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 because 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! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial week escapes one day drive away

Door county, WI is all about wate. (J Jacobs photos)
Door county, WI is all about wate. (J Jacobs photos)

Memorial Day signals summer even if just for the long weekend or for a whole week if school is already out. But that vacation should be in the planning stage now to get the accommodations and restaurants wanted. (Note: If going before Memorial Day check hours. Some shops, galleries, restaurants are only open Thursday through Sunday)

With gas prices looking more and more like highway robbery a one-day drive there may better budget cents.  (Note: If going before Memorial Day check hours. Some shops, galleries, restaurants are only open Thursday through Sunday)

Here are three destinations, each within a different state, that are an easy day’s drive from Chicago. They all have historic roots. First is a Wisconsin peninsula that is basically an island with several small villages. Second is a Michigan town paired with two good neighbors. Third is a historic Illinois town near the Mississippi River.

Door County, WI

A finger separating the calmer waters of Green Bay from the often more turbulent waves of Lake Michigan, the Wisconsin peninsula home to Door County draws vacationers looking for relaxing seascapes, fine art and pottery galleries, delicious food, trails to bike and hike and lighthouses.

Visit a lighthouse in Door County (Phot by Jodie Jacobs
Visit a lighthouse in Door County (Photo by Jodie Jacobs)

Although The Door, as it is often called, begins halfway up the peninsula south of Brussels for drivers taking Hwy 57, the tourist destination starts further north across a bridge at Sturgeon Bay that is about a four-hour, fifteen-minute drive from Chicago.

Stop before crossing the bridge to get a map, dining and gallery brochures and expert information at the Visitor Center, 1015 Green Bay Road, Sturgeon Bay.

Best plan is to make accommodation reservations before leaving home. Destination Door County/Stay lists inns, B and Bs, cabins, guest houses, motels, resorts and condos.

You might want a place near the center of The Door in Ephraim such as the Eagle Harbor Inn or a place with water views such as Harbor House in Fish Creek or the Yacht Club in Sister Bay or a place known for its good breakfast such as the Church Hill Inn.

Settle in, check the map you now have to see all the towns and crossroads from bay side to lake side and figure what kind of food you want that first night, casual, pizza, fine dining or one of The Door’s noted “fish boil.” experience.

More than one restaurant does an excellent fish boil. The historic White Gull Inn in Fish Creek is among the most popular. Fish boils are fun to watch but you have to like white fish to eat the dish and not worry about bones (for most of them).

When in the mood for home-made root beer, a hamburger and a picture-worthy sundae, stop at historic Wilson’s, a local ice cream parlor in Ephraim.

Door County is fruit country, particularly cherries, so be sure to pick up a cherry pie, chocolate covered cherries and a selection of preserves while there or before you leave. Couple of suggestions: Schartner’s Farm Market on Hwy42 south of Egg Harbor and Seaquist Orchards, north on Hwy 42 past Sister Bay have yummy products.

Other items to bring back are a painting and pottery. Door County is home to several artists and artisans. Also, indulge your inner artist at Hands On Art Studio on Peninsula Players Road in Fish Creek. A complex of small buildings, Hands On has the tools, materials and experts to help with ceramics or create a glass, clay, mosaic or jewelry item.

Or stop in any way to see what is there and then go up Peninsula Players Road to Edgewood Orchard Galleries to walk its sculpture trail.

BTW, bringing back food and art is part of a driving trip vacation.

 

Dune climbing is part of the Saugatuck, MI experience ( J jacobs photo)
Dune climbing is part of the Saugatuck, MI experience ( J Jacobs photo)

Saugatuck/Douglas MI

At about 139 miles from Chicago, Saugatuck, its twin town of Douglas and neighboring town of Fennville are an easy two-hour, 14-minute drive north on Interstate 196.

Saugatuck is on the north side of the Kalamazoo River with Douglas across the way on the river’s south side.. Fenville is south and slightly east of Douglas. They all have attractive stops when on a driving trip to what is known as Michigan’s Art Coast.

Gallery hopping is as much an attraction and pursuit as climbing the area’s dunes and dune riding. A popular art stop is the J. Petter Galleries on the Blue coast Hwy in Douglas just before crossing the bridge and turning into Saugatuck.

Artists have been coming here for at least 100 years when the Art Institute of Chicago opened Ox-Bow School. The school still has workshops and classes and the Art Barn in Fennville has drop-in times for anyone interested in creating something.

Cross the Kalamazoo River on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry (J Jacobs photo)
Cross the Kalamazoo River on the Saugatuck Chain Ferry (J Jacobs photo)

Inns and B and B’s on the lake, across from the river and near downtown  Saugatuck offer comfortable rooms, friendly hosts and in many cases, breakfasts.

Walk along the river in Saugatuck but for something different take the Saugatuck Chain Ferry across the river then climb Mt. Baldy dune’s 302 steps for great views of the surrounding area.

For a back-in-time break stop in the Saugatuck Drug Store & Soda Fountain for a root beer float.

When not checking out the shops downtown Saugatuck, fit in a visit to the Saugatuck Brewery and browse the Saugatuck Antique Pavilion, both on the Blue Star Hwy in Douglas.

Slightly further out in Fennville take refreshing breaks at the Fenn Valley Vineyards and Virtue Cider, both a few minutes away in Fennville.

Both have products you take home to enjoy while looking over and emailing photos of the Saugatuck area.

 

Kandy Kitchen and other fun Main Street shops and historic structures draw vacationers to Galena. (J Jacobs photo)
Kandy Kitchen and other fun Main Street shops and historic structures draw vacationers to Galena. (J Jacobs photo)

Galena, IL

Galena, IL a 19th century former lead mining town and once popular 1850s  political stop for both Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, the town rises on hills above the Mississippi River in northwest Illinois.

The area’s fall color is enough to make Galena a seasonal destination but many vacationers come in winter to ski or summer for fun shopping in a historic town. About 800 buildings, comprising 85 percent of the downtown and surrounding area, make up a historic district listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Among them is the home of Ulysses S. Grant where he was living when he heard he was elected the 18th President of the United States, and the Desota House Hotel where Lincoln spoke in 1856 for John Fremont’s bid for the presidency.

Along with Desota House, there are several B and B’s. If looking for luxury consider the Select Registry inns of Goldmoor and Jail Hill  (really). For hiking, biking, golf and spa look just outside of Galena’s downtown at Eagle Ridge.

After checking in or dropping off overnight bags, start the visit at the Galena Country Visitor Center. Located in a former train depot near the Grant house, it is on the south side of the Galena River across old rail tracks at 101 Bouthiller St.

Historic Galena nestles into hillsides above the Mississippi River. J Jacobs photo)
Historic Galena nestles into hillsides above the Mississippi River. J Jacobs photo)

Ask for a map of the downtown and area and get ready to shop and explore..\

Galena has lots of restaurants but the one that needs a reservation more than others is Fried Green Tomatoes. So, make you dining reservation before you arrive in town.

Vising Galena is about walking tits historic downtown and popping into clever, yummy and interesting shops such as Kandy Kitchen, Chocolat ,  Bread & Vine, a patisserie with good macarons, desserts and yummy sandwiches and American Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor, the shop many folks crowd into first.

But don’t forget to cross the street and head up towards the highway and beginning of the shopping area for a true treasure store called Red’s Iron Yard and Wholesale Barn .  Indulge in your inner farmyard, antique shopping persona. After all, driving here means room in the car for collectibles.

One more tip: check the department of transportation website whichever state and trip you choose to find out about construction.

Happy and safe travels!