The is the last day of our rebooted family vacation in Michigan. We are heading south back to Grand Rapids taking the longer route along Lake Michigan. We had driven around Manistee last night to find a place to eat. Everything was already closed up at 9 pm. The city did have a charming downtown. We finally found a A&W drive-through open and we took the food back and ate in the hotel lobby. We did another city drive by in the morning to see everything in the light of day.
Driving by the harbor we saw the unique looking SS City of Milwaukee. The Milwaukee is the last of six sister ships designed in the 1920s and built by the Manitowac Shipbuilding company out of Wisconsin. The SS City of Milwaukee was built in 1931 for the Grand Trunk Milwaukee Car Ferry Company. This Great Lakes railroad car ferry travelled primarily between Muskegon, Michigan and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the only pre-1940s ship of this type to survive.
The SS city of Milwaukee is available for tours and facilities rental. It contains a bed and breakfast (May through early Sept.) and hosts the annual GhostShip Haunted House every Friday and Sat in October at 7:30 pm. If I had known about the B&B ahead of time, that is where we would have been staying. I already want to go back in October for the ghost ship tour.
Leaving Manistee behind, we were headed into farmland along the lake on our way to Ludington. I had lobbied for a beach stop. The real kind with chairs, swimsuits, towels, the on the sand getting in the water kind. I was outvoted, but it was agreed that we would make a stop at the beach in Ludington to take a look.
Arriving in Ludington, we went straight to the city’s most popular beach at Stearns Park and it did not disappoint. Mom just wanted to sit and look, so she and I found a bench in the shade and just soaked up the atmosphere. It was late morning and heat hadn’t set in, so it was exceptionally pleasant. Emma and Jack walked down to the lighthouse, which was a lot farther away than it appeared.
When Emma and Jack returned I could wait no longer. I went down to the water’s edge and put my feet in. Wonderful. If I had brought a swimsuit, I would have gone in. The lake water is cold, but in the heat of August I just felt refreshed. After I got in, Emma ventured in as well. I could come stay here for a week or so. If it was the summer, I would do the beach in the morning and then head to my lodgings for lunch and to wait out the heat of the afternoon. I would go out again in the evening. Mom liked that plan. She never learned to swim and won’t go in, but she does enjoy the beach.
Stearns Park Beach had excellent facilities. There lots of benches, many in the shade. There were ample and strategically placed trash cans near the parking lot and mid beach. They had a wonderful ramp installed so that the handicapped could go down to the water’s edge. The pathway could also be used for a cooler on wheels. There were volleyball nets, bathrooms, and a snack bar. All that was in the small section of the beach park that we were on. The park also features a playground, skate park, mini golf, and shuffleboard. Parking is free.
Mom had a magazine that outlined all the beaches in the area so we drove through town on our way to the next Ludington beach. There was a small one tucked away near the cliffs. The surf was rougher here and the sand rolled a bit, but it was more private and quiet. Another nice spot…a week in Ludington is looking like a greater likelihood.
Finally, we went up on the cliff to a camping spot in the trees which had beach access via a wooden staircase. Mom thought it looked pretty steep and she didn’t want to go near the edge. There were benches to rest on near the top and midway down. There was a metal bench a few steps away where you could just sit and look out over the water. We didn’t stay long because there really wasn’t a place to park and I think the area was designed for those overnighting in the park.
I have always known Ludington as the city where the car ferry that goes across the lake to Wisconsin leaves from. I had no idea that the city was so pretty and the beaches were so fabulous. The Stearns Park Beach has incredibly calm water, while the Ludington State Park has a more rugged beauty. I liked the quiet and cliff side seating of Buttersville Beach. So now I want to come stay here for the beaches and travel from here to cross the lake in style.
“Ludington is the home port of the largest carferry to sail the Great Lakes. The S.S. Badger carferry makes its voyage from Ludington to Manitowoc, Wisconsin mid-May to mid-October. This 410′ ship carries up to 620 passengers and 180 vehicles. Onboard you can play Badger Bingo, watch a movie, shop, or enjoy a meal in one of their two restaurants.” visitludington.com. There are also scheduled children’s activities. The crossing takes four hours and there are two roundtrips daily in season. One way pricing is $69 for adults with discounts for seniors, teens, and children. Take your car one way for $75.
Between Ludington and Pentwater, we hit a stretch of road where the fog was rolling heavy off the lake and moving inland. It was beautiful as it made its way across the farms and trees. At one point we crossed a bridge and I was glad there were other cars to follow, making it easier to see the road.
Just before coming into Pentwater, we passed a local fishery that has been there since 1898 (or so the sign says) They are open seasonally from early May to Labor Day. It was a popular place, the parking lot was full and cars were also parked along the roadway. The possibility of fried perch loomed, so we had to stop. Everyone else sat in the car while I went in for a 1/2 lb. of fish just so we could all try it. You could buy fresh or smoked, but it was about 12:30 and the “lunch crowd” was buying fried. They pulled it out of the fresh fish case and cooked to order. Outside on the posts they had pictures of family members from years past with their catch.
Many of my cousins like to camp at Pentwater. It is apparently a very hard park to get a reservation for and you have to know the sign up system and be quick about it (kind of like signing up for the Disney Princess Run, at least before COVID). It was a cute beach town. They must have flooding issues; there were lots of temporary barriers up.
Next we are going into Grand Haven. It is very close to Grand Rapids and we go often. I am going to stop into Jean Marie’s while Jack and Emma get something to eat. Mom tried the fried perch, but I ended up eating most of it.
We made one special stop in Grand Haven. Years ago we stayed at a Lodge with my grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousins. We wanted to see if it was still there. We easily found the lodge. The Khardomah Lodge is a different color and a tepee and trampoline have been added to the yard, but it otherwise looks the same. Jack likes to tease about its “rustic charm of a bygone era”. Coming from Jack that is not a compliment.
Our last stop was a incredibly large garden center just outside of Grand Rapids. Mom picked up some flowers to fill in a space that Emma had cleared out for her in the front flower bed. I had been moved to the front seat today. For the last leg, I was alone in the front in the driver’s seat with the flowers beside me. Mom, Jack, and Emma got their selfie in the back seat.
Wow. What a trip. Our redo vacation in Michigan took us from Grand Rapids to Gaylord, the Soo Locks; Machinac Island; Indian River; Charlevoix; Ludington; Grand Haven; and back to Grand Rapids. There was also lots to see and do in between. Mom isn’t the only one that is tired. On to the next adventure…