Lovely to be in southwest Michigan in March: when the weather cooperates. It didn’t on day one. It was cold, damp, blustery with occasional furious snow squalls. Perfect day to get my hair trimmed (for about a third of what I paid in Chicago) at Paparazzi salon in the quiet little town of Stevensville, where we had excellent salad and sandwiches across the street at Full circle cafe that we took to eat at WatermarkBrewery a block south.
We’ve passed by Emma Hearth & Market in Bridgman many times and today we finally stopped. It’s well known for its pizza and prefix Italian dinners but I was stunned to find amidst the small selection of gourmet cheeses my fav, Cottonwood River Cheddar from Kansas! I’ve been trying to get the cheese woman at DOM’S market in Lincoln Park to stock it and had just asked our daughter if she could bring some from gateway market in Des Moines when she visits. No need now! The Emma variety (“reserve”) is a little sharper than the kind I’ve had before and without the little white crystals that give the cheese a slight crunch but all good!
On Sunday morning, there was sun and warmer temperatures. Perfect for a walk with the dogs on Weko beach, past fishermen in waders with poles stuck in the sand, catching lots of coho salmon. Otherwise few other people and nothing like the summer crowds.
Beautiful washed out colors along the shore, sandy beach, pale blue water, pale blue sky with moments of yellow sun. Lovely until some uptight woman scolded us for walking the dogs on a section of the beach where we could get slapped with a fine for doing do. Karens everywhere.
We continue to enjoy visiting southwest Michigan and shopping/dining in the little village of Three Oaks. This time, we went to a concert in the intimate little Acorn Theater, next to the Journeyman whiskey distillery, which has also offers some rentals in town (see journeyman.com/lodging).
In the shopping department, we visited some new places including Bella Amici, which has fun Michigan stuff, and Mazet Antiques, which has gorgeous, one-of-a-kind and very pricey rugs from foreign lands (the kind you hand on your wall, not throw on your floor). We also visited old favorites including Alapash (where we did buy a less-expensive rug to throw on the floor) and had a good brunch at Froelich’s.
For future reference: The gas prices in southwest Michigan are significantly lower than in Chicago but our best bet was in northwest Indiana, off I-94, at exit 16, where we found gas for $2.99 ($1.50 less than in Chicago.)
Iowa spoiled us when it comes to biking, offering so many great trails hidden in the woods, lining rivers or along former rail lines, away from the cars and pickups that rumble down rural backroads, kicking up dust and occasionally causing heart palpitations.
But here in SW Michigan, in the absence of designated bike trails, we are getting into biking the backroads (aka “secondary roads”) around Three Oaks, with help from handy brochures with 9 routes to the north and 9 to the south. We found the brochures at the Dewey Cannon Trading Co./three oaks bicycle museum which also offers rental bikes.
The routes are charted by Three Oaks Spokes, a nonprofit bike touring club, the same folks hosting the annual “apple cider century” bike tour this weekend (last September Sunday), offering 15, 25, 50, 75 and 100 mile rides. I also found slightly different routes online at applecidercentury.com.
We rode most of the “Dayton Lake Trail” and learned the hard way that improvising can be tricky.
We tried a few alternate roads to shorten the 28-mile ride (due to daunting headwinds that slowed us so much that I wondered if my bike had a flat tire) and occasionally found ourselves on a scary highway (route 12) with huge trucks speeding by, way too close, or bucolic dirt and gravel roads lined with tall browning corn or yellowing soybeans, dotted with an old barn or farmhouse. One very scenic and empty paved road (Buffalo Road) turned suddenly into an “un-improved road,” according to the official sign. Too unimproved to ride safely.
The young stylish couple dressed in expensively non-showy casual wear in front of me in line at A. V. Granor Farm, an organic farm market 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. Who knew? (Many, other than us.) 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 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.
Last night, we joined a small crowd on Weko Beach here in Bridgman to watch the sun set and as my sister promised, just as the red sun disappeared from view, a lone trumpeter played Taps…apparently this happens every summer night here and it was a lovely, evocative moment, reminding me of my lost youth summers spent at a girls camp in northern Michigan’s Elk Rapids.
This morning, we braved another hike in the Warren Dunes, on a unmarked trail at Grand Mere State Park in Stevensville, a contrast with yesterday’s well-marked trail further south. It was very buggy in the woods after a night of rain but we managed to do a 1.5 mile (or so) loop and not get lost.
Fortunately we had dowsed ourselves with bug spray pre-hike but we should have brought it in our pack. The hike began as a flat, wide, wooded nature trail hugging the edge of a swampy area with lots of cattails, sprinkled with bright red wildflowers, then went up across the dunes to the lake shore and along the beach, which was blissfully unpopulated except for a few hardy souls swimming and sunbathing. They appeared to be townies who have kept this secret beach to themselves. So be it.
Lunch was fish and chips, perfectly crispy local white fish, from flagship specialty food on Red Arrow Highway in Lakeside. We ate at a picnic table outside the small store set back from the highway. The fish was delish, albeit expensive.
We gladly returned to the Weko Beach area in Bridgman, Michigan for a family get together at the end of a holiday weekend so Weko Beach was more crowded but still lovely. And the day after the 4th, we had more of the hot sandy beach and refreshing Lake Michigan water to ourselves. With my sisters house at capacity we stayed overnight at an Airbnb in Berrien Springs, a farming community (where produce sold at the green market in Chicago’s Lincoln Park comes from) that is due west. We took a pretty rural road (snow road) back to Bridgman about a 25 minute drive that appeared to be a bike route. (Good to know.)
It was hazy this morning so we explored St. Joseph and Benton Harbor as well as the Red Arrow highway south which is dotted with antique stops, restaurants and produce stands. We had good sandwiches at the Whistlestop, ready-made not the made-to-order because a storm overnight knocked out power for awhile. Excellent chicken salad sandwich, turkey club and lavender lemonade, light on the lavender. On our way out of the area, we stopped at Oink, a cheerful ice cream shop with kooky decor (ice cream scoopers hang down from the rafters) and excellent flavors (Michigan pothole, as my sister recommended, chocolate with small Reese’s pieces; lemon cheesecake bar).
We did learn that many stores are closed on a Tuesday (and probably Monday too) so we’d like to return on a day when ARC, a gallery in Benton Harbors “arts district” is open, as well as the shop Alchemy on red arrow.