Tag Archives: Lake Huron

Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

Port Huron Pleasures

29 Jul

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It’s HOT! We need to escape the city, Port Huron provides a perfect waterside respite. Today it’s 10 degrees cooler here with the breeze coming off the big lake. We’re at the Vantage Point Farmers Market that takes place along the St. Clair River from May-Oct 29. This Michigan-only market features fresh produce, gourmet products, art and plants, along with a splendid view of the river and Canada. We park at the end of the lot facing the Black River, the promenade begins here; native plants fill elevated beds, a brick fireplace kicks out heat in cooler temperatures, picnic tables provide pedestrians a place to watch the boats go by. There’s a line at the Fresh-cut Fries truck, others have opted for ice cream, a double dip is certainly in order today. 

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We reach the row of white canopy tents, tomatoes, squash, lettuce and cucumbers are plentiful. You can buy Honey, Maple Syrup; Green Barn Winery is giving out samples. Pasta and jars of red sauce mingle with dog treats from Fritz’s Bone Appetite, Gielow pickles and bison meat. There’s a nice variety of produce, baked goods and ready-made foods from Brownwood Farms and Great Lakes. Power boats, jet skis and sailboats are out playing in the water, the Huron Lady II is out for a cruise, freighters come and go to Lake Huron. An announcers voice comes from speakers, he tells us about the current freighter in view, where it’s headed what she’s carrying, how cool! Ears of corn are selling quickly, squash come in a rainbow of colors, cherries are sweet or tart varieties, all sizes and shapes of eggplant are represented. Perennials, trees and flowering shrubs congregate at the far end of the market; the hot pink Phlox is gorgeous, purple cone flower, Shasta daisy and tiger lilies are waiting to be planted in someone’s yard. 

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We dip into the Great Lakes Maritime Center, a little air-conditioning will be nice. People fill tables and chairs arranged along the front windows, some are eating lunch from the deli, others sip on cold drinks, the donuts look delicious. Videos and displays tell stories of the Great Lakes, this is the headquarters for BoatNerd.com, a live underwater camera provides us with a view of whats going on under the St. Clair River. The center documents historical events such as the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald; near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 ft sent the ore-carrying vessel 530 ft down to the bottom of Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, is the song playing in your head now? Mine too. The floor is covered in a wave-patterned carpet, a map showing all of the shipwrecks in the area is inset. Display cases are filled with all things Great Lakes; ship models, rocks, diving equipment and memorabilia.

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Back outside we take a leisurely stroll on the Blue Water River Walk. This entire stretch of shoreline was given to the St. Clair Community Foundation by local philanthropists James and Suzanne Acheson in 2011. Since that time the 1-mile stretch of land has been cleaned up and transformed into a public park where native plants flourish and a naturalized shoreline welcomes visitors. We are on the pedestrian trail, the old railroad ferry dock once used to help transport goods back and forth to Sarnia Ontario Canada in the early 1900’s has been restored and turned into an observation deck. We look out over deep blue water, a cabin boat is out having fun, another freighter makes its way to Lake Huron, a few white, puffy, clouds are clustered together in an otherwise clear sky. The shoreline is dotted with tiny beaches and secluded landings, one is at lake level, I stand still and let the waves wash over my feet, cooling me off. Butterflies draw nectar from flowers, shrubs bear groups of fuzzy red berries. Placards teach the public about the structures, plants and wildlife found in the St. Clair River ecosystem. I had no idea mink lived here…

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The fishing pier is just south of the US Navy ship Grayfox, we have the pier to ourselves, the panoramic view is stunning, relaxing. Public art shows up in the form of a 7-foot-tall iron horse named Sugar, a 1,000 lb metal sturgeon named Stella Clair, a mural featuring native fish covers the River Rats Club building. Black-eyed Susan’s, Queen Anne’s Lace and milkweed stand in the foreground of the river. Wetland restoration is ongoing and currently fenced off; the ducks don’t seem to mind. This is part of the Bridge to Bay Trail System which continues to grow and improve every year. 

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My growling stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. We drive over to Freighters Eatery and Taproom located in the Double Tree Hotel (formerly Thomas Edison Inn) on the riverfront. The large restaurant has a perfect view of the Blue Water Bridge, St. Clair River and the entry into Lake Huron, in other words, it’s perfect.  We sit by the window, the menu is filled with locally sourced items, they use Michigan vendors and suppliers whenever possible. Appropriately so, a freighter passes as we wait for our meal, diners take photos from the patio, it’s a big deal for someone who’s never seen it before. Our Mesa Chopped Salad arrives; crisp greens are tossed in chipotle ranch dressing, blackened chicken, grilled sweet corn, peppers and fried garbanzo beans, tortilla strips join the mix, yum! We also have a side of salt and pepper fries, they’re really tasty. When we’re finished we head out to the boardwalk; from under the bridge we watch cars zoom by going from one country to another, sailboats fill the Lake Huron horizon.

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Back downtown on Quay St. The Alley Room has just opened for the evening, a cocktail sounds good about now. Although the same owner has had the place for years, it has undergone several incarnations. Currently the menu consists of pizza, sliders and a good meatball sandwich (so I’ve been told). The attractive, rustic interior features an antique tin ceiling, brick walls, wood floors. We sit at the bar, the Moscow Mule is on special, sounds good to me, Kris is in the mood for an Old Fashion, they don’t have all the ingredients so he makes do with what they have. A couple of friends arrive unexpectedly, what a nice surprise; we strike up a lively conversation as we finish off our cocktails. Outside, the sun is low in the sky, the temperature has dropped, giving us more relief. We’re lucky to be surrounded by such beautiful water here in Michigan, Port Huron is less than 70 miles from Detroit making it a quick and easy escape from big city to sandy beaches. There’s only so much summer left, what are you waiting for?

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PORT HURON: Boat Night

21 Jul

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It’s the eve of the 91st running of the Bayview Yacht Club Port Huron to Mackinac Race, Port Huron is wall to wall people, the banks of the Black River are thick with boats, a forest of tall masts pierce the sky; the excitement is palpable. 250 teams have entered the race sponsored by Bell’s Beer, they will sail either a 259 nm Cove Island Course–for faster, bigger boats, or a 204 nm Shore Course–for all others, taking them from lower Lake Huron to Mackinac Island. Bayview Yacht Club is celebrating 100 years of sailing in 2015. What began as a 3-story tin boat house in 1915 on Motor Boat Lane is now 1,000 members strong, occupying a 5,000 sq ft clubhouse on the Detroit River near the mouth of Lake St Clair.

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We park our car on Military Street and walk to the Black River, downtown is swarming with pedestrians, walkways on both sides of the river are overrun with activity. We cross the drawbridge and head down to the water, it’s an amazing scene; the sky is powder blue, a few puffy, white clouds hang low, a steady procession of boats travel up and down the river,  huge sailboats are anchored two deep parallel to the walkways, everyone seems to know one another. We walk to the farthest drawbridge then slowly, taking our time, walk back, observing the bash that is Boat Night.

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Dockside picnic tables are crowded with beer cans, bottles of wine and tasty looking edibles, leashed dogs seem unfazed by all of the activity. Crews arrive with sleeping bags, back packs and supplies, they talk strategies and routes getting ready for the morning start, Bell’s decals cling to the bow of participating boats. We traverse the wide sidewalk passing live performers, family BBQ’s and restaurants and bars filled to capacity—everyone is having a good time. Lovely condos line the south side of the river seizing the best view of all. Boats have arrived from Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, South Carolina, Chicago and Detroit, many are personalized, one has a giant Detroit Lions decal. Flags from sister yacht clubs cling to the rigging, colorful spinnakers flutter in the breeze. The old Michigan National Bank building (aka Bank of America) hovers in the background, come August it will begin its transition into a City Flats Hotel.

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Back on street level, the main drag through downtown is closed to vehicles, the area is teeming with visitors and vendors, games and activities. Human mannequins grab our attention, we make our way to the live mannequin contest sponsored by Salon Pizazz. Talented stylists have created exotic, make-believe characters, extravagant hairdo’s, whimsical, eccentric costumes all combine into surreal mannequins; my two favorites were the young ladies who looked like fire and ice–very cool! We direct our steps toward the lake, traffic is still heavy on the river; vintage wood boats, pontoons and a pilot-boat all join in the fun. Each restaurant we pass has a line, doors and windows are open to the street, smiling patrons are wedged inside. As we near the lake we remember a little out-of-the-way place, riverside.

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Vinomondo Wine Bar and Brew Pub is a nice place to catch a light meal, a glass of wine or pint of beer while relaxing waterside. We are happy to see open tables available on the deck, we choose one with a view of the Black River and Lake Huron—perfect! We order as the sun goes down, an orchestra plays Big Band standards under a canopy nearby, Kris sips on Kiwi Pear wine, tables fill up quickly. As darkness arrives so does our dinner, the panini is made with turkey, brie and slices of Granny Smith apples, the bread is crisp but tender, the brie warm and gooey. Our flatbread pizza is covered with a sun-dried tomato bruschetta, prosciutto, tiny pepperoni, yellow pepper rings and mozzarella, a tasty combo. Looking out, city lights dance on the water’s surface, clouds create interesting patterns in the night sky, lights from carnival rides glow in the distance. When we finally get up to leave our table is snatched quickly, the inside of the restaurant is empty, every patron is on the deck on this spectacular July night. 

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Back on Military Street we stop in at The Raven before hitting the road; a combination cafe and coffeehouse that also serves cocktails. The interior is a wonderful combination of wood, wrought iron, stained glass fixtures, book shelves, photographs and movie posters. A musician is singing on the balcony above the door, the tune sounds straight from the Delta. Kris orders an iced coffee and a brownie, I can’t resist the Rioja on the wine list. As we sit and listen much of the talk is centered around the boat race, this is the biggest night of the year for Port Huron and the city is a wonderful host.

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Bay City: Time Travel…

14 Oct

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Today we are about an hour and a half north of metro Detroit in the waterside town of Bay City. The annual River Of Time event is taking place this weekend, we’re here to check it out. For three days re-enactors from around the Midwest show up dressed in period costumes to live as people did in earlier times. Spanning 300 years of history, period camps are set up along the bank of the Saginaw River in Veteran’s Memorial Park creating a time-line history. From the Native Americans through the Revolutionary War to Vietnam, we get a glimpse of both everyday life and American history through music, skill demonstrations, church services and skirmishes.

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Making our way to the west side of the river, we park the car on a grassy expanse and walk to the park. The first thing I notice is the amount of white tents scattered throughout, I pick up the scent of logs burning on an open fire, a woman in a hoop dress passes by, a man in a Civil War uniform seems in a hurry to get somewhere; so much going on. Individual camps are roped off, there are no signs or placards with descriptions of the camp or era it represents, just men, women and children going about their business like they would have at the time. It is noon, almost time for the mid-day meal; fires dance under cast iron cookware, steam rises from pots, tables are being set. A costumed player is telling stories to folks gathered around, I see what appears to be ancient medical instruments spread out on a table, by the looks on people’s faces, I’m not so sure I want to hear what he’s saying. A group of men representing the 1st New York Regiment wear Revolutionary War costumes, it’s nearly 80 degrees outside but they don’t seem to mind. An asphalt path leads us through the park, the river is on one side, grass on the other; camps are spread out on both sides. On the left, a huge variety of food covers a table, Indians with face paint and mohawks look anxious to dig in. Every camp has something cooking; kettles rest on metal grates, bread bakes in a clay oven, a deep, oversize cast iron pot is stuffed with simmering meat, potatoes and vegetables, all eyes are focused on the stew.

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A young man stops among the crowd and begins to play his fiddle, a gentleman smoking a pipe taps his foot to the music, a woman in a rocking chair carves something out of bone. The Folk Music Society of Midland plays under a canopy along the Saginaw River, Weeping Willows dot the shoreline, the water is as smooth as glass, the sky flip-flops between powder blue and a grouchy gray. From their hats to their shoes, soldiers look so formal, everything appears authentic, right down to the buckles. A metal worker has built a makeshift chimney, roaring flames heat wrought iron that will be formed into hooks and tools, we all watch with fascination as he works. Many have sat down to take their meal, others have finished and trade lively conversation around the table. The World War I, II and Vietnam camps are expansive; here the tents are green, military vehicles are randomly parked, bed rolls, rifles, helmets and rations are displayed. Off to the side a man is sitting in a foxhole reading a book, he seems happy enough…. Soldiers answer questions, a group of men sporting different uniforms have pulled up chairs and share stories. 

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One thing that becomes clear very early in our visit is how simple, yet difficult, life was. Before there was refrigeration, running water, electricity for goodness sakes; food was prepared as it was needed, washing was done in the river or in a large bowl that was filled with by a pitcher, clothes were cleaned in a tub on a washboard and hung to dry, you had to hunt for meat, grow your vegetables; this is big news to the current generation. The Trombley House is open today, the oldest surviving building in Bay City, it was built about 1836. A crowd has gathered near the Log Cabin, on the porch Abe Lincoln is about to deliver the Gettysburg Address, how cool is that? The Fife and Drum Corps is approaching; fifers, drummers and flag bearers perform authentic songs written before 1800, Sutler’s Row offers goods for sale: animal pelts, antlers, beads, pouches and the like. We continue to zig zag through time; bacon cooks over an open flame, a woman spins wool into yarn, a young girl plays the bagpipes, visitors are walking to the cannon….

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We follow the crowd to find the cannon pointed toward the river, men work together stuffing something down the barrel, when they cover their ears, we cover ours; I jump about a foot in the air when it goes off, Kris just laughs….. I’m glad that’s over. We take a stroll on the River Walk Pier, from here we can see all the activity on both sides of the river, there’s a lot of building happening on the east side, new construction too. As we get back to the park a Colonial skirmish is taking place, it’s very intense, one does not want to get in the way. We move in the opposite direction for one last look around. They say this is Michigan’s largest living history encampment, it is definitely unique, from the people to the cannon and canoe, the costumes, housewares, instruments and campsites, indeed, it is history come alive.

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The sky has returned to a lovely shade of blue, walking back to the car we notice the elevated River Walk, looks like fun. An elegant white crane stands in the shallow water, ducks paddle along at a leisurely pace, the boardwalk leads us to Middle Ground Island. A party is taking place under the pavilion, friends gather on benches in the park, we admire the panoramic view. We make quick work of the walk back, it’s time to eat!

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Kris and I are both fond of restaurants that have been part of a city for generations; Krzysiak’s House on Michigan Ave is just that sort of place. Started in 1979 by husband and wife team Don and Lois they have been serving authentic Polish and traditional American cuisine for decades. So popular, the building has been expanded 5 times; their website states they serve 700-900 customers per day, wow! Walking in the front door we find ourselves in a little retail space selling an assortment of items, the hostess greets us and takes us to a table in the dining section. Krzysiak’s is known for their outstanding buffet, today is Sunday so it is filled with Polish specialties in addition to an assortment of salads, soups, side dishes, desserts; it’s really quite remarkable! As tempting as the buffet is, we order off the menu instead.
As we wait for our meal to arrive we take a look around; hand painted murals cover most walls, one features family members, the cathedral wall reflects photographs taken in Poland, the scenery is quite lovely. Everywhere I look photos and mementos cover the walls, pretty stained-glass windows made specially for Krzysiak’s are aglow in the sunlight; it is apparent the heart and soul of the family has gone into the restaurant. I dig into a bowl of chicken noodle soup, the homemade noodles are outstanding. Huge platters of food follow; the Polish plate comes with Golabki, Pierogi, Polish potatoes (fried with cabbage and other tasty things), Polish sausage and Kraut, you could feed a whole family from this plate alone! The potato pancakes are large and delightful, sour cream is the perfect addition. The food is authentic, made from scratch, hearty and delicious. The experience of eating here is a treat.

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Before we head south we take a drive through downtown, Bay City is definitely on the move, new stuff is happening all over town. We park on Saginaw St and notice a new artisan cheese shop has opened. Artigiano sells cheese, wine and craft beer, not to mention specialty items and condiments from local businesses. The shop adds an urban flair to general feel of Saginaw St, very nice. Across the street we stop in at Brewtopia to get a couple of coffees for the road. Sticking with the urban flair, the shop has exposed brick and a white painted tin ceiling, large windows give it a light and airy feel. Coffee beans are roasted in house, they provide a nice selection of teas, fruit smoothies, muffins, cookies and desserts. At the counter we meet the new owners, friendly and ambitious they are excited about the positive momentum in Bay City; so are we.

Roadtrip: Oh, Canada!

4 Sep

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When you think of long sandy beaches, perfect blue water, bikini’s and ice cream stands, Canada may not be the first place that comes to mind, after today it will. We are off in search of sun, water and relaxation, our destination: the western shores of Ontario, Canada. Never ones to miss the opportunity for a scenic drive, our journey begins in Algonac MI, it is here we board the Walpole-Algonac Ferry. Relieved to find only a few cars ahead of us, we are immediately guided onto the ferry, with the engine off and windows down we sit back and enjoy the ride. This ferry line has been crossing the St Clair River for over 100 years, today $7.00 buys us a ride to Canada. After pulling onto shore each car must pass through customs; be sure and have your enhanced driver’s license or passport ready. Once on Walpole Island, Kris has a regular route he follows, within minutes we are following the shoreline of the St Clair River, the view is breathtaking, there are no obstructions, just turquoise water as far as the eye can see. We pass through the tiny towns of Port Lambton, Sombra and Corunna, never without a river view, houses and businesses are situated on the other side of the road. Sarnia is the largest city of the bunch, we stop in at the visitors center to exchange our money and pick up a current Ontario map; there is a wealth if great tourist information, I always end up with an armload of travel guides, maps and brochures! Kris points the car northeast on highway 7, our vacation has just begun.

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The drive is easy; not a lot of traffic and good scenery, our first stop is Ipperwash Beach. Unlike any other beach I’ve ever been to, here cars are as much a part of the landscape as people. We follow the road right down to the beach, make a left turn and drive onto the hard-packed sand. Vans and sport utilities are backed up to the shoreline, making easy work of unloading coolers, folding chairs and umbrellas. It is still early in the day, so it is not crowded yet; children and dogs run up and down the sun drenched beach, sunbathers are stretched out on blankets. The thing that may surprise you is the amount of vintage tractors parked on the sand, Farmall seems to be the favorite brand. Used by locals as tow vehicles, they trailer their boats and jet skis to the lake; it’s really quite a sight! After driving to the end and back we jump on Hwy 21 and on to Grand Bend.

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The day is becoming hot and hazy, we take the left off of 21 onto Grand Bend’s Main Street, if you did not know better, you’d think you were somewhere on the Atlantic coast. Both sides of the street are lined with shops selling swimwear, sunglasses, flip-flops and souvenir t-shirts. After snatching one of the last open parking spaces, we make our way toward Lake Huron. We pass by stands selling ice cream and fries, racks of sundresses and cover-ups are out on the sidewalk, cafe tables are full of summer tourists. At last we reach the beach, the view is picture perfect. Folks have been coming here since the 1800’s, many Americans own cottages in the area. Recently, the city has spent a bunch of money on landscaping, making Grand Bend even more tourist-friendly; a new boardwalk lines the wide sandy beach, new street lamps and stone sidewalks have been installed. Picnic tables and benches rest in the warm sand, patches of dune grass are protected by small wood fences. The “beach house” is home to washrooms, refreshments and a viewing deck that provides a spectacular overlook of the lake. We climb the concrete stairs to the top, the sun sparkles off the waves as if someone has thrown glitter across the surface, from this height depth changes of the lake are clearly visible. Below, small children are building sand castles while the older kids play beach volleyball, in the distance a boat pulling a parasail streaks by, it is all fun in the sun.

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Time for lunch; the Growling Gator restaurant is located beachside, we score a table on the patio with a panoramic view, it doesn’t get much better than this! The menu has a wide variety of items, our waitress is friendly and attentive even though the place is swamped. There is plenty of activity to watch while we wait for our meal to arrive, I hear laughter drift over as kids play in the splash park, groups of bikini-clad girls walk out to the lake. Our meal arrives, our attention now focused on the food in front of us; a crispy green salad with the house dressing and a Canadian Club sandwich made with a chicken breast and peameal bacon are simply delicious and consumed far too quickly. We stroll through town on the way back to the car, stopping in to shops, enjoying the reprieve the air conditioning offers. Main Street is now lined with cars, our parking space is filled as soon as we pull out.

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In under a half hour we arrive in the quaint village of Bayfield. The town is one of those sleepy little villages that just ooze charm; weeping willows sway lazily in the gentle summer breeze, patios, decks and porches provide visitors with food, drink and respite. Buildings that house shops look timeless, as if they were planted here long ago and have grown to be part of the natural landscape. We wander in and out of shops selling items that are whimsical and artistic, passing by planters stuffed with bright green sweet potato vines, petunias and lobelia, the sweet scent of flowers carried on the gentle wind, there is a short line of people ordering ice cream cones, so many flavors to choose from. Near the end of the street we pop into a cute little bakery called The Pink Flamingo, a glass display case is filled with tempting homemade treats; Kris and I have an iced coffee and something chocolaty and delicious!

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Kryart Studio has taken an old barn and created a psychedelic masterpiece, art flows from the outdoors to the indoors, an artist is busy at work in the yard. Further on brightly colored baskets lean against the front of a store, we browse the pottery shop, then the outdoor sculptures next door. My favorite of the galleries is JMR Art Gallery, home of the Ontario artist. The selection of pieces range from glass and photography to paintings and original jewelry made by the owner herself. Here we discover an artist by the name of Catherine Shane, her vibrantly colored paintings immediately grab our attention, her work is imaginative and fun, depicting fairy-tale like places that I’d love to visit. This is the last shop open this evening, most close around 5 pm, even on weekends. We take a short drive over to the park for one last look at the lake before heading inland. The sun is starting to set, the last of the sunbathers have gone home for the night. A wooden staircase takes us down the steep bluff, past wildflowers in bloom to the empty beach below. It is quiet, peaceful, it’s just the water and us and a few other folks, enjoying the moment.

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The day has passed quickly, we are staying in London, Ontario for the next two nights, time to get a move on. Darkness has fallen, nothing left to see, so Kris gets on Hwy 4 and takes us into London. We have been coming to this city for over 20 years now, though things have changed, businesses have come and gone, one of our favorite places to eat still sits on Albert St downtown; Fellini Koolini’s. With the car parked on the street, we make our way inside, it is late, but they are still serving dinner. After making a quick decision we nibble on homemade breadsticks from a jar on the table, they are even better dipped in the seasoned olive oil, the table is covered in brown paper, Italian music, or songs sung by Italians, plays quietly in the background. I look around to see if anything is different since our last visit; Chianti bottles are still strung from the ceiling, a photo of Dean Martin hangs on a wall adjacent to a copy of the Mona Lisa, it’s still the same. Our meal arrives; the Mediterranean salad is wonderful, I love the combination of artichokes, pine nuts and chevre cheese, the dressing perfectly compliments the vegetables. The Quattro Formaggio pizza has a crispy thin crust, the mix of cheeses salty and flavorful, supremely yummy! We chit chat a bit with our waiter, he gives us a few ideas of places to check out over the next two days, I can hardly wait!

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PORT HURON: Cool Old Stuff….

27 Sep

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There seems to be no end to the fascinating history of Detroit and Michigan, this place has done it all! In the early days we built trains, ships and stoves, we made cigars, soda pop and ice cream sundaes; of course, we are best known for putting the world on wheels. North of Detroit, in the small town of Algonac, the legendary Chris-Craft boats were born. In the early days, beginning in 1917, Chris Smith teamed up with Gar Wood;  Smith built ’em, Wood drove ’em,  they went on to win five straight Gold Cups from 1917 to 1921 before parting to start their own companies. In 1922 the Chris Smith & Sons boat company was formed, by 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the largest builder of mahogany constructed power boats……..which leads me to today…..Every September the Michigan Antique and Classic Boat Society hosts the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show at the River Street Marina on the Black River in downtown Port Huron. We are not boaters ourselves; terms like aft, bulkhead, cuddy, keel and gunwale mean absolutely nothing. But, given the opportunity to get a look at a group of pristine antique wooden boats, we’ll be there!

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It was a crisp Saturday morning, the weather forecast was not exactly boat friendly; windy, cool and rainy. Always enjoying a trip to Port Huron anyway, we took the ride up the water to check out the boats. We parked at the marina and were excited to see a fair amount of boats tied up at the docks. On the grass, a display of vintage outboard motors was set up; Sea King Midget, Chris Craft Commander and Mercury, some for sale, some just to look at. I love the way they even made the motors decorative back then, great lettering, pretty colors, they’re cool!   The boats themselves are works of art, seriously, have you ever seen a completely restored Chris-Craft Runabout? The mahogany is refinished perfectly, chrome railings and nameplates gleam in the sunlight, the upholstery flawless. Initially we walked along the sidewalk, getting an overall glimpse at each one, on the way back we took the time to see each individually by walking out on the dock.  The detail is amazing;chrome and teak make beautiful accents, dashboards are clustered with all sorts of gauges. Each owner adds their own personal touch with distinct colors and furnishings. The crafts ranged from the 1920’s to the 60’s, I couldn’t get over how modern the models from the 20’s and 30’s looked. The combination of wood and chrome is unbeatable whether a Runabout, Capri or Cruiser, they are gorgeous!

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Luckily, the rain held off, which meant we could have lunch on the roof-top deck at the Vintage Tavern. This charming brick building has been completely renovated; brick walls are left exposed, dark wood adds rich accents to the decor, each floor has its own fireplace. We walked through the cozy main dining room to the back stairway which led us to the rooftop. Straight out you can see water in the distance, off to the side is a view of the city, clear lights are strung across the top of the dining area; it must be beautiful at night.  The menu offers a little bit of everything; looking for a light lunch we decided on the Tuscan Dipping oil with a loaf of French bread and the gourmet cheese and cracker platter. Kris commented to our waitress that he was surprised to see dill pickle soup on the menu, she raved about it and was nice enough to bring us a sample, it’s really good! It had turned into a lovely afternoon; we sat in the sun and leisurely dined on marinated mozzarella, Italian salami, fresh fruit, nuts and crusty french bread. When we had our fill we descended the staircase and on the way down noticed many of the details we had missed the first time; framed ads of local breweries from back in the day, stained glass windows and the wine barrel that hangs precariously above the front door. It’s such a nice place we’d like to come back for dinner some time.

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For as many times as we have been to Port Huron this summer, our visits have never coincided with the open hours of the Knowltons Ice Museum of North America…until today that is. I know, an ice museum? YES, an ice museum, and what a great museum it is! We had no idea what to expect, which made it even more fun to discover. We came in the door, paid our admission and sat down to a short movie that summed up how the ice industry began. It’s funny how we take things for granted; we’ve all heard of ice boxes and the ice man, but maybe never stopped to think of where the ice came from. In the 1800’s and early 1900’s men would actually cut blocks of ice from frozen lakes and ponds, the ice would then be stored in ice houses to be used in the sweltering summer months; this was known as natural ice. The man who owns the museum is the founder of the Party Time Ice Company, he has a passion for collecting anything to do with ice; what better way to show off your collection than to open it up to the public. The museum is awesome; he has everything that was used to cut and harvest the ice: saws, axes, picks and chippers. There are the items used to store ice in the home: ice boxes, buckets and coolers, from plain to ornate he has loads of examples. There is an old-fashioned kitchen exhibit, it was no easy task being a housewife in those days; everything was done manually. The owner was a milkman at one time and has an excellent array of antique milk bottles. A glass cabinet is devoted to old, miniature ice wagons and trucks; there are ice crushers and makers, even horse-drawn ice wagons. The collection is huge! One section is dedicated to Diana’s Sweet Shop; opened in 1926 it was a  fixture in the city that sadly closed several years back. This was the place locals and visitors went for a meal or just dessert. There are photos of the interior, it was gorgeous, items from the restaurant include a Vernor’s dispenser, signage, uniforms and more. Someone actually bought the interior of the shop and moved it down to Nashville TN, so Diana’s lives on! Next time we go to the Music City, we will have to check it out.  I’m so glad we finally got a chance to visit the museum, make a plan to see it yourself.

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Port Huron: Blue Water Roadtrip

5 Sep

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With another scorching summer on hand, we often take refuge with a drive along Michigan’s beautiful blue waters. One of our favorite routes is to follow the shoreline from Lake St Clair to Port Huron via M-29; the turquoise blue water and lake breeze does wonders for both mind and body.  In Port Huron the double span of the Blue Water bridge is picturesque as it crosses the St Clair river; the water turns a cobalt blue as it flows into Lake Huron, Canada awaits on the other side. We parked at the Thomas Edison Depot Museum located on Edison Parkway; in front of us the Thomas Edison River Walk stretches south from under the bridge to the USCG dock; a favorite spot for sight-seers, walkers and fishermen, it is always a bevy of activity.  Today we were in search of a little history and some air conditioning; inside the museum we go!

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Built in 1858 for Grand Trunk Railroad the tiny Fort Gratiot Depot is now home to the Thomas Edison Depot Museum. As you can clearly see, young Thomas made a great impression on the city during his boyhood years. The Edison family moved to the area from Ohio, that’s where his story begins. I think it’s cool that this is the actual structure where Thomas worked as a “news butcher”; beginning in 1859 the then 12-year old boy departed daily from this depot on the Port Huron to Detroit run. The young entrepreneur actually published the first newspaper to ever be printed on a moving train, the Grand Trunk Herald; his job was to sell newspapers and candy to train passengers, he was quite successful. There is not a lot of square footage for exhibits, but all look fresh, are done well and give visitors an opportunity to participate hands-on. The timeline continues into Edison’s adulthood and success as an inventor. A restored baggage car is just outside the museum, you are able to go inside and have a look at what Thomas’s printing shop and mobile chemistry lab would have looked like. The museum is really interesting, be sure and stop in.

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We continued our drive south on the parkway to Pine Grove Park where the Huron Lightship Museum is embanked; definitely check this out! Built in 1920 she was launched simply as Lightship 103 of the United States Lighthouse Service. Back in the day, floating lighthouses were used in places where it was too deep or too costly to build an actual lighthouse. A light shone brightly at the top of a mast, ships also sounded fog signals when visibility was difficult. This was the last lightship afloat on the great lakes; it was retired from active service in 1970, enshrined at Grove Park in 1972 and in 1989 the Huron was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to climb aboard such a neat piece of history. We first wandered around the main level and got an idea of what it was like for the crew to live aboard; the galley is long and narrow, complete with stainless steel sinks and counters, a small dining area consists of a simple table and chairs, cots dangle from chains in the sleeping area…..not exactly roomy. We climbed down the ladder into the engine room; originally powered by a compound steam engine, in 1949 it was converted to diesel power using 2, 6 cyl. GM 6-71 engines. Get an up-close look at the gauges, tanks and over-sized components that made this ship run;  hard hats and lanterns hang overhead; I can only imagine how loud it must have been down here. Back up the ladder, a turn, then up another stairway to the weather deck; here you get a complete panoramic view of the dazzling river, bridges and deep blue lake, Wow! Here you also have access to the pilot house, complete with its signature brass steering wheel and numerous gadgets. When we completed our tour it was time for lunch, we drove a little further south to the banks of the Black River to find some outdoor dining.

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This area of downtown in particular seems to be thriving with new life; every time we come there seems to be a new restaurant or cafe. Quay Street Brewing Co. offers both indoor and outdoor dining on two levels with fantastic water views; we chose outdoor. There was a table available right along the river’s edge; we were on the upper deck, mounds of Wisteria vines hang off the side and create a roof over the patio level. As we started to look at the menu our attention was diverted by the rumbling sounds that can only be made by a powerboat; sure enough we had stumbled upon the 2nd Annual International Offshore Powerboat Races at Port Huron/Sarnia. That’s the advantage of living on the great lakes, it seems no matter where you go or what lake you are near you can always find yourself smack dab in the middle of some great event. Kris inspected the boats more closely as they traveled by on the Black River, going to and from Lake Huron, I studied the menu. First order of business at a brewery; choose a beer. I am very fond of dark beers, so it was an easy choice with the Black River Stout. Food was more difficult because everything looked good. We settled on the Muffuletta sandwich; a wonderful diced olive mixture topping a stack of salami, mortadella, capicollo and provolone on a roll. The Garden Salad was large; crunchy romaine and veggies with a unique lemon-mint vinaigrette, delicious and refreshing. We sat at our table under the shade of a bright yellow umbrella; the food was tasty, the beer, excellent and the boat race an unexpected pleasure. Yes, it’s good to live in Michigan!

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A few local folks told us about a new ice cream shop in town, so we went over to have a look. I know I’ve said it before, but, Port Huron has a gorgeous downtown, the lovely Victorian style of a by-gone era still remains here. The Mackinac Island Creamery on Water St is located in one such building; beautiful red brick and fanciful trim painted in shades of green, looking as pretty as it did when it was new. Inside we discover its former life as a bank; along the back wall a safe serves as a reminder; incredibly fancy it even has a landscape painting as part of its decor. The ceiling is unusually stunning; an intricate wood design that carries down a cove. The shop serves, as you may have guessed, Mackinac Island Creamery brand of ice cream in 12 delicious flavors, they also sell Mackinac Island Trading Co. fudge and  POHO popcorn.  The flavors all sounded good, there is a different feature ice cream each month, the flavor for August was a creamy vanilla ice cream with rich cinnamon swirls throughout, like eating a decadent cinnamon roll, yum! The shop was busy with customers; a family stood by the map of the US placing a pin near their hometown in Pennsylvania. It’s good to see people discovering Port Huron and our beautiful Blue Water Area!

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Huron Lady II, Palms Krystal Bar, The Atrium Cafe

22 Jul

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Roadtrip….M-29 to Lexington MI

26 May

park 477 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 only way to get there is the scenic route of course, probably the best place to begin is New 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. park 457 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. park 451 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. park 546 park 472 park 488 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. park 513 park 533 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 Sweetwater’s is where we eat, and what we eat is pizza, either a Sweetwater 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.  park 500 park 511