I didn’t know a damn thing about Michigan before we started driving. I didn’t have a stereotype in mind for the people there or what the temperature would be. A quick trip to Pinterest showed me that Ann Arbor had nice bookstores, so we decided to drive the seven hours to get there and then figure the rest out. Our road trip to Michigan had highs, lows, and some absolute must-sees for if you’re ever in the area.
It took us most of the day to drive there from Pennsylvania. We stopped a few times, once at a gross beach on Lake Erie, once at a nicer one. But our first legit stop was Ann Arbor, a really nice town on the eastern side of Michigan. For a college town, it was super busy on the summer weekday we arrived. We slept at a medium gross but pretty cheap hotel and woke up the next day ready to hit the town.
There was no where to park on the street the night we arrived or the morning after when we actually wanted to hang out in town. The parking lot we ended up parking in was right across from Literati Bookstore, one of the nicest indie bookstores I’ve ever seen. That lot was pretty cheap, so just go there first and save yourself the hassle.
They had a bunch of really great and homey bookstores in Ann Arbor, and checking them out took up most of our time. Crazy Wisdom & Literati were my favorites. We walked through the town, and all of its cool shops and ended up stumbling on an awesome midday summer concert series called Sonic Lunch. It was totally free, and the guy playing was really good. A few blocks up there were more cool shops and restaurants and an awesome alley filled with graffiti art. We ate burgers at an overrated burger place that I won’t name, walked into almost every store, and then went on our way.
Sleeping Bear Dunes
We spent the rest of the day driving to Sleeping Bear Dunes, about a 4 hour drive from Ann Arbor. I had read about a cool mountain-looking thing of sand that led straight down into super blue water, and I knew I wanted to go there. I thought it would be the highlight of our road trip to Michigan, but the drive was tiring. We overdid it like we always do, and when we got there we were exhausted.
I’ll admit now that I didn’t know what a dune was until that day. Kids were sprinting down the hill to the parking lot, but no one had swimsuits on. We walked up the steepest hill I’ve ever climbed and at the top was more sand. And a mile after that, in over 90 degree weather, there was just more sand. And more hills., and only a few sips of water in our bottle. I asked a couple of kids who were walking toward us how much further the water was. Miles. They said it was still miles away. So we called it. Ran around in the sand for a little bit, submitting to the fact that we didn’t plan well and accepting it for what it was.
Turns out, we’re not the only dummies who made this mistake. This walk is steep and hard, and you’re walking through sand the entire time. Many people come unprepared, and it’s common and kinda dangerous to continue to the end that way. When you get to where the water is, the hill to get down is steep and ends where the water begins. So that means to get back, you have to be able to make it back up. Many people have had to get rescued from the bottom of that hill. So if you’re going, go prepared! Pack a lunch and a bathing suit, lots of water and make sure you’re physically able to do it. We decided to tackle it next time and can’t wait.
We left Sleeping Bear Dunes feeling a little disappointed. We drove all that way to a state surrounded by great lakes, and I wanted to see a great lake! So we drove a few miles away from the dunes and over to the town of Empire where they have a little beach area called Village Park. I am so grateful that things didn’t work out at the dunes because this little beach was one of the best parts of our trip. There were only a few people there, so it felt like our own. We might have gotten there around 7, but luckily the sun stayed out for a long while.
This was also where I got to see the stones in the lake for the first time. Maybe I’ve lived a sheltered life, but I had no idea that these beautiful stones in so many colors were just chilling in Lake Michigan, or any lake to be honest. I spent the next few hours with my head down, marveling at every stone I saw, and yelling out to my boyfriend when I found another one (which was every other minute!). This was a “time stands still” moment for me. I try to acknowledge them when they’re happening. Every rock I found brought me joy, the weather was cool, the water was nice. I was so happy. Check out my stash below!
We ate at Joe’s Friendly Tavern, which is walking distance from the park. The food was all right.
Van Buren State Park
We had to drive south to find a cheaper hotel but my new life mission was to find more stone beaches so that’s what we did the next day. A lot of the state parks charge a fee to get in, but there were also plenty of places to stop along different roads that had beaches for free. But one that was definitely worth the cost was Van Buren State Park. You walk less than a half mile through the woods and then the ground turns to sand, and the trees start to thin out, and the water appears. It is overwhelmingly beautiful!
Earlier in the day we paid for a beach that was supposed to be nice but was lame and overcrowded (and had no rocks in it!), but Van Buren State Park was the opposite. Right by the entrance had a couple dozen people max, but the further you walked down, they all disappeared and the stones were all over! The beach was really long and I got to walk the length of it with almost no one around.
Like all road trips, there is good and bad, and our road trip to Michigan was no different. I always want to keep it real, and there were for sure some FML moments on this trip. The biggest? We had to get our oil changed (our own fault for waiting) and also had a tire pressure light go on, which led us to have to get that changed too.
These were expense we just were not prepared for. We also had to pay way more than we wanted to for a hotel one night because we were in a weird and secluded area. We usually try to find the absolute cheapest (but not scary) hotel possible, so that we’re able to afford going on these trips. So when the hotel gets above $85, we get a little bummed. Also, the drive home was miserable because we were so tired and exhausted. We did our whole trip in 4 days, because that’s all we could do. So we were beat!
But it obviously wasn’t all bad! Though it felt stressful while it was happening, the mechanic said our tire probably would have exploded on the road if we wouldn’t have come in, so yay for avoiding that! And we got to see sights that were completely new to our little eyes. Whenever we have the choice to push it or hold off, we push it and make the trip even if it means we’ll be extra tired. Our road trip to Michigan was an experience we’ll never forget!