Wolcott Mill Metropark
Wolcott Mill Metropark (including the Wolcott Mill Farm Center) is one of my family's favorite weekend destinations. Although Wolcott is only fifteen minutes north of where we live, it feels like an entire world away. The historic mill here was built in the 1840s and the campus here manages to be both informative and evocative of that time long passed. The Farm Center features a public, working dairy farm as well as a motley crew of adorable resident animals, including a couple of well fed barnyard cats. I've never seen any place make animals accessible to young children in such a consistent and thoughtful way. The animals even "hand out candy" at Wolcott's annual Halloween festivities.
While the animals are adorable (and the on-site playground creative and well-maintained) our favorite activity at Wolcott is simply walking along the many well groomed trails. The northern branch of the Clinton River bisects the property, creating the perfect little wetland environment for hunting for frogs, crayfish and turtles. The mature trees form a perfect canopy overhead and the sounds of wind through all of those leaves is akin to the ocean washing ashore.
Leland is a charming 19th century town located on the coast of the Leelanau Penninsula, a tiny barrier of land between the vastness of Lake Michigan and Lake Leelanau. It's hard to believe that the picturesque collection of historic buildings was once an Ottawa settlement. Surely the most remarkable feature of Leland is Fishtown, comprised of weather-beaten wooden docks and fisheries and looking basically the same as it has for hundreds of years. Fishtown was one of the final fishing towns on the Great Lakes. While the streets are now dotted with tourist shops and microbreweries, it still reminds me of the kind of historic town you would expect to see in Europe. Something about this town seems frozen in time, despite the fact that the fisheries have now largely given way to kitesurfers.
If you are heading to Leland, there's no better place for to chat over a bottle of cherry wine and charcuterie board than The Riverside Inn, which is just a short walk away from these views. Don't let the laid back Midwestern vibe fool you. This restaurant is progressive enough for even your pickiest vegetarian friend, even featuring a shwarma cauliflower "steak" on its dinner menu.
Cranbrook House and Gardens
I love to find all of the peaceful, beautiful nooks around Metro-Detroit. I'm not sure that any single location has more of those the Cranbrook House and Gardens, a National Historic Landmark in Oakland County, Michigan. Cranbrook House was the primary residence of George and Ellen Booth (a family whose wealth originated in both iron-working and the heyday of publishing) until 1949. Albert Kahn, an architect whose noteworthy works pepper the entire city prepared the design for the now iconic English Arts and Crafts design.
Eventually, the estate became the cornerstone for a much more significant series of developments, all known locally under the ambit "Cranbrook," but now including secondary educational institutions, as well as the nationally recognized Cranbrook Academy of Art and Cranbrook Institute of Science. While I adore all of these different institutions, the home is my favorite place to meander because of the sheer breadth of the grounds. It is the kind of place where you can walk for miles without even realizing.
The gardens around the House occupy forty acres and contain something for every type of gardening aficionado, whether you prefer formal garden design or more naturalistic. My mother was born in England, so I'm partial to the English gardens around the manor, many surrounded by fieldstone walls.
"A life without beauty is only half-lived" - George Booth
Access to the greenhouse is generally limited, but it is one of my favorite parts of touring the grounds, as it recreates both an arid and greenhouse landscape that are otherwise only available with a plane ticket. Scattered through the grounds are various local treasures, such as the Pewabic Pottery which forms the backsplash of one of the fountains. Everywhere I look at Cranbrook, I see something beautiful, which makes it my favorite place to spend a Sunday afternoon.
One of the most remarkable features of modern Detroit has been the thoughtfully curated functional spaces created in many of its alley ways. Formerly unpleasant places avoided by those working and living in the city, now many of the alleys feature strollers and leashes alongside vibrant public art, well-lit gathering places and native plants.
No one could stop to appreciate alleys in Detroit without mentioning The Belt, a collaboration between Bedrock and Library Street Collective. The alley which formerly featured little put potholes and dumpsters is now a bustling destination in its own right with its own outdoor bar and a constant parade of photographers using its colorful murals and art installations as backdrops for their clients' most celebrated moments.
These alleys represent Detroit's interest in identifying underutilized spaces and transforming them. As someone who walks around the city all of the time, they represent mini oases of creativity and imagination against the typical gray landscape of urban life.
Marine City is one of our favorite weekend destinations. A charming little town on the St. Clair River, it features one of the most pleasant main streets in Metro-Detroit, flanked on one side by the river and on the other by rows antique stores, restaurants, confectioneries and even a gemstone gallery tucked away in a historic building. In relatively recent years, it has become home to the Snug Theatre, which features classic and contemporary productions of popular shows, such as A Christmas Story - The Musical ("you'll shoot your eye out, kid!")
One of our favorite features of Marine City is the sleepy little beach at the end of the main street. Here, there are brand new public restrooms and cool freshwater waves only steps away from ice cream and sandwiches. The sidewalks here are of the type that you can walk barefoot when the weather permits.
We love just strolling along the riverfront walkway, visiting the numerous parks along the path, like Lighthouse Park, Waterworks Park, Broadway Park and the Nautical Mile Park. Freighters and kayaks alike cut through the St. Clair River, and a ferry is available to take visitors across to Sombra, Ontario.
This stunning image was captured at the El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. Like many other regions of Puerto Rico, Fajardo was hit particularly hard by Category 5 Hurricane Maria, which made landfall over Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. This resort, like so many others, was forced to close for many months to perform repairs and renovations, resulting in a culture of uncertainty for so many of the lovely Puerto Ricans that worked there. Even more than a year later, this beautiful resort continues to revitalize. Puerto Rico is a very special destination for our family, as it represented the first time that we took our son on an airplane!
Puerto Rico is quite the comeback story and every dollar spent on tourism there is a vote of confidence for the recovery of our special U.S. Commonwealth. After Hurricane Maria provoked the largest power outage in American history, $4.5 billion was committed to power grid improvements, an effort spearheaded by five dozen investor-owned electric companies and public power utilities.
We stayed at several places in Puerto Rico during our stay, but the El Conquistador had the most amenities by far. It was like staying in a city! The on-site shops, restaurants and marinas made it a very convenient place to vacation as a family. Our favorite special feature of El Conquistador was Palomino Island. While some parts of the private island had a festive atmosphere, we were always able to find a quiet space to simply splash in the shallow surf and take in the views of the ocean.
The first phase of a multi-tiered (and multi-million dollar) renovation of the Detroit Riverfront originated on the east side of the region, encompassing such iconic Detroit destinations as Hart Plaza, GM Plaza, Detroit Port Authority and the Riverwalk Garden behind Atwater Street. For those who work in Detroit, the East Riverfront represents the perfect route for a mid-day jog along the Detroit River, both the Ambassador Bridge and skyline of Windsor, ON looming in the distance.
Even more exciting than this current level of investment and invigoration to this riverfront region is what is coming next: developing the West Riverfront to create the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park. A design team has been selected to transform this area into a gathering place for everyone in the Metro-Detroit region. The Riverfront has become one of the most prominent symbols of Detroit's continued growth and evolution. Anyone who has ever watched their toddler splash in the tiny fountains behind the Ren Cen or felt a breeze from the Detroit River as they went around the riverfront carousel knows how magical it can be to stroll through this part of the city.
Lake St. Clair (Lac Sainte-Claire)
In 1679, French emplorers first navigated the shallow freshwater of Lake St. Clair, a large body of water that serves as a deep blue welcome mat for both Ontario, Canada and the east coast of Macomb County, Michigan. While most of the lake is as deep as a typical suburban home is tall, there is a deep shipping channel dredged to allow for the meandering giants of water bound trade. While this body of water is a part of the Great Lakes system, its petite size means that it is rarely referred to with the reverence used for the other Great Lakes.
Best Beaches on Lake St. Clair
There are so many wonderful sandy little nooks to hide away in along the coast of Lake St. Clair. One of my favorites is the one that I grew up only minutes away from: Lake St. Clair Metropark. They've recently installed a new play area which makes the wooden climbing features of my youth (read: splinter-factories) pale in comparison. In addition, they maintain a nature center and a beautiful walkway through the coastal marsh. The breezes that cut across the open waters here make it a popular place for kite surfers.
Several of the best beaches are accessible only by boat. One of the most enduring in popularity is Gull Island, ON. The sandbar here extends at least one hundred and fifty feet and provides the perfect perch for a lazy day watching freighters meander along the shipping channel. There is enough land for an impromptu camping trip, so remember to bring bug spray! Just be wary of heading out here the weekend of Jobbie Nooner, a Martis Gras-like festival on water that tends to be one of the less - ahem - "family friendly" events of the year.
We also love Walter and Mary Burke Park in New Baltimore, MI. The fact that New Baltimore's main streets are eminently walk-able only adds to the charm of this little downtown. Kayaks and SUP rentals are available all summer long. A playground directly on the beach lets small sandy toes quickly navigate from the monkey bars to the sand bars without Mom and Dad having to move their gear nary an inch. Even better? They host both movies and yoga on the giant lawn, using the Caribbean colored waters as the perfect backdrop to either a relaxing morning or night.