Empire: Small Town, Big View, Big Heart

Have you ever heard of Empire? Many outside of Michigan probably have not. Locals can even be found bragging about Empire’s slow pace of life in the heart of the awe-inspiring Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Real people of all walks of life (just shy of 400 of them) live year ‘round in Empire, more come just for the summer. And who can blame them?

Empire Bluffs is one of the most popular photo-taking spots in all of Michigan

Photo Courtesy of Experience 231

It’s one of those places you think just exists in stories. Stunning natural beauty in all four seasons, friendly shop owners selling gourmet chocolate, freshwater surf boards and bikes, antiques, local art and of course, great burgers, whitefish, perch and ice cream. But there’s something about the people and environment here that draws you in and makes you never want to go back home. The community is known for working hard together to make a living while at the same time enjoying themselves, creating a quirky community and not taking life too seriously.

These are the people who cut a big hole in the ice in February and jump in and come together to celebrate spring’s coming and its first local crop with the renowned Empire Asparagus Festival. Parades in Empire “are so nice, they go around twice.” All we’ve got is time some days so why not?

There's incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

There’s incredible beauty to be found in Empire no matter the season

Locals migrate west down to the public beach right on Lake Michigan for sunsets in the summer, almost the latest one in the eastern time zone. After looking for the infamous green flash as the sun dips below the horizon, bonfires are built and people gather to sing songs of Great Lakes pirates, rogue waves and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Surely you’ll come for the incredible Lake Michigan waves to surf, shallows of North Bar, Platte or Otter Creek to play all day and possibly pick up a skim board habit, miles of epic trail to hike, bike, ski or horseback ride and the incredibly legendary vistas of Dunes and Caribbean-like azure and emerald water, but it’s the people you’ll meet in the businesses and walking down the street that will get you wondering, “people get to live here too? Lucky.”

The beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes are truly breathtaking

Photo Courtesy of Chris Arace

So don’t just tell your friends about the green flash, the parade that goes around twice or the miles of sugar sand beach…experience it for yourself.

What do you love most about Empire? Share with us by commenting below!

Rock the Bay City Fireworks Festival this 4th of July with These Tips for Families

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography

 

In case you haven’t heard, the Great Lakes Bay Fireworks Festival is kind of a big deal (understatement of the century, anyone?)

With two parks absolutely bursting with festivities – including the Skerbeck family carnival, live performances, entertainment tents, a car & bike show and one of the largest fireworks displays not just in Pure Michigan, but in the whole Midwest – the waterfront community of Bay City is absolutely alive with Independence Day sights, sounds, tastes, and treats.

Will you and yours join the approximately 250,000 who make it a tradition to attend the 3-day festival each year? We hope so! That’s why we’re sharing our tried-and-true tips for making sure your family has a blast at this year’s Bay City Fireworks Festival, July 2-4, 2015.

Get Ready to Rock

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography

Before we get into all the extras ready to be soaked up by you and your family on your trip to Bay City this 4th of July, let’s talk essentials – like just how many fireworks you can tell your kids they’ll see, and where you should set up camp to view them from.

  • Location, Location!  Fireworks will be launched from 3 locations: Ball diamonds in Veteran’s Memorial Park, barges in the Saginaw River, and from a location in Uptown Bay City.
  • Epic Display: While celebrating its 50th Anniversary in 2012, the Bay City Fireworks Festival (BCFF) fired off 50,000 shots in 50 minutes! For the grand finale on July 4, 2015, the BCFF plans to launch 35,000 to 40,000 shots in 36 minutes, creating an experience nearly on par with the commemorative blowout finale!

Your family could see the fireworks from just about anywhere in Bay City, but to truly soak up the action, Veterans Memorial Park (Westside, or west of the Saginaw River) and Wenonah Park (Eastside) are the places to be!

Eastside: Wenonah Park

The BCFF scene at Wenonah Park includes blankets spread about the grassy park as children and adults gobble up cotton candy, hot dogs and fresh-squeezed lemonade from the vendors and dance to live music- acts from Country to Blues begin at varying times each night.

  • Admission is $5 per person.
  • Coolers are welcome; pets, personal fireworks and alcohol are not. Hankering for an adult beverage anyway? Head to the entertainment tents to cool off and refresh with one.
  • Sponsored by AT&T, a VIP viewing area is available with multiple packages and options including a Thursday and Friday night $20 per person rate which includes a picnic-style dinner.  You can snag your spot now in the VIP area by calling 989-280-1591.

Eastside Family Secrets

  • There’s a Spot: Consider parking at the Dow Bay Area Family Y (paid parking, includes blocked off area to watch show from).
  • Eat Before The Show: Sorry, grillmasters. We know you were ready to flex that hotdog flipping, steak-charring muscle of yours, but no grilling is allowed in either park. Luckily, our Bay City restaurants are full of flavor and will help tide you over for the festival (but make sure the kids save room for some cotton candy!)
  • Slow Going: Be prepared for traffic afterwards – some say 1.5 hours, others say more. Fair warning. (And did we mention, totally worth the wait?)

 Westside: Veteran’s Memorial Park

Credit: Craig Sterken Photography
Credit: Craig Sterken Photography

Just across the river, the Westside scene is rockin’ at Veteran’s Memorial Park with live music, the Skerbeck carnivalTeen Zone Glow Party, Paint Party and Foam Party, the Car & Bike Show and more! John F. Kennedy Drive is closed to traffic for the festival, and “the main drag” is lively, colorful and packed with food vendors and entertainment.

  • Admission is $1 per person.
  • Coolers are welcome; pets, personal fireworks and alcohol are not. Again, if you’re looking to enjoy some adult beverages, cozy up nearby one of the entertainment tents.

Westside Family Secrets

  • Start Early: Early to mid-afternoon is the best time for families to visit the carnival. As the nighttime sets in, the carnival gets busier and less fun for teeny people.
  • Let’s All Go: Located next to Liberty Harbor Marina, the Teen Zone’s free Thursday-night “Glow Party” or Friday-night “Paint Party” and Saturday-night “Foam Party” ($10 pre-sale/$15 at gate) are a blast for kids of all ages! Parental supervision is required for youngsters. Also, just outside of the teen tent is a foam pit for little ones. Take advantage of this unique spot, families! It’s sure to be a hit with the kids.
  • Have a Ball Here: Hang out and watch the fireworks near the ball diamonds by the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. Live bands play, and it’s not as crowded as the main drag. Also, the ballpark lights remain on after the show creating a safe, well-lit place to hang out until traffic clears.
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine

Before You Go

  • Multiple Options: The Bay City Fireworks Festival is a 3-day get-down, with the grand finale event – July 4, 2015 – drawing the largest crowds. Many families attend all three days, visiting the carnival one day and returning separately for the finale, or visiting Wenonah Park one night and Vet’s Memorial Park the second. Others attend only pre-finale nights. So, spread the love over all 3 days of festivities and make the most of your time on Bay City’s waterfront.
  • Stake Out Your Stay: Especially if you’re packing up the little ones for the trip, finding a place to crash (and finding it early) is a must. After all, there’s no length of ride home we could imagine going well after the kiddos have a little too much fun and sun and a lot of cotton candy. Even if you don’t make it into one of our Bay City hotels in the center of the action, you can still book your stay at any regional hotel (many within a 20-minute drive).
  • How We Roll: Parking is available, but finding it can feel tricky. (Shhh! Many families park along the side streets of neighborhoods, and walk in approximately ¼ mile to the festival). Consider bringing a wagon for little ones, which doubles nicely as a mobile bed later in the evening.
  • Keep Cooler: With carnival treats and food vendors galore – locals rave about That Guy’s BBQ and B&C Pizza, by the way – who needs a cooler? If you do feel the need to pack a snack or two, coolers on wheels are the ticket; ice cold drinks and finger foods are the fare.
  • Wipe Out: Portable bathrooms with kids? Indeed. Pack sanitizing wipes? You bet! (Thank us later?)  Heads up: Even local families rent hotel rooms during the BCFF, if for nothing more than a personal restroom and a place to call homebase before, during, and after the celebration, regardless of whether they sleep there! Book from your choice of Bay City hotels or claim your room at one of our nearby regional hotels (and do it soon!)
  • Plan For Fun: Feeling spontaneous? Normally, we’re all for it! But with the size of this event, we think it’s best if you refresh yourself prior to your visit at the BFCC website to double-check information, times, prices, etc.

One Last Tip

Consider decking your family out for the BCFF in “glow garb” (available all over the festival) and pick something easy to spot, like three neon blue necklaces or two neon green bracelets on each wrist. After dark, in a sea of people, you’ll be able to easily spot your family, the kids won’t have to beg for the latest light-up toy at every turn, and best of all – instant souvenir! Be sure to get a picture of your family all aglow for a little takeaway from your Bay City Fireworks Festival experience, and hashtag your photos on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook with #GoGreat and #BayCityFireworks to share.

Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine
Credit: Great Lakes Bay Magazine

So you read this entire post of tips for families even though you’re not traveling with kids?

That’s okay.  We still love you (and we’d still love to have you here).  So, go ahead – treat yourself, your spouse, and your friends to a more adult-friendly version of the festivities. Try a Bay City Fireworks Dinner Sail aboard the Appledore IV Tall Ship (featuring a relaxing dinner aboard the ship, followed by VIP seating for the fireworks display), or a Bay City Fireworks Dinner Cruise on the Princess Wenonah on July 3rd or July 4th (featuring live entertainment and an Atrium-catered meal while aboard, followed by VIP Viewing Area seating at Wenonah Park for the fireworks show).

Want more insider travel tips from our local experts? Follow us on the #GoGreat Blog!

Meet The Blogger:

Jen Wainwright is a freelance writer in Bridgeport, Michigan. She specializes in marketing communications copy, feature articles and compelling content/blog posts. Jen enjoys experiencing multicultural opportunities in the Great Lakes Bay Region with her family, camping and laughing. You can find her at www.jenwainwright.com.

Detroit: Seeing is Believing

Detroit is a city on the comeback. Everywhere you look, there’s signs of revitalization and a new energy in the city that has the nation taking notice. Recently, Bedrock teamed up with local artist Big Sean to produce a video honoring the Motor City. Read more on a few other things you might not have known are happening in downtown Detroit, via Dan Mullen, EVP of Bedrock.

“Always make the next day better than the day before.” Those are the words delivered around the 30-second mark of Bedrock’s short film “Anthem of Us” narrated by Detroit native Sean Anderson, better known by his stage name, Big Sean. Anderson describes that lesson as something the city of Detroit instilled in him, and something that has stuck with him his entire life. But that mantra is not limited to Big Sean alone. If you take a look at downtown Detroit today, you will see a city living in the present, and building for the future. Next time you are in the city, focus on what is right in front of you, and take note of the exciting direction in which the city is headed.

The Detroit Riverfront is bustling with activity

Photo Courtesy of Bedrock

There are plenty of great reasons to visit Detroit, one of them being the thriving restaurant scene. Whether you’re looking to enjoy superior dishes in small-plate form in the beautifully designed Wright & Co., or want to experience exceptional mixology crafted with precise detail at Standby, Detroit’s restaurant and bar selection is a treasure the city takes the utmost pride in. In addition to an already impressive list of eateries, downtown will welcome New York-based restaurant, Calexico, and popular burger chain, Shake Shack, to its lineup this summer. The retail selection on Woodward Avenue continues to grow as well. Many of the companies opening downtown have a vested interest not only being a part of the excitement of downtown Detroit, but also a dedication to the community around them.  Stores like Nike, who recently opened a community store on Woodward Avenue, aims to offer grants to local non-profit groups as well as other community initiatives. Also, John Varvatos, the popular designer who is originally from the city, opened the company’s flagship location in the heart of the Central Business District.

Detroit's expansive restaurant scene is quickly becoming known on a national scale

Photo Courtesy of Bedrock

While dinner and shopping in the city may be the reason you come down to Detroit, there are plenty of reasons to stick around and explore. There is something for everyone here. It is where history and innovation blend together in harmony as 100-year-old buildings house one-year-old technology start-ups. It’s where everyday, seemingly routine areas such as parking garages and back alleys turn into captivating galleries featuring artists’ work from all over the world. Major corporations live amongst mom-and-pop shops while Wayne State students, street performers, and business executives alike all do their part to contribute to the city’s economy. Development of the new “Arena District,” scheduled for completion in 2017, will place three major professional sports teams within walking distance of each other, creating even more retail and entertainment growth in the downtown and surrounding areas.

Detroit's amazing architecture can be seen throughout the city

Photo Courtesy of Bedrock

The Central Business District of downtown Detroit has become the core of innovation and development for the city. The downtown area is now an expansive source for business development, venture capital, and boasts a rising art scene that is attracting artists and visitors from all over the world. Areas such as Corktown, Midtown, New Center, and Woodbridge are all experiencing the positive effects of a surging downtown area. New restaurants, housing, and retail continue to pop up and garner success due to the ever-growing excitement of the downtown area.

There's many positive things happening in Detroit's unique districts

Photo Courtesy of Bedrock

This is just some of what Detroit has to offer today. The residents, businesses, entrepreneurs, and leaders of the city know that opportunities for innovation exist around every corner of downtown and the connecting areas. The job is never complete, and we will continue its commitment toward the present while steadily building for tomorrow. I strongly encourage you, if you are looking for an experience that is unique and stimulating, to come visit the great city of Detroit. You may just discover something in the city that inspires you to “make the next day better than the day before.”

What is your favorite thing to do in the Motor City? Share with us by commenting below!