Travel Series: Michigan

Michigan…is not in Europe.

You’re welcome. However, it is the other place I went on vacation this summer, and it was really great, so it earned its own post. Some of my favorite vacations I’ve ever had were spring breaks in college with great friends. Spring break 2010 (SB10), SB11, and SB12 are trips we still talk about. My friends Erika and Jess decided it was time to go on a trip together again, so we had SB18. In July. It turns out it’s harder to go on spring break when you’re adults with jobs living in different cities, so flexibility is important.

We discussed several different destinations, and eventually settled on northern Michigan. We picked it because I would be in Columbus in early July for my niece’s birthday anyway, so we could all drive up together, and it still provided a place where we could have a beach day. We weren’t familiar with many places up there, but our friend Grace has spent a lot of time in the area and recommended we stay in Harbor Springs. We took her advice and found a super cute little chalet right by Nub’s Nob ski area on VRBO. By “we found,” I of course mean “Erika found.”

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We left on a Thursday morning, and Grayson was kind enough to help me pack up my bag and then dragged it from my room into the kitchen. My parents were having their driveway worked on, so I put my bag on the golf cart and Kaelyn drove it out to the car for me. Such helpful little people.

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From Columbus, it was about a seven hour drive. Erika was a champ and drove the whole way. When we arrived at our cute little chalet, we discovered that there was one bedroom downstairs, one bedroom upstairs, and then another bed in the loft. We promptly decided that arrangement was not going to work for us. The downstairs bedroom, right across from the bathroom, was converted into a dressing room. We dragged the mattress from the upstairs bedroom into the loft so that we weren’t so separated. After rearranging the space to our liking, we headed into the little town of Harbor Springs to explore and have dinner.

Harbor Springs is right on Little Traverse Bay, part of Lake Michigan. It is a really cute town, and we were all amazed at how beautiful the water was. We walked around looking at some of the boats and admiring the view, and then tried to find somewhere to eat. As it was Fourth of July weekend, everywhere was pretty busy. We waited inside one restaurant for a while without being greeted by any employees, and then gave up and tried the place next door. We were able to find a table at Bar Harbor right away, so we stayed there and had some great burgers. Erika and I tried the olive burger – essentially a burger topped with mayo and green olives – and it was fantastic. We walked down to the beach after dinner and enjoyed watching a mama duck and her ducklings. Jess and I accidentally matched that evening, but I would like to state for the record that I was dressed first.

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Friday morning, we woke up and headed north to Mackinac Island. It sits just off the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in Lake Huron. There are no cars allowed on the island; all travel is by horse or bicycle. We took a Shepler’s ferry over to the island, and while the ferry journey itself was quick, the whole process took much longer than expected. We discovered later that the other main ferry company had some issues that day, so that’s why the company we used was busier than normal. We waited in line to board a ferry for quite a while. Once we got over to the island, we were on a mission to have as much ice cream as possible. That was very easy because there was an ice cream shop everywhere we turned. We stopped in one just to get some coffee for me, and then wandered farther down the main street to have lunch. We had a great meal at Millie’s on Main, and then it was time for our first ice cream of the day. Mackinac Island has a state park with some walking trails and a few different attractions. We walked up to Arch Rock, and the view and the walk through the woods to get there ended up being one of our favorite parts of the whole trip. Once again, we were amazed at the beauty of the water. It honestly felt like being in the Caribbean, although with cooler temperatures.

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By a wonderful coincidence, our friend Grace was spending time with her family in Michigan at the same time we were there, and we were able to meet up with her, her sister, boyfriend, and cousins on the Island. We walked around with them for a while, got some iced coffee and tea at Lucky Bean, and did some shopping. Once they left, we walked over to a large grassy area in front of the fort and rested for a while. When we were ready to move on, we walked on the bike path down by the water. The path goes all the way around the island, but since we didn’t have bikes we just walked a little way around. Jess taught us some rock skipping techniques on the way and I successfully skipped a rock for the first time in my life. Once we got tired, we headed back to Main Street and had some really good pizza for dinner at Island Slice Pizzeria. We decided we could manage another serving of ice cream and tried Moomers, right by the pizza place. I have to tell y’all, it was some of the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and even gives Graeter’s a run for its money. They even offer ice cream flights if you want to try multiple flavors. I got raspberry truffle, which was vanilla ice cream with a raspberry swirl and raspberry filled chocolate truffles. If you’re going to visit Mackinac Island, please do not leave without trying some Moomers.

We were pretty cold on the ferry ride over to the island, and knew it would be even colder on the ride back. We looked in some souvenir shops for sweatshirts. Erika found one first, and then I decided to buy the same one, and then we persuaded Jess she needed one too. She was particularly excited about the row of bicycles along the bottom on the back of the sweatshirt. Once we bought them, we proceeded to wear them pretty much nonstop for the rest of the trip. We were very popular after that. We took the ferry back to Mackinaw City with a lovely view of the sunset over the bridge. Walking back to our car from the ferry, we made a new friend who gave us some tips of places nearby to try while we were visiting.

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On Saturday, we ventured into the nearby town of Petoskey to try some of the places our new friend recommended. Our first stop was Dripworks Coffee. It was very ‘grammable, and the coffee was great too. Erika and I ordered some iced coffees to go, and they gave her this adorable setup of single-serve cream and simple syrup.

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On our way to find a parking spot for the coffee shop, we passed by Petoskey Pretzel Co., so we knew that had to be our next stop. It turned out to be among our best decisions of the weekend. I got an original pretzel with jalapeño popper dip. 13/10 would recommend.

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After these two great finds, we were ready for the beach. We headed to Petoskey State Park. There was a fee to get into the park, but it was well worth it. Again, we were amazed at how nice the sandy beach was. We planned to get in the water, but discovered the first few feet beyond the edge appeared to be full of mulch. It looked clear once you got past the first couple feet, but we knew we would have to come through it again on our way out and would have no way to get cleaned off, so we didn’t go in. There were lots of people who didn’t seem to mind it.

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After several hours of enjoying the sunshine, we packed up and headed back to our VRBO. Once we were showered and changed, we went back up north to the UP. Just over the bridge is a town called St. Ignace. We had dinner at The Gangplank, an all-outdoor restaurant right on the water. The food was really good, and we had time to go for a walk to a little lighthouse while we were waiting for our table. After dinner, we moved over closer to the water and watched the fireworks show that they have every Saturday night during the summer. Jessica had a very patriotic playlist for us to enjoy during the fireworks.

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On Sunday, we decided to try one of the wineries in the area. I’m the only one of the group who actually enjoys wine, so we picked one that had some other attractions to offer as well. Pond Hill Farm has a winery, brewery, hiking trails, animals to feed, cafe, market, playground, and other activities for kids. We were looking to have lunch, do a wine tasting, and hike some of the trails, so none of us had very high expectations. We thought it was going to be a little corny and not of the best quality, but we were all very pleasantly surprised. The hiking trails were not especially great, but the wines we tried were very good and the food we had for lunch was excellent. We all got the spicy peanut noodles as a side dish and they were fantastic. Our server during lunch was also one of the highlights of the trip.

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After our experience at Pond Hill, we went back into Harbor Springs. Our first stop was at the dog beach, Erika’s most favorite place in the world. We had (some more) ice cream and wandered around in the cute shops. American Spoon was a jam store that offered samples of nearly all of its products. We heard from nearly everyone that we needed to try Tom’s Mom’s Cookies, so we stopped in and got some to eat after dinner that night. They lived up to the hype. We were all pretty tired at that point, so we walked back to the water and sat down by the beach to just rest. We got to see some more duck families, and one of the ducklings tried to eat Jess’s shoe.

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We decided to go back to Petoskey for our last dinner. Beard’s Brewery offered some very good pizza, a great view of the sunset, and a live music experience that left something to be desired.

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Monday morning, it was time to go home. We cleaned up our little chalet, put the beds back in their proper places, and headed back down south. Erika was once again a champion road trip driver. It was a fantastic trip with two fantastic friends, even though we’re still from O-HI-O…you know the rest of the song. Go Bucks.

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