I decided I wanted to go north. We always vacation in the summer. As a teacher, it's when I have the most time to prepare for the trip beforehand and to stay wherever we are going. We'd been to southern Indiana, Florida, and Tennessee - all south of Illinois - in the summer. Florida was the worst as far as heat. When someone in one of the Disney lines compared the heat that day to hell, my mother, who was there with us, responded deadpan, "I don't think it's this hot in hell." The heat in Tennessee certainly was no picnic either, but the humidity was a nightmare. My hair was triple its normal size the entire week we were there.
I also wanted to do something where we weren't plopping down $50 every time we looked up and then were unsure what we had even spent money on at the end of the day. Disney World and Dollywood were both terrible about that. I felt like the entire time at both parks I was constantly telling the kids, "No, we're not going to buy that." That does NOT make for an enjoyable time for anyone. I'm all for a souvenir but $20 for a Mickey Mouse balloon? Sure, they were cute. Sure, the kids were delighted when they saw them. Sure, it was all part of the magic that is Disney. But I have two kids. $40 for two balloons that wouldn't even make it home with us? Didn't happen.
After some research, I settled on Grand Haven, Michigan. I plan all of our trips. My husband is extremely easygoing and agreeable. (This is a large part of why we are so happily married.) I'll usually say, "I'm thinking about [insert location] on these dates. What do you think?" And he'll always come back with, "Sounds good." Although this is nice, it is also a bit of pressure sometimes. I'm solely responsible for the decisions of where we travel, what we do while we're there, and where we stay. If any of those is facets is miserable, it's because it was something I chose.
The beach on Lake Michigan was in many ways like the ocean but with no salt in the water or fear of jellyfish or sharks. There was a little apprehension on my part when we woke up to thunder and rain on the first day. Spending time at the beach was our only planned activity. Bad weather was not part of the plan. Thankfully, it cleared up in the afternoon and stayed pleasant the rest of the time we were there. There was even a small museum (free) downtown that had an Ice Age mammal exhibit we were able to visit while we waited for the rain to stop.
This was the first evening when we arrived.
The kids were awed by the beach.
My kids thought the beach was fantastic. They had been to the ocean when we visited Florida. They enjoyed this more. The sand wasn't as hot, and the waves weren't as knock-you-down powerful. They swam for three hours the first afternoon on the beach. I don't put much stock in astrology, but my daughter's sign is Pisces, the fish. All I will say is that it's appropriate.
The water was cold, but it takes more than
that to deter my kids.
The downtown area is charming. Think people walking their dogs on brick-paved streets, street musicians playing in front of locally owned stores, kids riding their bikes on the boardwalk. There's a lighted fountain on the waterfront that puts on a show to music every night (free). There's also a lighthouse that they're restoring that you can walk to and see. Bonus! My kids had never seen a lighthouse in real life. Any teacher knows the importance of experiences like this.
The first night there we wandered into a local bakery, The Baker's Wife. They were handing out free samples of freshly baked pretzels. We bought blueberry muffins, cinnamon scones, and, of course, pretzels (They knew what they were doing, handing out those free samples.) We went back every night we stayed and bought breakfast for the following morning. This is one of my favorite things about visiting a different city- finding a great local place. One of the lovely girls who worked there told us their other location, The Village Baker, (ten minutes away) made pizza for dinner each night. You don't have to tell us twice. We were there the next night for dinner.
This blueberry muffin (yes, it does have a bite out of it,
my bad) was a thing of beauty. It deserved a picture of
We ordered three kinds of pizza for under $30. It was the
cheapest meal we had there and the best.
Amusement parks have their place. I won't say we'll never go to one again, because I know we will. But this type of vacation is just as good. Sometimes, it's even better.