I have to be honest, Michigan has never been on my radar. It’s a sad fact amongst the East and West Coasters that the Middle part of America is oftentimes forgotten. MY BAD! I was clearly missing out on lake life all these years. As the Michiganders say no salt, no sharks, no problem. It’s true what they say about Midwesterners, they are extremely kind. People say hello to you when you walk past them on the street and cars will stop for you to cross the street. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are coveted qualities in a city when you’re a New Yorker.
My good gal pal, Brooke, who you might recognize from my Australian road trip (read here) just moved back to her hometown, Kalamazoo, MI. She invited me over to her parents’ epic 4th of July party at their home on Lake Doster. I have never experienced the 4th of July on a lake let alone such an Americana experience. Brooke also promised to take me on a road trip to properly introduce me to her home state. I’m a huge fan of fun facts so I was pretty excited when her dad Bruce told us that Michigan has the most lighthouses of any state in the USA. I did fact check it and it’s true!
Helpful Travel Info:
- From New York City, I bought a direct flight from Newark to Grand Rapids on United. On the day of my departure, my flight was canceled due to weather so I flew from New York (LGA) > Chicago (ORD) > Kalamazoo (AZO). My original non-stop flight was $200.
- You will need to rent a car because this is obviously a road trip!
- The road trip was over the weekend Friday morning to Monday afternoon.
- Check out M22’s blog which is a great resource for maps, itineraries, and trip ideas.
- Michigan is extremely casual so need to pack anything fancy.
My first 4th of July experiencing lake life. This is Lake Doster in Plainwell, MI
I never realized that many of my friends are Michiganders. I think it’s that Midwestern charm that draws me in. Nearly all of the Michiganders who are familiar with Kalamazoo recommended Bell’s Brewery. Even though I’m not a beer drinker, I still loved the backyard where there were picnic tables and everyone was hanging out. We could also hear the live music that was playing next door. The food at Bell’s was also so good! I got the trout sandwich which I have to say, I love me a good fish sandwich.
Tasting beer at Bell’s Brewery. That’s Evan trying to get a sip.
1. Did you know that Western Michigan has wineries? I had no idea! On the way to Saugatuck, we stopped at Fenn Valley Vineyards for a tasting. I was definitely skeptical going into the tasting but I really loved the sparkling rose.
2. We climbed the 200+ steps at Mount Balhead State Park to the Saugatuck sand dunes. The trail led to the beach which was my first glimpse of the enormity that is Lake Michigan. I couldn’t believe that it looked exactly like the ocean; there were waves, sand, and you couldn’t see any land on the horizon.
Left: The view from the top of the stairs | Right: Saugatuck Beach
3. After the beach, we walked to Saugatuck town and got some lunch. I highly recommend getting coffee at Uncommon Coffee Roasters. It’s a very cute and picturesque seaside town.
On the road – 3 hour trip to Frankfort, Michigan
4. We arrived Frankfort just in time for the sunset. During the Summer, the sunsets are at 10:00 pm. We watched the sunset at Point Betsie. There were so many people having picnics and watching the sunset. We stayed at an Airbnb in Frankfort for 2 nights. We used Frankfort as a home base because it is a very quaint town, it was close to everything we wanted to do, and it didn’t feel as touristy as the other towns.
5. In the morning, we went to town and got coffees at Petals & Perks we walked to the beach and saw this cool lighthouse. We already saw two lighthouses in Frankfort!
6. Our Airbnb host told us to go to Pyramid Point because it’s less crowded than Sleeping Bear Dunes. We took this opportunity as a good way to get some exercise. Those sand dunes are hard to get up! The drive up is really beautiful.
This is the overlook on to Michigan Lake. If you look closely, you can see people trying to climb the dune.
Photo Source: Stormcloud Brewery
7. Back in Frankfort, we had a late lunch and tasted beers at Stormcloud Brewery. I’m not normally a beer drinker so I like to taste a few beers before I commit. I must say, after this trip, I’m starting to really love beer! I really loved the ambiance at Stormcloud and that it’s a local business. We loved it so much we went back a 2nd time.
Sunsets are the thing to do when you’re on the Western side of Michigan because the sun sets on the water (Lake Michigan). Pro tip: For wine to-go, head to the bar at the Hotel Frankfort. I am not kidding. Brooke and I wanted to have a nice bottle of wine to watch the sunset and to complement our cheese plate from Stormcloud brewery. I passed a sign that said wine to-go so I went inside to ask about it and I was surprised that there are really good wines. They even uncork it for you!
8. We got up really early in the morning and headed to our main attraction, Sleeping Bear Dunes. Since it was my first time, Brooke took me on the Pierce Stocking scenic drive. To access this road, you have to pay the $20 National Park fee OR get an $80 yearly membership. It was definitely worth the money because the Sleeping Bear Dunes overlook is insane. I just couldn’t believe that turquoise blue water was a lake and that I was standing on a large sand dune.
9. After the scenic drive, you have to do the dune climb. It’s a right of passage if you’re visiting the dune and it’s an incredible workout which is perfect because we had to burn all the beers we’ve been drinking.
We made it to the top!
10. Needless to say, we were starving after our morning dune climbs. We stopped at Fishtown in Leland for brunch. You have to go to The Cove. It’s right on the water and they have their special version of a bloody mary that’s called chubby mary (reference photo above and below). There is a whole smoked fish in it. Don’t judge until you’ve tried it!
Smoked whitefish was prevalent in most of the restaurants I went to and each restaurant has their own style. The one at The Cove was warm with nuts on top. It was so delicious and creamy.
11. After brunch, we walked around Fishtown. I felt like I was on a movie set. Make sure to hit up the Dam Candy shop!
12. The drive from Fishtown (Leland) to Traverse City was my favorite part of the trip. We drove through Suttons Bay which had a plethora of wineries and cider houses. I also thought it was one of the prettiest points in the drive because you drive next to the bay. We had the top down in Brooke’s convertible and if this trip could not be even more Americana, a bald eagle flew over us!!
Photo source: Black Star Farms
13. We drove on the massive driveway to the Black Star Farms tasting room and it was the most beautiful property. On our right, there were terraced vineyards and soon after we saw a beautiful red inn. There are also horses on the property because it used to be a functioning farm. Similar to the Finger Lakes (read here) region in NY, there is a “lake effect” that contributes to the growth of the wine varietals. These are the prominent grapes that grow in the Leelanau Peninsula: Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir. I’m not a huge fan of sweet wines like Riesling but there were dry ones that I did like.
14. Next, we went to Shady Lane Cellars at the suggestion of our host at Black Star Farms. I loved this place so much because firstly, they have an outdoor tasting room. Second, there is a whole backyard that has Adirondack chairs, corn hole, and a fire pit. Finally, the wines here were very good and very special. I noticed there were a lot of German influences which our host told me it’s because of the early settlers to Michigan.
Good thing we had that big brunch! We are holding on strong at our 2nd tasting.
15. Cider is a big thing in Michigan so a trip wouldn’t be complete without a cider tasting. We tasted eight ciders at Sutton Bay Ciders. The best part of this tasting was the view. It was one of the few tasting rooms that had a view of the bay. The ciders were also so diverse, so crisp and delicious. I had no idea Michigan is known for its apple orchards. I guess Michigan’s topography is very similar to New York.
Photo Source: Midwest Living
16. Our final stop – Traverse City, MI. I didn’t do any previous research on Traverse City because I trusted Brooke’s planning. We stayed at an Airbnb in the warehouse district which had a very hipster vibe to it. It’s such a cool city because there were people paddle boarding and kayaking down the canal so it seems like an active city. While we were walking around, I noticed there were awesome cafes and shops. For a couple of moments, I thought I was in Brooklyn.
Photo Source: Little Fleet
17. For dinner, Brooke really wanted to take me to the Little Fleet which is an open air space with a bunch of food trucks and a bar. It was such a cool atmosphere that reminded me a lot of Austin.
Ok, don’t think that we’re lushes because I’ve been posting mostly drink photos. Sampling the local beer and cocktails are just as much a part of experiencing Michigan as the food – haha.
18. I woke up early and walked over to Warehouse MRKT where I got a delicious coffee at BLK/MRKT Coffee. I spent three hours there replying to emails and reading. I LOVED the plant shop next door, Darling Botanical. Brooke even bought a plant for her new apartment.
19. I really wanted to have a cherry pie because Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world!! Yes, seriously! We went to the Grand Traverse Pie Company to sample a slice of pie. Again, you can’t get much more Americana than pie. I have to be honest, I don’t love cherry flavored things; I only like eating fresh cherries but this pie was so good! It wasn’t too sweet or tart and the cherries were really fresh.
Photo Source: Grand Traverse Pie Company
Heading back to Kalamazoo with some great memories!
Photos taken with my iphone