7 Must-See Michigan Destinations for 2016

A new year brings with it a chance to visit places your feet have never taken you before. Guest blogger Aaron Cruz from The Awesome Mitten suggests seven Michigan towns that are worth a look in the New Year.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Plymouth. If your plans this year are taking you to southeastern Michigan, visit this town that, while in the heart of suburbia, gives off the feeling of being in a small town far, far away. With a hand-crafted Espresso Elevado coffee in-hand, walk the downtown streets at the Plymouth Ice Festival in winter and Art in the Park in summer.  Hold hands with a loved one as you stroll through Kellogg Park in the center of town. In the summer road trip, hike or bike the 17-mile continuous park that is Hines Drive. Winter brings with it the chance to sled with the kids at Plymouth Township Park. For food, enjoy some pizza and smoked barbeque at Ironwood Grill, go for a more upscale feel and cocktails at Fiamma Grille or grab the gang and enjoy family-style dining along the railroad tracks at Station 885.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Frankenmuth. No town epitomizes Christmas and the holidays in Michigan more than Frankenmuth. Visit the world’s largest Christmas Store, Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Shop the stores with German themed names like Cheese Haus along the one-street downtown also known as Michigan’s Little Bavaria. Experience a specialty coffee at The Harvest Coffeehouse & Beanery. Grab a flight of beer at Frankenmuth Brewery to wash down their delicious lobster mac ‘n cheese. Looking for romance? Contact the Frankenmuth Carriage Company about a horse & carriage ride. Those looking for family fun, make a weekend out of it with the kids at the Bavarian Inn of Frankenmuth resort.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Grand Haven. The Lake Michigan coastline in the mitten offers one charming, beautiful resort town after another. The Grand Haven lighthouse and pier is reason enough to choose Grand Haven for a first time visit. Alongside the lighthouse, you will find Grand Haven State Park, which is made up entirely of beach and sand dunes with camping opportunity. As you browse the shops in the cozy downtown, get a freshly-made baked good from the boutique-styled The Bakers Wife. Experience hand-crafted coffee at Aldea Coffee in the Armory, where Grand Armory Brewery Company and Righteous BBQ also await. During summer evenings, watch the synchronized Musical Fountain and all its water, lights and music.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Oscoda. The Lake Michigan coastline gets al lot of love, but the Sunrise Coast and Lake Huron showcase their own beauty like in the resort town of Oscoda. Grab a cup of coffee at the colorful Garden View Coffee Mill, then head down the street for a walk on the pier at Oscoda Beach Park.  Time your visit for the summer and you might run into their Annual Art on the Beach fair. Just north of town sits miles of sugar sand beach fun. For nature enthusiasts, head west of town along the River Road National Scenic Byway and you will quickly be in the Huron National Forest. Waterfalls, scenic overlooks, hiking trails, monuments, lumberjacks, 300+ step staircases and plenty of camping options await you. Eagle’s Nest Overlook is a must visit.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Fenton. Just south of Flint and easily accessible from the Detroit area, Fenton’s motto might as well be go big or go home when it comes to its thriving food scene. Grab a peanut butter and jelly donut that is big enough for two from Crust. Head down the street for a Reuben or one of the other endless selection of humongous sandwiches at The Laundry. During the dinner hour order a large of any pasta dish at Fenton House and you’ll have enough for the whole family, with tons to spare. In autumn, mix in some cider, donuts, wine tasting and family fun at Spicer Orchards and enjoy some carnival food, apple pie and entertainment at one of the biggest fall festivals in Michigan, Apple Fest.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Sault Ste. Marie. The fun as we turn the calendar does not have to be confined to the Lower Peninsula. Head to the U.P. and Michigan’s oldest city. Go on a boat tour at the famous Soo Locks and/or watch from the three story observation deck as giant ships pass through the locks and canals of the largest waterway crossing in the world. Next head across W. Portage Ave. to walk along and scope out the tourist traps. For eats I recommend grabbing a burger with everything on it and hanging out at Clyde’s Drive-In. Before getting into the car watch the ferries head to-and-from Sugar Island while walking around Rotary Park.

Photo Courtesy of Aaron Cruz

Port Huron. A lot of people pass through Port Huron as they go into Canada. In the New Year, as you head towards the Blue Water Bridge, get off the interstate and checkout the international crossing from the south along Thomas Edison Parkway. Just north of the bridge visit the Fort Gratiot Lighthouse and Lighthouse Park. You’ll find beachfront where you can watch as Lake Huron flows into the St. Clair River while waving over to Canada. Staying in town, grab a sandwich, a specialty coffee and some tunes at Ravens Café. In the warmer months, walk along Quay Street and the docked boats, as well as visit the Vantage Point Farmers’ Market which sits right along the riverfront.

What other Michigan towns would you like to visit and explore for the first time in the New Year?

aaron cruz

Aaron Cruz is a lover and long time resident of The Mitten. When he is not out on the open road, he’s probably drinking coffee in a random indie coffee shop. He loves taking photos and road trips, along with checking out skylines, the seasons, shorelines and hanging around water which makes Michigan the perfect place to live. You can find him on TwitterInstagram and on his personal travel blog.

Six Ways to Get Fit and Enjoy Michigan’s Outdoors in 2016

Happy Holidays! As we look forward to an eventful and adventure-filled New Year, guest blogger Shalee Blackmer from The Awesome Mitten shares some Pure Michigan ways to get active while enjoying the incredible scenery and outdoors the Great Lakes state has to offer.

New Year, new beginnings. By now, we know the beauty that Michigan offers, and with that beauty comes hard work. Sometimes in order to get the benefit of the stunning Michigan shorelines, high cliffs, and spectacular sunsets, we must work for it. We summit, hike, and climb to the destination, and we are rewarded with pure simplicity. A far away land miles from the nearest freeway, cubicle, or stop light.

Photo Courtesy of Shalee Blackmer

The start of 2016 is the best time to commit to becoming a healthier you. Fortunately, we’re able to go beyond the gym to gain the benefits. There are hiking routes that span the entire state, rock walls that are begging to be climbed, and hidden lighthouses that are patiently awaiting our arrival.

For some starter inspiration, I’ve combined some of my favorite Michigan outdoor activities that are fun, healthy, and always involve a little adventure.

Snowshoe

Right now is the perfect time to invest in a pair of snowshoes and prepare for when temperatures drop and snow begins to fall. Snowshoeing is more of a work out than most people believe, but is easy enough to do with a group of friends. One of the best times to go snowshoeing is in the woods right after a winter storm. A winter wonderland surrounds you, but not a sound can be heard.

Photo Courtesy of Shalee Blackmer

Kayak

Kayaking weekly will build arm muscles and allow you to enjoy the surrounding beauty in one. Michigan has hundreds of prime kayaking locations. Everything from the three-mile journey to Turnip Rock, to an afternoon down the Muskegon River, or a casual paddle around Presque Isle Park. Viewing some of Michigan’s most beautiful areas from the water offers a whole new perspective, and you’re guaranteed to feel the soreness at the end of the day.

Photo Courtesy of Shalee Blackmer

Ice climb/ Rock climb

If you’re ready to build that arm and finger strength, this one is for you. Both activities involve considerable workouts, and have different difficulty levels from beginner to expert. Places like Planet Rock, an indoor rock climbing facility, will train and teach you everything you need to know before you start. Eventually you can take those skills to the real outdoors, and climb everything from rocks to frozen waterfalls.

Photo Courtesy of Shalee Blackmer

Go backpacking

Nearly everyone is fit enough to backpack, even if it is just for a day. Finding routes that have more elevation changes (sand dunes, Porcupine Mountains) will allow for a more strenuous workout. Beginners can start on shorter and flatter hikes and then can set a year end goal of a week-long backpacking trip on Isle Royale or through the Huron-Manistee National Forests.

Ski/Snowboard

One of the most common winter activities in Michigan is skiing and snowboarding, which also happens to be one of the best winter workouts. No matter how many years someone has hit the slopes, they will be sore at the end of a long day filled with snow and friends. Lucky for us, there are dozens of ski areas around the state, and you can always find one within a few hours drive. Those who are beginners will soon learn why it is such a common activity in Michigan, and will want to do it over and over.

Surf or body board

Michigan waves are some of the most powerful waves in the world. When the waters are choppy, those who take on the Great Lakes power will endure a non-stop workout in attempt to catch the perfect wave. Those who are interested can visit Third Coast Surf Shops in New Buffalo or St. Joseph to rent surfboards, wet suits, and even get lessons from experienced freshwater surfers.

Photo Courtesy of Shalee Blackmer

 

What is your favorite Michigan outdoor activity?Shalee

About the author: Shalee Blackmer is a 21 year old college student who grew up in the small town of Mecosta. She currently attends Michigan State University as an advertising student and spends her time exploring the outdoors. Her hobbies include running her own travel blog, which aims to inspire college-age students to see explore on a budget and taking photos to share her story. She enjoys camping, road trips, hiking and cliff jumping and enjoying Pure Michigan beauty.

Michigan-Inspired Thanksgiving Recipes to Try this Season

Thanksgiving is  quickly approaching, and with it, the delectable meals and favorite foods that we look forward to all year long. What many people may not realize, however, is just how many of these delicious options can be cooked, baked or broiled with Michigan-made ingredients. Guest blogger Christina Carson from The Awesome Mitten shares a few Michigan-inspired recipes to consider this season.

Thanksgiving is the richest celebration of food in American culture, and I can’t help but get giddy about families working together in their kitchens and sitting down to a meal prepared with love when this season comes around. This year, I challenge you to take things one step further and support our amazing Michigan food businesses in putting your meal on the table. Bring as many local foods and products into your meal as possible – there are endless ways to do so!

Of course, the turkey is the classic center of the plate for Thanksgiving. Plenty of turkey farms around the state are raising healthy birds ready to take center stage on your Thanksgiving table. If you’re thinking about getting a local pastured turkey, act soon – they often sell quickly!

After the turkey, getting more local products into your meal will be all about carefully selecting your sides and desserts to include seasonal produce and other products that are made in your community. While the growing season is coming to a close in November, you may be surprised at how much Michigan farmers have to offer this time of year. A bounty of greens and all the storage crops you can dream of – potatoes, apples, squash, carrots, beets, and more.

Read below for two simple recipes to be made with local produce and dairy that won’t take too much hands on time but are sure to wow your guests!

Apple Rosettes

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

Stunning apple rosettes like these have been making the rounds through the internet food world for some time now, and for good reason! They’re impressively beautiful, and absolutely delicious while also a light dessert that isn’t too sweet. This lightness makes them the perfect end to a rich Thanksgiving meal!

While you can always take things a step further and make homemade puff pastry, making this stunning dessert is amazingly simple with puff pastry from your local grocery store’s freezer section. To really kick things up a notch, make sure to buy the puff pastry made with all butter (the flavor is so much better!).

  • 2 apples
  • 1 sheet puff pastry
  • ½ lemon
  • granulated sugar
  • cinnamon
  • freshly ground nutmeg

First,  prepare the apples. Cut each apple in half and carefully remove the core, then slice each half into ⅛ to ¼ inch thick slices. Separate slices and place them in a medium bowl with the juice from one lemon.

Cover with boiling water and let sit for about 1 minute, until the slices are flexible, but not mushy! Strain water, and set apples aside.

Carefully unfold defrosted puff pastry (leave it in the fridge at least overnight to defrost), and gently roll it with a rolling pin to even out any creases and stretch it out just a bit. Cut the pastry into 2 inch wide strips that are 12 inches or less long.

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

One strip at a time, sprinkle puff pastry with a little sugar, cinnamon, and just a smidge of nutmeg. Line apple slices, overlapping half of each slice along the top half of the strip (as seen in the photo). Fold pastry up over the apples, then start at one end and roll into as tight of a spiral as you can.

Set each finished rosette into a large muffin tin or individual ramekins.

Bake at 375 for about 40 minutes, until the pastry is browned on the edges. Let cool in pan about 10 minutes, then carefully remove each rosette and let cool completely on a cooling rack.
Sprinkle with powdered sugar to serve, if you’d like.

Butternut Squash Gratin

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

While sweet potatoes are a common Thanksgiving side, they don’t grow very well in Michigan due to the short summers. You can find them in the markets sometimes, but they’re not widely available. Sweet and smooth butternut squash makes a great alternative, especially when baked into this creamy gratin!

Find local butternut squash at your local farmers market, or a locally focused grocery store sourcing from Michigan growers. Additionally, seek out some rich local cream to make this dish a mostly local Thanksgiving treat! Calder Dairy (Carleton)  and Shetler Family Dairy (Kalkaska) are two of my favorite Michigan dairies to support.

  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
  • 3 shallots, cut to a small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grated hard cheese (parmesan, pecorino, gruyere, and piave are all great choices)
  • 1 ¼  cups heavy cream
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp dry sage
  • ¼ cups breadcrumbs

Peel butternut squash, then slice neck into ⅓ inch thick rounds until you reach the edge of the seeded area of the squash. Cut the bulbous end of the squash in half and scoop out seeds. Slice each half into ⅓ inch thick half circles.

In the bottom of a square baking dish (8×8 or 9×9 will work just fine), layer one thin layer of the full squash rounds to create a base then spread all the half circles evenly on top of that base.

Sprinkle the shallots, garlic, and ½ cup of the cheese over the squash.

Layer the remaining squash rounds on next.

In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, stir together cream, salt, pepper, and sage until evenly mixed. Pour mixture over the squash.

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the dish and cover with foil or a lid (if your dish has one!).

Bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, then remove cover and sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.

Return to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20 more minutes.

Let cool slightly before serving.

What are you planning to make this Thanksgiving featuring local goods?

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

Photo Courtesy of Christina Carson

 

Christina Carson is a Northern Michigan girl through and through – addicted to the Lake Michigan coastline, our incredible local food system, and the mitten’s homegrown musicians. She shares her passion for beautiful, delicious, and joyful food through her blog and photography business - Toot Sweet! Keep an eye out for her monthly Michigan recipes on Awesome Mitten, and follow Toot Sweet on Facebook and Instagram!