West Michigan is one of the most glorious destinations on the planet. Bold statement, I know, and I'm about to tell you all the reasons I'm confident in making it. Hi there, HC Lifestyle readers! Alyssa Zuiderveen here, of Aly May Photo, and born-and-raised Michigander. You can read more about me and what I do over in HC Humanize.
I did not always recognize just how epically amazing my home state is. In fact, I moved away more than once in search of the greener side of my imaginary fence. You know what? Every time, I wound up back in Michigan within a few miles of where I grew up, ecause there is just no beating it.
You should know, that I am as travel-hungry as they come, but I have come to believe that this pocket of heaven deserves to be on everybody's bucket list. Why WEST Michigan? Honestly, this is a big state in the gorgeous USA, and there is so much more exploring that would be worth your while. However, I am biased toward the "West Coast" of the mitten state, and the following is a list of the reasons why.
#8 We Are Super Friendly
You want to get to know locals and really feel immersed in local culture? We've got you covered. The west side of the state has a long-standing reputation of being the friendliest part of Michigan. Part of that is because we are just so dang enthusiastic about what we do. With a constantly growing level of independent businesses and our thriving arts community, you will run into people everywhere who love to share their passion with curious seekers.
Also, most of our cities are small enough that we all know our barista's names and run into friends on the sidewalks. When we meet someone from out of town, we want to welcome them into this tight and awesome sense of community.
#7 Lake Towns
Seaside towns are nice and all, but give me a Michigan lake village any day. You can drive up the coast of Lake Michigan and hit a different adorable little beachy town every 15-25 miles. They each have their own unique vibe and draws.
South Haven has the most epic sand dunes you'll ever see at Van Buren State Park. If you're in South Haven, definitely grab drinks on the Idler, a floating seasonal restaurant and bar aboard a riverboat.
Saugatuck is locally regarded as the artist's mecca of the Midwest. The harbor is pretty, but people really go for the galleries and artisan shops. Grab the best cold brew coffee around at Uncommon Coffee Roasters. Also, definitely don't miss brunch at The Southerner; they have the most incredible house-made pina coladas you'll ever try.
Holland is seriously an ode the the home country of the area's huge population of Dutch settlers, complete with windmill and tulips. In fact, if you're around in May, you check out the annual Tulip Time Festival.
Traverse City is in a class of its own. Renowned for their cherry orchards, check out the National Cherry Festival, or at least be sure to grab a slice of pie while you're there. The northwestern Michigan soil is ideal for vineyards, so the Grand Traverse Bay area is also famous for...
#6 The Wineries!
The fertile Michigan soil and freezing winters make for happy grapes. Most people think of California when they consider North American wine country, but Michigan actually churns out incredible award-winning wines! There are so many wineries in northwestern Michigan that a list of those could be its own post.
However, my very favorite bottles come from St. Julian Winery which resides in a sweet pocket of the southwest called Paw Paw. These guys win awards yearly for the amazing quality of their wines. They are known for how well they do whites and dessert wines, so be sure to grab a bottle or two of Blue Heron, Braganini Reserve Albarino, or the Solera Cream Sherry.
#5 The Breweries
Grand Rapids, Michigan has been named "Beer City USA," by USA Today multiple times. Considering they have more than 15 craft breweries, it shouldn't be a surprise. If you visit "GR," definitely stop at Founders and Brewery Vivant for a sampling of some of the best beers in America.
Not far from there in Kalamazoo, resides Bell's Brewery, which is ranked #7 in all of America on the Brewers Association's list of top 50 craft breweries. If you love craft beer, chances are you know about Bell's. Either way, their Eccentric Cafe is well worth a visit. They have the prettiest garden in the land for leisurely sipping award winning stouts, IPAs, sours, or whatever floats your boat.
#4 A Thriving Arts Scene
It doesn't matter what town you're in, throw a rock in any direction and you'll hit an artist. Our communities support and encourage art and creativity, so there are a lot of us here.
There is an incredible independent music scene in West Michigan, as all those breweries serve as great venues for up and coming talent to perform. You also can't go wrong by catching a play or musical at one of the excellent Civic or professional theatres.
Of notable events, Kalamazoo Art Hops happen the first Friday of every month. This is a beloved local event, when shops serve as artist open houses for the public to wander, browse, and drink free wine to their hearts' content. Another great draw for fine art lovers is the international Art Prize competition that happens every autumn in Grand Rapids.
#3 The Adventuring
Skiing, snowboarding, wake surfing, rock climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, you name it, adventure runs high here. We West Michiganders love a good adrenaline rush.
What gets most of us through the long winters are our winter sports, which are fueled by the crazy volume of "lake effect" snow that falls thanks to Lake Michigan condensation and weather patterns. For skiing and snowboarding in the southwest part of the state, Bittersweet Ski Resort or Cannonsburg are perfect for beginners and families and have awesome terrain parks for the daredevils. Further north is prime for downhill sports, and you can't go wrong spending a day or two at Caberfae Peaks or Crystal Mountain.
We are the "Great Lakes State," and you can't walk more than 6 miles in any direction without hitting a natural water source. This means you're in for epic wake surfing, skim boarding, water skiing, wakeboarding... you get the idea, right?
Climbing, and hiking, and biking, oh my! Our state parks and trail networks are top notch for those who prefer rugged adventures. I learned how to climb at Climb Kalamazoo, which is the best indoor climbing gym I've ever experienced. Head to Grand Ledge for outdoor climbing. Hikers and mountain bikers can seriously find trails in any town from Kalamazoo north.
#2 Independent Everything
This one is super simple: we have more independent businesses than chains or corporations. That means that wherever you are, you will be experiencing the best that the local culture has to offer. From coffee shops and eateries to shopping and arts experiences, our we love to support local.
#1 Lake Michigan
How could this big beauty not be my number one? Michigan has the second largest coastline in the country next to Alaska, and all of it is freshwater Great Lakes. Lake Michigan is one of four of these humongous bodies of fresh water, and it has always been my favorite.
The lake is a destination for skilled surfers; surf season is November-March though, so bring a dry suit! It has gorgeous sandy beaches (check out my post about the Best Dog Beaches in West Michigan), dunes, deep blue water, and no salt! I love that I can play in the waves without dealing with saltwater grit. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is so gorgeous, it's on National Geographic's list of 21 Best Beaches in the World.
Obviously, I love my great state. I hope you've learned a bit, and that I've sparked your travel curiosity. If you'd like to read more about my life in Michigan, hop on over to Aly May. I'd love to get to know you!
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All photos in this post are the original creation and copyrighted property of Aly May Photo.