1. Pick a lighthouse, any lighthouse. Since the Mackinaw straits are narrow and freckled with islands, lighthouses are pretty essential for water travel. Shipwrecks are pretty notorious in the area, so towering beacons abound. Some are only retained for historical value while others are still in use. The Old Mackinac Lighthouse right by the bridge in Mackinaw City costs and comes with a guided tour, but there are a few just down the road that are free and self-guided. It's neat to see how the lighthouse guardians lived. It was a pretty lucrative career back in the day, but also highly particular. Your house had to be immaculate and you were required to take scrupulous notes about everything from the grounds to the weather to transportation reports.
2. Catch a sunset at the beach. You won't be alone. The night we went, there were people everywhere on park benches and lawn chairs. It's so incredible to watch all the colors and the city-scapes. And hey, of course it was a full moon when we decided to wander down to the beach. Bonus!
Peanut learning how to skip rocks while we wait for sunset.
3. Try a pastie. I have never been introduced to a pastie in my entire life. As we headed to Upper Michigan, we started seeing all these pastie shops everywhere. We wondered what they were. So, when in Rome... we decided to try some. We finally did so on Thursday night. Basically, pasties go back to the time of mining when the miners' wives would pack their husbands lunches. They packed meat, potatoes and veggies in this pastry shell. Reason being is they're easy to carry along to the jobsite and very filling. We tried the taco and stroganoff pasties at one of the award-winning pastie shops. Yum!
4. Swim in the Great Lakes: When the weather stays hot for several weeks and the water finally warms up, a good swim in these giant freshwater lakes is refreshing. The clearness of the water is also impeccable. I couldn't believe how clear Lake Huron was, but I guess I'm jaded by our yucky Lake Winnebago waters. Just make sure you bring water shoes! It's really rocky everywhere, and you'll appreciate the reprieve of aqua socks.
Wading in Lake Michigan
See how clear Lake Huron is? And oh so rocky.
5. Visit the butterfly museum on the island. It's off the beaten path a bit, but sooo worth the visit, especially if you have children. They even give you a butterfly guide so you can even decipher the different types of butterflies. Standing in a greenhouse waiting for amazing ornate butterflies to land on you is pretty magical, if you ask me.
6. Try the fudge and ice cream. This is pretty much a given. Mackinac Island Fudge is pretty famous, and for good reason. You won't make it one single block on the island or mainland without running into a sweets shop. Just give in at least once and see what all the fuss is about.
7. Travel via horse or bike. You have to anyway. No motor vehicles are allowed on Mackinac Island, except for a select few emergency vehicles and such. Even the UPS/FedEx/USPS guy delivered packages via horse-drawn carriage. You can plan ahead and bring along your own bike on the ferry or rent one. The clippety-clop of horses everywhere is just neat. It's like you're being transported to a whole different era.
8. But explore some of the island by foot. You miss some of the incredible details while you're on a faster-moving vehicle. Horses and bikes cost by the hour (unless you bring your own on the ferry), so you'll have a great opportunity to explore by foot as well. If you were to walk the entire perimeter of the island, it's only 8.3 miles anyhow. These are just some of the neater details I caught:
Guests were building these Inukshuk-style statues everywhere along the rocky beaches.
Ornate details of a dragonfly
Beautiful residential details, flower-lined walk path and iron gates.
View of the shore from the topmost part of the island.
Hey, is that a groundhog? Why yes, yes it is.
9. Check out the local thrift stores. The prices in these stories in upper Michigan are much more friendly than the ones in the "big" cities. I couldn't tear myself away from the kid's section at the thrift shop in Cheboygan. No shirt was priced more than $1.50 and I got Peanut this handsome little button-down wardrobe--and a shirt for me--for less than $15, and they were all in great shape. It's a nice way to inherit a few name brands that we wouldn't normally pay full price for.
10. Get a load of the magnificent Mackinaw Bridge. I mean, unless you get to travel the San Francisco bridge every day, this is a pretty significant site. The towering bridge and story of its construction is just amazing. It does cost $4 each way to cross the bridge. Our ferry ride also took us under the bridge so we got to see it from all sides.
11. Gain access to an indoor waterpark, especially if you have kids. Several of the motels in Mackinaw City offer free indoor waterpark wristbands while other motels have waterparks built right inside them. On days when you're not travelling and the weather turns sour, you'll still have something really fun to do.
12. Visit the sand dunes. When I mentioned to my boss that I was visiting the area, she told me that the beautiful white sandy beaches were used for stand-in Caribbean photo shoots because of their similar geography and appearance. Many of the bigger sand dunes have a "look but don't touch" kind of warning, and recent news stories about boys buried in sand dunes should give you a good idea about why you might want to stand back and admire from a distance.
13. And last but not least, when your son asks you to marry him by offering you a hand-picked upper Michigan wildflower, always say "yes."
I genuinely hope this post is informative for those of you that are making the trip soon or even inspires you to make a special trip to the Mackinaw City area. If you go, stop back here and tell me about your trip! Or, if you've already been there, I'd love to hear about your experiences or if you have anything else to share.
Shortly, I'll be back with a post about staying fit on vacation, based on my experiences on this trip as well as many previous trips. So, stay tuned for that!