St. Joseph, MI
A super quick jaunt from downtown Chicago, St. Joseph, Michigan is a beach town that time forgot (to be perfectly cliche but completely honest) and therein lies its charm. There’s an historic five and dime store in town packed with fun tchotchke and Silver Beach has plenty of sand, laughing children and views of Lake Michigan and the lighthouse to wax nostalgic. Walk or bike through the woods via Harbor Shores Trails or get up on the bluff for a stunning sunset. Better yet, reserve a table by the window at Silver Lake Pizza and watch the sunset from there. It’s in a 1914 train depot that’s still an Amtrak stop – the prices are low and the pizza is wonderful. The Mason Jar Cafe may offer the best breakfast in these parts (zucchini bread waffles and Michigan Asparagus Omelet, please) and consider holing up at the Inn at Harbor Shores offering stellar Stay & Play Golf Packages as well as fishing and winery experiences and an impressive little spa. Since it’s the largest non-citrus fruit growing region in the nation, you’re bound to bag some fruit to tote back home, too.
Called “The Art Coast of Michigan,” Saugatauk has been an art colony for over 100 years and is home to Ox-bow, an art haven affiliated with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wander 36 fine art, studio and co-op galleries, studio galleries, and meet a gaggle of artisans scattered throughout the countryside. There’s an old fashioned clothes line art show on the lake in mid September and the 38th annual Gallery Stroll in early October. J Petter Galleries combines art with wine tasting cheese from local creameries. Oval Beach has been ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Conde’ Nast Traveler and since this is Michigan’s Cider Coast, sip at Cranes Pie Pantry (flights of ciders and homemade pies). Book your room at the absurdly charming Amble Inn, a log cabin motor lodge circa 1946, which serves a full country breakfast everyday.
Traverse City snagged the top spot on Livability.com’s annual list of the Ten Best Small Towns in America, so yeah you want to visit for 40 Leelanau Peninsula wineries; the magnificent Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore; beach-combing for Petoskey stones; and discovering the vibrant food and beer scene. Traverse City isn’t a resort town that closes down after Labor Day: you can get in on boating, sailing, canoeing, kayaking and fishing, and its forests offers trails for hikers, horseback riders and cyclists. USA Today called it one of 10 great places that combine “big-city art and small-town feel” and the charming lakeside community offers a bustling downtown with boutiques, shops and galleries full of undiscovered treasures. Traverse City Tourism has a Fab Fall special — from Sept. 6-Dec. 15, get special rates at participating resorts and hotels, plus discounts on shopping, dining, spa services, golf, entertainment and family fun.
Related: Best Whitewater Rafting Near Chicago
Add Midwestern kindness to New England charm and you’ll find yourself in the fishing village of Port Washington, just north of Milwaukee. Historic? The downtown is a pre Civil War maritime district with lakefront shops and harbor activities. Enjoy the European style beer garden with food, drink and dynamite views of the lake every Saturday through mid-October; the Paramount Music Festival offers blues. country and rock outdoors near the lake Sept 2-4; and sail opportunities and deck tours on the tall ship Denis Sullivan kick in Sept. 26 – Oct. 2.
Lake Geneva, WI
Why do countless Chicagoans head to the burg just over the state line? Beaches, boating, golf (10 courses and Geneva National is celebrating 25 years), and the 20-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path through the front yards of behemoth estates are just a few reasons. Upcoming events include the Walworth County Fair to get one last fried thing on a stick; the Taste of Lake Geneva on Sept. 10; or book a class at the Lake Geneva School of Cooking where Chef John takes you to the Geneva Lakes Farmers Market to gather ingredients for your cooking class. Consider a stay at the new Ridge Hotel, a renovated upscale hotel with a coffee and wine bar, “Crafted” for breakfast, lunch and dinner offering locally sourced items and Bar 55 on the Veranda for poolside food and drink specials with views of Lake Como.
Related: Neighborhood Guide: River North
Jacky Runice has been a columnist with the Daily Herald Chicago since grunge music and flannel was the new black. Her fingers and gray matter have been busy as travel editor of Reunions Magazine; penning a column that was syndicated around the nation via Tribune Media Services. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.