With sunny skies and warm weather (finally), it’s time to hit the road for some family fun in Southwest Michigan, the perfect drive for a great day trip.
Rent a kayak or canoe at Third Coast Surf Shop in New Buffalo and paddle the gentle Galien River. Head to the City Beach at the end of Whitaker Street to hunt for beach glass (broken shards of colored bottles honed smooth by wind and waves) and look for Indian beads—crinoid fossils with tiny holes in their center, perfect for making bracelets and necklaces.
Redamak’s on Red Arrow Highway is a classic roadside hamburger place, a local and Chicagoland favorite since the late 1940s.
Take a hike at Warren Dunes State Park. There’s three miles of Lake Michigan shoreline, six miles of hiking trails and a 260-foot sand dune perfect for a spectacular view of the water. Then run back down—it’s a lot easier than going up.
Head north to downtown St. Joseph, nestled where the St. Joseph River flows into Lake Michigan. Take the free horse pulled trolley along the brick lined streets. A must stop is the Curious Kids' Museum atop of the bluff on Lake Street. An interactive museum with more 100 hands-on exhibits such as a vet clinic, being able to pull a giant bubble over your body, navigate a Great Lakes ship and becoming an electron to generate electricity.
Head down the stairs for Lake Bluff Park to Discovery Zone by Curious Kids' Museum—you can’t miss it as the roof is covered with plants. Inside are over 35 interactive exhibits including a climbing wall designed for children, the 20-foot-tall Lighthouse Climbing Tower leading up to a porthole window overlooking the lake, the Water Works demonstrating water flow and pressure by creating intricate pipe mazes and Good Vibrations- Musicology for Kids for making music.
Take a ride at the Silver Beach Carousel, elaborately carved carousel animals sparkling with colors and lined with over 1000 twinkling lights. Music from Military Band Organ No. 187, built in 1911, plays in the background making this a real old fashioned experience. If it’s warm enough and you have your suit, get wet at the Whirlpool Compass just steps away. These geysers shoot up in a wide round circle and are a wonderful way to cool down. Take a walk on the long pier along the river stretching towards the lighthouse. Then, consider stopping at Silver Beach Pizza in the historic train depot (and the Amtrak still stops here twice a day).
In the historic Benton Harbor Arts District, stop in at Water Street Glassworks located in the renovated Hinkley Building built in 1898. Now a studios offering glass making classes, there’s also a gift shop and catwalk letting visitors view the hot shop where glassblowing and casting takes place as well as live glass demonstrations and class sessions.
On May 3, there’s the Make It for Mom Saturday, one hour classes for creating a nightlight, stained glass sun catcher or bead bracelet. No experience required.
Then go next door to Water Street Gelato for a scoop (or maybe more) of the many flavors including Mexican Chocolate, Banana Caramel Praline and White Chocolate Raspberry.
Once a self-sufficient religious community starting in the 1910s,the 300-acre Mary's City of David, now on the National Register of Historic Places in America with 81 buildings, has a museum, tours, walking paths and is also where House Of David Echoes, a vintage baseball team that plays historic baseball games according to 1858, pre-Civil War era rules.
The Deer Forest Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Coloma is the place for families to see ponies, fallow deer, python, bobcat, Patagonian Cavy, Chinese Pheasant, pygmy goats, emus, endangered Kulon Donkeys and many more.
Jollay Orchards, also in Coloma, offers u-pick fruits, a petting zoo, Ferris wheel, pond fishing, weekend hayrides, Western Town and Mother Nature's Ag-Venture as well as freshly made baked goods. Close by, Grandpa’s Cider Mill offers tastings at their cider bar (some 25 types of cider to try), fresh cider doughnuts, fresh fruit pies and a large glass window showcasing apples being pressed into cider.
Then, saddle up and hit the trail at Apple Ridge Farm south of Bangor. Offering guided trail rides through woods, pasture and several old apple orchards, any type of rider—no experience necessary—can ride except for those six and under. In the spring, the orchards are aromatic with the sweet scent of apple blossoms and in the late summer and early fall, snag an apple or two from the trees while riding. All seasons look for wildlife like deer and rabbits.