Lansing: Modern Classic Done Right

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. Today, she fills us in on a recent day trip that she and her husband took to Lansing, Michigan.

Whether you’re looking for intricate architecture, historical venues, great shopping, or places to dine, Lansing has it all. As Michigan’s “capitol city,” this diverse area brims with timelessness while managing to grow and adapt with modern society. For first-time visitors like me, however, experiencing everything Lansing has to offer in just one day can seem like a stretch. Nevertheless, one day is what my husband and I had when we made the trip, so we took a fast-forward tour of the city, sampling the overall picture of what makes Lansing a hot spot for people traveling across central Michigan.

First on our destination list was Lansing’s downtown area. Easily accessed just off of I-496, downtown Lansing hosts a mecca of small shops and eateries, a perfect lunchtime hub for tourists and local businesspeople alike. After grabbing some sandwiches at the Spotted Dog Café , my husband and I walked a couple of blocks to the state capitol building, a must-see for all visitors. Inside, we encountered countless rooms and hallways that were trimmed from top to bottom in Michigan pine, yet meticulously hand-painted to mimic walnut.  As we wandered from floor to floor, I couldn’t help but think of what it would be like to spend time in such a beautiful building every day. All of my thoughtful pondering, however, did not stop my inner child from posing for silly pictures in the reflection on the golden elevator doors.

Next, it was on to the Michigan Historical Center, a site that houses the state library, archives, and historical museum. While my husband and I didn’t have time to skim the library’s extensive genealogical records, we made sure to take in as much of the museum’s enormous collection as possible. With everything there is to know about Michigan history, from its first settlers throughout much of the 20th century, this was one of the best museums I’ve visited while in Michigan. We spent an hour or two looking around, but if we had allotted for it, the museum could easily have sufficed for an entire afternoon’s worth of entertainment.

With the day flying by, my husband and I hopped in the car and drove a few minutes down the road to Old Town. There, we encountered several blocks of art galleries, gift shops, and a little bakery called Aggie Mae’s, where we bought a couple of delicious cookies made with so many ingredients, I can’t begin to remember everything that was in them.  The town was quiet on that Monday afternoon, but our post-cookie stroll was complemented by a refreshing lack of crowds and a serene view of the river.  Eventually, dinnertime rolled around, and we scouted out Meat, a so-called “carnivore cuisine” restaurant. Feasting on pulled pork and brisket, we chatted with a down-to-earth waitress and hung out in the southern-inspired spot for a while—a great way to escape the chilly night outside.

After dinner, we took a quick cruise around the Michigan State University campus, and then found our way across the city for a little shopping at the Eastwood Towne Center.  Comprised of restaurants and upscale stores, Eastwood showed yet another facet of Lansing we had not seen.  We spent the remainder of the evening unwinding among shelves of new and used media at Schuler Books, then called it a night and headed back towards Detroit. So many things to do, and so little time . . . but you can bet I’ll be back. See you soon, Lansing.

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. You can follow her on Twitter @JHBowman.

I’m Goin’ to Jackson

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. Today, she fills us in on a recent day trip that she and her husband took to Jackson, Michigan.

When my husband and I planned a day trip to Jackson, we weren’t sure what was in store for us. In all honesty, we were out to explore, and considering the fact that the city was new to us and just on the outskirts of Metro Detroit, it seemed like the perfect solution to our last-minute agenda dilemma. So, with jackets and umbrellas in tow, we set out on a rainy Saturday morning to learn a little more about the city named for our seventh president.

We got to Jackson around lunch time, so we read some online restaurant reviews and settled on a little “dive” restaurant called the West Texas Barbeque Company. Knowing that the best food is often found in the humblest of places, we followed our GPS down a few back roads until we reached the bare-bones building, livened with a brightly-painted façade and a cozy, indoor atmosphere. Being from Virginia, I found myself very comfortable among the southern-style setup, and was happy to see that the other restaurant patrons were largely comprised of baseball cap-wearing, old pickup truck-driving people who also appreciated good food without the frills. Add to that a huge pulled pork sandwich so juicy that it must derive from a line of French dips, and you’ve got an afternoon in southern-inspired Heaven.

After stuffing ourselves to capacity, I would’ve been content with taking a nap until it was time to wake up for “Pulled Pork, Round Two,” but my husband and I had places to be. And so, it was off to Jackson’s historical pivot point, the old state prison.

Jackson’s first state prison, historically known as the hub of the city, produced a thriving labor force during the Industrial Revolution. Today, a large barrier wall still surrounds the campus while indoor jail cells and common areas have been transformed into a residence hall and artist workshop community. Intrigued by the notion of people living and creating masterpieces in a place originally intended to house criminals, I wandered the halls of the present-day armory, both fascinated by its history and creeped out by its eerily quiet hallways and iron-barred windows. The visit was made much more enjoyable, however, by colorful murals that sprawled across every wall and handcrafted mobiles that adorned well-lit corners. There was even a wedding reception setup going on in part of the building, complete with orange flower bunches and masses of origami cranes. If that isn’t proof of creatively utilizing space and making the most of places with dark pasts, I don’t know what is.

The rest of our afternoon entailed gawking at historic buildings in downtown Jackson, visiting the Sandhill Crane Vineyards and Winery (a beautiful, relaxed place run by self-proclaimed “Non-wine snobs”), and a jaunt through the Ella Sharp park and museum. Inside the museum, my husband and I evaluated rooms filled with modern artwork and historical artifacts from the city of Jackson, ranging from the jaw bone of a prehistoric mastodon through clothing and commercial products from the Civil War, Industrial Era, and recent years. My biggest discovery of the day? Jackson was the birthplace of the Republican Party. I never expected a quiet, little city to be so influential, but it goes to show that there’s history to be explored everywhere you go—even if it’s just a stone’s throw from home.

Jennifer Bowman is a southwest Virginia native who moved to Michigan just over a year ago. Fascinated by travel and discovering new places, Jennifer spends her free time exploring Michigan towns and writing about her experiences on her blog, Wading in Big Shoes. You can follow her on Twitter @JHBowman.