Thursday, August 15, 2013

Go See: South Haven, Michigan

I'm sorry to say that I didn't discover the Great Lakes until I was in my twenties and living near Ann Arbor. Growing up, our frequent destinations were Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach, and anywhere in Florida... but a few visits to Put-In-Bay on Lake Erie, and the Leelanau Peninsula, which juts into Lake Michigan, and I was enchanted by the north. A few years ago I spent a girls' weekend in South Haven and couldn't wait to go back.

When our Florida family vacation plans fell through this year, I decided that I'd take the kids north, where the beach looks just like the ocean but the drive is much shorter and best of all, there's no salt, sharks or jellyfish. The west coast of Michigan is dotted with picturesque tourist towns. Blogger Adventure Mom is a regional regular and a great source of advice for kids activities!

My mom, sister and niece joined us on the trip. It wasn't the vacation I had originally planned, or even secondarily planned (it was unseasonably cool) but it was worth every nickel and 300 minutes of driving. I know our boys will never forget it.

The best way to experience South Haven is to rent a cottage from which you can walk to beaches, the pier, parks, shopping and dining district. Throwing our trip together last minute (and going for the cheap), we opted for a hotel about a mile out of town. The indoor pool really made our trip for the kids.

Before leaving, I used the South Haven visitor's bureau website to make an itinerary, or really a menu of activities to choose from. I like to play it by ear, and it's a good thing. Our first morning we awoke to thunder and rain. It was difficult to find indoor activities since it was a Monday and most museums were closed. We drove about 25 minutes north to Holland, where we found an indoor drop-in center and a place for lunch. Once the skies began to clear, we went to Holland State Park where the kids were able to wade on the beach and see the "Big Red" lighthouse.

Back in South Haven, we got in some playtime at a city park and headed to dinner at the Idler Riverboat, docked on the Black River. Personally, I loved the atmosphere with the open air dining, music and local beer. I have done South Haven with the girls, and South Haven with the kids but next it will have to be with the man. I think he'd enjoy the boats and beer, too.

On the advice of a friend, we set aside a day for Van Buren State Park. Unfortunately we were unable to swim due to the rip tides. More wading and sandcastles. The boys loved climbing the sand dunes. We stopped at DeGrandchamp Farm on our way back to pick blueberries.


Our favorite SoHa restaurant was probably Maria's (be sure to visit after 4 p.m. so you can try the lasagna... delizioso!) My sister and I were able to check out most of the boutiques and antique shops while grandma and the kids napped. We could have spent quite a bit more time rummaging through the books at Arbor Antiques.

Besides building sandcastles, eating and swimming indoors, we did quite a bit of "treasure-hunting" as the boys like to call it. By geocaching we found some spectacular views and a pretty amazing cemetery called Lakeview. Can you guess how many deceased are buried there?




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