Eight Ways to Spend a Long Weekend in Michigan

Memorial Day weekend starts tomorrow! If you’re still looking for ways to spend it, check out the ideas below from Erin Bernhard of The Awesome Mitten.

Grand Traverse Bay. Courtesy of The Awesome Mitten.

Memorial Day weekend often marks the beginning of summer in many Michigan towns. All over our great state, Michiganders spend the weekend putting in boats and docks, firing up grills, and finishing yard work. Memorial Day is also a patriotic holiday, commemorating lost soldiers and veterans who dedicated themselves to defending this country, so there are parades and American flags galore! We celebrate the end of a long, cold winter by breaking out shorts, sundresses and flip flops, crossing our fingers that it doesn’t snow in June (and knowing full well that it might). And the best part? Having an extra day off of work! Let us help you plan your long weekend with our top eight favorite ways to celebrate Memorial Day.

  1. Throw some shrimp on ‘the barbie.’ From Marquette to Milan, grill chefs will rejoice next weekend as they celebrate the beginning of barbeque season. Whether you’re of the charcoal or propane persuasion, you know that almost everything tastes better grilled. Hit your local farmer’s market and stock up on seasonal asparagus, rhubarb, and mixed greens to complement your choice of meat. Create a make-your-own burger bar with mushrooms, caramelized onions, tomato, lettuce and condiments OR throw together some shish kebobs with steak, chicken, bell peppers, pineapple, and cloves of garlic. Invite twenty of your closest friends to bring a dish or drinks to pass, pull your bocce ball and croquet sets out of the basement, and bam! You have yourself a party.
  2. Get outside. Generally, Michigan in late May is warm enough to go out and play. Whether you take a quick spin around the neighborhood on your freshly tuned bike or throw the kayaks on top of the car for a weekend-long adventure, make sure you enjoy the outdoors at some point this weekend. Pop over to the sunrise coast and hike somewhere off of historic US-23, or head up north to Keweenaw National Historical Park. There are plenty of outdoor treasures across the state; if you don’t feel like leaving home, you don’t have to look any further than your own backyard.
  3. Celebrate. Michigan has an incredible amount to offer and Memorial Day weekend is a great time to celebrate every little thing. In northwest Michigan, the cherry blossoms are blooming along M-22. Mackinac Island is preparing for the Lilac Festival that begins on June 7, and visiting over Memorial Day is a great way to beat the crowds. Recognize our military heritage by attending a parade in a new town or check out a festival that celebrates Michigan food, drink, nature, or history.
  4. Break out your orange and blue. This weekend, the Detroit Tigers face the Minnesota Twins at home in Comerica Park. Get tickets on Friday to check out the fireworks and Polish-American Heritage Night, or go on Sunday for Kids Day. If you’d rather be wearing red and white, the Red Wings face the Chicago Blackhawks in round two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs during Memorial Day weekend; get tickets for Monday’s game three at Joe Louis Arena to watch Datsyuk and Zetterberg up close.
  5. Chill out, but not literally. But what good is a long weekend if you don’t get to relax? If you’ve already finished the yard work, sometimes there’s nothing better than a hammock or blanket in the sunshine, a glass of ginger-mint lemonade, and a copy of The Great Lakes Book Project or anything by Jim Harrison, either of which will make you yearn for the lakes and land that are much closer than you think.
    Fishtown. Courtesy of Ken Scott Photography (facebook.com/KenScottPhotos).


  6. Embrace the season. The last weekend in May is exciting for many reasons, but topping the list is the opening of seasonal shops and businesses and extension of hours for summertime. Because the sun sets later, restaurants and local shops are open longer to accommodate a higher level of patronage. You’ve waited all winter to walk to your corner ice cream shop at 8:30pm for a cone, and summer is the season for that. Small tourist towns like Leland’s Historic Fishtown and Saugatuck are open for business and ready to provide you with all the fudge, souvenirs, great food and drink, and goods you can handle.
  7. Raise a glass. Last week, Grand Rapids was named Beer City USA for the second year in a row. Michigan brewing is at a record high and Michiganders statewide are happy to help pick up the slack. Bell’s Oberon opening day, a state holiday, was March 25th but enjoying the ale has been somewhat lackluster this year, considering the influx of wintry weather over the last two months. Fear not! Memorial Day brings the promise of the type of wonderful weather that good summer ale will always compliment. So, crack open a cold one; cheers to craft brewing in Michigan.
  8. Predict the unpredictable. We all know the old adage: if you don’t like the weather in Michigan, wait five minutes. For as much as we always hope for bright sunny days over Memorial Day weekend, all Michiganders know to prepare for rain. Not sure what to do if you can’t be outside? Watch a movie! Michigan has been featured in films for years, and there are plenty of made-in-Michigan films available for rental or purchase. Even if you can’t enjoy the great outdoors yourself, you can still get a glimpse through some wonderful films. 

This is only the beginning of ways to spend your long weekend. How do you do Memorial Day?

Erin Bernhard is the Managing Content Editor for The Awesome Mitten. She’s a northern Michigan twentysomething who loves good microbrews, great wine, summertime grillouts, and well-roasted coffee. She is also a dedicated yoga practitioner, social media and marketing enthusiast, reader and writer, local food junkie, and outdoors explorer–and she’s always adding to the list. She is located in Traverse City and loves helping to make her hometown shine. Follow her on Twitter (www.twitter.com/errnbrrn), connect with her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/erin.bernhard) and feel free to email (erin@awesomemitten.com) her anytime!

Seven Awesome St. Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Michigan

St. Patrick’s Day is coming up this Sunday, and Michiganders sure know how to celebrate this Irish holiday! For those looking for things to do, here’s a roundup from Jake Cagle and Brian Murray of The Awesome Mitten of just some of the many celebrations happening around the state.

Photo courtesy of The Awesome Mitten and Katy Batdorff

When the Irish came to America, they brought their customs, traditions, and pride.  Today, over 34.7 million Americans claim Irish ancestry according to the 2010 U.S. census — seven times the current population of modern day Ireland.  With so many people to celebrate their heritage, it is no surprise that Saint Patrick’s Day has been co-opted from a religious feast day into a celebration of all things Irish.  Here in Michigan, we have a wide variety of great ways to celebrate the Emerald Isle.  Read about some of the best below.

Irish on Ionia
Ionia Street, from Oakes to Weston, Grand Rapids
Saturday, March 16, 7a.m. – 10p.m.
Tickets $10,  VIP $55

Brought to you by McFadden’s Restaurant and Saloon, Irish on Ionia is an open-air festival in downtown Grand Rapids. You’ll have to leave the kids at home for this one, but the 21+ crowd is guaranteed a great time. The day kicks off at 7 in the morning with McFadden’s “Kegs and Eggs” breakfast buffet. If you show up late, never fear: the pinnacle of Grand Rapids street cuisine, Stoner Tacos, will be there to satisfy any hunger. You won’t be able to swing a cat without hitting something good to drink, either. Green beer will be going for $3 a cup, while Guinness and craft beers will run you $5. For just ten bucks you can buy a commemorative Irish on Ionia cup that you can fill for the same price as the other, smaller drinks.

But there’s more to Irish on Ionia than food and drink. A local Irish folk group with punk rock flair, The Waxies, will be there to play some traditional tunes. If they’re not your thing, stick around for The Crane Wives. You can also catch the Shamrock, Paper, Scissors tournament or the live circus performers. With all that going on, it’s no wonder the party goes all day.

Grand Ledge Saint Patrick’s Day Parade and Celebration
Downtown Grand Ledge
Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16, various times
Event dependent

There’s plenty to do in Grand Ledge this year; so much, in fact, that they’ve split events between two days. On Friday evening at 6:00pm, the Glen Erin Bagpipe Band will be putting on their Saint Patrick’s Day concert at the Grand Ledge Opera House. The show wraps up around 11a.m., and it’s important to run home and get some sleep because it picks right back up in the morning. There’s an Irish stew contest at the Cole-Briggs American Legion Post, where the public is welcome to come in and vote for their favorite. While you’re digesting, you can take in the parade at 2p.m., then head back to the Opera House for the Goderich Drum and Bagpipe Band and some traditional Irish dance.

The 59th Annual Bay City Saint Patrick’s Day Parade
The corner of Center and Park Avenues, Bay City
Sunday, March 17, 2p.m.

Photo courtesy of The Awesome Mitten and Katy Batdorff

Bay City kicked off this tradition with a bang in 1955. Over ten thousand people came together to watch marching bands, floats, and the St. Patrick’s Day Queen make their way to city hall. Each year the Queen is chosen from a list of young Irish ladies, selected based on personal interviews and a Miss America-style pageant. The winner  gets to ride on the biggest and baddest float in town, and also receives a tidy scholarship. Join Parade Marshall Kelly Reed and carry on this awesome tradition.

Saint Patrick’s at The Curragh
73 E. 8th Street, Holland
Saturday and Sunday, March 16 and 17, 9a.m.
No price listed

The Curragh is an Irish pub in Holland, and they’re bringing you all the music you could want and more. This is another one of those 21+ events, but it’s a great chance to sit in a classic pub setting, drink your fill, and listen to some great Irish folk tunes. Bands include Peat in the Creel, AnDro, Millish, and a few more great choices. For the full list, just click the link at the head of this section. Breakfast starts at 9 each day, with music starting at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday.

18th Annual Official Unofficial Traverse City St. Patrick’s Day Pub Walk
Downtown Traverse City
Friday, March 15, Noon

A Traverse City tradition, this downtown pub crawl hits up 10 pubs in 10 hours. While walking from pub to pub, you can enjoy traditional Irish music played by members of Grand Traverse Pipes & Drums (this event is not organized, sponsored, or sanctioned by the Grand Traverse Pipes & Drums, hence the “unofficial” tag).  Walkers can join or stay behind at any stop along the way, ensuring a nice variety of attendees.

St. Patty’s Small Plates Wine Tasting
716 S. Kalamazoo St. Paw Paw, MI 49079
Saturday, March 16, 3-5 p.m.
$12 for wine club members, $15 for non-members

For those who are looking to celebrate the holiday in a low-key manner, St. Julian Winery hosts a three plate dinner and wine tasting event at their Paw Paw winery Saturday March 16.  Spend the afternoon at one of the oldest wineries in the state, enjoying Irish-themed dishes and terrific wine pairings.  There is limited seating, and reservations must be made by calling 1-800-732-6002.

Port Huron Pub Crawl 2013
Downtown Port Huron
Saturday, March 16, 1-7 p.m.
$10 in advance at Blue Water Area Convention & Visitors Bureau or participating pubs
$15 day of at transfer point on Quay Street or participating pubs

Those in the Port Huron area looking to celebrate the Irish at as many bars as possible should look no further than the Port Huron Pub Crawl.  Pub Crawl attendees wear wristbands which entitle them to free party bus rides that shuttle between 20 downtown bars.  Enjoy the best of Port Huron safely; discounted hotel packages are also available.

Of course there are many more great things to do in Michigan for St. Patrick’s Day. If you’re looking for other ideas, visit michigan.org. No matter what you do, be sure to celebrate safely and responsibly!

Jake Cagle is a feature writer for The Awesome Mitten. Born in Adrian, Michigan, Jake currently resides in Grand Rapids.  He graduated from Grand Valley State University.  Jake’s work has also been featured on MittenBrew.com and Visit Detroit Blog.

Brian Murray lives in Grand Rapids and is a feature writer at The Awesome Mitten. He also writes reviews of music and comic books for destroythecyb.org.

13 Romantic Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pure Michigan

Photo courtesy of Instagram user @daniellec319

Michigan’s snow-capped trees and sparkling lights make it an ideal romantic destination this February. Whether you’re bundled up north, hustling and bustling in the southeast, or trekking through Grand Rapids, you can’t forget your sweetie this week.

With Valentine’s Day nearing, Alex Beaton of The Awesome Mitten invites you to celebrate in thirteen romance-inducing ways throughout the state.

1      Trattoria Stella

Trattoria Stella in Traverse City is tucked away in the lower levels of the former State Hospital grounds, now known as the Grand Traverse Commons. Nestled underground with low lighting and exposed brick walls, Stella has a romantic atmosphere year round. They boast a selection over 200 wines, all carefully curated to complement their menu, which changes daily and features locally sourced ingredients.  Though they do not have anything special happening for Valentine’s Day, make reservations soon;  this place fills up fast, regardless of the day.

2      Sava’s State Street Cafe

Sava’s, an Ann Arbor favorite, is the perfect place to go if you’re looking for amazing food at a moderate cost in a place that lacks pretentiousness. The menu is endless, including items like a Ham, Spinach, Brie and Pear Panini; Black and Bleu Filet Bites; Butternut Squash Ravioli; and Barbeque Tofu. To compliment your dinner, Sava’s has an extensive collection of specialty drinks. While dinner is great here, we would recommend starting a new tradition with your sweetheart:  a Valentine’s Day breakfast.  Sava’s is not to be missed!

3      Mackinac Island

Why on earth someone would venture over to Mackinac Island in the winter? Because it is truly magical. You can get to the island via air taxi and, once you arrive, rent some snowshoes to get around. Many places are closed on the island in the winter, but for lodging we recommend The Cottage Inn; this cozy bed and breakfast offers complimentary fudge! Few restaurants on open on the island, but the island keeps an up to date listing on their website. What do you do on a this deserted island? Wander around on your snowshoes or cross country skis to enjoy the quiet beauty of Mackinac Island and the lakes that surround her.

  4      Michigan By the Bottle Tasting Room

Recently opened in Shelby Township, Michigan By The Bottle Tasting Room features wines from six Michigan wineries: Chateau Aeronautique, Chateau de Leelanau, Domaine Berrien Cellars, Gill’s Pier Vineyard & Winery, Peninsula Cellars and Sandhill Crane Vineyards. Plan on spending the night in with your sweetheart? Stop by the tasting room and pick up a bottle of wine and some chocolates – they’ve got specials that make for easy one-stop shopping! Have dinner plans at a fancy restaurant? Make the tasting room your nightcap destination. Are you single? Or have a significant other that hates Valentine’s Day? The tasting room will be offering free truffles to ladies who purchase a flight from 5pm-9pm on Thursday!

5      The Michigan Theater

Dinner and movie might seem like a pretty ordinary date, but what if that movie was the classic An American in Paris and it was being shown at a historic theater? The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor first opened in 1928 to show vaudeville and silent films; today, it operates as a non-profit that is home to the Ann Arbor Symphony and specialty film showings. On Valentine’s Day, they will be screening An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly, at 8pm, with a chocolate and champagne reception preceding the film. Space is limited, so be sure to RSVP.

Reserve in Grand Rapids. Photo courtesy of James Fry.

6      Reserve

Reverse is a wine bar located in downtown Grand Rapids. The interior is stark, upscale, hip and yet surprisingly unintimidating. Don’t know that much about wine? Don’t worry! The staff at Reserve are experts and more than happy to share their knowledge and make recommendations. Executive Chef Matthew Millar, a James Beard Award finalist in 2012, has created a special three course fixed menu for Valentine’s Day that includes grilled beef heart, duck breast and chocolate cake.

7      Ice Skating

What could be more movie-like and picturesque than ice skating in the park after a romantic dinner? Many cities have skating ponds in the winter time, but Detroit and Grand Rapids are home to two of the best. In Grand Rapids, Rosa Parks Circle turns into a skating rink; admission only $1.00 and skate rentals free with ID. Located in the heart of the city, (and just kitty corner from Reserve, #6) you can easily grab a candlelit dinner with your sweetie before walking to the skating pond. In Detroit, Campus Martius Park is home to a skating rink January through March. Admission varies by age; for those 13-49 it is only $7, with skate rental being an additional $3. Also located right downtown, there are a plethora of dining choices; if you don’t want to venture too far, try the Fountain Bistro located in the park with a great view!

8      Cafe Cortina

Cafe Cortina, a traditional Italian restaurant located in Farmington Hills, is commonly referred to as one of Michigan’s “best kept secrets” and a destination for foodies from around the world. Don’t go here expecting to be in and out in an hour, though; just like in Italy, Cafe Cortina specializes in six course, luxurious meals. While they don’t have a set Valentine’s Day menu, they are happy to make recommends to you while you are there. A few things to look out for are  Intermezzo Wildberry Granita (vin cotto wine reduction  over iced granita) and Gnocchi (little pillows with a fresh pear tomato and basil sauce). Reservations are advised.

9      Food Dance

Food Dance is a farm to table restaurant located in Kalamazoo. For Valentine’s Day, they will have a special fixed menu with a few options such as citrus marinated salmon, oxtail bolognese with gnocchi, and crab lasagna. Not only do they have a fantastic restaurant with Michigan beers, wines, and cheeses, but they also have a little market where many of these items can be purchased for you to take home! Book reservations for a romantic dinner or pick up the local ingredients you need to make your Valentine’s Day “Michigan Made.”

10   The Table

The Table is a fine dining experience tucked away in the H Hotel in Midland. Recommended entrees include the Persimmon and Mango Salad, Fontina Cheese Ravioli, and the Braised Rabbit. The Table also features an extensive wine list that is sure to set the mood.

11   Maru

Maru is a Japanese restaurant specializing in sushi with locations in Okemos and Grand Rapids. Their rolls are very unique and have great names like “Sexy Bacon”, “Ocean’s Eleven,” and “Lollipop.” Both locations serve alcohol and, according to their Facebook page, they are working on a very special Valentine’s Day cocktail!

12   Boulevard Inn & Bistro

Looking for a romantic overnight trip? The Boulevard Inn & Bistro in St. Joseph is just the spot. Even if you’re only venturing out for dinner, The Bistro has an extensive menu of locally sourced entrees. In addition to offering the traditional steak options, the menu also features Grilled Ahi Tuna and Duck Confit. If you plan on spending the night, book the “Romance on the Boulevard” package which includes accommodations in a spacious suite, a champagne, fruit and cheese basket, a dozen long stemmed roses, a box of Kilwin’s premium chocolates, made-to-order breakfast for two at The Bistro, and a late check-out time of 2pm!

13   Get Outdoors & Celebrate in Michigan’s Parks!

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is hosting a bunch of “Mitten Mixers” in our state parks February 14th-17th. Look forward to skygazing, bonfires, evening snowshoeing, photo scavenger hunts, and coffee tastings! Activities are happening at Williams Mitchell State Park in Cadillac, Wilderness State Park in Emmet County, Proud Lake Recreation Area in Commerce Township, Muskegon State Park in Muskegon County, Holly State Recreation Area in Holly, and Pinckney State Recreation Area in Pinckney.

Alex Beaton is the Founder of The Awesome Mitten. A Michigan native, she grew up in Traverse City, went to college in East Lansing, and now calls Grand Rapids home. A foodie and lover of Michigan craft beer, she instagrams way too much of her life. She enjoys going on weekend adventures throughout Michigan, which can be followed on the Awesome Mitten’s social media account: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Foursquare.