Quirky and/or nature-y spots in Chicago and Holland, MI
June 21, 2017 8:02 PM   Subscribe

A European vacation fell through this year, so we're heading north - help me plan an awesome trip to Chicago and West Michigan!

~2.5 days in Chicago, 3 days in Holland

Here are some basic details, but really I want allll the suggestions!

Our preferences
- Off the beaten path, no tourist-trappy destinations
- Nature = YES; enormous crowds = NO
- Museums are cool, but neither of us are super into art museums
- Not super huge foodies, one of us is a beer appreciator

- Staying near Grant Park at a place we've stayed before and love
- Already done Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, Art Institute, Swedish Museum, and Mexican Art Museum (I LOVED the latter two - off the beaten path and not crowded - recommend more like this!)
- Visited aquarium, although I could probably go back if you convince me it's worth it
- Had a drink at the top of... one of the tall buildings
- My knowledge of Chicago attractions pretty much ends with the above
- Cubs are playing afternoon games both days we'll be there... could be fun?
- Public transit/Uber accessible - we won't have a car until we leave here

- Definitely want to spend at least one full day laying on a beach, preferably in a hammock (is this possible re: trees?) - recommend a quiet, beautiful beach
- Outdoorsy things - hiking, kayaking - would be nice here
- ???? I know nothing about this place except that there is a lake and Dutch things and beer

Other questions
- Anything worth stopping for between Chicago and Holland?
- Anywhere within 1.5 hour drive of Holland that's better than Holland itself?
- Seriously, is there somewhere I can hang a hammock within sight of the lake?
- We will arrive back in Chicago from Holland during the day for an 11 pm flight, but have bags with us and a rental car to either park somewhere or return and schlep bags around. What would be a good activity for this time?

Thank you, travel-agent-types of Mefi!
posted by raspberrE to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Kayaking the Chicago River ticks the "nature" and (I'm assuming) "off-the-beaten-path" boxes. Kayaks are available for rent downtown along the riverwalk.
posted by she's not there at 8:12 PM on June 21, 2017

Best answer: In Chicago you might try the MCA or check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation -- I friggin love the river tours, but there's also plenty of walking tours and Frank Lloyd Wright tours and so on. You could also try the Peggy Notabaert Nature Museum, which is up in (near?) Lincoln Park. Or Lincoln Park Zoo, for that matter! (It's free!)

Between Chicago and Holland, try the Indiana Dunes, which are awesomesauce.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:23 PM on June 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

If I was looking for a place to hang my hammock I'd head to Claybanks park. http://claybankstownship.org/camping.php
posted by Floydd at 8:35 PM on June 21, 2017

Holland is by Grand Rapids which has great breweries (head on a little further to Kalamazoo for Bells!)

In college we used to go to South Haven for our "skip day." Because of the dunes you can't hang a hammock right at the beach, but you could certainly hang one and look out over the water!
posted by raccoon409 at 8:51 PM on June 21, 2017

Best answer: The further north you go in Michigan, the better. Holland is nice. Ludington State Park is better. If you go up to Sleeping Bear Dunes, best of all.

Kayak on the Pere Marquette River.

Grand Rapids, a bit inland, is a nice medium-sized, emerging-from-its-cocoon Midwestern city. Frederik Meijer Gardens are nice, and have lovely sculptures and trails along with the indoor greenhouses. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is downtown, which is maybe of interest to you.

In Chicago, if you like conservatories, the Lincoln Park and Garfield Park conservatories are easily accessible by mass transit and I think they're free (they are free for residents, anyway).

The Baha'i Temple in Evanston (a near suburb, but easily accessible on the El) should certainly be on your itinerary.
posted by tivalasvegas at 8:55 PM on June 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh and you must, must do a river architecture tour in Chicago. It is touristy, in the sense that tourists do it. But it really is the best way to grasp the city's skyline (and the history of modern skyscrapers) and I've never been bored in the numerous times I've taken friends/family on it.
posted by tivalasvegas at 9:00 PM on June 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I would think your best bets for finding a wooded spot on the dunes where a hammock might be able to be hung in sight of the water are Tunnel Park, Kirk Park, Rosy Mound Natural Area and PJ Hoffmaster State Park. They're all featured on this page.

I can recommend the downtown areas of Saugatuck, Holland and Grand Haven for quaint tourist-trappy summer shopping. If you're athletic enough there's a bike path connecting Holland and GH (and maybe Saugatuck?) that's well paved and a fairly flat and comfortable ride, mostly through wooded areas.

For beer, the advice on Grand Rapids is spot-on, though between New Holland in Holland and Armory and Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven you can get good quality beer in nice environments either place. There's at least one more brewery with a tap room on Holland's main street (near New Holland's big restaurant and tap room) but the beer was forgettable and I'm blanking on the name. There's also a brewery doing really nice work between Chicago and Holland off the Sawyer, MI exit called "Greenbush Brewing." Worth a stop if you like craft beer.
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:27 AM on June 22, 2017

There are some tours that do the architecture and the murals in the areas near the Mexican art museum. here is one
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:37 AM on June 22, 2017

The International Museum of Surgical Science is certainly quirky. Lots of fun, and a pretty quick visit.

I've camped at the Hoffmaster State Park that GamblingBlues mentioned, and it is lovely and right on the water.
posted by papayaninja at 6:54 AM on June 22, 2017

We'll be vacationing in the Chicago area in few weeks ourselves. My father grew up there and were going to go to places he feels nostalgic for.

He wants to visit Cranberry Slough Nature Preserve, he used to hike there with my mother before I was born more than 50 years ago.

I haven't been there and it has probably changed radically over the years, but it is naturey. I'm looking forward to it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:10 AM on June 22, 2017

Best answer: If you really want a brewery experience in Holland, go to New Holland Brewing. They are just as good as anything in Grand Rapids and saves you a trip. But if you want to visit GR, seconding the Gardens as somewhere you will probably enjoy.
posted by Apoch at 7:31 AM on June 22, 2017

Best answer: The Northerly Island nature preserve, just off of Grant Park, is a lovely place for a stroll or a short bike ride. It's the easiest way to feel like you've gotten out on Lake Michigan without getting on a boat. Plus, it's got an interesting history .

If a longer bike ride interests you, south from Grant Park along Lakefront Trail from Grant Park offers more restored natural habitat and fantastic views of downtown, and is a lot less crowded than the north-side lake shore. It's one of my favorite rides.

You can get a 24-hr pass to Divvy, the bike share program, for $10. That gives you unlimited 30-minute rides. If you want a longer ride, just find a dock and switch bikes before your 30 minutes are up. Docks are going to be near almost anywhere you'd want to go.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2017

Holland suggestions:
Holland state park and Tunnel Park are nice beaches, but don't have trees near the water. Rosy Mound can be busy and discourages off-trail activity to preserve the dunes. I would recommend Saugatuck Dunes State Park. Most of the hammock spots in West MI are going to be on top of a dune, so you won't be at the water's edge, but this just gives better views. Saugatuck has 8-10 miles of marked trails (and many more unmarked), and doesn't get near as crowded other beaches do. Hoffmaster is also a good suggestion, but a bit of a drive.

Ludington state park and the "Lake Michigan Recreation Area" in Ludington are excellent, but may be outside your travel radius.

For kayaking, I would look into pigeon creek. Put in at Hemlock crossing and enjoy a couple hour float to a small lake that opens to Lake MI. I think there are a few rental places around , but I have never used them.

Biking from Holland State Park to Grand haven is a fun and scenic trip.

The Holland area doesn't have much mountain biking, but the Greater Grand rapids area has some awesome trails.

Most/all of the "Dutch things" are pretty touristy, I wouldn't recommend Dutch village or windmill island.

West Michigan is exploding with microbreweries and distilleries. I think Holland/Zeeland has ~10. New Holland is solid and well-known, but there are lots of other options, even more if you go in to Grand Rapids. GamblingBlues is probably thinking of Our Brewing, which isn't my favorite either, but it does get a lot of traffic. "Hops at 84" and "Big E's" aren't breweries, but both have 80+ beers on tap and good food.

I've lived in Holland for 10 years and grew up in west michigan, feel free to PM me if you want more advice!
posted by stobor at 12:17 PM on June 22, 2017

Best answer: I find Hyde Park to be a vastly underrated tourist spot in Chicago for both quirkitude and nature. I see you've already been to the MSI and the Field, but the Oriental Institute and the DuSable Museum are also worth a visit. The DuSable is conveniently located in/near Washington Park, which makes for a long, lovely stroll. Also worth a stroll: Promontory Point. For extra quirky nature, see if you can find any monk parakeets - their numbers have been declining lately, but some are still around.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 1:19 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

New Holland Brewing has the Pub on 8th in Holland proper, but it also has a big, gorgeous, new brewpub called the Knickerbocker in Grand Rapids. Both are worth a visit. You can also tour both brewing facilities.

Fenville, which is about 20-30 minutes outside of Holland also has the Virtue Cider taproom, the Fenn Valley Vineyards, which you can tour and also enjoy tastings in their taproom, and a lovely farm to table restaurant called Salt of the Earth.
posted by merriment at 2:39 PM on June 22, 2017

Seconding the dunes in Saugatuck. Go exploring.
posted by intermod at 10:33 PM on June 22, 2017

For less-traveled nature experiences, look into preserves owned by the local land conservancies - Land Conservancy of West Michigan and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy. I think both the Wau-ke-na Preserve and the Pilgrim Haven Natural Area (both within about 40 minutes of Holland) have spots where you could hammock near the lake (though I haven't done it myself, there are definitely forested areas near the water). Nthing visiting the dunes too - freshwater dunes are a unique ecosystem, and you could stop at either Warren Dunes State Park or Grand Mere State Park to stretch your legs on your way between Chicago and Holland.
posted by Empidonax at 11:36 AM on June 23, 2017

About 45 minutes north of Chicago is the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is lovely, and about the same distance west (traffic depending) is the Morton Arboretum, which currently has an exhibition of giant origami animals. Both are really only accessible by car, but would make for an fun, low-key few hours while you're waiting to head to the airport.

There's also the Garfield Park Conservatory within city limits, right off a Green Line CTA stop.
posted by me3dia at 2:35 PM on June 23, 2017

Response by poster: Best answers for things we did. The highlights... biking through Northerly Island Nature Preserve, and all the way south to Promontory Point; DuSable Museum; Nature Museum; Lincoln Park Conservatory; CAF architecture cruise (SO AWEOME). Then Indiana Dunes and Greenbush on the way to Holland, and Tunnel Park and New Holland once there.

Other things for future readers - the free observatory behind Adler Planetarium (we looked at the sun through a telescope!), riding through U of Chicago campus, berry picking in Michigan, and Laketown Beach south of Holland.
posted by raspberrE at 6:07 PM on July 11, 2017

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