Pack the bags. Gas-up the car. It’s time for a summer road trip. And we have just the trip if you like forested roads, scenic lighthouses, challenging dunes and unusual historic sites.
Our road is the West Michigan Pike, the route vacationers started taking to Lower Michigan beach communities along Lake Michigan 100 years ago.
Think rambling along the Blue Star, Red Arrow and Pierre Marquette Highways, the local roads that existed before drivers dashed to their destinations on Interstate 196 and United States Highway 31. Those roads still exist although US Highway 31 has taken over some the original West Michigan Pike.
The local roads are dotted with dozens of vacation towns. However, the ones under the magnifying glass on our Michigan road map for a five-part road-trip series are the beach towns of Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegan and Ludington.
If coming from the Chicago area on Interstate 94, start your road trip by exiting at Bus. 94 at the Red Arrow Highway. It changes names to Lake Shore Drive, south of St. Joseph. Leave Bus. 94 at Lake Boulevard to go closer to Lake Michigan.
While on Lake Blvd. visit the Krasel Art Center just north of Park Street. Krasel features several sculptures including a brass and steel piece by Richard Hunt and a glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly.
Or take Park Street west from Lake Boulevard then go north to Broad Street to see the Silver Beach Carousel and Curious Kids Discovery Zone up on the bluff. The beachesare below the bluff.
From Detroit take I 94 to Exit 27 and follow Michigan Highway 63 to Broad Street and go west to the beaches. While on the east side of town on Broad Street, stop at the Box Factory for the Arts to browse its indoor street of artists’ studios and art exhibits. The place is a converted 1903 paper box factory that is fun to explore and artists don’t mind stopping their work to chat.
West on Broad Street look for the contemporary building that houses the Curious Kids Discovery Zone. It is fun for kids but it also has the Silver Beach Carousel so go ahead, be a kid again and pick out the horse zoo animal or chariot that seems to say to you “come ride me. “
But the beaches beckon so time to check into your accommodations. Visit Pure Michiganfor the accommodation style that suits your lifestyle and budget. Listings range from beach rentals and hotels to cottages and B & Bs.
Once settled in, walk to Silver Beach at the mouth of the St. Joseph River to relax, play volleyball and photograph the turn-of-the-last-century North Pier Lights.
The Silver Beach Amusement Park below the bluff brought vacationers from Chicago and Detroit to the St. Joseph area from the 1890s to 1971. Visitors still come here for the beach, rated among the top 100 in the United States.
Golfers should try to snag a tee time at the Golf Club at Harbor Shores. A Jack Nicklaus Signature Design course, Harbor Shores recently hosted the Senior PGA Championship which will return in 2014.
While in the area, plug 1158 East Britain Avenue, Benton Harbor, into your GPS to visit historic Mary’s City of Davidwhich is among the oldest practicing Christian communities in the United States. The property is near I 94’s Exit 28.
Coming from St. Joseph, cross the river on Bus 94 (Main Street) into Benton Harbor. Drive east to County Highway 139 and back south to East Britain Avenue.
Once a popular destination for vacationers interested in beneficial springs and entertainment, the century-old Mary’s City of David still attracts visitors for its vintage baseball games, nature trail, Shiloh Gardens and tour of its grounds.
Step into the museum to see early and mid-1900s artifacts, a miniature recreation of the grounds as they used to be and an old print shop. Also visit the community’s Jewish Synagogue, now a meeting house. Take the nature trail to the once famous Eastman Springs.
You can get copies of old postcards and local honey in the gift shop. The property is still an operating farm. Summer hours are 1-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June through September.
Even if not staying overnight, Mary’s City of David is worth a stop as are St. Joseph’s beaches and North Pier Lights.
All photos (C) Jodie Jacobs