some of the mansions were torn down, pieces were salvaged and have found a new home at Clara’s. Other pieces have traveled across the Atlantic from places such as Belgium, Venice, Paris and England. Tiny white lights decorate the wooden trim for the holiday season and add even more loveliness. Since it is a restaurant, I guess I should talk about the food….The menu is HUGE, they serve everything from starters, burgers, soups and sandwiches to pizza’s and full entree’s. They also have a large selection of adult beverages. We had the Santa Fe Chicken Salad and it was delicious, the chicken was grilled and tender, the salad itself had a nice variety of ingredients and was nicely dressed. We had a BLT served with their special potatoes; they take a baked potato slice it into thick slices, then deep fry, really good! It was a very enjoyable experience from start to finish.
Before we left town we still had time to stop in at the Lansing City Market. We always enjoy visiting the local farmers market when we are in another city, it’s fun to check out the different local offerings. Sitting alongside the Grand River, the market is housed in a nice size, new, indoor building with places to sit and eat, or just rest for a bit, in the nice weather vendors set up outdoors as well. You can always count on at least a few samples of something sweet at a market, it made for a nice little dessert after our big lunch. Browse the aisles; produce from local farmers, gourmet foods, garden art and jewelry all vie for your attention. Vendors are friendly and like to engage in conversation. Because they not only sell, but either make or grow the product, they can answer any question you may have, that’s always a good thing. Booths were decorated for the holidays making it feel a bit festive. There’s so much to see and do in Lansing, we’ll be back another time to tell you about more. In the mean time, come see it for yourself.
We’ve been trying to get up here for what seems like ages; the proverbial “Up North” getaway, something always seemed to get in the way. Michigan has a plethora of fantastic, beautiful scenery, but to us, the northwest corner is king. Like all of our trips, we cram a lot into a little time; today we’ll show you some of our M-22 favorites. We leave the metro area via M-15, then hop onto M-115 via US10. While certainly not unpleasant, the scenery along the way looks like much of Michigan; then we make our way to the tiny hamlet of Beulah and catch our first glimpse of the perfectly aqua water of Crystal Lake; we have officially arrived.It was already time for lunch when we first set eyes on this gorgeous inland lake; we stopped in Beulah, grabbed a carry-out from L’chayim Deli, and took it to a table lake side to eat. The village does a great job allowing the public access to the lake with its pavilion, small beach and seating areas. With a perfect view of the water, we dug into our sandwiches; the Jerusalem: artichoke hearts, black pepper feta spread, red onion, lettuce and tomato on a salt bagel, and the Oy Vai: Corned beef, pastrami, cream cheese, pepper jack, red onion, lettuce, tomato, and Dijon mustard on multi-grain bread; both were delicious.
Onward we went; we continued our tour of Crystal Lake driving the perimeter, then on to Frankfort, across Betsie Lake and on to Elberta. Perched on the side of a sand dune is a small gallery/coffee shop called Trick Dog. What a cool place! The building itself is adorned with funky details, the large front porch overlooks the serene Betsie Bay, large sculptures on the grounds encourage smiles. The gallery itself is filled with unique art work, it also sells an interesting array of housewares, dog accessories, jewelry and T-shirts. The espresso bar offers a variety of beverages along with baked goods, yum! We enjoyed our coffee break, stopping briefly for a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, and pointed the Jeep north. It would be impossible to tell you about every charming town and spectacular view we had the pleasure of experiencing on our trip, so I will try to narrow it down to highlights and favorites; then you will have to make the trip and see for yourself what an amazing place this is!
The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore has been swarmed with visitors since being voted America’s Most Beautiful Place by Good Morning America, with good reason, it’s absolutely stunning. Our favorite way to see it? Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. At just over seven miles long this narrow road leads you through the forest and dunes; scenic turnouts provide spectacular vistas of Glen Lake and of course, Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear Dunes. The Lake Michigan overlook is 450 feet above the lake itself; the beach below a resting spot for those about to embark on the steep climb to the top. Anchored near shore are boats of all sizes, their passengers cooling off with a late afternoon dip. As Kris wanders about taking photos I make myself at home atop the dune; the sand has absorbed the heat of the sun, increasing my body temperature. As I gaze outward the lake seems to go on into eternity; what do you call that color of blue? It’s quiet here, even though the dune is littered with people, I watch the progress of the climbers as family and friends cheer them upward. Kris got my attention, we moved on to the deck that hangs out over the dune; probably the most popular place to take pictures. It is easy to detect the changes in depth here by the varying shades of blues. There is no end to the comings and goings of tourists.
We still had much to do before day’s end, Glen Arbor was our next destination. As somebody who likes getting somewhere as much as being there, M-22 is a dream drive for my husband; winding roads are smooth and even, traffic lights do not exist. Orchards, farms and tiny towns speck the vast open land, it is serene and picturesque. We arrived in Glen Arbor and drove straight toCherry Republic , with a motto of ”Life, Liberty, Beaches and Pie”, what’s not to love? We started at the winery and tasted to our hearts content; after narrowing it down to two bottles we made our purchase and stepped next door to the Great Hall of The Republic. Here you will find a mind-blowing array of cherry products, I will not even attempt to list them, you can click on the link to their website and see for yourself. The store itself has shelf after shelf of items, generous samples abound; it’s a good thing they do not weigh you as you come in and as you leave, it could be embarrassing….The products are truly outstanding; made with the highest quality fruit, nuts and chocolate, they are second to none.
With our sweet tooth satisfied and a stash of goodies to last us the next few days, it was back on M-22 and up the Leelanau Peninsula. We stopped briefly in Leland, took a quick walk through Fishtown and then drove out to the tip of the peninsula and Lighthouse Point. Again, the view is remarkable, the air feels fresh and clean in my lungs, my body feels relaxed, at ease. We walk the shoreline taking more photos of water, the sight never becomes tiresome. Folks have begun stacking rocks, creating towers of all shapes and sizes. We notice the sun is getting lower, our cue to head back down the peninsula, this time following the east shoreline.
Northport has grown since our last visit; a quick stop at the quaint Kamp Grounds Coffee and Creamery provided us a much-needed beverage. Omena, Peshawbestown and Suttons Bay are all enchanting little villages, darling shops and cafes call to us, but the clock and water views keep pulling us onward. Next visit we will dedicate an entire day to this lovely peninsula, its towns and wineries. For us it is time to head into Traverse City and get some dinner! When we arrived in the city is was after 9pm and the town was packed; the Traverse City Film Festival was in full swing. For an instant panic set in, would the restaurants be lined up out the door? Only one way to find out….Last time we were in town we ate at a little place on Union called Soul Hole, described as eclectic southern cuisine, the food was excellent; we were hoping to get dinner there tonight. We lucked out with a parking place right in front of the door and no line to be seated, whew! With a quick glance at the menu we placed our order and sat back in our booth, we had been on the go since early morning. Without much delay plates of food arrived at the table; fried green tomatoes, crispy outside, juicy inside with a spicy creole dipping sauce. The house salad was served with a sweet corn vinaigrette, very tasty and then there’s the southern fried chicken…fried to a perfect golden brown, tender and well seasoned it is out of this world; the cornbread and grits were pretty awesome too! When our meal was finished the day had finally settled down upon us, we were in need of a comfy bed and a good night sleep. Fortunately for us it was just a short drive to the place we would call home for the next few days; a condo on loan from dear and generous friends.
Up North: From Tip to Traverse
We awoke to the sound of absolutely nothing; all that peace and quiet, we slept later than planned, “Up North” will do that to you. Today would be spent in the Jeep, enjoying another scenic ride. We made the decision to take a direct route up to the ring finger area of the mitten, also known as Sturgeon Bay, then enjoy the slow pace and picturesque views along the water coming back down; this was a good plan. Lakeshore Drive runs along Sturgeon Bay for miles, the length of it remote beach, finally ending in Wilderness State Park. Cars pull off and park roadside; swim suit wearing pedestrians carry beach bags and towels, looking for their own private stretch of beach. It was hot, the temperature near 90 when we left Traverse City, the warm sand squeaking as we walked, the water clean and clear. Finding a spot not too close to anybody else we laid our towels out on the soft sand and sat down; again finding ourselves staring out into the aquamarine lake. I find it a daunting task grasping for words to describe such a scene; remarkable, dazzling, and resplendent come to mind. Lake Michigan is a force, a living, breathing entity, it draws me in and takes me under its spell; no matter how many times I see it, I can never get enough. The drive ahead will provide us with marvelous views of both lake and land; M-119, the Tunnel of Trees.
Because of our late start, it was already lunch time; Cross Village was just ahead, it is one of the oldest settlements in Michigan, but what has really put it on the map, so to speak, is a unique restaurant, built high on a bluff overlooking the big lake, serving Polish Food for over 90 years; this my friends is Legs Inn. Referred to as an “architectural marvel”, the building is the hard work and dream of one Stanley Smolak, a Polish immigrant who created the furniture and structure from tree stumps, limbs, roots, driftwood and stones he found in the surrounding area. Cross the threshold and enter a fantasy land of nature tamed into whimsical usefulness and purpose; tables, chairs, ceiling timbers and benches, it is an incredible sight! This was our first visit ever where there wasn’t a line to be seated. The business has grown through the years and now includes manicured gardens and outdoor dining; it was a perfect August day, we headed straight for the patio. Tourists mill about on the lush green lawn, posing for photos by the different hand carved totem poles, perennial beds, and most popular, standing by the wall that overlooks the lake. Service was swift; before we knew it we were scooping up forkfuls of bigos, golabki, and dutifully dipping pierogi into cups of sour cream. Along with the combination plate we indulged in apple and cheese nalesniki; everything was outstanding. No time to linger, we have over 27 miles of fantastic, twisty, and winding road ahead!
At first glance the road appears to be a single lane, as a center line is non-existent; with a little give and take, it is accommodating to two-way traffic. Lining the roadway are mature trees giving you the feeling of driving through a forest; the largest ones actually meet over the road creating a tunnel. Adhering to the eastern shoreline, the pavement rewards us with awe-inspiring glimpses of Lake Michigan.
We find ourselves in Good Hart; a series of small businesses make up the miniscule town. We park roadside, the appeal of the Northern Crepes cart too much to resist; something sweet to follow up our lunch. We stretch our legs with a walk through Primitive Images, a splendid cabin circa 1840 that was moved from Quebec and rebuilt on this spot. Beautiful pieces of furniture made from Birch, Willow and Hickory twigs, etched glass pieces, and an antler chandelier are all browse worthy. In the back the Good Hart and Soul Tea Room resides; we purchased cold drinks then retreat back outdoors for a simple, delicious, butter, sugar and cinnamon crepe. A Studio is filled with more good things, catering specifically to women; scarves, T-shirts, shoes and jewelry, it’s all lovely. This charming little group of shops is totally unexpected and a fantastic find on a road that is a destination in itself.
A little further south we find ourselves in a tight horseshoe curve known as Devil’s Elbow, the corners of Kris’s mouth tilt up in a grin as he maneuvers the Jeep. Here and there it is possible to pull over and take in the surroundings; the alluring waterscape, picture perfect farms, and gorgeous countryside. We arrive in Harbor Springs, a well-known resort town that looks like it would be right at home on the east coast. We drive up to the top of the bluff; a residential area with grand old homes and enjoy the remarkable view of Little Traverse Bay. Cutting back through town the sidewalks are crowded with tourists; cars drive up and down the main street in search of parking; wedding guests meander toward the large white tent near the lake.
M-119 ends at Bayview, part of the Chautauqua movement, it was founded by a group of Methodists to be used as a retreat, it is sensational! There are said to be 440 cottages, most built in the high Victorian style. We parked by one of the community buildings and hit the pavement; you have to go on foot to see all of the amazing details. The array of colors make each cottage unique, many are surrounded by well-tended gardens; plan on spending at least an hour walking around. Now on US 31 we arrive in Petoskey; we ascend into the gaslight district with its wonderful view of the bay. Petoskey is the largest town on this coast, its quaint downtown area is made up of several blocks of shops, restaurants, hotels and cafes. If your sweet tooth is calling, there are plenty of places you can pick up some fudge or ice cream. A visit to American Spoon is a must; in addition to their vast selection of jams, jellies, sauces and salsa’s you can also indulge in Gelato or sorbet, yum!
And onward we go…..In Charlevoix we check out the whimsical homes built by Earl A Young; the largest concentration located along Park Avenue, Clinton and Grant Streets. Built entirely of stone with cedar shake roofs, they are known as fairy or mushroom houses; no two are alike. As we walk I am continually pointing and saying “make sure you get a picture of that” door, or window or chimney. I’d love to see the inside! Next we take a quick stroll through downtown; standing on a strip of land that separates Lake Michigan from Lake Charlevoix, the vista is awe-inspiring; there needs to be a word just for this! Throughout the entire day I have seen nothing but smiling faces; of course the ice cream and fudge may have something to do with that……When you visit this area the beauty gets right into your system; it soothes you. We planned the day as a drive, but each one of these attractive old-fashioned towns is worthy of a day spent roaming in and out of shops, a walk on the beach and a fabulous meal.
After a stop at the condo to freshen up for dinner we mosey back to Traverse City for dinner. Because of the film festival everything is staying open late, lucky for us because it almost 10 pm. We wanted something light; FireFly on Cass has a broad menu that includes sushi, just what we were looking for. The place was packed, but a table for two was easy to come by. After a wonderful meal we roamed around on foot, the streets still thick with festival-goers. We popped into Phil’s on Front for coffee and dessert, if you like chocolate be sure to stop in any time of day….We split a piece of the Northern Star, along with really good coffee and live music it was a relaxing way to end a perfect day.
There were only a few days left to catch the “Muscle Car” exhibit at the Sloan Museum in Flint, so we headed north to Flint‘s Cultural center for a fun-filled afternoon. The museum itself celebrates Flint’s glory days; from lumber center and birthplace of GM to home of Buick and AC Spark Plug. At one time GM employed over 80,000 people in its Flint plants. This was the land of the famous sit-down strike of 1936-37 that was vital in forming the UAW. Sloan takes us through 20th century history in Flint and the region. The museum also hosts traveling exhibits in its temporary gallery, so it’s nice to stop in every now and then.
The displays had been changed up since our last visit; Carol Churchill Pierson’s Doll collection filled the first few rooms. A portion of these amazing dolls were purchased by the owner on her travels; others were commissioned by artists and respected doll makers to create historical figures. Free standing display cases line the walls, scenes are of significant historical events in period settings, dolls depicting famous figures teach us about important events in history. I have to admit my favorite ones were the “First Ladies”, the attention to detail is exquisite; beautiful gowns, fancy hairdo’s and even fur coats, I’d bet these are the ones most little girls would love to play with!
We moved on to the next gallery, this one is a real attention-getter, especially if you are male. The Muscle Car display features ten vehicles that epitomize the Muscle Car era; a 1970 Hemi Superbird is stunning in Lime Light, you can’t help but be drawn over to it with its bright color, nose cone, rear wing and of course, the Road Runner on the side. You may not think of silver as a typical muscle car color, but this 1964 Pontiac GTO with a red interior is a subtle beauty. The horsepower wars had started much earlier, the 1957 Chrysler 300 C has a 392 Hemi that puts out 390 horsepower that’s powerful even by today’s standards. We checked out the 1969 Chevy Nova with a 396, a deep blue 1965 Olds Cutlass 442, a 1969 Hemi Charger R/T, blue with a white top and stripe and another car I’ve always liked, a 1970 AMX in Big Bad Green. Kris was definitely in his element here; he has always liked cars, this era being one of his favorites. When it comes to Muscle Cars anything goes; color is key, you could get almost any color on the exterior including pink and purple. The interiors were not left out; red, orange, green and blue could be had along with patterns like hounds-tooth and plaid, how cool! There were fake side-pipes, hood scoops, bold stripes and most importantly the size of your engine called out with decals or emblems. The space is complimented by the poster-size ads that hang on the walls; these are typical advertising tools used back in the day. The whole exhibit was very well done, we’re so glad we got a chance to see it.
The 20th Century Gallery is home to “Flint and the American Dream”; over 600 artifacts including photographs, period clothing, signs household furnishings and vintage cars take us through time and show us what life was like in the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s, it’s fabulous. We enjoy this section each and every time we come; eye-catching displays submerge us back in time, well-written descriptions explain what was going on at the time both in Flint and America. We learn about the birth of the UAW and Flint’s role as the Arsenal of Democracy; the 20th century was a time of big changes both good and bad.
Just a short walk about 1 block east from the Sloan Museum is theBuick Automotive Gallery, your paid admission gets you into both buildings. This facility houses 80 Flint-built automobiles with up to 30 on exhibit at any given time. The building is also used for restoration of vehicles and houses Sloan Museum’s Perry Archives. With that out of the way, let me say, this place is amazing. Many of the cars here are prototypes, you’ve never seen anything like ‘em. Plenty of 50′s Ultra-cool, space age styling; one, the “Wildcat II” looks like Buick’s version of a Corvette, gorgeous! Another, the Centurian would look right at home in Buck Rogers garage; in addition to an all plexiglass roof, it even has a backup camera…These cars must be worth a fortune. Cars throughout Buick’s history are represented here including a Hellcat Tank Destroyer from WWII, along with plenty of automotive memorabilia. A replica of a 1940′s soda fountain sits near the back, have a seat and relax with a glass bottle of Coke, neat-o. Be sure and check it out!
The Flint Crepe Company is located on S. Saginaw Street downtown; small cafe tables and chairs are set up outside, the window invites you to partake in both sweet and savory crepes. Inside tiny white lights hang from the ceiling, work by local artists decorate the walls, mmmmmmm, the coffee smells great! The menu is substantial, pick one from the list or create your own, they all look delicious. Since we were both extremely hungry we chose the Reuben and the Monte Cristo; one of the many things I like about crepes is they are quick to make. Before we knew it plates arrived; the Monte Cristo was loaded with ham, turkey, cheese and a touch of jam for a little sweetness, delicious. The Reuben as you can imagine was filled with shaved corned beef and sauerkraut topped with a wonderful sauce, excellent. The crepe itself had a nice flavor and was nice and tender. Our plan was to have the savory and then the sweet, but we simply had no room left for the sweet, next time. They also serve Zingerman’s coffee and espresso, a perfect match for a crepe. If you visit on a Tuesday all tips are donated to a local charity, a different one each week; they definitely support the local community.
Before getting back in the car we took a walk around downtown to get a look at some of the historic architecture; we were in and out of several buildings, Bank of America has an awesome space with a great lobby. Heading back, we passed a parking lot off of Saginaw and Kearsley that was playing host to the 6th Annual Bikes on the Bricks. Friday was their practice day and open to the public; we stood on the sidewalk, sort of stopped in our tracks by the sight of so many police on Harley Davidson motorcycles driving around orange cones. We spotted open bleacher seating near the track and had to get a closer look. Basically the event is a skills competition open to active uniformed police officers and their motorcycles, it’s quite a sight! Throughout the lot challenging skill courses are set up using bunches of those infamous orange traffic cones. As we sat and looked out it was difficult to figure out what the participant was supposed to do; once a rider took his bike through the course it all made sense. To our right was a spiral course, you know, like if you took a cinnamon roll and loosely unrolled it; they start in the center and work their way outward trying their best to leave all cones standing. The speed and agility of some of the riders was impressive, then there was the guy who not only knocked over several cones, but ran one over and dragged it across the track, that was funny! Police forces from all over attended, we saw officers from the Michigan State Police, Rochester, Southgate, Toronto, St. Paul, Detroit, Ottawa and Flint. As time went on they attracted quite a crowd, these guys have skills!
I have always had a soft spot for the underdog, which is part of the reason I like Flint. The city has more going for it than you may have imagined; Great museums, delicious food, and a fascinating history. Don’t look now but downtown is starting to make a comeback too! Did you know the first completed production Corvette rolled off the Flint assembly line in 1953? It was one of 300 hand-assembled ‘Vettes made that year. The 1950′s and 60′s were the height of the city’s prosperity and population. The economic and industrial struggles the nation faced through the years were even more magnified in this auto producing town. Today you will find new life in long standing neighborhoods and institutions, and a breath of fresh air sweeping into the city.
It has been a while since we were at a farmers market; the sky was clear and blue, the sun was shining, what better time to drive out to the Flint Farmers Market?This year-round public building was built in 1940 by WPA workers, it has been a vital part of the community ever since. During the summer there are all sorts of vendors outdoors, this time of year it is mostly contained indoors. As you would expect you’ll find produce, meat, poultry, breads and baked goods. I love the initial scent as I walk into a market, it’s always a wonderful mix of aromas! The building is laid out in one long aisle from end to end, a wine shop caps off one of the ends. d’vine Wines has a generous variety of wines both local and international, along with beer and even dairy items from the ever popular Calder Dairy.
We strolled the main aisle, up one side and down the other; spices, jams, dips and cut fruit all available to sample. Ethnic groceries, cool looking sea salt, deli sandwiches fresh cider mill style donuts and hot coffee all beckon to be purchased. The cheese vendor has an especially large variety to choose from, Kris picked one out and we got a chunk to eat while we walked. Upstairs is home to an art gallery; jewelry, ceramics, photographs, and paintings fill the display. Across the hall is a restaurant called Steady Eddy’s Cafe, this place is always packed, today was no exception. Serving breakfast and lunch the menu leans towards vegetarian and vegan selections, they also have homemade soups daily. Satisfied with our market stop it was time to move on.
If you’ve never been to the Flint Institute of Arts, put it on your to-do list, this is a terrific museum. The museum itself is 150,000 sq ft with 25,000 sq ft of gallery space. The building also houses a cafe, gift shop, art school, library and theater. We were there on a Target Free Saturday, so there was no admission fee; good to keep in mind. We have been here many times and still my favorite space is the Viola E Bray Renaissance Gallery, it is superb! The gallery itself was built for a single purpose: to display the 60 Renaissance and Baroque items donated by Mrs. Bray. The most exquisite being a collection of 10 tapestries made in France in the 17th Century. The tapestries represent the legend of Rinaldo and Armida as told in Jerusalem Delivered, a poem by Torquato Tasso. One of the gallery volunteers told us that it is quite unusual for anyone to hold a complete set of tapestries. Not only did Mrs Bray donate the items, she also donated the money to build the gallery; it is elegant, ornate, magnificent. Floors are marble, the ceiling coffered, reflecting true renaissance style. The tapestries themselves are made of wool and silk, take a close look; the borders are filled with symbols such as laurel wreaths, Mercury, Urania, Justice and Victory; the detail is awe-inspiring. Don’t miss the Decorative Arts Gallery, they have a sensational collection of glass paperweights. With the recent expansion the layout guides you easily from gallery to gallery; painted in bold colors such as berry, Celadon and bright yellow, the artwork really stands out. You could easily pass a couple of hours traversing the space.
On the drive up we had decided to have lunch at Hoffman’s Deco Deli located inside the Carriage Town Antique Center. First we would eat, then we would browse. Being a deli they have a wide variety of sandwiches to choose from along with wraps, salads and gourmet coffee. A large chalk board hangs on the wall; Items are written in colored chalk giving a full description. We picked the Super Veggie sandwich on whole grain bread, the Farmers Market Salad and a side of the southwest barley salad. Place your order at the counter then take a seat at one of the tables in the dining room or a high-top by the window. The building itself is a restored Art Deco warehouse, the interior of the deli is decorated with funky objects, it’s always fun to look around. Our lunch arrived quickly, which was good because we were really hungry. Everything looked so good we didn’t know where to start! The sandwich was stacked high with avocado spread, feta, sprouts, onion, jalapeno, bell pepper, cucumber, leaf lettuce and tomato with a bit of veggie seasoning, delicious. The salad is a bit unusual in that a drizzle of BBQ sauce serves as the dressing; it works well with the other ingredients such as chicken and crumbled bacon, definitely a winner. The barley salad added a bit of spice to the meal and was a nice change from pasta salad.When we’d had our fill we walked through to the antique center of the building, the pieces here are in good condition. Items run the gamut from antique china cabinets, loads of colored glass and pottery to vintage clothing, period lighting and Christmas items on the second floor. There are shelves and glass cases filled with beautiful items from days gone by. Vintage collectibles rest side by side with period furniture, heirloom jewelry and an antique organ. It’s a great shop with an ever-changing inventory.
We enjoyed the time we spent in Flint, there are many more things to see and do, but they will have to wait until next time. If you’re looking for a change of pace give Flint a try, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.