MA Road Trip: Getting to Know Lake Michigan

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich., Aug. 8 -- "Michigan and sand dunes? I never thought these two words would be in the same sentence," my MA map producer extraordinaire Julia wrote in an e-mail. I was thinking the same thing. Aren't sand dunes the stuff of deserts in exotic locales?

The surreal and magnificent dunes of Ludington, Mich. (Kim O'Donnel)

Meanwhile, my travel companion Jules, a lifelong Outer Banks beach bunny, was struggling with the notion of fresh (rather than salt) water beaches and the absence of sea shells. Sure enough, just as we turned the bend off the main strip of Ludington, we were quickly shown the errors of our preconceived notions with a front-and-center view of the most majestic and wildly surreal sand dunes and yes indeed, certifiable beaches for strolling, sunbathing and swimming!

Before we headed out of town, we did some window shopping along the main drag, and with the help of Marsha, who runs the Evergreen Natural Foods Market, made our way over to the Plaza Café , the one place in town offering both vegetarian and gluten-free vittles (and some organic stuff). We met owner Tom McKenna who's running the kitchen with his son, Patrick, who's headed to culinary school in the fall.

While we waited for our food (Jules ordered gluten-free pancakes and I got a very tasty black bean burrito), I spotted an article in the Aug. 6 edition of the Ludington Daily News about a local resident who has been circulating a petition to keep the town's only Starbucks from closing, as part of the coffee company's nationwide sweep of store closures. (The Ludington location has been open just a year)

On our way to South Haven, we breezed through Saugatuck (missed the exit, alas) and Holland, but instead made a beeline for the town of Fennville, one of four major wine-growing areas of Michigan. According to the Web site of the Michigan wine industry, there are 56 wineries throughout the state, making it the fourth largest wine-growing state in the country.

The lighthouse at South Haven's South Pier. (Kim O'Donnel)

We tasted a handful of local vintages at Fenn Valley Vineyards, including the latest batch of blueberry wine, a sweet elixir served chilled. When we arrived in South Haven (which is adorable, by the way), we found the retail store for Warner Vineyards, and we both agreed their blueberry wine was far less sweeter -- a good thing -- and learned it is made exclusively from South Haven blueberries.

About those blueberries -- that's precisely why we are here. Home of the National Blueberry Festival, South Haven is considered the blueberry capital of the world. In its 45th year, the festival kicked off last night with a blueberry pie and ice cream social, and of course, I had to give the local a la mode a whirl (which earned very high marks -- licked the plate clean).

This morning, the town (which has been referred to as the "Catskills of the Midwest) comes alive with nothing but blueberries and we can't wait to get downtown and take in the berry enthusiasm. A full report, with photos, will be available in Monday's blog space.

For those of you who mentioned Sherman's ice cream as a must-have item, I have very exciting news: the Hampton Inn where we are staying is literally across the street from the original Sherman's , and yes, we'll be making a stop at the dairy bar before we head to Chicago this afternoon.

This weekend: I'm headed to Madison, Wis. and farmland environs, with a report from the Dane County farm market on Monday. Have a delicious weekend!

By Kim ODonnel |  August 8, 2008; 9:52 AM ET MA on the Road , Travel
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I was born and raised in Michigan (now living in D.C.), and spent many a summer in Ludington where my Grandparents lived for many years. I'm so happy to read about your travels though a very beautiful part of the state. Thank you for sharing your experiences with everyone!

Posted by: Yes! Michigan | August 8, 2008 11:44 AM

Hey Kim, maybe I'll see you at the Madison farmer's market tomorrow morning! Do try to get there as early as you can; we got in the habit of going around 9 or 10am and it is always mobbed by then. One morning we got there by 6:30am (to scope out very rare sour cherries) and it was so nice to be able to breath and wander a bit. Either way, though, you'll love it.

Anyway, I'm excited that you'll be going through Montana too - my family has a little cabin very near Red Lodge. On your way out of Red Lodge, if you end up going through the little town of Absarokee, be sure to stop at the Dew Drop Inn (a little drive-up restaurant with just a counter and outdoor picnic tables) for the most delicious milkshakes - blackberry is my favorite. I'm going to be out that way in a couple of weeks and I can't wait.

Posted by: Phoebe | August 8, 2008 4:10 PM

Hi Kim! Hope you are having a great trip! I just made the Chocolate Guinness cake and when I took it out of the oven it sank a little in the middle. What did I do wrong? I am supposed to bring it to a dinner party later and think I still will bring it and just make it look pretty with the icing :-)

Any thoughts? Thanks!

Posted by: Melanie | August 9, 2008 3:22 PM

Can't wait to see you in Des Moines KO'D!

Posted by: Midgemadge | August 11, 2008 8:08 AM

This makes me wants to visit the place!

Posted by: jane | August 11, 2008 2:15 PM


Michigan is 4th in grape growing, not wine grape growing. They're eighth there. Most of their grapes go into juices (concord and Niagara).

There's no way Michigan produces more wine than any two of Washington, Virginia and New York (assuming California and Oregon are 1-2).

Posted by: Stormy | August 12, 2008 1:14 PM

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