A Drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes

A Drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes

Spring is beginning to emerge following a hard winter during our mid-May visit to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, situated on the northwestern shore of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Young green grasses are poking out from the drab browns of winter, trees are beginning to leaf out, and the warm sun cuts through the chilly air.

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Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

Top 2014 Midwest Wanderer Travel Experiences

As another year comes to a close, we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished over the past twelve months and plan new goals for the coming year. For me, 2014 brought lots of opportunities to explore the Midwest, discovering more attractions, events and restaurants to share with you. It’s always amazing how much there is to do right here in the Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Black Hills, from small towns to big cities. Today I’m sharing with you some of my personal “firsts” and also my top ten blog posts of the year, the ones most popular with you, my readers.

2014 New Experiences:

In March I discovered that anyone can paint—even no-artistic-talent me. At the Art Party Studio in Champaign, Illinois, bring your own wine, if you’d like, follow the step-by-step painting instructions, and every painting turns out well. If, on the slim chance it doesn’t, you can always blame it on the wine.

Art_Party_StudioI tried my hand at glassblowing for the first time at The Glass Park in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Okay, so my turn lasted only a minute or so, since I was on a group tour and we just had a sampling. It would be fun to go back and create a “work of art” of my own.

The_Glass_ParkI joined the Kenosha Area Convention & Visitors Bureau dragon boat team in the Kenosha Area Dragon Boat Festival in July. As hard as our team tried, we came in last place, but we had a great time.

Dragon_Boat_RacesTwo new states were added to my list this year, Nebraska and South Dakota. I spent a couple of days exploring Omaha, including gardens, museums and shop. If you like zoos, you have to see Henry Doorly Zoo, my favorite zoo of all I’ve ever been to.

Henry Doorly ZooBesides the national monuments, national parks and so many other things western South Dakota has to offer, I took my first helicopter ride with the Black Hills Aerial Adventures, where I saw the Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse monuments at eye level and the Needles Highway from a bird’s eye view.

Mount Rushmore from HelicopterAs great as everything else was in South Dakota, the highlight was the Buffalo Roundup in Custer State Park, where I bumped along in the back of a pickup truck right in the midst of the cowboys and cowgirls on horseback rounding up around 1,100 head of bison for their annual vaccines and pregnancy tests.

Buffalo RoundupThe year concluded with my second helicopter tour, this time in the evening with Chicago Helicopter Experience, along the Chicago lakeshore, with a great view of the Lincoln Park Zoo and Michigan Avenue Christmas lights.

Chicago Helicopter Experience
Top 10 Posts of 2014

  1. Haunted DeSoto House Hotel, Galena IL was published in 2013 but continued to be the most popular throughout 2014.
  2. Ghost stories are apparently popular. Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost created quite a controversy among Traverse City locals, some believing the legend and others not.
  3. I don’t know whether it’s because of the location on Route 66 or if people are interested in car museums, but the Number 3 most popular post was Pontiac Oakland Museum, Pontiac, Illinois: Auto Nostalgia along Route 66.
  4. Frank Lloyd Wright architecture is always popular, so I’m not surprised that Historic Park Inn: Last Remaining Frank Lloyd Wright Hotel made the list.
  5. Billed as the biggest biker destination in Illinois and along the Great River Road, Poopy’s Pub n’ Grub, Savanna IL; Popular Even with Non-bikers, came in at Number 5.
  6. Downtown shops in towns in southwest Michigan resort towns are always fun to explore, and Traverse City foodie fans especially liked Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight.
  7. Green County, Wisconsin, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Cheese Days in 2014. In June I attended a press preview of the big September event and wrote about it in Cheese Days 100th Anniversary Preview, Monroe, Wisc. The event is held every two years, so plan ahead to attend in 2016.
  8. Published just in time for Halloween, another Traverse City supposedly haunted location came in at Number 8, Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City.
  9. Eating at a tiny ten-seat diner is fun, especially when the delicious food is served by a magician, like it is at the Suzie Q Café, Mason City Iowa: A Meal with a Dash of Magic.
  10. Old lighthouses are fun to explore. The stories behind them are always fascinating. Another Traverse City attraction, Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan made the list at Number 10.

I’m looking forward to sharing more fun and interesting attractions, events and restaurants in Midwest destinations throughout 2015. If you have suggestions on Midwest places to see and things to do, don’t hesitate to share them at info@midwestwanderer.com, and I’ll help spread the word.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


 

Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City

Tour a Former Asylum at the Village at Grand Traverse Commons, Traverse City

Driving onto the Village of Grand Traverse Commons grounds on a sunny day should have been a tranquil experience. Massive old shade trees dappled shade across the expansive green lawns. Beyond the front lawn stood towering three-story 1880s Victorian-Italianate buildings. However, instead of tranquility, I felt a bit of eeriness. Had I not been aware that the 500 acre property was once a mental health asylum, maybe the eerie feeling wouldn’t have existed.  Read more

Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost

Bowers Harbor Inn, Traverse City: Two Restaurants and a Ghost

Bowers Harbor Inn, built in the 1880s on Traverse City, Michigan’s, Old Mission Peninsula, was the summer home of Chicago lumber baron J.W. Stickney and his wife Genevive. Today the building houses the Jolly Pumpkin, a casual restaurant and brewery, and Mission Table, an upscale restaurant. However, even though the property has passed through several hands since the Stickney’s owned it, some say Genevive hasn’t left. Read more

A Weekend of Leisure Indulgence at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

A Weekend of Leisure Indulgence at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa

Aerie_SunsetAs I sat by the window of the restaurant sipping my key lime pie martini, I watched from a bird’s-eye view as the sunset turned the sky a brilliant orange, as though it set the clouds ablaze. I thought, “Wow, this is the life.” My husband and I were staying at Michigan’s Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and dining at Aerie, the 16th floor fine dining restaurant, just one of the resort’s many impressive elements. With several accommodation types, dining options, golf courses, pools, tennis courts, shops and a spa, there is enough to do at the Acme, Michigan, resort to treat yourself to a weekend—or a week—of leisure indulgence.

Accommodations
Our spacious, nicely decorated tower room overlooked one of the resort’s three golf courses and included a wet bar, a fridge and a Jacuzzi tub. A hotel, condos and resort homes are other accommodation options to consider.

GTR Room 2View from roomRestaurants
My favorite restaurant on the resort was Aerie, where we dined on elegant food, all beautifully plated. We started with sweet potato beignets, and continued with salads, filet mignon with asparagus and Broccolini, and shared chocolate bananas foster for dessert.

Sweet potato beignetfilet mignonChocolate bananas foster

We had breakfast at the Sweetwater American Bistro, where besides typical egg dishes, pancakes and waffles, they serve specialty dishes, including three types of Benedicts and bananas foster french toast. Depending on the house count, they sometimes also offer a buffet.

eggs_benedict

Other dining options are pub food at Jack’s Sports Bar; soups, salads, sandwiches and an assortment of entrees at The Grille in the clubhouse; deli sandwiches, salads and baked goods at The Marketplace; and of course, in-room dining.

Shops
You’ll find several boutiques and gift shops in The Tower Gallery of Shops. At American Spoon, taste jams, fruit butters and salsas before buying.

American Spoon
American Spoon 2

Dylan’s Candy Bar and Candy Café, created by Dylan Lauren, fashion designer Ralph Lauren’s daughter, are two separate shops, but both sweet and colorful. Between the two, you can indulge in your favorite nostalgic candies like candy buttons and Pop Rocks, or enjoy local treats like Mackinaw Island fudge and Moomer’s ice cream. Dylan’s also sells candy themed home décor items, clothing and accessories.

Dylans Candy Bar 2
Dylans Candy Bar

Activities
Grand Traverse Resort and Spa boasts three golf courses, each at a different challenge level, including The Bear, designed by Jack Nicklaus. The resort has been the recipient of numerous awards and distinctions over the years, the Silver Medal by Golf Magazine and the Best Midwest Golf Resort for a Family Trip by Travel + Leisure Golf among them.

Resort aerial view

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I didn’t get a chance to visit the spa on my trip, but it sounds luxurious and pampering, offering services from nail care and hair styling (they refer to it as hair artistry) to massages that range from the classic Swedish relaxation massage to the more exotic bamboo massage.

spa

With pools, hot tubs and tennis courts both indoors and outdoors, you can swim or play rain or shine, warm weather or cold. At the Private Beach Club, rent watercraft to use in East Grand Traverse Bay, part of Lake Michigan. In the winter, take a dog sled ride, ice skate, snowshoe or cross-country ski.

Pool

Pool splash pad

Tennis courts

During your stay, you’ll probably want to explore wineries, restaurants, shops and casinos in and around nearby Traverse City. However, if you choose, you really can spend your entire vacation, whether a weekend or a week, at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa and not run out of things to do.

The Grand Traverse Resort and Spa is located at 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd., Acme, Michigan. Visit the web site to make reservations or for further information.

Disclosure:  My stay at the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa was hosted by Traverse City Tourism and the resort, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own. The photos with the resort logo were provided by the Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie


 

Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan

Tour Mission Point Lighthouse, Traverse City, Michigan

LighthouseIn the 1860s a ship sank after hitting a shallow reef near the tip of Mission Bay Peninsula. The event prompted Congress to finance construction of a lighthouse, which was lit in September 1870. The Mission Point Lighthouse served as a beacon for passing ships until 1933, when an automated buoy light was installed offshore. Today you can tour the building, climb up to the tower and explore the area around it. Read more

Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight

Traverse City Shops: A Culinary Delight

With only a couple of hours to shop, I had to choose where to browse among the dozens of establishments that make up Downtown Traverse City. Merchants sell everything from inexpensive refrigerator magnets to high-end designer clothing in the shops that stretch for several blocks along the southern end of Grand Traverse Bay. Aside from one apparel shop where I couldn’t pass up a $48 pale orange quilted jacket marked down to $10 on a sidewalk sale, the shops that drew me in were all food specialty shops. Enticing aromas and tasty samples lured me into the shops, and once I sampled the goods, I couldn’t resist the temptation to take home some culinary treasures.

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Spice MerchantsMy first stop was the Spice Merchants, where I tasted several dips made with mixes they sell. I almost always walk out of a spice shop with a new herb or spice, but what caught my attention here were the numerous tea varieties. I love herbal iced tea, and Spice Merchants had canister after canister of tea that they encouraged me to open and smell. I purchased small amounts of two herbal teas: Sharman’s Secret, made of thirteen flowers, fruits, herbs and spices, and because Traverse City is famous for cherries, I chose Dewy Cherry, a blend of sour cherries, apples, orange peel, rosehips and hibiscus.

Next door to the Spice Merchants, a Pop-Kie’s staff member was standing outside with a bucket of caramel corn and cheddar corn, handing out samples. Inside I tasted a couple of the candied popcorn flavors, but cheese corn is my popcorn of choice. I tasted the Hot Jalapeno (yes, it’s hot), almost purchased Bacon Cheddar but in the end went for a bag of the straight Cheddar.

Traverse City PieWalking past the Grand Traverse Pie Company without stopping is nearly impossible while pies are in the oven. It reminded me of the old cartoons where the character sniffs his way along the wavy lines of freshly baked pie aroma to its source. In this case the source is the vent strategically placed in front of the building. You can purchase whole pies to carry out or you can eat a slice there. I chose a slice of the best seller, Cherry Crumb, also a favorite of Super Chef Mario Batali, who occasionally stops in to buy one. A local raved about the savory beef and chicken pot pies, and had I been ready for lunch, I would have tried one.

Fustini'sFustini’s sells gourmet flavored oils and balsamic vinegars. My visit just happened to coincide with their sixth anniversary, and they were celebrating with samples of appetizers and desserts made by Chef Andy Stewart. Sample any of the oils or vinegars, or mix an oil with a suggested paired vinegar to sample what they will taste like together. I purchased coconut balsamic vinegar and lime olive oil that I plan to try as a shrimp marinade.

Cherry RepublicEvery item sold in the Cherry Republic must include cherry, and almost everything is available for you to taste, from wine and soda pop to salsa and barbecue sauce. Choose plain dried cherries, cherries turned into condiments, even cherry sausage. I purchase dark chocolate covered cherries and a six-pack of cherry-flavored sodas, including cherry root beer and black cherry cream soda.

I could have gone on to the chocolate shops, coffee shops and more, but my time was up. However, I did make one more stop when I discovered the Sara Hardy Downtown Farmers Market that runs every Wednesday and Saturday from May through October. My purchase there was a half dozen fresh herb plants that are now growing in pots on my deck, so I’ll have a taste of Grand Traverse all summer long.

Visit the Downtown Traverse City web site for information on merchants, and the Traverse City Tourism site for additional area information.

Disclosure:  My visit to Traverse City was hosted by Traverse City Tourism, but the shop visits were on my own. Any opinions expressed in this post are strictly mine.

Thank you for reading Midwest Wanderer. Don’t miss a post. Enter your e-mail address below and click Subscribe to be notified whenever I publish another post. Subscription is FREE. After subscribing, be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.   – Connie