If you haven't been to southwest Michigan in a
while, you haven't been to southwest Michigan.
This long-time haven for vacationing Chicago families is
no longer just the quiet spot you remember from your childhood.
There are big resorts, spas, paddleboarding and all of the hip
resort action you would expect from a tourist destination. (Despite
the changes, though, you can still have lunch at the Stray Dog Bar
& Grill, stroll through the artists' galleries and rent one of
those musty-smelling cottages a block or two off the
This is an outdoorsy place along the shores of Lake
Michigan. You can spend plenty of time chilling at the beach and
hiking around Warren Dunes, or you can make it a more adventurous
trip by bringing (or renting) bikes to explore one of the
well-marked Backroads Bikeways bike trails or by taking up the
hottest new water sport, stand-up paddleboarding.
Paddleboards are everywhere these days. If there's a body
of water nearby, chances are there's someone renting stand-up
paddleboards. We got ours from Third Coast Surf Shop in New
Buffalo, which rents boards, paddles and life jackets for $30 for a
half day and $35 for a full day.
Paddleboards are wider and thicker than surfboards, which
adds stability when you're standing up and dipping the long paddle
into the water. We paddled on the Galien River on a day that was
chilly enough to make us glad we were wearing wet suits.
Third Coast owner Ryan Gerard says most tweens or young
teens can paddle their own boards, while younger kids can sit on
the front of a parent's board. I would only try that with a kid who
is content to sit relatively still. Paddling is a little like
riding a bike: Until you get the hang of it, it's tough enough to
stay up, without the added challenge of someone else leaning to the
right or the left.
In addition to renting surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks
and other water equipment, Third Coast offers a summer beach camp
for kids ages 8-12. It's $130 for three mornings.
I recommend parking the kids at camp and then treating
yourself to a massage or facial at one of New Buffalo's spas. My
facial-one of the best I've ever had-was at Harbor Country Day Spa,
just up the street from Stray Dog, the family-friendly pizza and
burger joint that is a New Buffalo tradition.
There's a growing number of places to stay in and around
New Buffalo, from plenty of small, privately owned individual
cottages to the slightly more upscale but still traditional small
resorts such as Gintaras, which sits on 300 feet of Lake Michigan
For a more luxurious visit, there is the decidedly upscale
and lovely Marina Grand Resort, built in 2006. The one- to
three-bedroom suites include a fireplace and full kitchen (the key
to keeping hungry kids happy while also holding down costs for a
traveling family), as well as free Internet and bike
Best of all, it's just down the block from the Amtrak stop
in New Buffalo, which is less than 90 minutes from Union
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