Southwest Michigan: Where to stay, play and eat
I have been visiting New Buffalo, Michigan since I was a little girl. In fact, my parents even had their joint bachelor and bachelorette party there over 30 years ago. I grew up going to the beach and going to the farmer’s market every summer. For our very first family vacation, we rented a house on the beach when Noah was just three months old.
Just being 90 minutes outside the city, it is easy for a day trip and a weekend getaway. The entire Southwest Michigan has so much to do, there is a little something for everyone. The public beach with kayak and paddle boat rentals, make a stop at the Indiana Dunes, visit Four Winds Casino and various wineries, breweries and distilleries. I have listed out some of our favorite spots and wineries we visit often.
Where to Eat
The Stray Dog- Serving great food and drinks, this is a perfect place to people or boat watch on their rooftop (21 and over). You can sit and watch the boats come in and out of the harbor. They have been open for more than 15 years and have become a New Buffalo staple with tourists and locals. (Noah’s asleep in the carrier if you look closely enough).
You also cannot have children sit at the bar, it’s a Michigan law we found out.
Nani’s Cafe- This cute cafe is located in Union Pier and might possibly have the best muffins I have ever had. They serve fresh baked pastries and serve La Colombe Coffee. They also serve egg sandwiches in a buttered New England style roll. It is definitely a must stop along your drive on the famous Red Arrow Highway.
David’s Deli and Coffee– This cute cafe is located right in town and serves breakfast and lunch. They are most known for their reubens, but I had a bagel and cream cheese that I would get again in a heartbeat.
Brewster’s Italian Cafe– Not only is the food good (the pizzas are awesome), the outdoor patio is the best feature. After a long day in the sun, you can grab drinks and food outside in what seems like someone’s home garden. They do not take reservations, but you can call ahead of time and get your name on the wait list, which on a nice night, there almost always is one.
Where to Play
Journeyman Distillery – Located in Three Oaks, Michigan and the area has lots of cute coffee and antique shops, and of course, the famous Journeyman. Although I don’t drink bourbon, I fell in love with this place. The space is gorgeous and often used for wedding and events, even being featured on wedding sites like The Knot.
We took a tour that ended with 16 tastings (I was the DD) and had an awesome time. After the tasting, you can sit at the bar for crafted cocktails or their delicious locally sourced burger. Definitely worth the 20 minute drive from New Buffalo to check this place out.
Dablon Winery– Dablon opened in 2015 and we have fallen in love with their wine and tasting room ever since. We discovered it while doing our normal stops along with Wine Trail. To our surprise, it turned out to be the same owners of the Music Box Theater on Southport! Even their Matinee Red wine label is a photo of the theater. They do tours on Fridays at 2 pm and often have live music. I can’t tell how nice it is to sit outside, overlooking rolling vineyards, while drinking delicious wine. I highly recommend their Chardonnay (FYI..I am not even a Chardonnay drinker). It is very buttery!
Recently, they are now serving their wine at Gallagher Way (Former Park at Wrigley) or you can stop in at the Music Box for a glass of wine and a film.
Gravity Winery- Another stop along the Wine Trail is Gravity Wine. This winery sits on top of a hill overlooking water and so much greenery.
The best part of this winery is their flight pairings. You select any four tastings of wine, and then it is paired with yummy samples like cheese, crackers and chocolate. Although these wines tend to be sweeter, this is another place you could sit and relax with wine overlooking a beautiful view.
Where to Stay
We have stayed at several locations as a family, but also as a couple. There are lot’s of options. If you are planning on taking a winery tour, many of them pick up directly from the hotels.
Fairfield Inn Marriott- We have probably stayed here the most!
Air BNB– We stayed in this house with Noah for our first family vacation in Union Pier and it was perfect. It’s located right across the beach and walkable to Nani’s Cafe and a convenient store.
Marina Grand Resort– I have stayed here with friends and with Manny, both amazing experiences. The hotel is right on the harbor, you can watch the boats come in and out. It’s modern and a few blocks from the center of New Buffalo.
To find out more about traveling to Southwest Michigan, you can find more information on where to stay and eat on the New Buffalo Explored. I would also highly recommend taking a wine tour Grape and Grain Tours or Fruitful Vine Tours.
Until next time…
Recap: Taste Talks
Taste Talks is a 3 day national series filled with seminars, tastings, dinners and parties. It is an intimate way to bring amazing chefs, restaurants and influencers together to engage in conversations through Q & A, demos and sampling. I was fortunate enough to attend the conference on Saturday and the cookout the following day. More about this event on Chicago Taste Talks.
- Taste Rare Varietals: Rachael Lowe (Spiaggia) and Emily Wines (Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant).
Being an “expert” wine drinker, I chose this panel to learn more about the recent trends in wine right now. I am always looking to learn more about wine, all the varieties and the process of wine making. Best part about it, these two women are extremely powerful in the wine industry. See what I took away from the session below:
- Greek wines are becoming really popular. The soil is really unique and the climate creates some really great wines (we tasted 3 Greek wines and loved all of them)
- Wineries are experimenting more than ever. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are still popular, but there are more combinations of grapes than ever before.
- Georgia wines are becoming really popular and “exciting”. More on that here.
- The Etna Rosso from Sicily was my favorite. Lowe described it as, “a ballerina with a shot gun”. Goes in smooth and leaves with a kick. I couldn’t have described it better myself.
2. Keeping up Appearances: Today’s Perfectly Instagrammable plate- Mel Muoio (Style Director), Huge Gladones (Photographer), Chef Scott Green (Travelle), and Adam Soko (Social Media Marketer and Influencer).
So I chose this panel, well, because I follow all of them on their social media accounts and I would consider myself a fan. They are definitely experts in their field and I wanted to gain any knowledge they had to share. All three of them definitely gave out a lot of great tips and their own perspective on social media. See below for some great tips:
- When taking pictures, there are different rules for different dishes.
- Don’t need to follow the rule of 3- not necessary (I am very guilty of this)
- Ask yourself before you post: what is the image used for? An event? Just Instagram? Other social media outlets? Professional or personal blog?
- Be authentic, use high quality content (NEVER USE FLASH. EVER.) and add your personality/motif (Soko’s example was “egg porn”. Anything for you viewers to engage with you).
- Placing the light/flash behind the plate can create beautiful images.
- Instastories, live video, boomerangs, polls and videos will become more popular than ever.
- No more than 2 posts a day. It can impact your algorithm. Even if you don’t post, keep your instatory active or vice versa. Posting everyday isn’t needed if you keep something active on your account.
- Don’t interrupt other’s people’s meals. From Chef Green’s perspective, this can ruin everyone’s experience while dining.
3. A Fireside Chat with Andrew Zimmern and Kevin Pang
This ended the day with a candid conversation and Q & A with Kevin Pang and Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel. He had some really interesting insight about being chef, dad, and now being a TV celebrity.
- He started his career in TV as a result of being a dad. “There were things the rest of the world could teach us and I wanted to explore it”
- A family meal will always be incorporated in a his shows-very important to him
- Parents is a lot like traveling- takes away all your judgement (I totally agree!)
- Just be a good person- be the best guest you can be in someone’s home, city, country, etc.
- We will no longer use the phrase “ethnic food”. Food is food. It comes with a certain connotation.
- He loves Chicago as a BBQ town.
The following day, there was a cookout in Palmer Square. We got a chance to sample a variety of dishes from the best restaurants in Chicago.
The weekend was such a great experience, not only to eat, but I learned a lot. I will definitely see you next year Taste Talks!
Until next time…
Texas Tourism: More than BBQ and Tex-Mex
I was recently invited to a Christmas in July event hosted by Texas Tourism at Raised Bar in the Renaissance Hotel. The event was for Chicagoans to learn about different cities to vacation in Texas during our cold, bitter months. I got a chance to talk to representatives from different cities and learn more about each one. We ate, drank wine, decorated Texas cookies and I got to thinking I may just need a trip down to Texas.
When learning about Houston, Texas, I was amazed at how much I actually didn’t know. Houston was one of the most diverse cities in the country and is the fourth largest. Because of it, they now have a booming food scene. They have many Louisiana Creole and Vietnamese restaurants, which I never thought would be in Houston. They have things to explore like the Museum District and the Space Center Houston. Definitely worth checking it out. Learn more here Visit Houston Texas.
Frisco, Texas is about 25 miles outside of Dallas, really caught my attention when I heard they have a Lazy River at the Dr. Pepper baseball park. You can swim in the river while watching baseball. My kind of fun. The town also has a National Video Game museum or watch the Dallas Cowboys practice and then tour their all-new headquarters and practice facility at The Star. You can learn more here Visit Frisco.
Grapevine, Texas is centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth and is home several attraction. They host the largest wine festival in the Southwest, GrapeFest®, held annually in September. They have Urban Wine Trail with several tasting rooms along the route. To my surprise, Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the U.S. For the family, they have LEGOLAND Discovery Center, located at Grapevine Mills. This 35,000-square-foot attraction features more than two million LEGO® brick and where children can go on rides and different adventures. There sounds like there is something for everyone.
Until next time,
Navy Pier: A Native Perspective
I am not going to lie, I haven’t been to Navy Pier in years. Actually, most Chicagoans I know haven’t gone either. There really hasn’t been much of a reason to go. But for Mother’s Day, my parents and in-laws wanted to see the Rolling Stone Exhibit, which is currently at the pier until July 30th.
This massive, interactive exhibit is the largest at nearly 18,000 square feet. It includes rare artifacts that cannot be found anywhere else. In fact, many of them come from the band’s personal collection. There are over 500 items which include costumes, tour posters, and equipment to name a few. Throughout the exhibit, you can listen to audio of band interviews and music. The best part of the exhibit was the grand finale, which is the backstage-to-onstage 3D concert experience, which truly feels like you are at a Rolling Stones concert (this might be the only non-child friendly part about the exhibit. Noah was not a fan).
After the exhibit, we walked around and got some drinks at Tiny Tavern. I have to say, Navy Pier has really made some great improvements. I remember when the pier just had a food court when you could get McDonalds, Churros or Garrett’s Popcorn. Now there are some really great spots to hit up. Porkchop BBQ, Frankie’s Pizza, Goddess and the Baker and Tiny Tavern just to name a few. Navy Pier Food
From the updated food options, new and improved Ferris wheel, the Rolling Stone Exhibit, or just to walk around, there are so many things to do. Whether you are from Chicago or an out-of-towner, Navy Pier is definitely worth checking out. It has come a long way from what it used to be. You could easily spend a few hours eating and drinking a while taking in the views of the city and lake.
Until next time..
Your Non-Hipster Guide to Pilsen
If you know anything about the various neighborhoods in Chicago, you would know that Pilsen has always been a predominately Mexican neighborhood. Recently, Pilsen has been slowly gentrifying as hipsters and young families move into the area, the culture is still very present. Although the restaurant scene is thriving with places like Michelin rated Dusek’s and Honky Tonk BBQ, there are still plenty of authentic, Mexican taqueria’s and bakeries. My husband’s family still lives in the area, so we know some less touristy places that might not be as well-known. Plus, he has a discerning taste 🙂
El Milagro (1927 S. Blue Island)- Cafeteria style dining and the only tortillas you should ever eat, El Milagro. I had chicken tacos, rice and beans. You will literally have an entire piece of chicken, bones and all. So good and such a unique dining experience.
Lupitas (1723 S.Ashland) This is a taqueria which serves breakfast all day and homemade menudo (cow stomach), which my husband had and loved (not so much my thing). I had steak tacos, huge portions and delicious. This mom and pop restaurant has grandma and mom cooking in the back and the daughter works the front. We stumbled upon while walking around the area and so glad we did. Very easy to miss, but definitely a must stop.
Bon Bon Bakery (1457 W. 18th Street)- TRES LECHES (3 milk cake) had me in tears. Seriously, the best in the city. Maybe world. A ittle bit more well known throughout the city, this original location is a must along your way.
Nuevo Bakery (update May 2017, Nuevo León restaurant will not reopen. The owners have now opened BYOB Canton Regio across the street) (1634 W. 18th Street)- This bakery has the best conchas (Mexican Bread). Best when dipped in coffee.
Try out the street food. Don’t be scared. We had some tamales from a lady on 18th street, right by the Pink line. They were fresh, delicious and really, it feels good to shop local and support small businesses.
Jump on the Pink line to 18th Street and do some exploring. Try the street food. Check out the National Museum of Mexican Art and all the street art. Do it. Let me know what you think!
Until next time,
My husband and I just took our first vacation out of town to Boston for a friends wedding shower in March. First time away from Noah (tears), but we did great! I was nervous, but this trip came at a great time for us. We BOTH needed some time together and hadn’t had a trip since the babymoon in October of 2015. This was our first time in Boston for the both of us, so we did lots of exploring and eating.
Hotel: We stayed at the Fairmont at Copley Plaza and loved it! Built in 1912, the chandeliers and décor was beautiful. Service was impeccable with a text messaging concierge service, which we used for reservations and our tour. The turn down service is always a nice touch. Lastly, the BAR! It is huge and much of the original wood from the 1900’s is still intact. They serve farm to table American food. Definitely a must stop for a drink or brunch. It was packed every night, so reservations are recommended. (Oak Long bark and Kitchen)
Food: Boston food actually really, really impressed me. We ate fresh seafood *ate mussels for the first time, bagels, baked goods, and so on. Manny (my husband was in seafood heaven the entire time. He has a much more adventurous appetite then I do and ate some pretty crazy fish.
For casual seafood, Luke’s Lobster is seafood that can be traced to it’s origin. For a nicer spot, I loved Saltie Girl off of Newberry Street. It is fairly new and pretty popular on social media. Heading to the North End, Regina’s Pizza original location dating back to 1926. The pizza has a thin, crunchy crust that was really unique. On the sweeter side, Mike’s Pastry for 18 different kinds of cannoli’s. A great happy hour spot in North End would Neptune for oysters (fancy!) and Giacomo’s for old school Italian food in North End or South End. Reservations not accepted, but the South End location does take them. The Boston Market (indoor and outdoor) is a spot for locals to shop for cheese, seafood, and wine. This market was so fun to grab some snacks and walk through the local vendors.
Activities: Due to the extreme weather (-8 degrees), we did the Trolley Tour and it was perfect to hop on and off all day. For $40 dollars, we saw and walked the Freedom Trail, Boston Tea Party Ships, Little Italy, Boston Market *HIGHLY RECOMMEND, Beacon Hill, Faneuil Hall, had a beer at one of the oldest American bar, Bell in Hand and went into Cambridge. The tour is good for two days with unlimited hop on and off rides. It’s like taking a cab all day.
Favorites: Hotel, Beacon Hill (cute shops), Newberry street (trendy restaurants), Little Italy and Boston Market.
Boston might now be one of my favorite U.S. cities and with it only being a 2 1/2 plane ride, I can’t wait to take Noah…when a little older 🙂
Our Staycation: Le Meridien Oakbrook, Illinois
My husband and I have been married for 3 1/2 years now and we always had date night at least weekly. But now with Noah, it has become more difficult to find some alone time. Although this is more important than ever. Working, busy raising a one year old, time isn’t always on our side. We do try to get away for a few hours every 2-3 weeks though.
Recently, we had a Staycation at the Le Meridien in Oakbrook and couldn’t suggest it more! We absolutely loved our stay. Just outside the city (roughly 30 minutes outside Chicago) located right in Oakbrook Mall, the hotel is contemporary and perfect for a quick getaway outside the city. They have Illy Espresso machines featuring Illy coffee and bottled water (some of the best espresso and coffee) right in the room.
They have the most comfy beds that are even ADA approved. And the best part…they will drive you anywhere within a five mall radius around the mall (in a Mercedes at that!). They don’t have a spa, but they offer Spa Suites to reserve. The Spa Suites offer a variety of treatments in a private lounge and wet area. Reservations needed.We ordered room service and watched Netflix. No dog to take out or baby to change diapers 🙊. Glorious.
The next day we were able to grab breakfast and do some shopping in the mall. I was able to relax with some peace of mind knowing Noah was in good at hands with grandma and grandpa not too far away.
We are planning our next Staycation. Stay tuned.
Until next time,
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