Watermark Brewing Company & a Southwest Michigan Beer Tour

img_1024-2Watermark Brewing Company is one of the newest additions to the region’s craft beer scene and it’s pretty awesome. Located in downtown Stevensville, MI, about a 45 minute drive north of South Bend, it may be my new favorite place to hang out and drink a beer. It has a modern industrial vibe, the folks who work there are super friendly, and the beer is creative and tasty. It also has a huge outdoor beer garden with fire pits, bistro lights and comfy patio furniture, which will be great in the warmer months. I love the ambiance, and wish it was closer to South Bend!

My friend Colleen and I ordered two flights so we could try out most of the beer on their menu. I really loved the Professor Botanicus Peanut Butter IPA. I’m not a huge IPA fan, but this was more like a peanut butter stout. We also enjoyed trying the saisons, Lemon Drop Ugly Face and Marzell Dunkelweizen.

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Watermark’s Patio in the winter

The craft beer scene has exploded in Southwest Michigan recently, and you can now make a full day trip just out of beer tasting. I haven’t yet tried all of the locations below, but I’ve heard great things about many of them. Here are some of the other breweries in the area to add to your Southwest Michigan Craft Beer Tour:

* Breweries I’ve visited and can tell you they’re good.

If you take an epic beer tour, start with brunch at the Mason Jar Cafe in Benton Harbor. You can have lunch while sampling beer at Greenbush or Round Barn Public House. Head to Cafe Guilistan, Wheatberry or Staymaker for dinner.

-McK

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Beer at Greenbush

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ArtPrize

The most-attended public art event on the planet, ArtPrize, takes place only two hours north of South Bend. More than 170 venues – including museums, parks, restaurants, hotels, parking lots and bars – located within three square miles in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, open up their doors to the public to display nearly 1,500 pieces of artwork. Artwork can take the form of a simple photograph to a huge art installation spanning a bridge across the river. This is the last week of ArtPrize Eight. It began on September 14 and will end this weekend, October 9.

Why do so many artists want to participate in ArtPrize? Two winners,  which are chosen by public vote and a jury of experts, win grand prizes of $200,000 each. Eight other winners will receive smaller awards. Prizes total $500,000.

ArtPrize is a great way to explore the city of Grand Rapids on foot, while viewing some amazing pieces of artwork. So how do you tackle an event like this? Before you go, I’d suggest doing your research. What are some of the most popular exhibitions? What do you want to see? What venues are hosting the most artwork? You can do the majority of this planning on the ArtPrize website. Since it’s the last week of the event, the first round of voting has already occurred and the top twenty pieces have already been announced, which makes it a bit easier to plan what to see. Once you arrive in Grand Rapids, grab a map at one of ArtPrize’s eight neighborhood HUBs or the main headquarters/HUB, located at 41 Sheldon Boulevard.

As you may know, Grand Rapids has been voted best craft beer city in the United States multiple times, so while you’re there, stop by one of the many delicious breweries or restaurants featuring great beers, such as Founders Brewery, Brewery VivantThe Green Well or Hop Cat.

Here’s a video of last year’s event so you can get a sense of the fun:

ArtPrize Seven from ArtPrize on Vimeo.

Here are a few of my photos from a few years back:

In my opinion, ArtPrize is one of the greatest public art events in the country, which is probably why The New York Times included it in its list of 52 Places to Go in 2016. Take advantage of living so close and head up there this weekend!

-McK

Take a little day trip to Stover’s farm

by Jane

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Just  off of exit 15 on Highway 31 in Michigan is a perfect spot to explore, shop, and enjoy an afternoon in Michigan wine country. Approximately 20 minutes from South Bend, Stover’s farm boasts a fruit market and antiques shop, all housed in a beautiful red barn. You can pick fruit yourself, or buy it ready to go in the barn. Either way, this location as just the right amount of enchantment to transport you to a vacation mindset while you wander.

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Stover’s is open 9-5 on Monday through Saturdays in the summer only. It’s on my way to work, so every year, I can’t wait to see that the barn doors are open and the twinkly lights are calling my name when I drive past as the sun sets. Bad days can slip completely away, as I pick up some Amish homemade butter, and a pint of cherries—visions of a fruit and custard dessert gracing my table by 9 that night. (And if baking a pie or a tart isn’t your thing, look in the refrigerator case with the butter, you’ll find ready-to-bake fruit pies, just calling your name! You don’t even have to tell anyone that you didn’t make it yourself!)

Other food items include: homemade jams, jellies, and relishes (some really unique pickles that look amazing, but I’ve not been brave enough to try yet!).  Local honey—there is raw honey, honey with the honeycomb, and many other varieties to choose from. Dried fruits, nuts, and some locally made candies. Many delicious things!

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The antiques are interspersed with locally-made craft items with a beachy theme: tall ships carved from wood, paintings of seagulls and lighthouses, and lots of beautiful driftwood mingle with lanterns and dried indian corn. There are also artisan items from around the world, like handmade jewelry and soaps. I found some cute elephant-themed journals for my sister.

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Summer apples, peaches, cherries, and blackberries are now in season. Make sure to plan a trip to Stover’s this summer, and make a return trip in the fall when the pumpkins, grapes, and fall apples are ready. There will be cider. You’ll feel like a little kid again, while picking apples and smelling the ripe grapes on the vine. Then, because you’re an adult…you can feel free to end your day trip with drive around the corner to all the wineries!

Cheers!

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A Long Weekend in Northern Michigan

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View from Old Mission Lighthouse

As the Pure Michigan radio ads remind us on a regular basis, Northern Michigan is home to miles and miles of pristine coastline, clear turquoise waters, beautiful forests, tall sand dunes, craft beer, wineries and quaint boutiques and main streets. Tim Allen is definitely not lying to us in those ads – Michigan has many beautiful areas and great vacation destinations.

My family regularly vacationed on the Leelanau Peninsula as well as in Southwest Michigan when I was a kid, and I still have fond memories of those trips. So when my friend Jesse told me he was coming for a visit over the Fourth of July weekend, my husband, Bob, Jesse and I decided to go to Northern Michigan, camping along the way. Northern Michigan was still as beautiful as I remembered it.

Day 1 – Thursday – South Bend to Traverse City

Jesse arrived in South Bend on a Thursday afternoon and we left for our trip to Northern Michigan around 4:30 p.m. We knew it would be a long drive at night to Traverse City, but we wanted to wake up on Friday with a whole day ahead of us to explore and drive even further north. We took the fastest route through central Michigan to Traverse City – up 196 and 131, about a four hour drive (see map below).

The route takes you through Grand Rapids, which, lucky for us, has been voted best craft beer city in the U.S. multiple times. We stopped at Founder’s Brewery, which was just a quick detour off the highway. We each sampled a bit of beer and enjoyed one of their ginormous sandwiches, which were delicious. It was a great way to break  up the drive as well as a chance to experience a new brewery and restaurant.

After dinner, we continued our drive to Traverse City State Park, where we camped that evening. The State Park is located just across the street from the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay and within a couple miles of downtown. We set up camp, went to sleep and survived a torrential rain storm.

Note: Northern Michigan is a popular summer vacation destination and campgrounds fill up very early. We booked our sites more than two months in advance for the holiday weekend, and many campgrounds were already booked solid. Book early, especially if you’re interested in staying in the more popular campgrounds.

Day 2 – Traverse City to Wilderness State Park (near Mackinaw City)

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Chateau Chantal

We woke up early on Friday morning, took down our tents, and drove a couple of miles west to downtown Traverse City for breakfast. We went to Towne Plaza, a really great breakfast place. The Fried Chicken Benedict and regular Benedict were awesome (the fontina cream sauce in place of béchamel was so good). The fruit plate with a thick slice of banana bread was also delicious.

After breakfast we walked around downtown, stopping at a few boutiques and the Grand Traverse Distillery to try cherry whisky. We also grabbed a coffee at the Brew Coffehouse and Cafe, which was the most hipster coffee shop I’ve ever seen (ex. nitro iced coffee), but the coffee was really good. It looked like it would also be a good place to grab a sandwich.

After caffeinating ourselves, we hopped in the car and drove up the Old Mission Peninsula, which is situated in the middle of Grand Traverse Bay. The peninsula offers many beautiful views of the bay. I would recommending taking the residential roads along the water on the east side of the peninsula for views of the bay on the way north, and the main road (37) down the center for views of cherry farms and vineyards when you come back south. At the very tip, you can stop at the Old Mission Lighthouse for some great photos. For a few dollars, you can also climb to the top of the tower.

On our way south on 37, we stopped at the winery and hotel Chateau Chantal, which was a very pleasant surprise. It’s located at a high point in the middle of the peninsula, so you have incredible views of both arms of Grand Traverse Bay from the tasting room. We grabbed a flight of all of their cherry wines and took them to the outdoor patio to enjoy the stunning views of the vineyards and bay. The wines were all very good, but the hard cider was definitely the highlight for us. We ended up buying a bottle to enjoy by the campfire later that night. This was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable stops of the weekend and shouldn’t be missed.

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Rustic site at Wilderness State Park

After we departed the peninsula, we began our two hour drive north to Wilderness State Park, driving through Charlevoix and Petosky, both cute towns. Wilderness State Park is located at the northern tip of the mitten, about 20 minutes west of Mackinaw City, which is the closest town. It was a beautiful place to camp and we were lucky to get one of the new rustic campsites due to a cancellation, which offered more privacy. Although the main campground is located on the beach, it was very crowded.

Just down the road, you can watch the sunset and see a magnificent view of the stars at the Headlands International Dark Sky Park, one of the world’s few official dark sky parks. As you probably guessed, there are no lights, and you do have to walk about a mile on a paved road in the woods to the beach, but the trek is worth it for the views. Be sure to bring a flashlight, blankets (it gets chilly) and closed-toed shoes. The stars are so bright you can actually see pretty well after dark, but there were a few iffy spots on our walk back. We made the mistake of arriving really early – around 8:30 p.m. because we wanted to see the sunset. However, the good views of the stars didn’t occur until around midnight due to the light on the horizon, so it was a long wait. Most people arrived around 11 p.m.

We also had a wonderful view of the stars back at the campground. By the time we crawled into our tents, every inch of the sky was filled with stars and we had a clear view of the Milky Way and several planets. It was stunning. Jesse commented that it was the most stars he’s ever seen.

Day 3 – Wilderness State Park to Mackinac Island and Charlevoix

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Mackinac Island Grand Hotel

We woke up around 6 am on Saturday morning to try to beat the crowds to Mackinac Island. Mackinac is only accessible by ferry from Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula or St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula. Cars are prohibited on Mackinac Island, so people get around by walking, biking, or riding in a horse-drawn carriage. We opted to take our bikes with us in order to see as much of the island as we could.

We took the 8:30 a.m. Shepler’s Ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island. Tickets for the ferry were $24 per person if purchased online in advance, plus an additional $10 per bike. It’s only about a 20 minute boat trip with great views of the Mackinac Bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in the world. You feel like you’ve stepped back in time 100 years when you reach the island. When we disembarked the boat, the first thing I noticed was the architecture. The buildings in the downtown date from the 1800s and there’s a fort that the British built during the Revolutionary War. I learned that Mackinac Island was actually deemed the second National Park in America after Yellowstone; however it was changed to the first Michigan State Park in the late 1800s after the fort was decommissioned.

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View from the bike trail

We started the morning by taking a self-guided bike tour of Mackinac Island’s major attractions, including the Grand Hotel (it’s worth the $10 to get in just to see the old furnishings), Fort Holmes, Fort Mackinac, exteriors of historic homes, the old cemeteries and Arch Rock, which took about two hours at a very leisurely pace with stops. A good portion of the ride is uphill. We then enjoyed a lunch of white fish and pasties at Millie’s on Main. The food was good.

After lunch, we took the eight-mile bike ride around the island, which was absolutely beautiful. The downside is it was treacherous due to the insane number of tourists on the trail who couldn’t bike in a straight line. After about four miles, the crowds luckily died down. We stopped to enjoy the stunningly beautiful clear turquoise waters, build a cairn (rock tower), and enjoy the views. With many stops to enjoy the views and riding at a very leisurely pace, the trip also took about two hours.

When we arrived back in town, our final goal was to try fudge and eat Mackinac Island fudge ice cream. This goal was easily accomplished with the many fudge shops in town. We sampled fudge at five shops and bought ice cream at one of the oldest fudge shops, Ryba’s.

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Ice cream stop

We departed Mackinac Island in the late afternoon and drove two hours south along the coast to our next camping destination – Fisherman’s Island State Park in Charlevoix.  We stopped in Petosky to each eat a pasty at That Pasty Place for dinner. Pasties are puff pastries filled with ground meat and vegetables and are popular in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Personally, I find pasties rather bland, but I felt obligated to eat one since I was in Michigan.

Fisherman’s Island had big semi-private campsites in the woods. The beach was about a mile down the road. We spent the evening laying on the beach enjoying the sun.

Day 4 – Charlevoix to Manistee, MI

Our fourth day consisted of a lot of driving. We had hoped to stay in Leelanau State Park on our fourth night; however, it was booked solid. So we opted to stay at Orchard Beach State Park, which was further south.

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Tandem Cider

I really wanted to see the Leelanau Peninsula, since I hadn’t been there since I was a kid. We woke up early and started our drive from Charlevoix, back through Traverse City, to the Leelanau Peninsula. We first stopped at the Leelanau Cheese Company near Sutton’s Bay, famous for its Swiss Raclette cheese. It was delicious. We then stopped at Black Star Farm, a horse farm, hotel and winery, which was beautiful. I highly recommend sampling the wines. We bought a bottle of the Arcturus Riesling.

Our next stop was perhaps my favorite of the day, Tandem Cider. Tandem Cider is a beautiful cidery located in an old barn surrounding by wild flowers in the middle of an orchard. The location was super picturesque and it was fun to sample a variety of different types of ciders made with different apples.

Next, we stopped at Leelanau State Park to see the lighthouse, and then continued down the peninsula to Leland, a small town famous for Fish town, several fisherman’s huts converted to boutiques. We had lunch on the river at The Cove – the Parmesan Garlic White Fish was awesome and so were the Fried White Fish and Fried Lake Perch.

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Cherry Republic

After leaving Leland, we took a quick stop at the original Cherry Republic in Glen Arbor, which specializes in all things cherry and we took home a bottle of their cherry salsa. Next, we stopped at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and took the seven-mile scenic Pierce Stocking Drive to see the giant sand dunes. There are many lookout points throughout the scenic drive, including a lookout perched 450 feet above the lake on top of the tallest dune, which is just a short walk from one of the parking lots.

Orchard Beach State Park was about an hour and fifteen minutes south of Sleeping Bear Dunes in Manistee. It’s a crowded campground with little privacy, but it offers many amenities, such as great bathroom facilities and beach access. You can also watch beautiful sunsets from the lake lookout in the campground (see cover photo for an example).

Day 5 – Manistee, MI to South Bend

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New Holland

We woke up on Monday to start our final 3.5 hour drive back to South Bend. After having breakfast at the campsite, we packed up our gear and headed south. We took a quick stop in Holland, MI, to sample a flight of beer at New Holland Brewery. I really like New Holland’s Beer, but I’m not a huge fan of their food, so we opted to drive further south to Saugatuck for lunch, where we at at Phil’s Bar and Grille. Phil’s is famous for their Broasted Chicken, but I usually opt for their Portabello Mushroom Sandwich with watercress pesto, sweet and sour onions, goat cheese, avocado and spinach. I also love the Tenderloin Salad, with goat cheese and jalepeno vinaigrette.

Saugatuck is one of my favorite beach towns in Michigan. I love walking around the downtown and visiting the shops, taking the chain ferry across to climb the dune, and heading to the beach. Plus, it’s only an hour and twenty minutes from South Bend so it’s an easy place to go for a day trip.

Our whirlwind tour of Northern Michigan was a success. If you’d like to cut down on the amount of driving, you could also spend a few days just in Traverse City, Mackinac Island, the Leelanau Peninsula or around Wilderness State Park – there’s plenty to do.

-McK

Breweries, Bikes, and Beer: Exploring Goshen and Elkhart by Bike

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Toast to kick-off our ride

As you know, Meg and I both love biking and beer. Last Saturday, we decided that it was time to combine two of our loves and bike the MapleHeart Trail, while stopping at some of the region’s newest breweries.

The MapleHeart Trail is a five mile paved trail that runs from the outskirts of Elkhart to the outskirts of Goshen along County Road 45. In Goshen, the name changes to the Maple City Greenway, which runs another 3.2 miles into the heart of the city and then connects up to the Pumpkinvine Trail, which runs all the way to Shipshewana (read Meg’s review of the Pumpkinvine here).

We left South Bend around 11 am, which put us in the Goshen Brewing Company parking lot, our starting point, around 11:45 a.m. When we pulled up, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the Goshen Farmer’s Market, located next door to the brewery, was holding a Maker’s Market filled with tons of home goods and arts and crafts. We decided to take a stroll through the market, admiring the fresh produce and items for sale. I had no idea that, like South Bend, Goshen also has an indoor Farmer’s Market, and there were plenty of fun things to look at. I was intrigued by the smoothie and homemade cheese stand.

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Lunch at Goshen Brewing

After our quick detour, we started our official brewery bike tour with lunch at Goshen Brewing Company. I had the pulled pork sandwich with fennel slaw, my husband had the Hot Mess (pork shoulder, BBQ sauce, cheddar and pickled jalepenos) and Meg enjoyed snacking on the brussels sprouts, which were incredibly yummy. We washed down our food with some beer samples. I tried the Vesna, a pale lager, which I thought was delicious.

After lunch we hopped on our bikes and got on the wrong bike trail. The bike path right next to Goshen Brewing Company is NOT the MapleHeart Trail, so don’t get on it, and definitely don’t cross the river. When we realized we were clearly on the wrong path, we took an odd road route past the Old Bag Factory until we could hook up with the bike path. In order to avoid this mishap, stick to the mapped route below.

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Ox Bow Park Path

I wouldn’t necessarily call the MapleHeart Trail a scenic bike route. It parallels a road, runs next to the train tracks, and passes mostly houses, sub-divisions, and some old factories. However, there are some sections that are prettier than others, such as the section that passes Ox Bow Park. We decided to get off the bike path for a quick 10 minute ride around the park, and it was beautiful. Trees and flowers were blooming and it was great to see all that the park had to offer. There was a lookout tower, stables, soccer fields, an archery range, and hiking trails. We all commented that we’d love to spend more time there.

Eventually, the MapleHeart trail ends and you have to bike for about two miles on fairly busy roads to get to downtown Elkhart. It appeared there was an alternate bike trail along the Elkhart River, if we turned right off Sterling Avenue on to Lusher Avenue, so we tried it. Unfortunately, the route wasn’t paved so we took a very bumpy, muddy ride for about 10 minutes until our butts couldn’t take it anymore. It was a beautiful path that would be great for walking along, but it was not ideal for biking. The trail does finally become paved once you get to Studebaker Park, but I would recommend sticking to route below – it’s much faster.

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Iechyd Da

Our next stop was Iechyd Da, a popular brewery and restaurant in downtown Elkhart.  We shared the Bread of St. David (garlic cheese bread) to refuel and each got a taster-size glass of beer. The Local Blonde was light and refreshing.

We hopped back on our bikes and biked the eight or so blocks south to New Paradigm Brewing Company. The name is a bit misleading. It’s not actually a brewery, but rather a bar that has tons of craft beers in bottles and on tap. Supposedly the burgers are excellent, and based on the descriptions on the menu, I would definitely return to try them out. I had a pint of Sun King’s Sunlight beer. Sun King is based in Indianapolis. We also split the pretzels with beer cheese and mozzarella sticks appetizers. We clearly felt we had to load up on carbs for our bike ride back to Goshen.

It took us about two hours to get to downtown Elkhart due to our many detours and the rough terrain along the Elkhart River (14 miles total), while the ride back primarily using the MapleHeart and Maple City Trails only took us about an hour (11 miles).

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Thomas Steiglitz Brewing

When we arrived back in Goshen we celebrated the end of our journey with a beer at the newest brewery in the area – Thomas Stieglitz Brewing. Thomas Stieglitz is located in an old laundromat, and the building is really cool. The interior is tiny – there are just a few seats at a bar, but it has a large outdoor patio filled with adirondak chairs and tables. I enjoyed my favorite beer of the day – the saison. It was light and fruity and super refreshing on a warm spring afternoon. One of the friendly owners told us the brewery had just opened a few weeks prior. I’m sure they’ll have a large following soon.

Overall, the journey was extremely fun. We had a great time exploring parts of Elkhart and Goshen that we had never seen before. Our brewery bike tour was an amazing way to spend an afternoon.

-McK

The bike route:

 

 

 

Holland Tulip Festival

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Windmill Island Park

There’s no better place to experience the beauty of spring and the blooming of tulips than the Holland Tulip Time Festival. No, I’m not telling you to get on a plane and fly to the Netherlands. Rather, you should get in your car and drive an hour and a half north to Holland, Michigan, sometime between May 7 and 14.

With five million tulips in bloom throughout the city of Holland and surrounding area, the  Tulip Festival is an absolutely stunning sight. There’s also a variety of other touristy attractions, such as an art and craft fair, Dutch dancing (complete with wooden shoes), a carnival, and trolly rides. The tulips are in bloom throughout downtown, and also at locations throughout the city, such as Windmill Island Park and several tulip farms.

The festival can get crowded, especially in the afternoon on weekends, so I would suggest going early. Here’s an itinerary to maximize your tulip viewing time:

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    Tulips at Veldheer Garden

    8:30 am – Depart South Bend, Indiana, with the goal of arriving at Centennial Park in Holland by 10 am. (If you decide to leave even earlier, try having breakfast at Deboer’s Cafe and Bakery for some Dutch treats.)

  • 10:00 am – Park at one of the many lots near Centennial Park in downtown Holland. Last year, parking was $5-$10 depending on the lot. Check out the art and craft fair as soon as it opens and see the many tulips blooming in Centennial Park.
  • Walk or drive over to Window on the Waterfront Park to see the tulips there.
  • Get the heck out of downtown – things start getting crazy around noon.
  • Drive over to Windmill Island Park – this is my favorite stop along the route and shouldn’t be missed. Windmill Island Park has a variety of attractions and is family friendly. In addition to the tulip fields, there’s a huge windmill you can climb up, a Dutch village, and a reenactment village complete with people dressed in period costumes. It’s the best place for some “Dutch” photo ops.
  • Head over to Salt & Petter Savory Grill and Pub for a late lunch. It’s outside of downtown so the crowds shouldn’t be a problem. Plus, it’s on the way to the next destination. The menu is creative and the food is super tasty.
  • After lunch, go to Veldheer Tulip Garden. Veldheer has millions of tulips to view on site. They also have bison. The best part is that you can purchase all of the tulip bulbs on display. Make sure to grab a booklet of bulbs so you can mark off which tulips you like best. I’ve heard Nelis’ Dutch Village also offers the opportunity to buy bulbs, but has more attractions for kids.
  • If you’re not super tired, stop in one of the many cute beach towns on your way home for dinner, like Saugatuck, South Haven, or St. Joseph.

FYI – you do have to pay a fee to enter certain places, such the Windmill Island Park, Veldheer and Nelis’ Dutch Village.

Have fun!

-McK

Kalamazoo Part 2: Bell’s Eccentric Cafe

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Reuben & Mushroom Brie Burger

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my trip to the Air Zoo, an awesome interactive aviation museum and amusement park just outside of Kalamazoo. After spending the afternoon wandering through the hangars filled with colorful planes and riding on the carousel and balloon rides, it was time to check off an item that had been sitting on my bucket list since I moved to South Bend – visiting Bell’s Eccentric Cafe.

There are few beers that I enjoy drinking more on a warm summer day than an Oberon, Bell’s  seasonal summer wheat ale. I’ve been enjoying Oberon for years, and had always wanted to go to Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo to check out their selection. While Bell’s most popular beers are now widely distributed throughout the Midwest, Bell’s Eccentric Cafe offers a variety of small batch beers that are only sold at the brewery.

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Buffalo Chicken Dip

We decided to start our visit by each ordering a flight of five small tasting glasses of beer. This provided us with the opportunity to try multiple beers that are regularly on the menu as well as some that are only available at the Cafe. One of my favorite specialty beers was the Mole Stout, which was on rotation that day.

In addition to ordering beer, we also got a couple of appetizers – the Fried Brussels Sprouts with parmesan and lemon and the Buffalo Chicken Dip served with pita. Both were sizable portions and had excellent flavor. For dinner, our group ordered the Mushroom and Brie Burger, Jam Burger, Reuben, and Fried Whitefish Sandwich. Everything was good, but the Jam Burger covered in bacon onion jam and tomato jam was definitely the best. The flavor was excellent.

I would highly recommend a stop at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe if you’re visiting Kalamazoo. It’s a fun place to go for a pint and enjoy a yummy lunch or dinner.

-McK

 

Lighthouse Place Outlet Mall

Since about August of last year, I have been trying to change my sedentary ways and get in shape.  This came about partly because I found how much I love biking and wanted to be better at it.  Partly because I started writing a book about rational planning and realized I should practice what I preach.  And partly because exercising become a great way of procrastinating from working on aforementioned book.

Anyways, after a few months, I started to realize I was having a hard time fitting into my clothes.  I was feeling better and stronger, but with each passing month I was looking more like MC Hammer when I dressed up for work.hammer-pants

Whenever I am in fashion crisis mode like this, I’m grateful for the Lighthouse Place outlets out in Michigan City.  Its a 40 minute (and lovely) drive from my house.  I head up there a few times a year at least to stock up, and most recently my focus has been on dress pants for work.  They have a pretty wide variety of top brands: Brooks Brothers, Ann Taylor, and J. Crew being my go-tos.  Talbots is coming later this year.

The Michigan City outlets are also great for outdoor gear.  They have a Columbia and Eddie Bauer.  They just opened a Northface last fall, which is perpetually crowded.  You can also scope out deals on higher-end home goods (Le Creuset pots, Bose speakers, and nearly any cooking gadget you can imagine.)

IMG_4330I’ve bought everything from suits (navy Brooks Brothers—under $200) to PJ pants (Old Navy—$5) out at Lighthouse Place, and I always get a deal.  It’s also a fun day excursion with friends, especially if you combine it with lunch down by the lake.  (Perhaps Cafe Gulistan?)  With the beautiful Spring weather here, might be time to clean out your closet…

Meg

*Featured Image from Simon Malls website.

Kalamazoo Part 1: The Air Zoo

I’m embarrased to admit that it took me six years of living in South Bend before I visited Kalamazoo. I had heard many great things about Kalamazoo over the years – Meg loves the art theatre and bike paths, my friend loves the Beer Exchange, my former coworker’s husband is obsessed with Bell’s Brewery and Eccentric Cafe, and my other coworker told me the Air Zoo is the best attraction within a two hour drive. After hearing all of these rave reviews about Kalamazoo, I decided it was time to take a drive up north and form my own opinion.

The Ferris Wheel

The Ferris Wheel

Kalamazoo is located only an hour and 20 minutes north of South Bend. It’s a fairly scenic and uneventful drive up 131, and consists mostly of farmland. Our first stop was the Air Zoo, an aviation museum and amusement park located in Portage, MI, just outside of Kalamazoo. (Yes, the place is as bizarre as it sounds.)

The exterior of the Air Zoo is less than impressive. It looks like you’re driving up to a corporate building from the 1990s. I couldn’t imagine how the interior of this place could house an aviation museum, let alone rides. We hopped out of the car and got in line to buy tickets – it’s $13 for adults and $12.50 for children. At this point, I was still wondering if I had mistakenly ended up in a corporate office somewhere in Michigan. Was I suddenly trapped in the film Office Space?

After buying our tickets, we were directed down a hallway of clouds. The hallway suddenly opened up into a massive hangar filled with dozens of planes, including a replica of the Wright brothers’ plane, World War II bombers and the fastest plane ever built, the SR-71B Blackbird. The walls were painted with beautiful murals and a balloon ride and ferris wheel sat off in the corner. On the other side of the room you could hear the screams coming from 3D fight plane simulators, where guests had the opportunity test a plane in a virtual environment, complete with upside-down turns.

The balloon ride was a blast from the past and my husband loved checking out the planes. All the kids seemed to be in heaven – unlimited rides are included in admission. As you progress through the museum, you learn about the history of flight, including space travel. It was a great way to spend a couple of hours.

The Air Zoo is open Monday – Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from noon to 5:00 p.m. After the Air Zoo, we headed over to downtown Kalamazoo and Bell’s Eccentric Cafe for an ice cold beer, which I’ll tell you about in a later post.

-McK

 

 

The Pokagon Toboggan Runs

Benders,
IMG_6398I’ve found my new favorite winter activity and you need to go; Pokagon State Park in Angola has refrigerated quarter-mile toboggan chutes.

Growing up outside of Chicago, my mom and I would sometimes brave the Swallow Cliff toboggan runs south of the city. I remember the lines more than anything – they were always painfully long and it was usually painfully cold. The Chicago-area closed all of its toboggan runs a few years back for liability reasons and lack of funding. They were fun, but they didn’t hold a candle to the awesomeness at Pokagon.

Pokagon State Park is located about an hour and ten minutes east of South Bend. When we arrived, I was pretty nervous. I have a major fear of heights and I absolutely hate the butterfly feeling that you get in the pit of your stomach on roller coasters or carnival rides. We paid the gate fee to enter the park and drove over to the chutes. They were impressively long and my anxiety was on the rise. We rented our toboggan – I believe it was $13 for a three to four person toboggan for the hour – and started climbing the stairs to the top of the runs.

IMG_6390The operation is impressive. You get to the top of the runs and the workers place your toboggan on a platform of rollers. A wooden beam placed in the roles prevents your toboggan from sliding down the chute while you climb on. Sitting on the toboggan is a bit of an acrobatics act. The first person sits cross-legged and raises their arms while the second person climbs on the sled and wraps his or her legs around the first person. The third person then climbs on the sled and wraps his or her legs around the second person. The first two people are holding on to their friends’ feet for dear life while the person in the back holds on to canvas straps on the side of the sled. Once everyone is on the sled and the workers tell you to not remove your hands from their current locations for the duration of the ride (you don’t want to loose your fingers), they pull up the wood beam, and push your sled forward. A teeter-totter device engages, causing the rollers to roll your sled forward on the track.

And that’s when I started screaming – in sheer joy, of course.

It’s fast, cold, and a hell of a lot of fun. It’s a bit bumpy, but that’s to be expected. There’s a radar gun and screen toward the end of the track to clock your speed. Our record speed was 31 miles per hour.

The track is long, but it’s not super steep, so I was happy to find that I didn’t experience the dropping feeling in the pit of my stomach. There were children of all ages going down the run and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Once you’re done, you grab your toboggan and walk it back up the hill. We went down the chutes four times in an hour, with a few photo stops in between. The line moved quickly.

IMG_6407

The toboggan runs at Pokagon are only open for two more weekends. If you like winter activities, they’re definitely worth checking out. I look forward to exploring the park’s many other amenities (horseback riding, pontoon boating, cabins!) as the weather warms up.

-McK