A Michigan Art Coast Getaway

 

 

Saugatuck, MI is made for strolling, popping into shops and taking a break for coffee, tea and ice cream. Photos by Jodie Jacobs)
Downtown Saugatuck, MI is made for strolling, popping into shops and taking a break for coffee, tea and ice cream. Photos by Jodie Jacobs)

Autumn officially began Sept. 22, 2022, in the Northern Hemisphere.  Which is a good excuse to take to the road. You get warm days and cool nights so leaves are changing color.

If looking for high color, try to go the second week of October. But if looking for a relaxing getaway with good art galleries, good food, good wine and fun shops, consider the Saugatuck/Douglas, and by extension, the Fennvillee/orchard/winery area.

A popular summer and fall destination, the towns are on the State of Michigan’s vacation/harbor/dunes coast about 130 plus miles if going east and then north from Chicago around  Lake Michigan.

Douglas is basically on the south side of the Kalamazoo Rive and Saugatuck lies on the river’s north side, closer to the area’s dunes. Fennville is a short distance south and east.

 

Wickwood Inn, a B n B in Saugatuck, MI.
Wickwood Inn, a B n B in Saugatuck, MI.

Where to stay

Saugatuck has several B and Bs and inns. We stayed at the Wickwood Inn which actually is a B ‘n’ B. It is within easy walking distance of the downtown, serves wine and light appetizers in its bar/library late afternoons, sweets all the time next to the kitchen and breakfast nook and breakfast options every morning in the dining room.

The 1937, colonial-style home of former Saugatuck Mayor Frank Wicks, the house was bought by the Louis family in 1981 and turned into an inn. It became famous for its breakfasts when neighbors, Bill Miller and Silver Palate Cookbook co-author Julee Rosso bought it about ten years later.

In 2021 it was sold to Shea Soucie and Martin Horner, partners of the Chicago-based Soucie Horner Ltd, a luxury design company who added their stamp to the house with new décor and furnishings.

Possibly because of COVID, the breakfast we had no longer a buffet. Choices served at your table in the dining room included but were not limited to eggs done your way, smoked salmon, good bread for toast and excellent jam.

The rooms had received a luxury make-over with really comfortable bedding, good showers and relaxing color tones. 

We liked that the house became our late afternoon refuge from sightseeing. Its garden porch was perfect for reading and its parlor with fireplace had comfortable sitting for chatting and relaxing.

When we rang the bell, Jeff West, our Wickwood, host for the weekend, said our room would be ready early and we could park in the Inn’s lot before checking in. Parking is challenging in downtown Saugatuck, so we were happy to leave our car at the inn. Note, a guest card must be in the car window. 

One of many rooms in the J Petter Galleries, Douglas, MI
One of many rooms in the J Petter Galleries, Douglas, MI

Galleries

Because check-in wasn’t until 4 p.m. ET and we were still operating on CT we stopped at J. Petter Galleries, a large, meandering two-level structure on the Blue Coast Highway. It’s in Douglas just before the bridge and the turn into Saugatuck.

J Petter Galleries is a fine art gallery in the classical definition. Going there is like spending time at an art museum where you don’t hurry.

Operating the gallery since 2013, Julianne Petter has been building a wine section and wine-tasting bar that deserves a visit along with the art exhibit rooms. Juli, as she’s known, referred to the appreciation of fine wine on our recent visit as “the art of wine.” 

To connect its artists to its wines, the gallery is running a label design contest for a “Beaujolais nouveau” style of wine developed for them here in the United States.

 Water Street Gallery, our next stop, is a short drive south on the Blue Coast Hwy from Petter’s in downtown Douglas. Water Street is much smaller than Petter’s but still nice. It has interesting sculptures outside in front and down a few steps in back that is accessible around the street corner through its driveway. 

Button Art Gallery, our third stop, is across the street and down a block from Water Street Gallery. Button is a fun place with creative pieces inside and in the garden outside. 

Saugatuck is known as Michigan’s Art Coast going back to when the Art Institute of Chicago set up classes there as the Ox-Bow School of Art in 1910. Ox-Bow School of Art still exists, offering credited and non-credited classes.

 Artists still live and vacation in the area. Plus, there are individual artist galleries and studios downtown Saugatuck. The three galleries mentioned here that are in Douglas carry several artists’ work and were open when we visited on a Sunday and Monday (leaving Tuesday morning).  Best is to check their hours and days open.  

Fenn Valley Vineyards is an old, established winery in Fennville, south of Saugatuck-Douglas
Fenn Valley Vineyards is an old, established winery in Fennville, south of Saugatuck-Douglas

Wineries

We saved visits to wineries located in Fennville for our second day so as not to rush tastings and exploration of the area.

The oldest is Fenn Valley Vineyards developed, owned and operated by the Welsch family since 1973. Its site was specifically chosen in an area that has been good for orchards. 

Located five miles from Lake Michigan, Fenn Valley is a 240-acre farm on top of a large sand ridge between the Black River and the Kalamazoo River valleys that benefits from Lake Michigan’s temperature moderating conditions and a well-drained soil.

Everyone’s taste is different. I prefer full bodied, dry reds but everything tried during our wine tasting was very drinkable and good for serving guests. My faves were the Classic Chardonnay fermented in French oak and the Meritage, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. To learn more about these wines see Fenn Valley Wines

The wines served to us at Wickwood were from Fenn Vally.

Bree does the wine-pours at Magalas, a new winery in Fennville , MI
Bree does the wine-pours at Modales, a new winery in Fennville, MI

Newish in the valley is Modales. Formed in 2016, Modales consists of two farms, a 75-acre farm at the winery about 3.5 miles from Lake Michigan that had been a stone fruit farm and a 37-acre farm closer to the lake.

Until more of the vines planted are ready for harvest, Bree noted they have bought grapes from the Leelanau region of Michigan (which I found in the past to have become some remarkable wines) and then process them according to Modales tastes and standards.

I liked the 2018 Lamastus Red which was a blend and full-bodied. I also tasted a wine from grapes just harvested in 2022 on the property that was young but showed considerable promise.

Good wine is worth waiting for so I expect Modales to become better known as it develops its specialties and plants more vines. Though young, the winery is worth a visit and then a return in a few years to taste again.

 

Coast 236 Scallops in Saugatuck, MI
Coast 236 Scallops in Saugatuck, MI

Where to Dine

Coast 236, a downtown Saugatuck restaurant and bar, is known for its wine flights, cocktails and recognition in Wine Spectator. But it also has excellent cuisine.

Many of the diners were doing the day’s featured multi-course dinner with matching wines. However, since we had just spent the day tasting wines I chose a main-course option of New Bedford Diver Scallops with Foie Gras from Labelle Farms. They were accompanied by citrus semolina gnocchi and broccolini. The sauce was a sauternes beurre blanc. Wow!

I often use scallops as a restaurant test and these passed with an A plus. They were perfectly prepared and the dish was so loaded with flavor that I used the toast we ordered to accompany our meal as a way to sop up the sauce.

My dinner companion wasn’t hungry so chose the tapas-sized dish of New Zealand Lamb Lollipops.

Note: Chef Rick Bower and the restaurant have been recognized by the James Beard Foundation for commitment to sustainable seafood sourcing.

Pennyroyal Cafe in Saugatuck, MI
Pennyroyal Cafe in Saugatuck, MI

Pennyroyal Café & Provisions is a small dine-in and take-out spot on the Blue Coast Highway in Saugatuck. Sitting inside is not about atmosphere but about getting a table. The outdoor patio is nice but the wait is long. However, Pennyroyal is so innovative and the food so delicious that people are willing to be crowded inside or put up with the long wait outdoors.

Part of the problem is that Condé Nast Traveler has more than once noted that Pennyroyal was a restaurant destination. Also, Executive Chef Melissa Corey had worked for James Beard award-winning chefs and she won when appearing on Food Network’s “Chopped.”  

We chose to try the restaurant for lunch because it was a Monday and closed about 3 p.m. that day. The all-day menu was different from the dinner one.

Even though we came what we thought was after the busy brunch crowd, yes, we had to wait for a table outside for about 45 minutes.

Imagine a BLT that includes delicious Gruyere cheese, Nueske’s bacon from Wisconsin and San Francisco-style sourdough bread from a Grand Rapids, MI baking company that was nicely grilled.

Definitely gourmet, what came was a cross between a BLT and a grilled cheese sandwich. Reading about Nueske’s, a long-time family business, is a clue to how important the chef considers individual ingredients.  Yum. It was worth the wait. 

There are no reservations for lunch but reservations can be made for dinner. So, if in the area, try to get a dinner reservation.

 

Crane's Bakery Restaurant Winery in Fennville,MI
Crane’s Bakery Restaurant Winery in Fennville,MI

Shopping 

The Saugatuck/Douglas/Fennville area has good breweries and antiques which will give you more places to taste, look or wander but if time is short you might want to put these three stops on your itinerary.

Crane’s, a triple threat of bakery, restaurant and small-batch winery, sits among the fields and vineyards of Fennville. This is the place to pick up a pumpkin or fruit pie. We brought home one of the best pumpkin pies and cinnamon sugar dusted, apple-cider donuts we’ve ever tasted.

We did not stay for lunch because we were going to Pennyroyal and we didn’t try the wines so if in the area, go for them and add them to your list or add a comment on this website.

 

Mazwi is an African shop whose imports fit in well with the arts in Saugatuck, MI
Mazwi is an African shop whose imports fit in well with the arts in Saugatuck, MI

Mazwi is across the street from Coast 236. Its owners travel to Africa to import items for their Saugatuck shop. My problem is limiting purchases to gifts for family because there are so many interesting and artistic items.

Kilwins, a chocolate and ice cream shop on Butler St, downtown Saugatuck can be found in other fun, Midwest travel destinations but that doesn’t make it less of a shopping stop when chocolate ior a caramel-coated apple is on the mind.

We did Crane’s with the wineries but went there to pick up a pie to take home. As to shopping, we finally got around to checking out the shops after lunch and picking up fudge to take from Kilwins. The fun of travel destinations is to pace stops so the break really is a vacation and not something that needs downtime for recovery.

 Enjoy! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three no passport spring vacation ideas

Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI (J Jacobs photo)
Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI
(J Jacobs photo)

 

Don’t wait for the first robin or crocus to pop up to plan what to do or where to go for a spring vacation. Hotels and good B and B’s may already be booked and airlines will have few seats at the price you want. Make plans now

Good as Washington DC is, student groups may already have plane seats and hotel rooms so consider that destination for another time. Instead, Spring Break is a good chance to splash in a pool, visit and cross off a presidential museum or find an unusual children’s museum in a town not yet visited.

The suggestions listed here are Midwest destinations within a day’s drive of Chicago. The city’s schools are out April 6-10 and most suburban districts are out March 23-27 in 2020.

 

African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)
African themed Kalahari Resort at the Wisconsin Dells. (J Jacobs photo)

Indoor Pool

Arguably among the best indoor water parks are the ones at the Kalahari Resorts. If living in the Midwest, consider the African-themed one at the Wisconsin Dells. The resort really is a combination amusement park, movie and dining destination and games emporium.

I like the Dells as a summer or fall escape when the weather is predictable but spring is a good time to enjoy a resort that has so much to offer, guests might not feel the need to leave.  Also check out other Wisconsin Waterparks for a spring Break.

An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)
An old time streetscape in the Grand Rapids Public Museum (J Jacobs photo)

Fascinating presidential and public museums

Located in Grand Rapids, MI, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum combines his University of Michigan background, Nixon’s resignation, Betty Ford’s contributions and a replica of the Oval Office.

Across the road is the Grand Rapids Public Museum which has fun explorations and a merry go round ride. From American Indian displays to inventions, an old-time streetscape and a giant clock, there is enough here to spend the day.

 

An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)
An orangutan climbed down from his perch to try a computer game with a scientist at the Indianapolis Zoo. (J Jacobs photo)

Where a dinosaur and orangutans hang out

People outside of Indianapolis may not know the city has a remarkable Children’s Museum charmingly guarded by a huge dinosaur and that the Indianapolis Zoo is one of the few places in the country that boasts a specialized orangutan center where visitors can watch these intelligent animals play and practice their cognitive game skills.

I love the Childeren’s Museum’s Take Me There exhibits. When I visited it was to China. Currently it is to Greece. And there really is a simulated flight there.  And I was fascinated by everything the orangutans could do.

Also worth a visit when in town are the Eiteljorg Museum of American indians’ Western Art and the Indiana State Museum next door that has a wonderful Rube Goldberg inventions exhibit. See Visit Indy for more information.

 

Five tips for a fun fall color trip

A little fall travel homework now saves trip stress later on

The signs are there, teasing the Northern US and Midwestern states with nippy air and barely tinged maple and aspen leaves. It’s time to plan a fall color getaway.

Fall comes in all colors along the forested back roads of Door County in northern Wisconsin
Fall comes in all colors along the forested back roads of Door County in northern Wisconsin

But before you pencil in your destination there are a few tips to consider so that fall color fever does not have to be treated with two aspirins a day.

1. Even though weekends may be easier on your work schedule, it won’t be easier on your drive or stay at popular fall destinations.

Do try to go during the week or you will find yourself in bumper to bumper traffic along normally scenic roads, staying at less desirable locations and grabbing “to-go” from a drive-in instead of relaxing at a good local restaurant.

2. Once you have determined where you want to go, take a look at that area’s Convention and Visitors Bureau websites for accommodation listings.

An overlook at Peninsula Park in Door County reveals warm tangerines, ambers and shimmering golds
An overlook at Peninsula Park in Door County reveals warm tangerines, ambers and shimmering golds

It is OK to call the CVB for suggestions and recommendations. They want visitors to be happy. They may even have a list of places in your price range and that meet your needs that are booked and those with vacancies.

3. Accommodations in popular color destinations are often filled months, sometimes a year, ahead so book as early as possible. Also, broaden your options to include Bed & Breakfasts, condominium rentals and suite hotels.

Remember that a place that may sound pricey but includes breakfast could end up cheaper than somewhere without breakfast. Also a condominium with kitchen facilities may also save on meal costs.

4. Choose an area that has more to do than drive around looking for the best snapshot to post on Facebook or go into the family album. Areas rich in fall color often have additional attractions such as wineries, harvest festivals and art galleries.

Visitors go to Southern Illinois for its wine trail and find out the Shawnee Forest is in the best kept color secret category except to people who live there
Visitors go to Southern Illinois for its wine trail and find out the Shawnee Forest is in the best kept color secret category except to people who live there

Knowing more about an area than its reputation for color may help deciding when and where to go.

5. Whether you have a destination in mind or not, you will have a better idea on when peak color comes if you check a state’s website. States want you to come so they have color watch and color information.

Knowing ahead that color comes the last week in September in one state or area of a state and mid-October in another state or area, will help you schedule your trip.

Here are some Midwestern scenic and color websites sites to check (other states have similar sites):

Follow the red border roads on the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City because they lead to wineries, cute towns, great overlooks and more fall color
Follow the red border roads on the Leelanau Peninsula near Traverse City because they lead to wineries, cute towns, great overlooks and more fall color

Visit Illinois and Color watch. See Indiana and check Color information. Go to Ohio and its  Color information. Also see Michigan and its Color information. Visit  Minnesota and its Color information. In addition go to Wisconsin and Color information

Photos by Jodie Jacobs

Become a fall color connoisseur

It is not too early to plan your fall color excursion.  Indeed, it might even be too late if you expected to snag a weekend B&B or hotel room in such popular “leaf peeper” destinations as Door County in Wisconsin, Brown County in Indiana and Bennington and Addison Counties in Vermont.

The Alto Pass overlook and Shawnee Forest south of Carbondale, IL is worth a fall trip
The Alto Pass overlook and Shawnee Forest south of Carbondale, IL is worth a fall trip

Those are great fall destinations, but they are not the only places to celebrate nature’s coat of many colors.

Here are some guidelines to fit color around your schedule:

Consider your timeline and be flexible.

  1. Expect color seekers to crowd the roads on weekends so try to schedule your trip for during the week to see more than the back bumper of the car ahead. Early in the week is also best to find a choice of accommodations and restaurants.
  2. Based on past years, towns typically hold their fall fests during a top color weekend but nature’s show usually starts a couple of weeks before and continues a couple of weeks after the festival so you might have better reservation luck just before or after the hoopla.
  3. Try a new destination that will best fit your schedule.  To help you, most states have a fall color chart that is updated weekly. Even if the chart does not yet show color the state site usually has suggested color routes and a guide to what shrubs and trees change and when.
  4. The second week of October tends to be prime time almost all across the country from Connecticut to Colorado so to avoid the color jams look north for an early trip or south for a later one.

    Door County, Wisconsin shows its true colors every fall
    Door County, Wisconsin shows its true colors every fall
  • For an early fall color trip check the color charts put out by cold-weather states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin and northern Michigan. Spectacular mid-September color comes to the North Shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota, the west end of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the woods north of Michigan’s Traverse City.
  • Trees on the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas next to Traverse typically pull out the paint tubes late September to early October due to the still warm waters of Lake Michigan and Traverse Bay. The same is true of Door County, a peninsula that sticks out like a thumb into Green Bay and Lake Michigan.
  • Don’t worry that you missed the show if you can’t get away until the end of October. Look at charts for the southern tips of a state. Leaves tend to change later in the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri where scenic cliff, rolling hills and meandering waterways add another component to the getaway. Drive from Brown County, Indiana and the Hocking Hills in Ohio south to the Ohio River for late fall color. Or drive through the national and state forests of Tennessee from east to west from October into November.

    Some of the best fall viewing is from the hills of the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas
    Some of the best fall viewing is from the hills of the Leelanau and Mission Peninsulas

Do you really just want to see red?

Obvious as it may seem, the hot color spots are related to tree types. Vermont is popular because it is maple country – yeah, maple syrup.  However, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois also have an abundance of maple trees.  But except for evergreens, you can find forest paths among shades of gold, copper and oranges to make your fall trip a photo odyssey.

Here is a sampling of fall color charts and sites. Please add your favorite fall foliage destination in comments.

Check Federal properties of the US Forest Service or call the US fall color hotline at 1-800-354-4595.

Also, look for the state and regional  suggested fall drives for places off the beaten track such as the Traverse City area, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Vermont.

Other fall color drives: Virginia

Coming up: Questions you ought to ask before you book your accommodations