May 19, 2018

My Grand Rapids Bucket List

Grand Rapids, Mich., has been on my radar for some time because of it’s thriving craft beer scene (it’s not called Beer City USA for nothin’). But as a mom planning a family vacation to the city this summer, my dream itinerary for the Grand Rapids has changed (though I will be ordering local beer when I’m there). This is the first stop in an epic Michigan road trip – and you bet there is a Michigan Bucket List for it.

So I’ve been thinking of all the things we’d do in Grand Rapids if time and money were endless: We’d eat like kings, visit some world-class museums, and definitely have some outdoor adventures (zip lines, dune buggies, and canoeing are all possibilities). There’s a good reason why New York Times named Grand Rapids one of the 52 Places To Go To In 2016. Read on for more of my Grand Rapids bucket list:

bucket list of things to do in Grand Rapids

Eat all the food – If you’ve read any of my bucket lists, you know food plays a big part. And Grand Rapids has an amazing food scene. I wish I could eat at all the places that caught my eye: The Electric Cheetah (which I found on this great Grand Rapids foodie list); Licari’s Sicilian Pizza Kitchen (which apparently was recognized as the state’s best pizza at one point and they rubbed elbows with my man, Bobby Flay). And here’s a burger for all to try: The peanut butter and jelly burger at Grand Rapids Brewing Co. (at least one person says it’s one of the state’s best).

Go old-school with lunchYesterdog is a Grand Rapids institution since 1976 serving up tasty hot dogs in what sounds to me like a very eclectic, quirky setting. The classic Yesterdog is topped with chili, onion, mustard, pickles and ketchup.

Yesterdog is a classic restaurant in Grand Rapids, Mich. You might recognize it from “American Pie.” Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

See why it’s called Beer City – I love sampling local brews while on vacation, but going to a brewery can be dicey with kids. There are more than 40 local brewers in Grand Rapids (hence the name Beer City, USA), and luckily, I stumbled across this list of family-friendly breweries in Grand Rapids! Both Founders Brewing Co. and Harmony Brewing Co. sound like places spacious enough, and friendly enough (Harmony haves books and games), for us to visit while on vacation. Founders has been ranked among the best IN THE WORLD. By the way, there are a TON of brewery tours in Grand Rapids. Look over this list of tours at Experience Grand Rapids. Brewery tours aren’t something I’d do with my kids, but I’m putting it on your radar in case you’re traveling without kids.

Grand Rapids, Mich., is known as Beer City USA. One of the breweries in Grand Rapids, Founders Brewing Co., is known to be welcoming to families. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Eat Somewhere Special – I’d love to try the The Cellar Private Chef’s Table Experience at Noto’s Old World Italian Dining, with farm-to-table Italian food paired with Italian wines. Yum. I fully admit this will never happen if we’re vacationing with young kids. However, a mom can dream. Another restaurant that stands out simply because the building is unforgettable is Chez Olga. I’ve never seen anything like it. And since its Caribbean fare was recommended on Chowhound, I kinda really want to dine there.

Lena Meijer Children’s Garden (located in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park) – No doubt my kids will never want to leave this space. I think the Great Lakes Garden alone will keep my kids entertained for an hour, but then there’s also the Rock Quarry and Treehouse Village and so many other things to see there. Obviously, beyond the children’s garden, there would be a ton more to see. 

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is home to Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Happy Cat Yoga – Yoga with cats is a thing, and I’ve found it in Grand Rapids at the Happy Cat Cafe (the city’s first cat cafe). I don’t think I can get my husband on board with taking the whole family to it (and it probably isn’t even going on while we’re there), but a cat lover can dream.

Grand Rapids Public Museum – The 1928 Spillman Carousel is reason enough to bring my kids here, but the entire museum looks pretty interesting. There are three stories of exhibits to see there. 

The 1928 Spillman Carousel inside Grand Rapids Public Museum. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

John Ball Park Zoo – This looks like a fun zoo with experiences taking you beyond expectations. My whole family would love doing the zip line or ropes course, or have a ride on the funicular. There are animal encounters, too, that would be a hit, especially for my bird-loving youngest, like feeding budgies and the Realm of Flight Bird Show. 

You can walk in the tree canopy at John Ball Zoo. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids


Go on a safari ride at Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park – Located in nearby Alto, this hands-on wildlife park isn’t quite a zoo, but you can expect to see exotic animals and reptiles. The safari ride is included with admission and the only way to see larger herds of animals. 

See a show – I love checking theater listings before visiting a new city. The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre has a fantastic lineup, but unfortunately, no shows are on stage while we’re there. We will just miss catching “Shrek The Musical” there! 

Grand Rapids Children’s Museum – Given my day job, you bet I love visiting children’s museums wherever we go on vacation. My kids do, too! Here’s the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum website.

Standing inside a bubble at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Stay somewhere historic WITH a pool – I love hotels with unique architecture and history, but they often don’t have the amenities that traveling with kids requires (AKA, a pool). But check out the gorgeous Amway Grand Plaza, which has a pool, folks. I also like its location and proximity to a lot of things on this list. My kids are going to love the place.

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum – I feel like since his birth place is in Omaha, maybe we ought to visit his museum, right? The fascinating Grand Rapids Fish Ladder is within walking distance from Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, so maybe I can kill two birds with one stone in that visit.

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is in Grand Rapids, Mich. Fun fact: Gerald Ford’s birthplace is in Omaha. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Catch THE festival – Alas, this will have to stay on my bucket list for another visit. You can’t read about Grand Rapids without reading about ArtPrize. This is a huge festival in Grand Rapids starting in September and running for a few weeks – and it’s FREE.

Beach! – Grand Rapids is near some gorgeous beaches, including Oval Beach in Saugatuck, which is ranked one of the top 25 beaches in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and one of the top two freshwater beaches in the USA by National Geographic Traveler. A little closer is Millennium Park, which has a beach and a splash pad…say no more.

Grand Rapids is near beautiful beaches, including this one along Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Get out in nature – Looks like there are a variety of places to hike with kids even within the city. The Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve has trails and a butterfly home that would be pretty to see. Another option is the Blandford Nature Center near the zoo. Look for more kid-friendly trails here.

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Need more ideas? There’s so much more to see in Grand Rapids! Start at Experience Grand Rapids. If Grand Rapids isn’t your only stop in Michigan, check out this Pinterest board with Michigan Road Trip ideas for families:

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May 17, 2018

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Mackinac Island has been on my wish list to visit for about a decade now, ever since I read “Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America’s Heartland.” There’s something about an island that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles that draws me to it. It sounds like a throwback to yesteryear. This summer, I’m finally going to Mackinac Island! The visit inspired an entire Michigan road trip, actually (here’s my bucket list for ALL of Michigan). Side note: I learned it’s pronounced mack-in-naw.

Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Most motorized vehicles are not allowed except for emergency vehicles. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

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Mackinac Island is the vacation destination of 2018, by the way. According to TripAdvisor, it’s the No. 1 vacation destination in 2018, beating out Martha’s Vineyard and Jackson Hole. 

I’ve been dreaming up all the things to do on Mackinac Island, if time and money were not an issue. So go ahead and make your own Mackinac Island bucket list!

My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Why Mackinac Island? Imagine arriving by ferry, then taking a horse-drawn carriage to your hotel. Your main mode of transportation during your stay will involve a horse or two wheels, or if you’re motivated, your own two feet. To me, it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to. Here’s everything I wish I could do during our very brief, 24-hour stay there this summer:

Take a hike – There are trails throughout Mackinaw State Historic Park, which covers 80% of the island. Arch Rock looks like a particularly beautiful sight to see, and is accessible by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage.

Arch Rock is one of the most iconic natural wonders on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Have a “Grand” lifeThe Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island looks majestic – and no two guest rooms are alike. You probably recognize it if you’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time.” It’s also remarkably family-friendly. It’s one of the Top 10 kid-friendliest resorts in the U.S. and Canada according to Travel + Leisure Family magazine. I’ve got plans to stay night; those without accommodations can visit for a day fee.

Grand Hotel has been open since 1887. The Mackinac Island hotel is a National Historic Landmark. Photo courtesy Don Johnston

Eat all the food – It wouldn’t be an Oh My! Omaha bucket list without a lengthy list of food I want to eat. For a small island, I’ve found a good list of restaurants to visit. I started with this list of 10 Foods To Try On Mackinac Island, from which I’ve decided I’ve got to try the famous smoked whitefish dip from Round Island Bar and Grill; breakfast at The Chuckwagon; High Tea at The Grand Hotel; For drinks, I hear a rumrunner hits the spot The Thrillist’s designated as the Most Iconic Bar in Michigan: The Pink Pony.

Sweet Treats – Mackinac Island is known for its fudge shops, as I’m discovering while planning for this trip. Which is the best? Who knows? It might be my job to find out. Side note: I found out the islanders call tourists “fudgies.” I will be one of them. Beyond fudge, I’ve read on a couple blogs that the dessert of choice (after fudge) on the island is the famous pecan balls at the Grand Hotel. But then, reading Deb’s Mackinac Island tips on her blog Just Short of Crazy, I learned there was one more to add to my snack list: Popcorn balls at Stonecliff Hotel. Duly noted.

An up-close photo of fudge made on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Kayak – If the kids were a little older, I think it would be fun to take them kayaking through the Straits of Mackinac. You can get a pretty unique view of Arch Rock from the water. Maybe on a future visit, we could hit the water with the kids. 

Kayaking near Arch Rock on Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Explore history – My son is a big history buff, so we like indulging him on vacation. The National Historic Landmark Fort Mackinac would be great for him. There are people in period costumes and the kids (and, let’s be honest, I) could dress up as soldiers and learn marching drills. You can also sign up early to fire a cannon, which I am definitely going to do when we’re there.

Mackinac State Historic Parks includes the historic Fort Mackinac, where people are dressed in period costumes and there are a variety of interactions. One visitor each day can sign up to shoot the cannon at the fort, too. Photo courtesy Mackinac State Historic Parks

Carriage ride – Since cars aren’t allowed on the island, there only a few ways to get around. My kids aren’t the steadiest on bikes yet, so carriage rides will suit us nicely. You can do a tour by carriage, or use it to go from Point A to Point B.

Transportation on Mackinac Island is limited to horse (or horse-drawn carriage), bike or foot. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

It’s interesting that since no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even the UPS guy has to deliver by horse-drawn carriage. Check out this photo Tim from he Walking Tourists shared with me from their visit to Mackinac Island. Yep, that’s the delivery guy.

Since most motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even deliveries are made by carriage. Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Dinner at Woods Restaurant – Speaking of carriage rides, my ideal ride would be in the evening to Woods Restaurant, which is styled to look like a Bavarian mansion in the woods (and happens to have a duck pin bowling alley). Read about it here.

The Woods Restaurant on Mackinac Island is designed to look like a Bavarian lodge, and has a duckpin bowling alley. Photo courtesy Grand Hotel

Bike ride – I’d love to see this whole island by bike – which is super manageable since there are no cars to contend with (though I guess there are carriages to watch out for). We might attempt a ride with the kids since they are now fairly steady on bikes. Wish us luck. Here are some of the things we might encounter on a ride around the island.

Biking is a very popular way to get around Mackinac Island. Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Butterfly House – This beauty keeps popping up on bloggers’ reviews of Mackinac Island, so I’m beginning to think I ought to have it on this list. I have nothing against butterflies, it’s just that we have an exceptional one at Omaha’s zoo. Anyone have any strong opinions in favor of The Butterfly House?

What Should Be Add To This Mackinac Island Bucket List?

What’s missing from this list? Where should we dine when we’re there? What should we skip, what should we not skip? Leave me a comment with your tips!

wish list of things to do in Mackinac Island


Start pinning Michigan travel ideas with me! I’ve started gathering all the family-friendly, foodie and adventurous travel posts about Michigan onto my Michigan Road Trip With Kids board. Happy pinning!

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April 30, 2018

My Michigan Bucket List

This summer, I’m planning a road trip through Michigan. I’ve researched books, travel brochures, blogs and Instagram, as well as picked the brains of friends, to gather a bucket list of stops. This Michigan bucket list contains natural wonders, quirky pitstops, historic landmarks, and must-see restaurants – more than I can visit on this single trip.

things to do in Michigan

Mackinac Island – This island inspired the entire trip. This island is car-free, so the only way to get around is by bike, horse, or walking. There’s the Grand Hotel to see, fudge to be eaten, and carriage rides to be taken.

Transportation on Mackinac Island is limited to horse (or horse-drawn carriage), bike or foot. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Michigan Adventure – This big theme park is probably on every vacationing family’s list. My kids are starting to turn into thrill junkies so I know they’d love it there (I’m secretly glad they fall below the height limits for some rides that make my stomach turn just looking at their photos).

Michigan’s Adventure is located in Muskegon, Mich. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Alpine Slide – I’ve never done one of these things before, but have seen them in Colorado. This alpine slide like a fun pitstop along the way between Grand Rapids and Traverse City.

Castle Farms – This gem in Charlevoix would appeal to my Sofia the First loving daughter and my son who loves castles and dragons. Castle Farms has hedge mazes, an outdoor model train, and an Enchanted Garden. 

Find a Petoskey Stone – Have you heard of these? You can find the state rock, which is actually a fossil, around beaches near Charlevoix and Petoskey. They’re pretty distinctive looking things, and sound like a fun, free, outdoor activity for us. 

The Michigan state stone, Petoskey stones, are actually fossils. Photo courtesy Petoskey Area Visitors Bureau

Go to Europe – Two towns in Michigan have European-esque appearances: Holland and Frankenmuth. I’d love to go to both, not just for the photo opps of a windmill or German beer hall, but because they sound utterly charming. If we make it to Frankenmuth, I’d like to stop at Bavarian Inn Restaurant, where you can sign up to be a German baker (briefly) and learn how to roll a pretzel. Then you, of course, get to eat your handy work. (I found out about this from Just Me Regina.) And not European, but fun to say, there’s a town called Hell. I’d like to go to Hell and back someday.

Frankenmuth, Michigan, is also known as Little Bavaria. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Play in the trees – You can bet with large forests, Michigan has some amazing tree adventures. Two that caught my eye include Wildwood Rush near Boyne City and the John Ball Park Zoo in Grand Rapids (it’s on my Grand Rapids Bucket List, naturally). Both have ziplines and ropes courses. 

You can walk in the tree canopy at John Ball Zoo. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Find the pasty – I’ve been told I need to seek out and try a pasty while I’m in Michigan. These things, so I’m told, have a flaky crust with meat filling and is a favorite in the Upper Peninsula. Sounds good to me.

Drive something unique – Want to drive a Model T? The Gilmore Car Museum has a Model T Driving School. How about a horse carriage? You can on Mackinac Island. I’m not sure which I’m more confident in driving, so I might just leave it up to the pros and take a tour. If you’d rather be a passenger, both modes of transportation have options: You can ride Model T cars at Greenfield Village near Detroit and there are plenty of carriage options on Mackinac Island where you’re just the passenger. Another option? Driving a sand-buggy. You can drive one in the Silver Lake Sand Dunes with Silver Lake Buggies.

A dune buggy ride at Silver Lakes Sand Dunes. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Chasing waterfalls – I want to ignore TLC’s advice and go looking for waterfalls in Michigan, particularly seek some out in the Upper Peninsula. Fun fact: Estimates differ regarding the number of waterfalls in that region, but most pin the number between 150 to 300.

Tahquamenon Falls is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There are more than 150 waterfalls in Michigan. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Dine waterside – I’m a sucker for a meal with a view, and waterfront is my absolute favorite. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a lakeside restaurants – in Michigan, you’re never more than 6 miles from an inland lake (and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes). I’ve been scouring this post about incredible waterfront restaurants in Michigan for inspiration.

Swim in a Great Lake – There’s a reason why Michigan is called the Great Lake State. Four of the five Great Lakes touch Michigan shores – Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron and Lake Erie. There’s a good chance I’ll be dipping a toe in at least one.

If you have a goal of swimming in Great Lake, you’ll find many opportunities in Michigan. Four of the five Great Lakes touch Michigan. Lake Michigan is pictured here. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Linger at breakfast – Breakfast is my thing (see this post about memorable Midwest breakfasts). I’ve been scouting out some options for our Michigan trip, and I’ve found some great ones. There’s J.W. Filmore’s Family Restaurant in Petoskey (thanks for the tip to try the french toast, Annie!) and the Windmill Restaurant in Holland (again, thanks to Annie, mentioned above, I know to order the cinnamon roll early).

Sample local brews – You guys, Michigan has more breweries than I know what to do with. Frankenmuth is like the Munich of the United States. I’ve been browsing lists of family-friendly breweries so I can sample local beers and not feel weird about having the kids along. There are quite a few that are spacious, welcoming, and have kids activities to keep the kids entertained (with kids menus to boot). Grand Rapids has quite a few to choose from, and along the Western coast of Michigan, there’s one with a dog theme and a lakeside view (Old Boys’ Brewhouse). 

Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Mich., is known to be welcoming to families. Photo courtesy Experience Grand Rapids

Ice cream, you scream – I can’t resist ice cream, especially when on a summer road trip. Here are some spots on my radar: Moomers Homemade Ice Cream (Traverse City), which has more than a 100 flavors on a dairy farm, and the 1950s-themed restaurant House of Flavors (Ludington). And then there’s the ultimate Michigan flavor I’ll have to try: Superman Ice Cream.

See a lighthouse – This shouldn’t be hard to do. Michigan has 142 lighthouses.

There are 142 lighthouses in Michigan, including this one in Grand Haven. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore – I hear one of the best ways to experience this massive park for the first time is to take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. I hear No. 9 on the route is a good stopping point for a scenic view of Lake Michigan. The kids could do the National Park Service Junior Ranger program there if we have time.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is on the Sunset Coast of Michigan. Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

See the Grand Haven Musical Fountain – I posed the question to my Facebook readers on some of the not-to-miss things in Michigan, and this nightly summer fountain show came up.

Have a cherry or two – Michigan is known for its cherries. Traverse City is home to the National Cherry Festival starting every July. Alas, our timing is off and we won’t be there for the huge festival. So, we might just have to sample a cherry pie or two…just because. I’ve been told to go to Cherry Republic and Grand Traverse Pie Co. for the best cherry products.

The National Cherry Festival is held each year in Traverse City, Mich.

Hit the open water – I like the idea of renting a boat, but since we have zero boating experience, I think it will remain just an idea. Instead, we could sail in a sloop from the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven. If we make it to the Upper Peninsula, there are several boat options for seeing Pictured Rocks National Seashore, including one with a glass bottom. More simple of a ride is the Saugatuck Chain Ferry, which is a five-minute hand-crank ferry float.

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Want more ideas? Head over to Pure Michigan first, and then check out my Michigan Road Trip board at Pinterest:


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things to do in Michigan