The young stylish couple wearing expensive sweats checking out before me at A. V. Granor Farm, an organic farm market outside Three Oaks, with specialty foods as well as organic fruit and veg, racked up a $313 tab before soaring off in their Tesla into the otherwise unassuming rural countryside. Is this The Hamptons? No, it’s southwest Michigan. Open during the week only on Friday, the farm also has farm-to-table summer dinners that sell out way in advance.
Three Oaks felt different on a Friday in August, compared to a Wednesday. Lots of city folks. Bet they appreciated the $3.99 gas. It’s $5.48 in Chicago. (And we thought $4.15 in Bridgman was bargain. We saw $3.97 in Indiana, just over the Michigan border.)
On a Friday, more galleries, furniture and home good stores catering to tourists also were open. 3ArborArts has contemporary artwork, all by women currently; Alaplash has cool curated home goods and furniture; 3 trilogy has retro furniture and artwork; Froelich’s has two stores across from each other on the main drag, a sweet bakery and a cavernous restaurant and retail shop with good food (excellent muffuletta, salads) and rows of jars containing Froelich’s homemade dill pickles, jams, tomato sauce, chopped olives, with helpful recipes posted beside each.
Back in Sawyer, on the Red Arrow Highway, we stopped at an old shell service station that despite the original signage is now Twelve Supply, a sparse boutique with gorgeous casual clothes that are really expensive. we’re talking lovely embroidered scarves designed in Paris and made in Mozambique.
This is trip #3 here since July 4, thanks to my sister Jill who lives in this lovely swath of SW Michigan along Lake Michigan. Having spent last week about 4 hours north along the lake in NW Michigan, I notice differences between the two. Here it feels more like a weekend place, with the early August weekdays relatively quiet/fewer tourists and a lot of shops/restaurants closed early in the week. And here the air is warmer, less crisp, and the water is warmer too (although that may be due to this week’s heat).
That said, as always we like being in places like this during off hours. We still couldn’t get an outdoor picnic table at the popular dog-friendly Haymarket brewery north of Bridgman but happily sat in Adirondack chairs around a fire pit eating good thin crust margarita pizza and watching frolicking, corn hole -playing kids and families.
Midday we had the Warren Dunes trails to ourselves, perhaps because it was sweltering, nearing 90 degrees. We started at the trail head east of Floral Lane, south of Bridgman and did a well-marked loop that led through the woods to the steamy dunes (with glorious lake views) and back into the shady woods (amen). The trail was largely flat but there were a few steep dune climbs. At the end of the hike, we looked like we’d hung out in a sweat lodge and my sneakers had accumulated enough sand to form a tiny dune.
As expected, I loved Three Oaks – a small inland village with a good real-to-gentrified ratio — interesting sophisticated shops and restaurants plus old no frills businesses, pretty lanes with small wood houses and colorful gardens, plus the occasional 🌈 gay rights flag and contemporary architectural touches.
Lunch was excellent at Viola Diner (hearty tuna sandwich on multi-grain; steak salad, iced coffee with coffee ice cubes, last seen in Japan). The server brought a water bowl out for Millie, who lounged in the shade beside our outdoor table.
Drier’s is an atmospheric German butcher shop owned by the same family since 1913. The owner kindly offered me a sample of homemade bologna (yum, reminded me of the homemade bologna near the garden of Eden in central Kansas) and we bought a hearty dog bone for Millie.
I also was impressed by the contemporary clothes, shoes and home goods at Goods and Heroes. Some stores (on a Wednesday) were closed so we hope to return tomorrow during the farmers market. The whiskey distillery and nearby Anchor theatre looked interesting. We took pretty rural two-lane backroads north to Sawyer, lined with cornfields and farmhouses and the occasional fancy contemporary house set far back from the road.
Here’s my flowchart of what’s open when In this area:
Open wed ⁃ Flagship specialty foods (fish!), Lakeside, 11-5 ⁃ Collectorztown, Three Oaks ⁃ Goods and heroes, design store, Three Oaks 12 pm ⁃ Grand mere inn fish, dinner, stevensville ⁃ Open Thursday: Alaplash, design store, Three Oaks ⁃ friolichs, store, bakery, cafe, Three Oaks ⁃ Patellies pizza, Three Oaks, 3 pm ⁃ Sojourn home goods, Sawyer, 12 pm
Open Friday: ⁃ granor farm Near Three Oaks, 9-3 ⁃ Alchemy antiques, Sawyer, 12 pm ⁃ Judith racht gallery, Sawyer, 11 am
My best friend from high school PJ lives in the Empire/Glen Arbor area and introduced me to it when we were teenagers in suburban Detroit, visiting her parents cottage on Lake Michigan in Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. So a highlight of the trip is catching up with her and her family, which we did during a lovely afternoon at her beach gathering and cookout with about 15-20 people that stretched into the night, complete with swimming, Petosky stone hunting (no luck, as usual), grilled corn, brats and s’mores, stargazing in the dark, dark sky.
My visit also happened to coincide with the biennial Empire house tour benefiting the impressive contemporary Glen lake community library in Empire so PJ and I visited four homes in Empire and two perched on Glen Lake. Each was very unique and stunning, from a converted 1910 apple barn transformed into a 3-bedroom home to a 1912 arts & crafts bungalow, as well as an ultra modern site-specific architects’ home (“net-zero energy construction,” polished concrete floors inlaid with local beach sones, loft-style great room, native vegetation garden with non-native outdoor pizza oven) and lovely new-construction 12-year-old cottage (“scandi-modern meets cozy farm house”) in the charming sleepy village of Empire to a dramatic modern home tucked into a lakeside hill with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Glen lake (the deep blue cabinets echoing the lake) and a crazy sprawling 1927 log “cabin” also on the lake, in the woods, with origami wood floor, furniture and fixtures mixed with whimsical decor that reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie, complete with collections of peace sign sculptures, stiletto sandals, felt doughnuts hanging from the wood rafters in the sleeping loft, a portrait of Jimmy Hendrix mounted on the cut-stone floor to ceiling fireplace/hearth. I had a definite case of screened porch-envy after the tour.
All the homes had lovely paintings by well-known area artists, whose work PJ took me to see at three Glen arbor galleries including The Center Gallery, part of Lake Street Studios, which has a succession of one week summer shows of various local luminaries. The current show, of rural landscapes by Margo Burian, was almost all sold after just a few days. Other artists with the gallery, which focuses on local work reflecting the local landscape and culture of the sleeping Bear dunes region/Leelanau County include: Joan Richmond, Jessica Kovan, Amanda Ackerman. Other impressive galleries: Synchronicity and ArborGallery, where the saleswoman was a former art teacher at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, my kids’ alma mater.
We took a slight detour to Pyramid Point where we parked our bikes and hiked into the woods for 20 minutes to a high clearing atop a dune looking out at the water in many shades of blue, some worthy of the Caribbean, aqua, navy, greenish, and turquoise.
Dare I say it? The Heritage trail from Glen Arbor north for 10 miles to the end at Bohemian Road was almost prettier than the more traveled portion from Glen Arbor south to Empire. The trail was mostly level and sometimes went along backroads but the backroads were quiet. It paralleled highway M-22 at times but still, not too much traffic. There were crushed gravel portions but nothing too tricky to ride on. And oh the scenery! Shaded, sun-dappled trails through the woods, wide open meadows with a sea of waving purple wildflowers and wooded hills in the distance, startling glimpses of blue lake between the green leafy trees, the odd white birch among the pines and elms, old white farmhouses, bright red wooden barns.
Lunch was chocolate milkshakes and gelato (mint and mocha) at the fabulous new gelato/bakery opened this month by The Grocers daughter, a fancy chocolate shop. Noah and dirck found a pick up pickle ball game on a court in a small park in Empire, west of M-22. My faith in Michigan cherries was restored at a stand on M-22 just north of Empire. (Previous cherries purchased elsewhere were not as good. Mushy and lacking flavor.)
Tonight we returned, as we have every night we’ve been here, to Esch Beach, just south of Empire. At 6 pm the crowd had thinned! It has a wide sandy beach and sandy bottomed lake bottom, with glorious views of the dunes to the north and the wooded hilly shoreline. It also has a designated dog area – we discovered this trip that Millie can swim and lives to go in the water if you throw her a ball to fetch. Linus and Felix both warmed to the water and beach.
I have a habit, perhaps bad, of spending much of my time when revisiting a place trying, often unsuccessfully, to remember where I went last time. Fortunately I have this blog to remind me.
Which is how we ended up in the small pretty village of Northport, while driving north of traverse city in the Leelanau Penninsula along the famously scenic highway M-22 (so famously scenic that it has inspired its M-22 bumper stickers, shot glasses, tees and stores.) The Tribune, a sweet looking restaurant in a former small town newspaper office, was closed (due to it being a Wednesday) but we found good sandwiches nearby at The Bohemian Cafe, next door to a little BBQ place, which, in turn, is next to a shop selling, oddly, beautiful kimonos imported from Japan via the internet.
Like the village of Empire, Northport has retained its small town charm despite becoming gentrified or tourist-fied. There are some high end stores but not too many and not too high-end (although a floor mat made of lobster-catching cords, thick and plastic coated, was $120 at one tasteful store.) And the place still has irreverent and idiosyncratic touches – a sign next to a bunch of old silver knickknacks at an antique/junk shop reading “dead peoples stuff ” and a vending machine with a sign boasting that it’s the worlds first (or only?) goat cheese vending machine. (There was goat cheese in the machine, which we assumed is refrigerated). The waterfront was quiet, lined with lawns, parks, flowers, a marina. The residential streets were quiet too with old cottages and lots of trees and gardens. (This is not the case in other towns like Suttons Bay or even Glen Arbor, which are bustling with tourist attractions.)
We saw major Michigan celebrities on the Heritage trail in Glen Haven, Mi today — big burley young men in Michigan Wolverines shirts who turned out to be U of M football team players. Other mere mortal tourists watched them and tried to avoid being seen gawking. This was perhaps the most unexpected sight on the trail, which we rode for 20-some miles (round trip) from Glen Arbor to Empire.
It’s a really nice wide paved trail that winds mostly through the deep green woods (with the occasional white birch) but offers a few glimpses of Lake Michigan (at Glen Haven, which has some old historic buildings with big old boats on view and a hotel in the making) and Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes, past the Dune Climb, a wide steep mountain of sand that many tourists were huffing and puffing their way up and then running down, arms akimbo. The heritage trail is largely flat until just past the dune climb when it becomes hilly, often steeply so, much of the way to Empire.
Lunch was a sublime chocolate milkshake and Sour strawberry sorbet shared with dirck and newly available at the venerable GrocersDaughter chocolate shop. There’s also gelato and baked goods in a new building that opened last Saturday. Why bother with a mediocre sandwich when you can have a chocolate milkshake instead? It’s a little confusing figuring out where to get what. The gelato / bakery is in a separate new building, also including the milkshakes but the well-reviewed fudgesickles are sold at the original chocolate shop.
In Glen Arbor we rode about 10 miles north along another segment of the trail, this one on a road through the woods along Glen Lake but there were few cars. We got a few peeks through the woods to get a glimpse of big summer houses perched on the lake.
I should add too that in Glen arbor, Anderson IGA is now an upscale market with everything from local cherry jams to Dots pretzels. A branch of Lchaimdeli, based in Beulah, just opened. The bagels are good. And there’s a new store with well-chosen charcuterie fixins called Inn and Trail Gourmet. Old standby Cherry republic is good for meals and snacking on free samples of dried cherry everything. And Esch beach is a sandy swath of beach that kindly welcomes dogs. Our lab Millie plunged in, waves be damned, twice in what looked like an attempt to rescue dirck who did not need rescuing. But she didn’t plunge in when I was swimming. Hmmm….
My first trip to what was then called the El Rey Inn was in the late 1980s. It was an inexpensive lodging option in pricey Santa Fe, a humble but packed-with-character, hacienda-themed motor court motel on the outskirts of town, with low, whitewashed rows of rooms with rough hewn wood beams on the ceiling and old Mexican tiles, pretty green plazas with flowers and a funky old pool. We stayed here maybe three more times into the 2010s, when it started to feel a wee bit faded and run down.
Now it has been transformed by motor court aficionados from Austin into the hipster El Rey Court, a boutique motel with trendy toiletries, contemporary art and, yes, higher prices. But it’s a fun place to stay still, and we had a good excuse. We are here for the wedding of our lovely niece Amelia and longtime beau Nick.
Breakfast was next door on Cerrillos Road at The Pantry, a terrific unpretentious diner with a long counter, two rooms of tables (perfect for our big group) and New Mexican landscapes. Breakfast was enjoyed by all, with entrees including huevos rancheros, burritos and a scrambled egg concoction with vegetable and avocado.
Next stop, the farmers market at the Rail Depot, which was a fun scene, with a few early vegetables but also lots of makers of juniper bitters, baked goods and hanging clusters of red chilies. Fun to return after our month in these parts in February and see flowers in bloom.
Amazing weather again! Perfect for walking along the pristine beach at Hunting island State Park, looking for shells in the surf, watching the fishermen with their poles stuck into the sand and the pelicans dive bombing into the water. Dirck found a perfect sand dollar! Behind the long expanse of soft tan sand, there’s a dense forest of sea pines.
Lunch was on the back deck of the Foolish Frog overlooking a marsh — shrimp poboy, fried oysters, seafood bisque, bottomless lemonade. The country road to the beach is dotted with farm stands and seafood markets. We stopped at one to buy shrimp for dinner.
We went to Penn Center, part of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, in Saint Helena Island’s Corners Community where we learned about the struggles of former slaves after the Civil War and the work of two white women from Pennsylvania (hence the name) who came to the Sea Islands in 1862 to provide education to the children of “formerly enslaved people” (the correct terminology these days) at what was called the Penn School. The school survived the Jim Crow-years, when the advances of the reconstruction stalled, and became an organizing spot during the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 60s. Today, it’s a quiet place, with huge live oaks scattered on a long lawn on either side of a country road and old white buildings in various states of repair/disrepair. Martin Luther King Jr. liked to visit and reportedly wrote several of his most stirring speeches here and hoped to retire in this peaceful place.
A young tour guide showed us around the property and talked about life during reconstruction and the Gullah-Geechee community, who are descendants of African people who were enslaved, with a distinct language, culture, cuisine and folk art, which we saw at a nearby gallery with colorful flat folk art paintings. The community remains along the coast from Wilmington, N.C. To St. Augustine, Fla.
In Beaufort, we went to another history center that shared the story of Robert Smalls, a local civil war hero for the Union side. In 1862 Smalls, a black man, piloted a ship out to Charleston harbor and delivered it to the US military. He used his cash reward to buy a house in Beaufort (the first to hold a secession meeting). He later became a 5-term US Congressman.
In the late afternoon, our host Laurie zipped me over to the gorgeous pool in her golf cart (dirck rode in the car with our other host Brian) for a brief swim and soak in the sun. in the evening we rode the golf cart to a perfect spot to watch the sun set and watch dolphins frolicking in the distance.
We took our hosts out to brunch The Grey, a fantastic restaurant in a brilliantly restored 1938 Art Deco former greyhound station (the new one is around the block). It’s a very fun space, with oval banquettes, a counter, remnants of the original pale green wall tiles, including original graffiti (a young server pointed out to me.) A three piece band with a terrific female singer performed while we ate delicious, sophisticated takes on southern fare including crab beignets, fried chicken with half dollar size corn meal hotcakes, “pigs head” (pork cheek). The chef Mashama Bailey is a James Beard award winner. I’m glad I booked (five weeks in advance).
The Grey is walking distance to the western part of historic Savannah so we gladly sauntered through some other lovely squares including one fronted by the cool looking Jepson Center for the Arts, in a glassy cube of a contemporary building designed by Moshe Safdie, which is the youngster of the Telfair Museums, the south’s oldest art museum. (Safdie also designed Arkansas’s fabulous Crystal Bridges museum.) The museums include the elegant 1819 mansion housing the Telfair academy — the first American art museum founded by a woman (Mary Telfair, in 1886!) Other highlights we passed: Asher + Rye, an upscale bakery, drinks, clothing and home goods place, the Perry Lanehotel (a high design luxury hotel full of antiques and contemporary artwork including by artists with ties to SCAD, aka the Savannah College of Art and Design), Zunzi’s, a “South African-inspired” (whatever that means) sandwich shop next door to the hotel and the surprisingly gorgeous interior of Basilica Cathedral St. John’s the Baptist, a French Gothic wonder (originally built in 1876, rebuilt after a fire in 1900)with its high pale green marble columns.
We decided that Savannah is livelier and more interesting than Charleston, although we loved Charleston. The presence of SCAD is overt (with buildings scattered all over town) and more subtle (with well-curated and designed shops every which way). Then there’s the sheer loveliness of the squares and boulevards and Forsyth Park.
Finally, I got to see Savannah properly, in all its glory on a perfect day, with lots of sun, shade and breeze. We easily found a free parking spot south of Gaston Street, the northern boundary of glorious Forsyth Park, where wedding couples posing in front of its huge ornate white marble fountain with sculptures of birds and fish.
It was easy to see many of the outdoor sights in a day, with the lovely squares located close by each other, one after another, as we walked south to north toward the river and as we walked east to west. One lovely square after another, shaded by live oaks with Spanish moss and dotted with park benches to linger and the occasional mammoth sculpture in the center, surrounded by all manner of elegant homes. There are also long tree lined boulevards, also breezy and beautiful. It feels more open than the tight cluster of homes and narrow alleyways and cobblestones streets in Charleston’s historic district.
We wandered around shopSCAD, which showcases the output of students and alumni of the Savannah College of Art and design which owns buildings scattered across the city, including a coffee shop called Art’s (get it?) across from shopSCAD. (One merchant told me that SCAD is prohibited from buying any additional property but they seem a good creative force in the city, keeping the city from becoming a fusty relic or overrun by tourist schlock.) The city market and the redeveloped riverfront have cool old buildings but were too touristy for our taste, with bars, restaurants and shops for the party crowd. We preferred the one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants in town near the squares – including Satchel, which has lovely handmade leather purses (I bought a small one), and shopSCAD. We wasted a little time looking for two shops touted in a NYT Travel story from 2015, both out of business.
Lunch was at the bustling Collins Quarter, an Australian enterprise where the specialty is smashed lemony avocado on toast, topped by a poached egg. We joined the long line outside Leopold’s for ice cream, striking up a conversation with a Detroit Tigers fan from Illinois. The scoops were enormous – my favorite was Savannah Socialite, dark and milk chocolate with bourbon-infused pecans (the thin mint ice cream, an homage to locate heroine Juliette Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, was good too.) Dirck’s favorite was a very coffee coffee with chocolate chips. (We later found an outpost of both Leopold’s and Satchel at the Savannah airport!). On our way out of town, we picked up pulled pork and chicken from Sandfly BBQ, Memphis-style although with mustard bbq sauce that is popular in these parts. We wanted ribs and brisket but they’d run out by the time we called to order food at 5:30.