Midwest Beach Vacation
June 20, 2007 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Circumnavigating Lake Michigan by road. What to see? Where to stay?

The boyfriend and I are planning to drive from Champaign up to Chicago and then on around the lake the week of July 4th. We'll head up the west side and go all the way around. What shouldn't we miss? We have tentative plans to stay one night in Milwaukee with one of his relatives and to go to the Safe House, and then to stay with friends for a night or two in Whitehall, MI, towards the end of the trip.

Toss out any suggestions you have. Our interests are broad, but include both natural beauty and man-made weirdness. Last summer we hiked in the Rockies and came back by way of Carhenge and the Corn Palace.
posted by MsMolly to Travel & Transportation around Michigan (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You'll be going through Milwaukee right in the middle of mega-music-festival Summerfest -- it's right on the lake, so you'll almost have to give it a look. The Milwaukee art museum is worth a stop, too.
posted by escabeche at 11:13 PM on June 20, 2007

Benzie County Michigan, including Crystal Lake, the Platte River, Sleeping Bear Dunes the lighthouse at Point Betsie.

Traverse City is excellent.

Benton Harbor,

posted by Ironmouth at 11:24 PM on June 20, 2007

The week after the 4th is the Cherry Festival in Traverse City. That is good if you like those sorts of things or a pain in the ass if you want to avoid crowds and find lodging.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 12:08 AM on June 21, 2007

Door County must-dos covered the Wisconsin peninsula, should you wish to head that way and ferry over to Marinette/Menominee.

Driving to Door County from Chicago will cover things whether or not you go via Green Bay.
posted by dhartung at 1:38 AM on June 21, 2007

Can't endorse Sleeping Bear enough! Try to be in the dunes after dark, if you can (don't know if it's legal now. Sunset on the lake is worthy. Walking back in the dark is a special thrill).
posted by Goofyy at 2:20 AM on June 21, 2007

On the first Saturday in August, the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival features what has always been a fantastic festival-closing fireworks display. It starts off with the corny gotta-see-it-once Musical Fountain, then transitions to a solid half hour fireworks spectacular. As an added bonus, the hill across the channel from which they launch the fireworks always seems to catch fire, which is its own brand of entertainment.

Grand Haven also has a large sandy beach (for my money, the best beach you'll see on the trip), a tourist-trappy downtown, and provides a good launching pad to Grand Rapids (East), Holland/Saugatuck (South), and Ludington (North) for additional sightseeing.

Make sure you ask a local for directions to Clover Bar for the best local pizza in town (although some would direct you to a grease pit called "Fricano's," who are simply just pretenders to the crown).

Lastly - if you're a fan of microbrews, most decent bars in southwest Michigan (and nearly all grocery stores) will carry beer from Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo. I heartily recommend picking up a pint at every stop in Michigan.
posted by peacecorn at 3:21 AM on June 21, 2007


Also, go to Mackinac Island for the day, rent bikes and cycle around the island. (If money is no impediment, consider staying the night at the Grand Hotel.)
posted by blue mustard at 4:35 AM on June 21, 2007

Leland! Sleeping Bear Dunes! Traverse City! Delicious cherries . . .

If you have any propensity towards classical music, I might suggest going a little out of your way (from Traverse City-area) and going to Interlochen for a concert. Best for Sunday nights.
posted by that girl at 5:05 AM on June 21, 2007

The Kohler Design Center, where they make sinks and tubs and such. Oddly fascinating.

Further South, there's historic Racine [flickr], where they've just rejuvenated the waterfront area

Port Washington and Cedarburg are also quaint little towns with lots of unique shops.
posted by desjardins at 5:54 AM on June 21, 2007

Oh - Kohler and Racine both have smallish but awesome art museums, if that's your thing.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 AM on June 21, 2007

If you're looking for a quiet beach to hang out for an afternoon and get away from other tourists, check out Doctor's Park, north of Milwaukee. Another good place is Grant Park.
posted by desjardins at 6:03 AM on June 21, 2007

If you like kitsch or Polish food, you should stop at Legs Inn.
posted by pullayup at 6:07 AM on June 21, 2007

Definitely stop by Milwaukee's Lake Front especially the art museum, with one caveat, it will probably be covered in trash on July 4th, as the city has a huge (1/2 million attendees) fireworks show on July 3rd.

Summerfest is cool if you don't mind crowds. Make sure to walk around the Safe House when you go, and ideally bring someone who knows where it is.

At Water Park in Shorewood, WI is pretty cool.

I'm a big fan of Point Beach State Park.

If you're into history there's a maritime museum in Manitowoc, WI, and there should be one on the Lower Peninsula in the city just after you pass over the Mackinac Bridge.
posted by drezdn at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2007

Response by poster: These are great, y'all! Keep them coming. Anybody have an opinion on where the best 4th of July fireworks will be?
posted by MsMolly at 7:01 AM on June 21, 2007

Pentwater, MI is literally the best place on earth.

(In my humble opinion)
posted by LakesideOrion at 7:03 AM on June 21, 2007

South Haven, MI (Van Buren State Park) is really close to the Palisades nuclear power plant. The swimming near here is nice, since the plant pumps in lake water, and then returns it to the lake nice and steamy. Pre-911, they used to let you swim right in front of the plant, where it was like a jacuzzi, and where fish used to come to feed/enjoy the warmth. Even if they no longer let you approach the plant itself, if the wind is going in the right direction the water at the state park beach will be around 5 degrees warmer than typical Lake Michigan water.

Also, even though they've closed down many of the dunes for hiking in order to protect them, but the east coast of Lake Michigan is one of the only places you can find wooded sand dunes. If you're interested, check out the Gillette Sand Dune visitor center, near Muskegon MI in Hoffmaster State Park.
posted by twoporedomain at 7:58 AM on June 21, 2007

I'm going to give you one Milwaukee tip that I've never seen in any Milwaukee thread before... Go bowling.

The Holler House is old school bowling, and only has two lanes. Slightly more modern (if you consider ripped from the 70s modern), try Landmark Lanes, which is in quite possibly my favorite bar.
posted by drezdn at 9:00 AM on June 21, 2007

Spend some time in Milwaukee. I totally concur with the bowling suggestion. Check out the band schedule for Summerfest here. You can get a great sample of local cuisine there, too. This city knows how to party.

If you like beer, the classic Milwaukee thing to do is brewery tours. My favorite is Lakefront Brewery, and there's also Sprecher and, for those whose taste run to the macrobrew, Miller.

You mentioned man-made weirdness. A local legend, right on the lake, is the "Witch's House" on Beach Drive in Fox Point, just north of Milwaukee. (link 1, link 2, flickr page) If you're lucky, you'll be there when the fog is rolling in from the lake and all the creepy statues are silently staring directly at you.

For natural beauty, Door County is nice but overcrowded with affluent Chicago suburban types. Spend some time on Washington Island or, better yet, Rock Island and see Door County from the car windows on the way to/from there.

Finally, my favorite place of all on the lake is the Upper Peninsula shore in Michigan. The beaches are gorgeous; the towns are fun (Escanaba, Manistique, St. Ignace) and most importantly, there's a Mystery Spot.
posted by gazole at 9:31 AM on June 21, 2007

Mount Baldy in Michigan City, Indiana, in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. On a clear day, you'll be able to see the Chicago skyline from the beack.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:05 PM on June 21, 2007

Beach, dammit.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:05 PM on June 21, 2007

I second Mackinac Island.. if you can go there also. It's so nice there.
posted by CliffDiving44 at 11:15 PM on June 21, 2007

Summerfest is cool if you don't mind crowds. Make sure to walk around the Safe House when you go, and ideally bring someone who knows where it is. (this comment)

This may confuse people. The SafeHouse is a bar, and it's not located near Summerfest, nor connected to it in any way. I suppose you could walk between the two if you're ambitious. The SafeHouse is definitely worth the visit.

I'd tell you where it is, but then I'd have to... oh, I'm too much of a wuss. Just e-mail me.

Re: the "Witch's House" on Beach Drive in Fox Point - yes, it's worth a visit, but please keep in mind that there have been many complaints by neighbors, who did not anticipate living next to a museum of sorts, with the ensuing traffic and occasional loudmouths. Please be cool.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 AM on June 22, 2007

Desjardins, sorry about that, I should have put the Safehouse comment in a separate paragraph. The big point being, it might be hard for some people to find, and once you get inside make sure to around it.
posted by drezdn at 7:37 AM on June 22, 2007

« Older why is wal-mart getting into banking bad?   |   Gah Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.