September 18, 2012

Southern Michigan Shore

We had not heard much about the state of Michigan, and went into it with the thought that we’d drive through quickly, poke into Detroit and then be on our merry way. We wrongfully let our expectations for the state be driven by what we’d heard about Detroit. We went in expecting to see the state polluted with industry, along the lines of what we’d seen on the Indiana shore. What we actually found in Michigan was something very akin to what we’d found on the East Coast in previous trips. We found clean beaches and lighthouses reminiscent of the ones we’d seen in New England, and a long string of upscale lakeside communities that could easily rival Cape Cod.

Michigan state line sign on Interstate 94
Welcome to Pure Michigan!
The Michigan shoreline on Lake Michigan stretches about 250 miles from the border with Indiana to Traverse City. We drove in on the southern end from Indiana and started our drive up the coast. Our original plans had included driving by South Bend to visit the Notre Dame campus and then stopping for the evening in Grand Rapids. We got derailed from those plans when we stopped at the Michigan welcome center.

There we found out some really surprising and neat facts:
  • Michigan has more shoreline than any other state except Alaska.
  • Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world.
  • Michigan has more than 11,000 inland lakes (no one has suggested redoing the state motto to be the Land of 11,000 Lakes?)
  • Michigan has more than 36,000 miles of streams.
  • Michigan is the largest producer of cherries of all the states.
  • Michigan has 116 lighthouses and navigational lights.
  • The state is a leading state in the ownership of recreational boats and in the sale of hunting and fishing licenses.
And here is an unexpected one, at least for me:
  • Michigan is home to more public golf courses than any other state.

-         We got a large map of the picturesque lighthouses and changed our route to follow the shoreline. The visitor center’s guide suggested that we drive up the coast and visit the bigger lakeside communities of St. Joseph, South Haven and Saugatuck. We did just that. We stopped for lunch in St. Joseph, walked on the beach in South Haven (known to locals as South Heaven) and drove the shopping streets of Saugatuck. We saw massive yachts, gorgeous homes, and beautiful nature. It was Friday afternoon, everyone was in a great mood and we met plenty of friendly people while walking around the town harbors.

Beach in St. Joseph, Michigan
The beach in St. Joseph
St. Joseph Pier Lighthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan
St. Joseph Pier Lighthouse
South Pierhead Lighthouse in South Haven, Michigan
South Haven South Pierhead Lighthouse
Village Hall in Saugatuck, Michigan
The Village Hall in Saugatuck
Large yachts in the Saugatuck harbor in Michigan
Small boats in Saugatuck
We found a quaint campground, the Dutch Retreat, just outside of Holland. Holland, as you might expect, is widely known for its Dutch heritage. The city is best known for the massive tulip festival that’s put on every spring, and for the large windmill that you can find in one of the city parks. This windmill was the last windmill to be taken apart in Holland and reconstructed in the United States. Holland’s 8th street is a long tree lined street with wide stone sidewalks. There are clothing and sporting goods stores on each side, and ice cream shops, cafes and restaurants add nicely to the mix. Holland also has a gorgeous lighthouse, known as Big Red.

Dutch windmill on Windmill Island in Holland, Michigan
Windmill on Windmill Island
Walking around downtown Holland, Michigan
Walking around Holland
Walking around downtown Holland, Michigan
Walking around Holland
The beach in  Holland, Michigan
The beach in Holland
Big Red Lighthouse in Holland, Michigan
Sailboat coming from Lake Michigan in front of Big Red Lighthouse 
On Saturday morning we drove into Holland and bought a week’s worth of fresh vegetables and squash at the local farmer’s market. You could tell it was close to harvest season with the wide, colorful selection.

Farmer's market in Holland, Michigan
Lots to pick from!
Farmer's market in Holland, Michigan
Pick a pepper
Farmer's market in Holland, Michigan
Or an apple
Farmer's market in Holland, Michigan
Or a bucket of tomatoes!
We spotted a local theater advertising a movie showing that evening and made plans to go. We’re usually pretty careful with our budget, and I think this was the first movie we’d seen in theaters in the seven month’s we’ve been on the road so far. We ended up seeing one of the best movies we’d seen a long time, Moonrise Kingdom, and we saw it for a total cost of $16.50 ($6 movie tickets each, $1.50 candy and $3 bucket of popcorn). I didn’t know there were theaters left that charged such welcoming prices.

Knickerbocker theater in Holland, Michigan
The Knickerbocker Theater in Holland
What a great time we had on the Michigan shoreline! We heard that it was equally nice, if not nicer, further north along the shore all the way to Traverse City. We almost decided to drive a large loop through the whole state, but then opted to save Michigan for another time, when we could come back for several weeks and really explore the state. Right now we’re on a tight schedule, we need to make it to New England by leaf changing time! :o)

Sailboat on Lake Michigan
A sailboat on the Michigan shore
To see more pictures of the south shore communities, click here.

Happy Lake Michigan and Michigan exploring,


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