When we were thinking about taking a vacation earlier this year, we decided we wanted the same laid-back vibe that we found in Maine a couple years ago.
We started out with a few criteria. We wanted to:
- Rent a cottage. We knew from Maine’s experience that as a family of 5 we do better with a little space. Hotels and motels are fine, but I constantly feel like I’m shushing the kids to keep them from being too loud. There’s never enough room for us all, and spending a week there? No thanks. Renting a summer home is the perfect option for us right now, especially since I like to have a real kitchen for us to prepare most of our meals.
- Near a lake. We wanted to hang out near a lake — or to be more exact, we wanted to be on the lake in a boat — for fishing, swimming, canoeing, etc.
- Near a National Park. In Maine, we spent a lot of our time exploring Acadia National Park, and honestly I think we all fell a little in love with the brilliance of the National Parks concept. The more I read about them, the more I want to visit every last one of them. They offer that taste of preserved nature for everyone to enjoy.
- Not too far from home. Unlike our trip to Maine, I didn’t want to drive hours and hours and hours to get there. This time around, it wasn’t about the journey; I wanted to get there already to start the holiday.
- With Lou the Wonder Pup. This was the hardest obstacle for us to plan around, and the one that meant the most to me. I really wanted to have our dog Lou come with us on vacation, so I wouldn’t worry about him and the separation anxiety (his and mine!). Finding a summer home open to pets is one thing; trying to make sure that we could do all we wanted to do without causing Louie undue stress at being in a new place was quite another.
- And not break our budget. Enough said, right?
And miracle of miracles, we found just the spot: Traverse City, Michigan.
Strangely, right before we left, I read articles in both Family Fun and Cooking Light magazines about Traverse City. Both touted it as being a great place for family and “foodie” vacations. (As an aside, apparently Mario Batali loves it up there in the summer. Who knew?). I took it as a good omen.
Traverse City is close to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park. Believe me when I say that if you go, you have to do the Dune Climb.
It’s like walking on a vertical beach. Behind the main dune are even more sandy inclines and trails to walk around. Sure, it’s exhausting on the way up, but oh, so much fun to run down!
We rented a little house on a very shallow lake. The owner allowed us to bring our dog and to rent his pontoon boat for the week. It was fantastic. We taught the kids to canoe and snorkel.
We took the boat out and even caught a few fish.
In fact we spent so much time out on the boat, eating dinners and tooling around the different inlets, that occasionally someone would lay down and fall asleep in the sun.
We ventured into the little towns to eat lunch and see the sights. There are all sorts of wineries popping up along the peninsulas that stick out into Lake Michigan with restaurants offering both delicious fare for foodies and great menus for the kids as well. Pleasing the palates of adults and kids alike is a tricky balance to strike, yet we saw lots of places manage it so well. After stuffing ourselves silly, we walked it off by wading in the Great Lake itself.
I learned that Traverse City is all about the cherries and that it is host to the National Cherry Festival which happens in early July each year.
Can I just say? Dried cherries are perhaps my new favorite food. So delicious!
For us, it was only about a 6 hour drive away from home (and that was with a puppy). I’m still amazed that we were able to find a place that fit all the criteria we outlined so close to home.
If you’re looking for a laid-back vacation around the Great Lakes, I’d highly recommend looking into Traverse City. And don’t forget the cherry pie!