“You LOVE going to the USA don’t you? Have you ever considered visiting Detroit and the wider Michigan area to see what is on offer? I GUARANTEE you will be surprised!”
That’s exactly how this latest NInja trip came about – visiting the state of Michigan in the USA (commonly referred to as the “Mitten State” due to the area resemblance of the state looking like a hand mitten) over a 5 day period.
Most people would have heard of the largest city in the midwestern state, Detroit, but we didn’t know too much else of the wider state, so were delighted when the itinerary took in a multi-day clockwise road trip around 4 x other main areas – Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Mackinac Island and Bay City – while starting and finishing in Detroit.
As ever, it was going to be a jam-packed busy schedule ….. but one this NInja was VERY excited to explore and experience!
Getting There ….
There are no direct flights from this island (Belfast or Dublin) to the State of Michigan. However, United Airlines offer the perfect network to access this amazing part of the USA.
United Airlines are actually celebrating 25 years of flying between Dublin and the USA – and it has never been easier to visit all corners of the country.
They offer DAILY flights to Washington, Chicago and Newark – with all 3 destinations acting as hubs to seamlessly travel onwards to almost 200 destinations across North, Central and South America. United also offer daily services to both Newark and Chicago from Shannon Airport.
Newark, in particular, is one of the most popular routes offering that seamless quick transfer into the bright lights of Manhattan and New York City. United Airlines have also just launched their brand new Premium Economy offering on this route giving passengers the chance to enjoy extra space and comfort on this Trans-Atlantic service
Firstly, as a frequent flyer to US cities, I can only describe the experience of arriving into Detroit airport and hiring my car as being smooth and hassle-free. Driving in some US cities can be stressful (this Ninja still has nightmares about driving out of JFK airport in New York!) but it was a very easy drive from the airport to downtown Detroit taking 25 minutes door to door.
We stayed at the Aloft at the David Whitney Building – a hotel mixed with residential apartments / living space – and we could not have chosen a better hotel had we looked at the map and handpicked the spot. Smack bang in the centre of downtown, it was the perfect base to explore Detroit from.
The Aloft Hotel is located a stone’s throw (or should that be a baseball’s throw) from Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers – meaning only a few minutes dander from the hotel to attend the baseball game on our first evening, with the Tigers hosting the Baltimore Orioles. Having experienced many ballparks all across America, I can safely say without any exaggeration that Comerica Park has BY FAR the best food choices for the fans! From the standard hot dogs, burgers and chicken tenders, to Detroit-style pizza and gyros, tacos and not to mention a full BBQ smokehouse offering top quality ribs, pulled pork, chicken nachos to name but a few. You will ACTUALLY struggle to make a choice!
If you are more of an American Football fan, then Ford Field, home of the local NFL franchise, Detroit Lions, is located right next to Comerica Park, so again, only a few minutes walk from the hotel. A few minutes further and you’re at Little Caesars Arena, home of the city’s NBA and NHL teams, the Pistons and Red Wings respectively.
A top NInja recommendation for breakfast in Detroit is Dime Store, located on Griswold Street. My only complaint, which is in fact a not so subtle compliment, is that there was TOO much choice, I could have had everything on the menu!
With a full belly and loaded with coffee, it was off on a city tour around Detroit. Starting on Woodward Avenue, which interestingly was the very first paved road in the US, and also had the first set of traffic lights in the country, we travelled south towards Hart Plaza, taking in the Spirit of Detroit statue and The Fist (the memorial to former Heavyweight champion Joe Louis), along the way. Hart Plaza annually hosts the largest free jazz festival in the country. Next to Hart Plaza are the intimidating skyscrapers that make up the headquarters for General Motors.
Architecture fans will love the Guardian Building and Fisher Building, fine examples of Art Deco design with the most incredible arcades and theatre entrances.
We stopped at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant Museum, the birthplace of the Model T. If you’re a car fanatic this is the stop for you. Walk amongst some of the finest Ford automobiles built in the company’s early days, and where the initial experiments were held to finesse the infamous assembly line. What happened in this plant led to the mass production of, and subsequently usage of, the automobile in America and around the world.
Onwards we went to the Motown Museum, or “Hitsville USA” as it’s known. The former home of Motown founder Berry Gordy, it was the first headquarters and recording studio of the Motown record label. Walk through the house and hear from your guide a comprehensive history of the label and the effect it had on music around the world. Also stand in the recording studio, and get an opportunity to sing and dance may I add, in the very place where some of the world’s most famous musicians recorded songs known in virtually every household on the planet. Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Commodores and the Jackson 5 to name but a few – you can follow in their footsteps and stand in the very same recording studio where they produced musical magic.
As it’s known as Motor City, Detroit does have a constant theme running in the background while you’re enjoying your stay. So from Motown it was on to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation. A cultural destination with an unparalleled collection of artefacts from 300 years of American History. Trains, planes and automobiles – see every presidential car used from the invention of the motor car up until the government started destroying presidential cars so as not to risk revealing security secrets. You can stand beside the very car that JFK was sitting in when he was assassinated. You can sit in the actual bus that Rosa Parks refused to vacate her seat in during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or see the rocking chair in which Abraham Lincoln was sitting in the Ford Theatre when he too was assassinated!
From there it was a short shuttle bus ride to the Ford Rouge Factory. An industrial complex that comprises six Ford factories. The Dearborn Truck factory there features a vegetation covered roof and rainwater reclamation system, which was once the biggest of its kind in the world. The complex is still Ford’s largest factory and employs 6000 workers. You get to enter one of the factories and witness first-hand the famed Ford assembly line, producing the Ford F-150 truck.
After such an eventful day, it was time to relax a bit, and head for Top Golf Auburn Hills. Top Golf, for those who have never been, is a mix between a driving range and a entertainment complex, offering fun games that makes it a lot more appealing than to just golfers. Upon arrival you are allocated a bay, you go there and are met by your server. They will be there to get you any food or drink you desire, and also set you up to start hitting some shots. The arena into which you hit your balls has numerous targets, and the simple touchscreen display in your play lets you choose different games and keep count of the scores. A definite fun night for friends and/or families.
Grand Rapids …
The following morning it was up early and into the car for the two hour drive to Grand Rapids.
Once at the destination, we checked in to the Embassy Suites on Monroe Ave NW. Again, a great hotel to set off from to see what the city had to offer. Fully equipped with gym and swimming pool, a coffee shop and adjoining restaurant, Big E’s, the hotel ticked all the boxes. Even offering two free drinks in the evening between 5-6pm in the bar on the 1st floor!
From the hotel we walked to our first attraction, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum. One for the history buffs this, it is a museum dedicated to Grand Rapids most famous son, the 38th President of the United States. A man that held the office of both the Vice President and President of the US, yet never won an election for either position. Taking both on when the predecessor was caught up in a scandal. He became president after the Richard Nixon “Watergate” scandal. The museum lets you see who Ford was from an early age, showing his role in the boy scouts, through to his sporting ability at college. It offers an insight into what it is like to hold an office in the US government, and also has an Oval Office and Cabinet Room set up for you to see.
From there it is a very short walk to the Grand Rapids Public Museum – a definite location for families to enjoy. With exhibitions and displays covering everything from The Streets of Old Grand Rapids or the story of Native American culture in West Michigan, to the wildlife of the area, 1980s arcade machines and a mounted skeleton of a Mastodon. Also see the skeleton of a whale hanging from the ceiling, a 1928 Spillman carousel, a Wurlitzer Band Organ, or the hanging airplane. Something for everyone in this museum, and the kids will love the interactive sections throughout the three floors.
For the art fans, the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 158 acre botanical garden, art museum and outdoor sculpture park located just a few miles outside Grand Rapids. See the Japanese Garden with its blooming blossom trees and authentic Japanese structures, or the interactive Children’s Garden that invites kids of all ages to explore in a setting that fosters curiosity, experimental learning, and the engagement of all five senses. The Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheatre is home to summer concerts and Tuesday Evening Music Club. The highlight though is the outdoor Sculpture Park. 30 acres with one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of outdoor sculptures in the world. From “The American Horse” (Nina Akamu), to Ai Weiwei’s “Iron Tree”, there is something for everyone to admire as they take a candid stroll around the park. Bright colours to metal work, classical to modern, there is every kind of sculptural genre here to see.
Time for dinner – and we headed for one of the local breweries that have popped up recently throughout Grand Rapids. Offering a huge array of their own locally brewed beers, as well as some good grub to boot, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a brewery to go to. Founders Brewing Co., Brewery Vivant and Mitten Brewery to name but a few, but on this occasion dinner and beer was at Knickerbocker New Holland Brewing. When at a brewery it’s always good to order a flight of beers, on this occasion I went with an O’Doherty’s Dry Stout, Dragon’s Milk White, Passion Blaster and Tangerine Time Machine. The flight gives you a chance to sample four beers that the brewery has to offer, and helped to wash down the juicy burger served up for dinner.
Traverse City …
The Embassy Suites breakfast was a fantastic way to start the day with a full hot food buffet and omelette bar. Once on the road, it was a two hour drive to the amazing Traverse City.
Our first tour stop was the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It is in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and hugs the northeast shore of Lake Michigan, and includes the South and North Manitou islands. The park is known for the huge scalable dunes of the Dune Climb, and I am speaking from experience to say they are spectacular! The day of our visit wasn’t kind weather-wise, but there was something refreshing feeling the breeze off Lake Michigan hit you smack in the face. There are beaches, heritage trails and scenic drives throughout the Sleeping Bear, as well as lush forests, inland lakes and of course the dunes that tower as high as 450ft above Lake Michigan. Those high dunes offer stunning views across the lake. This is a must-see attraction if you are in the area. And if you google the Native American story of how the park and islands got their names, then it becomes even more special. Quaint villages are scattered around as you drive through the area, and we ourselves stopped off in one in Glen Arbor for lunch.
Traverse City is known as The Cherry Capital of the World. It is the largest producer of tart cherries in the USA and hosts the National Cherry Festival, attracting approximately 500,000 visitors annually. So for lunch we went to a restaurant called Cherry Republic.
Upon being handed the menu you notice straightaway the cherry theme to the fayre on offer. The chicken salad sandwich on cherry bread was just what the doctor ordered, but the French fries with cherry dusting were a taste sensation. The pizzas and garlic breads were huge, and I can confirm they were right up there in terms of quality and quantity. Even the cherry coffee (which I had reservations about but thought “when in Rome”) was so, so good.
After lunch it was back in the car to head back to the city via the Old Mission Peninsula.
This takes us through the Traverse Wine Coast. Wine tourists will love this, as will anyone who enjoys a glass or two of vino. The Wine Coast is packed with over 40 x wineries that produce and bottle their wine, and have tasting rooms for visitors to sample the good stuff. We stopped off for a quick look at Black Star Farms Winery before heading to Chateau Chantal winery.
We had a tour of Chateau Chantal, taking in the wine cellars, production and bottling areas, before going back upstairs to sit at the bar and choose our flight of wines from the menu. The winery offer a flight of three wines for $12.60 inc. tip, but with such a selection to choose from, we had to go with six wines! Specialising more in white wines, given Michigan’s climate, it was impossible to choose between the Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Gris, Reisling and Chardonnay … so we had to have them all! For red wine lovers, don’t worry, there is plenty of choice available. Chateau Chantal offer wine dinners throughout the year and Jazz at Sunset every Thursday evening July – August. These can be enjoyed on their East Patios or West Terrace. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Next stop was Mammoth Distilling: makers of their own whiskey and gin, we were told about how they are also leading the rebirth of Rosen Rye whiskey on South Manitou Island in Sleeping Bear Park, 100 years after it was first planted there. With a permit from the National Park Service, Mammoth Distilling is growing pure Rosen Rye on the South Manitou island, the first time its been planted there for 70 years. The seeds they have planted were obtained from the USDA seed bank in Colorado. This is a huge project and one that I hopefully get to sample in the future.
For now, it was their Northern Rye whiskey, Cherry Bounce whiskey and Contemporary Northern Gin on the menu.
After wine tasting and whiskey/gin tasting, it was time to check in to the hotel, shower and freshen up before going out for dinner. Staying in Hotel Indigo, right in the centre of the city offering views over Lake Michigan, we were in the prime spot to head out for something to eat – the hotel has an open air rooftop terrace that would be the perfect place for a drink or two in sunnier climes.
Traverse City’s main street is a throwback to the old days, all locally owned independent stores without a big chain restaurant or company in sight! Dinner was at Artisan, located at the Delamar Hotel. Fine dining at its best, it was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. Dipping breads and oils and French onion soup to start, it was a hard choice between the veal pasta and steak frites for main, but the steak won. The ambience of the restaurant, the attentiveness of the staff, and the choice of local, national and international wine and beers, there isn’t one bad thing I could say about Artisan.
The following morning, we went to something you don’t see every day: Grand Traverse Commons, located at a former mental asylum, Traverse City State Hospital. Opened in 1885, it closed in 1989 after 104 years of service to the mentally ill. The hospital and its vast number of buildings have undergone extensive renovations and is now known as The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. Tours are offered so you can hear about the area’s history and hauntings, but on this occasion we went for breakfast at Red Spire Brunch House. A lovely breakfast in what can only be described as a unique location. Grand Traverse Commons is now a combination of residential properties and local businesses, and definitely somewhere to visit when in town.
Mackinac Island …
It was back in that car again, and another two hour journey, this time to Mackinaw City to catch Shepler’s Ferry over to the incredible Mackinac Island.
On the ferry and approaching the island, your eyes can’t help but be drawn to the huge Grand Hotel perched up on the hill overlooking the water.
Once docked and disembarked, you walk out into another quaint main street with locally owned businesses. The island is world famous for fudge making, and there are a number of stores that you can watch the fudge being made and purchase the finished article.
Waiting for us on Main Street was a horse drawn carriage to take us on a tour of the island. There are no cars allowed on the island (other than emergency and service vehicles), so all taxis are horse drawn carriages. There are over 500 horses on the island during summer, all with important jobs to do. They are so well looked after, with their welfare the priority for the island.
We headed to the Grand Hotel, constructed in the late 19th century, and it advertises itself as having the world’s largest porch. The hotel is known for a number of notable visitors, including five US presidents, inventor Thomas Edison, and author Mark Twain. Each of the president’s First Ladies have bedrooms dedicated to them within the hotel. Thomas Edison performed the first public demonstration of his phonograph on the porch, and Mark Twain made the hotel a regular venue on his speaking tours in the Midwest.
The hotel served as the backdrop and setting for the 1980 film Somewhere in Time, starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Every year the hotel hosts a convention for fans of the movie.
The Grand Hotel, as the name suggests, is a throwback to a simpler but more distinguished time, when men wore a jacket to dinner, and after dinner a live band performed to allow residents to dance. These traditions remain to this day at the hotel.
Upon leaving the hotel, we headed to Mission Point Resort. A family run hotel resort, it offers great views across the water, a great place to watch the morning sunrise. They are dog friendly, and are proud of the regionally inspired and locally curated dishes in their restaurants. A popular wedding venue, it also offers a lakeside Spa and Salon. A full spa menu is available meaning you can allow yourself to pampered before enjoying great food and watching the sunset in the restaurants.
We were very unlucky the day we visited Mackinac Island, it rained heavily the entire time and we were unable to walk anywhere. However, it’s a place you could just stroll from one side to the other, taking your time and taking it all in. And I can only imagine how good this place would be in the middle of summer – a haven paradise.
Back on the ferry and back to our car, can you guess how long the drive was to our final destination, Bay City? Yes you guessed it, another two hour drive. Although this one offered snow blizzards along the way to keep the attention focused!
Bay City …
So what do you know about Bay City? Well yes, it is the Bay City of Bay City Rollers fame, but the band have absolutely no link to the place. They chose their name by throwing a dart at a map. But did you know it was the actual birthplace of Madonna!?
We arrived in the early evening and checked in to our final hotel of the trip, DoubleTree by Hilton Bay City Riverfront. And as the name suggests, we were located overlooking the river on which the city is set. As with all DoubleTrees by Hilton, the hotel was everything you’d want and more. We didn’t have much time to investigate the hotel as we were straight out to dinner to Old City Hall. A circa-1890s former City Hall building has been repurposed and is now a casual gourmet restaurant with beers on tap.
Well fed, we headed back to the hotel to lay our heads down one last time before touring Bay City the following morning.
Having ate in the Old City Hall the night before, first up on the tour was the new city hall, which is in fact in an old building itself. Fantastic architecture on the outside with its impressive columns at the entrance, walk inside and be blown away by the main staircase and ornate carved wooden panelling.
Mandy’s Diner then provided us with a good, (very economical!) old-fashioned, fried breakfast, not to mention the oversized sharing cinnamon swirl which almost took us over the edge!
A random wee find in Bay City is “Beatles and Beans”, a coffee shop dedicated to The Beatles. Every single inch of the walls and ceiling of this place is covered with Beatles merchandise.
We finished our tour (and our trip in Michigan) with a visit to the USS Edison, a retired warship destroyer now docked in the Saginaw River. The warship was awarded the Vietnam Service Medal and National Defense Medal for her operation in the Vietnam Combat Zone during the war there. Deployments in Cambodia and the Philippines followed Vietnam. In 1988 the USS Edison was decommissioned, and from 1989 was part of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York. Following the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001, the Edison was even turned into a command centre for a short time. In 2013, the Edison was towed and docked to her now permanent position in Bay City.
Getting to board a destroyer, walk about it, and imagine what it must be like to spend your day on something like this, especially during war time, is quite a surreal experience. Going to the bridge and getting to push the button to sound the horn though, that was a lot of fun. This was an unexpected but thoroughly enjoyable attraction that I would recommend to anyone to go and see during their time in Bay City.
So what was the NInja Verdict on Michigan then? A RESOUNDING thumbs up from me! It promised a lot, but delivered so much more!
Even with a (really unlucky) stretch of rain, sleet and cold weather, it failed to dampen the mood on the trip – Michigan is a really fantastic place to visit.
- A state that is simple and easy to get to from this part of the world with the seamless travel options available from United Airlines and their USA airport hubs.
- Varied attractions and activities to suit all traveller wants – BIG city life (Detroit), sports, beaches, shopping, culture, arts, music, etc
- A state that has a simple road structure and allows ease of driving throughout – all our stops were only a 2 hour max journey from each other
- Kinder on the wallet than other states in the USA (for food, drinks and shopping – but also for the likes of hotels and attractions)
And above all else, maybe THE most friendly of ALL the areas in the USA that I have ever visited – the people are so welcoming and kind towards you – especially as soon as they hear the Northern Irish accent!
Michigan is the perfect “week long adventure” – why not take in a similar path that we had on this NInja trip and visit all our stops; 7 nights would be a great timescale for this and the perfect alternative even, for example, for a family week in Florida.
I’ll 100% be back to Michigan …. and hopefully the next time, the “Weather Gods” will be a little more forgiving and I get to see some blue skies and sunshine, and see this state for the beauty that it really is
You can check out the FULL highlights from this NInja trip over on the instagram page – on the homepage under the MICHIGAN Highlights – CLICK HERE
Why not visit your LOCAL NInja travel agency and ask them to plan your next NInja adventure to Michigan – you can contact them via Holiday NInja CLICK HERE and we can easily make that connection for you!!
For further information on Michigan in general visit http://www.michigan.org
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