Travel Writing Mom Blog
Michigan in the fall is beautiful. Actually, this is an understatement. Michigan in the fall is stunning. There’s something special about the way the trees line the road as you’re driving to your next adventure. Tall trees zoom by waving yellow, orange, and deep auburn leaves as you go. Sometimes Michigan is cold and overcast. We were fortunate on this trip to see the sun.
Don’t ever travel to Michigan without packing layers. Though it was warmish, 70s during the day, the nights dropped quick in temperature. I was thankful I had my winter jacket with me.
So what is there to do in Michigan? We were there to see family. Congratulations to my sister who got married while we were there! While she was running around doing “wedding stuff,” we found ways to entertain ourselves.
Wolfgang’s in Grand Rapids, MI
We had flown into Grand Rapids and found this awesome little breakfast cafe called Wolfgang’s. I had the best mocha I’ve ever had in my life!
The drive from there was nice and easy. It was also an added bonus that we had a hot tub in our hotel room in Clare, Michigan waiting when we arrived. We could see Mancino’s from the parking lot of our hotel, (hat tip to a childhood favorite of mine). I was stupid excited to learn they could make me a gluten free grinder. Woah, baby!
The next morning, we found another little breakfast cafe. My favorite meal while on vacation is an omelet. It’s not super creative, but it’s an easy gluten free meal with a lot of sustenance.
Cops and Donuts
This became my favorite a few years ago on a different trip up. What can you possibly eat in a donut shop that’s gluten free? Well, nothing. But I thought I would be safe with a no-bake cookie. I was wrong. Good news though, the cake smells are free and the atmosphere and excitement is contagious!
Traverse City, MI
We spent the day in Traverse City, MI. We wanted to see one of the Great Lakes while we were there. Traverse City is a quaint little town full of diverse shops that were mostly open for business.
Sidenote on that, we thought Michigan would be more closed down than Missouri and we were right. The Governor has a pretty tight control on what the state can and can’t do. In fact, when we arrived, there had just been a bust on two men who had plans to kidnap her while we were there! Wow, Michigan!
Back to Traverse City. I think we could have spent way more time there. We loved the lake. We loved the shops. We loved the coffee. It helped that we had had another warm sunny day!
To Grandparent’s House we Go…
I grew up taking trips to Michigan. My childhood memories include snowmobiling in the winter and paddleboating on the pond in the summer. This trip, we saw a four-wheeler park that allowed all-terrain vehicles to go out on sand dunes but that’s one I’ve never tried. Instead, we found the places where I spent most of my time in Michigan growing up, my grandparent’s homes.
I’m not a nostalgic person, but the bug hit me when we had hours to kill before the wedding. We drove down memory lane and it was great fun! Then we found Lake George. We stopped, walked out on the dock. We opened the trunk of the SUV and sat just marveling at the sight of the sun reflecting off the lake.
Off to the Wedding
We made it to the wedding with too much time to spare. By the time my sister walked down the aisle, I was wishing for the coat I had in the car! After a beautiful, private backyard ceremony and nice dinner, we hopped back in the car to stay the night in Grand Rapids for an early flight home.
Note about planes right now. They are packed. If that makes you uncomfortable, you might consider driving or look into a train! I’ve never been on a train but I will let you know if I ever try it! Maybe that will be the next vacation.
Twice a year, my husband and I go on a trip, just the two of us. It’s been great for reconnecting and recentering us. We loved Dauphin Island, AL and our experience with the family so we headed back. It’s amazing how different things are when it’s just the two of us. We went to the same places – the restaurants we deemed our favorites and hit the West End Beach sunset. But through the lense of “adults” instead of “parents,” the experience was even better! We rolled in late afternoon and immediately hit one of our favorite places – Pirate’s Bar & Grill.
We were thrilled this times that crablegs were back on the menu! Sidenote about crablegs – they are messy and they require a HUGE dedication! It was a great experience and crab is good. But crablegs, for me, was an exercise in patience. At the risk of being called “basic,” I’m not sure the payoff is there for me.
It might seem odd that someone with a gluten allergy would love a bakery. Alas, I do! I love the owners. They seem like very nice people. I love the long line to get in. There’s a sense of excitement that we are all in the right place. We all feel this was worth getting out of bed. Sunday mornings are the only day they make omelets. They also open a couple hours later that day. So sleep in Sundays, Lighthouse Bakery is on “Island time” that day.
Wow, this place was beautiful! There’s a view of the beach from every unit. I don’t know about you, but a view is key for me. It was a nice, easy walk to the beach. A quick phone call the night before ensured you would have an umbrella and chairs to sit under the next day. When the afternoon rains came in, I sat out on that balcony, looking at the beach, letting the wind relax me, as I read and contemplated life.
My favorite thing about Holiday Isle is that it’s another property owned by our friends at ACP Rental. They are the most helpful and accommodating hosts I’ve ever met! In fact, on the way to the Island, we got a phone call that our sunset tour booked was going to cancel on account of bad weather coming in. Bad weather? Apparently, Miami was hit with a tropical storm they named “Sally.” She was expected to visit the day we had a romantic boat tour booked. When we got off the phone, we called ACP Rental. They assured us Holiday Isle is the best place on the Island during a storm. They had a nice covered parking garage, and we believed them. But we still asked about our options if we left early. They really worked us through that. We stayed for two beautiful, sunny days and then bailed right before the “tropical storm.”
Weather still catches me off guard. Despite my years in Missouri. I know it’s unpredictable. I have come to expect I can never know what to expect. But there’s something awe-inspiring about tornados, earthquakes, and hurricanes. They remind me how small I am in a big world where weather is no respecter of person. Chris, hubs, didn’t want to sit in a hotel room and watch the rain the next two days. When we left at 6:40 a.m., the winds were 35 mph. By the time we got to Memphis, the winds were up to 95 mph. By the end of the day, they had hit 100 mph and “Sally” had been upgraded to a level 2 hurricane! I’m thankful God spoke to Chris and we got out of town! Lately, I feel we’ve been having “Forest Gump Moments.” The moments were we find ourselves right smack in the middle of history as it’s being made. The West End Beach here was completely under water today!!!
With all that is going on in the world, we rented a van and loaded up kids and luggage in the car for this adventure. While airlines originally stated they would be accommodating social distancing on flight with the possibility of taking some seats out. They did not. Friends have been on some of the most packed flights ever since the airlines started flying again. So we drove.
12 Hours Later…
The Crabby Patty
At the last minute, we had a switch on our condo. Immediate shout-on to ACR Rental in Dauphin Island! While the situation was less than ideal, they were quick to communicate. There was something wrong with the other unit we had chosen. They texted and asked if they could change our location. They explained it would be ugly on the outside but accommodate us on the inside. It was exactly what they promised. On our end, we had some personal struggles that delayed the vacation. I made a choice that I would simply be grateful that we were still able to go. Nothing was going to stop us. Not even an ugly vacation house. Added bonus – it was cheaper and they refunded the overage we had already paid. Also, we stayed another night and they accommodated the extra night.
West End Beach
Travel Tip #1
We did experience a small jellyfish sting. I googled it and most cures are wives tails. We used vinegar, hot water, and an ointment. When we asked a local how she avoided jellyfish, she came up with the old wives tail. “My mama always told me to pee right when you get in the water because jellyfish hate acid and ammonia.” She’s never been stung and loves here. Maybe there’s something to old wive’s tails after all…
Once we settled into The Crabby Patty, we got in our suits and hit the beach. Without a parking pass, the cost for parking is $3. It’s also $3 per person over 12-years-old. The waves on one side are noticeably higher than the other side. My sister and her family arrived at the Island two days before us. They had bought a few boogie boards for less than $10! We followed suit. Boogie boards in the ocean are super fun!
Snow crab legs? Yes, please. My sister and Bro-in-law discovered this place and took us there, swearing by the crab legs. We discovered they had sold out of the crab legs earlier that day. However, the shrimp meal I had and the fried oysters the hubs had were amazing. I recommend it. But call ahead if you want crab legs. They do run out until the next shrimping boat comes along.
I’m not a history buff. That’s an understatement. I don’t have any desire to remember the things I learned in high school or college. So this was an unexpected surprise. There were a lot of interesting facts that kept me entertained. The kids roamed around freely in pairs, checking out hidden crawl spaces, officers quarters, a few cannons, a latrine, and a large anchor. I was most fascinated with the words that were used in this battle – “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” The words became iconic and used throughout history and quoted over and over again!
The condo my sister’s family stayed in and the Crabby Patty we stayed in were right on the beach. Both beach access points held less people with calmer waves. I think we might have noticed one side of the Island is calmer than the other side. While the boys preferred the bigger waves, there are definite benefits to swimming within walking distance of a shower.
Some restaurants are still open only for pickup or takeout. I loved this pizza place because a large was really large. I also love that they had a cauliflower crust. We have three gluten free family members in our household. Part of the adventure sometimes is finding food we can all eat. After a long day of swimming at the beach, pizza really hit the spot!
Yoga on the Beach
My daughter couldn’t wait to run on the beach. I am not a runner, but I had not ever done yoga on the beach and it was high time I tried it. Minus the obvious struggles of kicking sand up onto my back as I attempted a three-legged dog, it was an amazing experience. My meditation on the beach went a lot better. In fact, I’d say there’s nothing more peaceful than meditating while listening to the waves hit the sand and lap on the shore. The warm sun was not quite hot and a nice breeze came off the ocean.
West End Sunset
West End Beach in the day is a different beach by night. By day, it is a loud, wild beach with crashing waves. But by evening, the waves settle into a nice lapping sea that gently brushes the shore. The sun sets, casting a beautiful array of colors that change into less vibrant nights as the sun lowers and disappears into the night sky.
Travel Tip #2 – Lighthouse Bakery is worth the line!!! Go early if you want a selection to choose from. While we were lucky to find a table, and claimed it, our move proved detrimental. In the time it took to do so, the already long line (which really looks like a small mob) got even longer! The breakfast casserole ran out with no promises of more until the next day. This really was the only real option for the gluten-challenged. What we did get was amazing and worth the wait. So I am giving you this piece of advice from someone who will never get up early on vacation… get up early for Lighthouse Bakery!
Beach Club Condos
We had to switch where we were staying the last night of the trip. The Beach Condos were an upgrade from the Crabby Patty. The pool was right out our back door! There was a pier that led straight from the hotel to the beach. There was a bathroom connected to every bedroom and a big jet tub in the master. While I preferred this condo, the kids said they loved the Crabby Patty and we made good memories there.
Travel Tip #3 – Bring bug spray! Lots of it! The last night we were swarmed by mosquitoes. We tried to get ice cream and ended up running for the car! Then they followed us into the condo. The good news, if you stick closer to the beach, you tend to avoid the mosquitoes.
This was the best lunch we had on the Island! We went early on account of a light breakfast. We were the first ones there and the service was great. I will say the people of Dolphin Island are very friendly and hospitable. The food was amazing! You don’t need a travel tip to know that anywhere you go in a beach town, you should get seafood! We have since tried seafood dishes back home, but there’s no real comparison.
Pirate’s Bar & Grill
Travel Tip #4 – Pirate’s Bar & Grill was the best dinner we had! Full disclosure, we had tried to go the previous day and the wait was 2 hours long! When you have a car full of hungry kids and a hungry hubby, that’s just too long. But it did clue us in that it would be worth the wait. They gave us the suggestion to come back the next day around 3:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. We did and it was worth the day wait. When we went early, the chef made a complimentary seafood spinach dip for us, we just had to give him our honest opinion. The food was the best we’d had. What was even better than the food? The view! We watched several wind surfers showing off on the ocean. Dinner… and a show. But, truly, the Pirate’s Bar does have live music at the pool next door for entertainment while you wait to get a table if you can’t get there early.
West End Sunset… Again!
There’s no better idea to finish off a beach vacation than to go back to the beach. This time we had an agenda. My son had a friend who wanted to bring home crabs. He bought everything he needed. So while my hubs and I watched the sunset, the kids scouted for crabs. It was a great end to a great vacation!
We discovered Dogwood Canyon for the first time this year. We aren’t really bikers, but we had to see this place. All of it. The quickest way to do that? Bicycles, of course. We had no expectations on this adventure and we were blown away. To be honest, I thought I’d rather walk. I think that had more to do with not knowing how difficult the terrain was. On the back end of that, it’s a nice, easy, cruisey, ride that people of all athletic stages can complete. In my opinion, there is no man-made comparison to natural beauty. Part of the ease of the ride was stopping to see the sights. Our first trip was for Father’s Day. (You’ll notice we use any occasion to take a nature adventure.) My only tip from this trip is not to stop before the end. We reached the point in the trip where the sign reads “Welcome to Arkansas.” We chose to turn around shortly after on account of rumbles of thunder throughout the ride. When we got back and checked a map, we discovered we were only a mile from the end when we turned around. We determined to get to the end next time.
“Next time” turned out to be my birthday. (See the theme?) We had so much fun, we took the kids this time. I never know how they will respond. If they get the feeling we are “working out” in any way, they do not get excited! It turns out my son is quite the bike rider! The trail is a total of 8 miles. 4 miles to the end and 4 miles back to where it starts. It’s typical to hear things from the kids like, “I’m tired! I’m hungry! I’m bored.” Oh, your kids are the same way? Well, I can assure you, mine had a great time. It’s a very fast and easy 8 miles. The hardest part is navigating the walking traffic. Sometimes, no matter how much you say, “on your left,” or “on your right,” people don’t pick lanes. One more note – there are multiple places to eat at Dogwood Canyon. One if those places is on the trail. So plan to spend the day when you go. The best moment was when a mom pointed us four bikers out to her child. “See, families who play together stay together,” she said. I couldn’t agree more!
This summer looks different for us than any other. For obvious reasons, hello aftermath of corona, but also not so obvious reasons. My hubs works in an industry that gets very busy when hail hits. So six days a week, he works. On the seventh day, we have NOT been resting! We have been very creative finding single-day Sunday-cations. This particular Sunday, we discovered that Tablerock Lake in Branson, MO hosts a catamaran ride called Spirit of America. For a very affordable, individual price, we were able to get on a catamaran at the lake for 2 hours. We don’t own a boat of our own. We really don’t want the hassle of storing and maintaining a boat. Not to mention the gas it takes for one ride across the lake. So the catamaran was the perfect option for me and the mister. When we got to the other side of the lake, they docked and put up water toys. Suddenly, we had a water slide, a trampoline, and a water blob. It was a great way to spend the afternoon!
As all of you learn to navigate summer activities post-pandemic, so am I. As such, we pushed our summer vacation out as far out as possible this year. We are driving instead of flying. The pressure is on to entertain the family as close to home as we can. Day trips are a thing. Summer vacation is well underway. Week one started off with my kids on a trip to Biloxi with dad’s family. This made me reminiscent of our family trip to Biloxi. I think it was six years ago. It was a special trip for us. It was the full-on immersion of my husband to the family. You know how people say if you want to see if you are compatible with the man you are dating, take him on a trip? Well, this was the trip. Amidst the craziness of navigating a one-room janky motel room, we survived with beautiful memories. Man, did I learn a lot from that trip. So, I’m writing vicariously through my kids and will be posting some current pictures and some throw-back pictures of our Biloxi vacation. As it turns out, there are several restaurants and landmarks in Biloxi, MS we visited that are still there. I’ll tell you my favorites. By the way, from our small little town in Missouri, Biloxi is the closest and cheapest way to get to the beach for vacation.
Not pictured here are a few more fun things to do in Biloxi when everything opens back up. Slap Yo Mamma’s BBQ is a great local restaurant we enjoyed. The Ohr-O’Keeffe Museum is amazing. Be sure to take a lighthouse tour. The Jefferson Davis presidential home was a fun breeze of history with an interesting story about how they boarded up the windows to preserve the furniture when Hurricane Katrina hit. Speaking of Katrina, each time a local says the word, they will double cross their fingers and hold their breath. They are deeply superstitious with a touch of PTSD. They believe that if they breathe the word out loud another hurricane will drop out the sky suddenly, switch directions, and wipe out the beautiful little beach town of Biloxi. Before that happens, plan to take a week to go explore and discover Biloxi Beach!