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16 July 2010

Things to do in the Saugatuck/Fennville/Holland area of Michigan

Last summer, we rented a house in Fennville, Michigan. We loved it, but made the decision this year to forgo a house rental (for a number of reasons). We are still very much enamored of that area of Michigan, though, and know we'll be back quite a bit.

Last year, we made a running list of the fun things our family likes to do in the area. It's been sitting in my home office on a scrap of paper, so I figured it was high time that I transcribe it to the web for posterity. Please excuse the jumbled order of items. It's a mish mosh of shopping, food and activities.

Chicken Scratch Farm
This is a tiny little family farm on Lake Shore Drive in Fennville (just under a mile south of West County Park). They have freshly laid eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and lots of other little treats including baked goods and handmade soaps. Payment is done on the honor system. Write down what you took on the little notepad, and leave your money in the jar.

Pier Cove

This small beach is one of the most amazing places to watch the sunset. It's just stunning (and there is a lot of driftwood around for those who like to collect that sort of thing).We took these gorgeous photos at Pier Cove last summer.

Coral Gables, Saugatuck
This is not the world's greatest or the fanciest restaurant around. However, with its location right on the Kalamazoo River, and its ready supply of Bell's Oberon on tap, you would be hard pressed to find a better place to waste an afternoon sitting in the sunshine. On many days, there is live music (usually Jimmy Buffet covers). The kids always loved going here because there's a small play area on the side with a bouncy house, a trampoline and a rock climbing wall.

Marro's Italian
We are big fans of the pizza here (try it with broccoli!), and again, they have Oberon on tap, so it's hard to leave unhappy. The children's menu is very expansive, and gets bonus points for its inclusion of a silly photo of a baby "drinking" an empty bottle of beer.

Kilwin's is a franchise, so you might already be familiar with its charms. There is no better place in town for a box of freshly made fudge (you can even watch them make it). They also have terrific ice cream. There are two locations in Saugatuck.

Lyon's Farm Market
This small farm stand has great vegetables and very sweet proprietors, but for many people, the best reason to head to Lyon's is for the Sherman's ice cream stand on the side. There is a scattering of picnic tables for those who wish to sit and enjoy their ice cream right away.

What Not Inn
This place is hard to describe, so you probably have to check it out for yourself. It's pretty smoky, so if that bothers you, you should probably stay away. That said, it is very fun, it is supremely kid friendly, and they have phenomenal pie. We also enjoyed going for breakfast on the weekends - they have both buffet and table service options. You also might want to swing by for Open Mic night on Mondays. I guarantee you a show you will not soon forgot.

Harbor Duck Tour
Yes, this is insanely touristy, but kids LOVE it. You board a bus with a "comedian" on-board who gives you a tour of Saugatuck and Douglas. And then, the bus turns into a boat and goes right into the water.

Dune Buggy Rides
This is so great it got its very own post last year (linked above). Do check it out.

Soda Fountain at The Village Store
Have you ever experienced a real soda fountain inside a drugstore? They have one here (the only one in the midwest) and it's a lot of fun. Try ordering some old fashioned drinks like chocolate phosphates and malteds. Yum.

Holland Farmer's Market
If you are in the area on a Saturday, this is a must-do (but it is not open in the winter/early spring). I have been to a lot of Farmer's Markets in my day, and this is one of my favorites. My favorite vendor is Otto's Chicken, but my kids both flock to Schroeder's Sugar Shack (aka the honey guy) for $1 worth of honey sticks in multiple flavors.

New Holland Brewing Company
After you stock up at the Farmer's Market (bring a cooler), walk up 8th street for some great shopping and then a terrific lunch at this brewery/restaurant. They feature mostly local foods and the beer is amazing (my favorite is the Mad Hatter Saison).

21 October 2009

Turtle Beach: A Mini Adventure on Oahu

Two turtles swimming

Though the resort we stayed at on Oahu was in Waikiki (as are 100 of the 104 Oahu resorts), we spent a fair portion of our time on the island exploring areas beyond the crowded beach. Our wanderings were facilitated by an amazing book called Oahu Revealed. This book was recommended to us by almost every past Hawaii traveler, and for good reason. As long as you ignore the food recommendations (their inclusion of chain restaurants made me bonkers - does a travel guidebook really need to print a review of a restaurant that is ubiquitous in every US suburb?), it gives you a real local point of view on the sights and sounds of the islands. I really felt like we were seeing things that other tour books might not have included.

Anyway,Turtle Beach is NOT one of those things, as I'm quite sure it's included in every Oahu tour book under the sun. How could it not be? The non-descript beach is positively swarming with Green Sea Turtles. It's truly remarkable. Located halfway between Waimea and Hale'iwa right off of 83, it can be kind of hard to find, as there aren't any giant signs. We realized we had arrived because of the sheer number of cars parked on the side of the road. Oh, and then I glanced over to the water (about a 100 feet away) and literally saw the turtles from my car window.

After you park, cross the street and carefully make your way down to the beach (it can be kind of hard to find a good place to get down). The turtles are usually swimming everywhere, but when they crawl onto the sand, you'll spot a red rope surrounding them with some volunteers sitting guard.


Michael and I decided that when we retire, we're going to be Turtle Beach volunteers. What a sweet gig.

21 September 2009

Hawaiian Plate Lunches (or.. how something so bad can be oh so good)

Loco Moco at Rainbow Drive-In

Our trip to Oahu went down like most of the trips Michael and I have taken sans kids. It revolved around food. Each day, we plotted our food itinerary, and then the rest of our activities served to get us from one restaurant to the next.

On our first full day in Oahu, we started off at Pearl Harbor, touring the USS Arizona memorial and the USS Missouri. Once we finished up there, we were famished, which was exactly what we needed to be for our scheduled lunch. On tap that day was the Rainbow Drive-In. This is Obama's favorite lunch spot and was also highly recommended by Stefania, so we knew it was going to be outrageously good. We also knew it was going to be outrageously unhealthy, but that's what vacation is for, right?

Rainbow Drive-In

Hawaiian plate lunches are a mysterious amalgam of foods, and demonstrate very well the melting pot of cultures that make up Hawaii. The standards on a plate lunch include two scoops of rice and one (giant) scoop of very goopy macaroni salad. The variable on the plate is the meat. I wanted to get the Beef Curry (because I always do what Stefania tells me to do), but we visited Rainbow on a Monday, and the Curry is only available on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead, I chose the breaded pork cutlet, smothered in gravy.

Breaded pork cutlet plate lunch

Michael went all out and got the Loco Moco (pictured at the top of this post). Loco Moco features a hamburger patty, topped with gravy and a fried egg. It is as outrageous and fattening as it sounds, and Michael regretted his order all afternoon, but while eating it, he was in heaven, and he ate up every bit of food on his plate (a true feat).

Rainbow Drive-In is a must-visit for anyone in Oahu. It must be tasted to believed.

19 July 2009

Unexpected Awesomeness: The Saugatuck Dune Rides

Dune Rides

There are lots of tourist-y activities that I tend to write off.The Saugatuck Dune Rides are one of them. We have a rental cottage here for the summer, and I've driven past the above sign dozens of times. We've never stopped to experience the rides until yesterday. On an unseasonably cold day, we knew we wouldn't be sunbathing on the beach, so we needed SOME sort of activity, and the dune rides fit the bill.

Lo and behold, we had an amazing, amazing time. The thrill of zooming down sandy roads in an ancient dune buggy was so energizing. All of us had giant smiles pinned on our faces. The experience was part roller coaster, part history lesson, part comedy show. Well worth the money. Enjoy the slide show below!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

07 June 2009

New Orleans' St. Louis Cemetery Number One

New Orleans is like Paris. It's one of those cities that, once visited, gets into your blood. You always want to return. And each time you do, you are content to just wander, letting it seep further and further into your soul. It's been over a year since my last trip, and high time I get back there. I hope you enjoy this slideshow of photos from the St. Louis Cemetery Number One, on the borders of the French Quarter:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

26 May 2009

Cemetery Slide Show: Granary Burial Ground

Somehow, whenever my sister-in-law Megen and I take a trip together, we end up at a cemetary. Last week we traveled to Boston, and sure enough, it happened again. It was a cold, clear day, and I think the pictures are beautiful.

I have pics of us at other cemeteries, and hope to make this a regular feature on the site. Enjoy!

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

21 May 2009

Is it safe for me to travel to Mexico?

It's hard to ignore all of the news about Mexico these days. As a result of the Swine Flu (H1N1) scare, many travelers are canceling their trips to Mexico. Planes to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta are nearly empty. Hotel rooms that were going for $700 or $800 a night are now less than $200. Once bustling tourist villages are now ghost towns. And this is not going to end anytime soon. Most cruises are scheduled a year in advance. This means that even 2010 travel to Mexico is being affected. The effect of the flu on the Mexican economy is staggering.

Since I just wrote a post recommending a resort in Mexico, it seemed like a good time to weigh in with my own point of view on this subject. I can't (and won't) tell you that it is 100% safe for you to travel to Mexico. I don't have a definitive answer on this. I can; however, tell you what I would do if I had another trip scheduled. I would go. In fact, I think there is no better time to travel to Mexico.

As I mentioned above, rates are rockbottom. In this economy, can you afford to pass on an $800 hotel room that is going for $100? If you are still leary, choose a resort that is participating in the Flu Free Guarantee. These resorts (including Karisma Hotels, the group who runs the Sensatori) are so confident that guests won't contract the Swine Flu that they are providing a guarantee:

In the highly unlikely case that you do catch H1N1 A, you'll receive one free vacation a year, for three consecutive years, for the length of the original stay*, as well as additional discounts.

We returned from our Mexico trip just before the Swine Flu hysteria (yes, I classify it as hysteria) struck. Even without that cloud hanging over the country, tourism was suffering. The hotels were not at full capacity (even though it was spring break). And, judging from the gratitude we received with even just a $1 or $2 gratuity, the people of Mexico need tourism to survive. If you are considering a trip to this beautiful country, PLEASE continue to consider it, or even make the move and book it. Mexico needs its tourists back.

Note: While my trip to the Sensatori was a fully comped press trip, they did not offer me any additional compensation to write this post. This post was written by me, from my heart, with no influence from any company or tourism group.