Fall In Love with the Coast…of western Michigan!
If there’s one thing I love to do during a long, hot Summer in Texas, it’s leave town!!! Don’t get me wrong, Texas is great from October through April. I love being outside in leggings and a hoodie walking my dog in January while my northern friends are forced to hibernate in their igloos. But, I’m a pale German/Irish girl from Chicago and I will never get used to the incredible Summer heat that bears down on Texans from May through September. So, I find ways to escape when I can. This year, it was back up to the Midwest and, suffice it to say, I’ve fallen in love with the west coast of Michigan! First stop of the week was Holland, Michigan-home of the Tulip Time Festival in May, the Big Red Lighthouse, pretty windmills, and lots and lots of boaters! Holland sits along Lake Macatawa, which leads right out to Lake Michigan. You can stroll along the brick sidewalks (heated in Winter) in town and check out all the cute shops and restaurants or head out to the beachfront state parks to take in the natural beauty of the lake shore.
Because of it’s proximity to Lake Michigan and it’s many fun seasonal events, Holland is a tourist draw all year long. It is also the home of Hope College. So, visitors will find a diverse crowd of students, locals, and vacationers. There is no shortage of fun pubs and breweries everyone can enjoy. Western Michigan seems to be vying for the title of ‘Brewery Capital of the Midwest’…watch out Milwaukee!
Only 15 minutes south of Holland sits adorable Saugatuck, MI. This artist’s enclave boasts beautiful views of Lake Michigan and Kalamazoo Lake, a picturesque downtown area with lots of lovely shops and galleries, and, of course, their own brewery a few miles down the road! They call themselves the ‘Art Coast’ of Michigan and their tiny town’s population swells from less than 1,000 permanent residents to more than three times that in Summer.
After you have a brew or two and some delicious comfort food at the Saugatuck Brewing Company, take the time to pop into the Saugatuck Antique Pavilion. It’s right next door and you can browse around for ages and enjoy lots of funky treasures from the past. ‘Antiquing’ is usually not my thing. But, I actually had a blast sifting through the many old record albums folks had for sale here. I found gems from The Bee Gees, ELO, The Knack, Pablo Cruise, and many more of my fave bands from ‘back in the day’. It brought back happy memories of spending hours roller skating around and around my parent’s basement and pretending I was some sort of ‘Disco Princess’! LOL
About 30 minutes northeast of Holland is Grand Rapids, Michigan’s second largest city. One ‘must hit’ spot if you visit is the bright and cheerful Downtown Market, where you will find 21 indoor market vendors, 2 full service restaurants, monthly outdoor market events, hands-on cooking classes, a state-of-the-art incubator kitchen, rooftop greenhouses, and more. You’ll find anything you might want to eat/drink and the displays are very colorful!
Grand Rapids has plenty of public gardens and museums as well. My favorite thing about the Public Museum is the ‘Streets of Old Grand Rapids’ exhibit. They have it set up so you stroll through a 3/4 scale detailed re-creation of Grand Rapids in the 1890’s. It’s fascinating to see how far we’ve come in 130 years! That’s just one of lots of interesting things to check out and museum admission is only $8!
Then, if all that strolling makes you thirsty, it’s time to check out one of the great breweries in town…and there are quite a few! We hit Founders Brewing Company. I love this little blurb from their website, which explains who they are…”After some initial challenges, due to making well balanced but unremarkable beers, we were on the verge of bankruptcy. It was at this point that the original Founders team decided to brew the kind of beer that got them excited about brewing in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, bigger body, and tons of flavor. We don’t brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.”
Wow. Okay then. I’m not even a beer drinker but that sure sounds like a challenge for the zillions of beer lovers out there to see if you can ‘hang’ with the folks at Founders. Clearly, ‘Gus’ fit right in! LOL No surprise there. Helpful Tip: If you order the pretzels, just know ahead of time that they are hard, not soft. I assumed they were soft and you know what they say about that…Oh well, the yummy cheese and mustard I got with them made everything right in my world again. Crisis averted. ;P
Ever think about brewing your own beer? If so, check this out…
That free Michigan Beer Guide magazine can be found almost everywhere you go in western Michigan and the list of breweries inside is exhaustive! There really are a ton of breweries in this part of the country now. So, I’d say beer enthusiasts should plan on making a pilgrimage. You can thank me later.
Next up is St. Joseph, Michigan. I knew nothing about this town and had no expectations when I went. Well, color me pleasantly surprised! Apparently, St. Joe is now being called the ‘Riviera of the Midwest’. The lovely and bustling downtown area sits just a block from Silver Beach. The beach itself is Yuge! It is so wide, in fact, that there is enough room for a small indoor amusement park type venue that boasts the most beautiful carousel I’ve ever seen. The carousel is so special that it actually has it’s own website, Silver Beach Carousel.
You’ll be swept back to your childhood days when you come upon this amazing creation. Enjoy the happy carnival music while you take a ride on one of the majestic horses…or maybe you’d rather choose a dragon or a giraffe! Even if you don’t ride, you’ll marvel at the detail and craftsmanship that has gone into each of these gorgeous creatures.
When you’re done enjoying the carousel, take a relaxing stroll along the boardwalk that leads out to views of the lighthouse.
Last stop on the way back to Chicago, then Texas, was Sawyer, Michigan. Sawyer is the home of the Warren Dunes, a State Park on Lake Michigan that many of us Midwesterners enjoyed as kids. A friend had recommended the Greenbush Brewery to Gus and he loved it! It’s clearly a very popular spot. It was packed and so the service was pretty slow. I was feeling a little ‘hangry’ by the time our pizza finally showed up. But, it was pretty tasty once it arrived. Meanwhile, the guy next to me had ordered this gigantic mac & cheese thing that looked amazing!! I’m all over that next time.
I am not a beer drinker so I decided to wander over to the Sawyer Home & Garden Center that hides way back in the parking lot behind the brewery. This place was fantastic! The front of the garden center was a wall of pumpkins, which made for a great photo op right off the bat! I wandered in and checked out all the Michigan apples, cherries, peaches, and other great looking produce. I figured that was the main draw. But, soon, I found myself further inside wandering the aisles of a gourmet grocery store. There were shelves and shelves of locally made jams and jellies and all kinds of other yummy delights here.
When I took a left into another area of this large complex, I ended up inside the liquor department, which was filled with local craft beers and a large wine selection. Outside the liquor store area, but still under the same roof, I found a large and inviting gift shop. I spied a big candle section and I Heart Candles!! Sadly, I didn’t have enough time to do any damage there…but I’ll be back. Oh, I will be back…
If you keep on wandering through the complex, you wind up outside again in a YUGE garden center that goes on just about as far as the eye can see. The mums were out that day and the feeling of Fall was everywhere!
What a wonderful trip this was! I can’t wait to get back up to Michigan soon and do more exploring. The weather is cool, the people are warm, and the photo ops go on and on!