Michigan's West Coast & Upper Peninsula
Daniel and I are in the midst of a 5-week trip across America (and into a little bit of Canada.) We're doing this in a few different ways; including using our Southwest Companion Pass to hop around the country, renting a car for the traditional road trip experience, and then renting a sleeper van for the last 12 days. By the end of our trip, we will have visited eleven states and one Canadian province, bringing us both up to a grand total of 42 states and 3 provinces visited by the time we hit 25-years-old!
This blogpost is about the first stop of our travels: Michigan. We spent 4 days in Michigan and we were so pleasantly surprised by its beautiful secrets. Read on and you'll suddenly find yourself wanting to book a ticket to Michigan!
1. Grand Rapids
We've been to Grand Rapids before (it's actually where my sister lives) and we've loved it's small town, artsy vibe. When in Grand Rapids, here are our must-sees:
The Grand Rapids Art Museum. When we visited, the GRAM actually had a collection of Warhals that we'd never seen before! It's only a $10 entry fee, but it's also free on Tuesday 9am-5pm, and Thursday nights 5pm-9pm.
Founder's Brewery. A Michigan pride and joy! The food and the atmosphere are excellent and, though beer isn't always my thing, I tried a grapefruit beer that I enjoyed.
Harmony Brewing. My favorite place to eat in Grand Rapids! I'm sure it has great beer, but we go for the pizza. (Though Daniel says there's better pizza in Brooklyn, but I'm hesitant to agree.) We're so thankful to my sister and her fiancé for taking us to this local gem! We most recommend to you the 'Handsome Brian' ("arugula tossed in lemon oil and topped with thinly sliced prosciutto and local goat cheese, finished with cracked black pepper and parmesan") and the 'Aloha Goat' (sausage, goat cheese, fresh basil, and charred pineapple.")
The Blue Bridge. It's a famous Grand Rapids snapshot, so it's worth a visit for the photo-op alone. But in addition to that, it's a pleasant walk with a great view of the tiny skyline, and is often surrounded by art installations!
2. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
From Grand Rapids, we rented a car and headed north to the Upper Penninsula. We were actually being led by my sister and her fiancé (her fiancé is a Michigan native) so they knew all the secrets. We've seen a lot of sand dunes in our travels, so we were taken aback by the beauty of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. First, make sure to watch the (sort of comical) video in the visitor's center and learn of the Native American tale from which the name 'Sleeping Bear' originated. Then, begin to drive the park's loop. The forest was so green, the dunes were empty and secluded, and the afternoon was filled with exploration and wandering. The last stop on the loop was the largest dune with the disclaimer "Don't risk injury and rescue fees by going down - or the 2 hours it may take to climb back up!" posted at the top of it. (There were, of course, people going down it.) But we heeded the warning and took in the view of the never-ending, crystal-blue Lake Michigan instead.
Further north, we stopped at Petoskey. In this small town, you can walk down to the beach of Lake Michigan and search for 'Petoskey stones.' These stones are defined by Wikipedia as "a rock and a fossil, often pebble-shaped, that is composed of a fossilized rugose coral, Hexagonaria percarinata. The stones were formed as a result of glaciation, in which sheets of ice plucked stones from the bedrock, grinding off their rough edges and depositing them in the northwestern portion of Michigan's lower peninsula." (Feel free to read more science here.) The beach was surprisingly full of these fossils and we spent a good part of the afternoon searching for the coolest rocks, sitting on the beach and skipping stones.
4. Mackniac Island
The final destination of our northern journey was Mackinac Island: a tiny island off the coast of the Northern Penninsula that you have to take a ferry to. The ferrys leave every hour and are 30-minute rides, so we got up early and arrived at Mackinac with the day to explore.
The island has two unique claims to fame: first, its fudge and candy shops. There are 7 different fudge shops (though some of those brands own multiple locations in the tiny island) and all of them are stocked full of fudge, candy, truffles, and even ice cream. In the windows, fudgemakers are shaping new batches of cooling fudge for all of the tourists to see, while inside the cashiers are handing out free samples to any who ask. If you go into each shop for a free sample, you will be completely full of fudge by the end of the day! Of course, we like to do our best to benefit local businesses, so we ended up purchasing a peanut butter cup (STUFFED full of peanut butter!), a dark chocolate caramel truffle and key lime truffle, and some 'homemade' gummy bears from two different shops.
The island's second claim to fame is the fact that there are no cars allowed; all transportation is either done by (well cared for) horses, or bikes. We even saw a pair of horses pulling a cart full of Amazon packages to be delivered! Before you get onto a carriage tour, the handlers of the horses will explain to you just how well cared for their animals are: the island has 4 veterinarians and only 1 doctor! We took a carriage tour around the island and were able to see local neighborhoods, the post office that is famous for never having delivered a single piece of mail (the locals have to pick it up!), St. Anne's graveyard, Arch Stone, and other unique sites. The island is picturesque, unique, delicious and suprisingly stocked full of things to do and sites to see, despite its size. We very much recommend a visit!
All in all, Michigan surprised us with a very pleasant long weekend. After spending 4 days road tripping the state into the Upper Peninsula with my family, Daniel and I hopped on a plane at Grand Rapids' airport and headed to the West Coast! Click these links to hear about our time spent exploring British Colombia, Washington, and Oregon.