South Haven: West Michigan Summer Getaway

South Haven may be our second favorite beach town in Michigan to enjoy in the summer. The Black River flows through South Haven and out into Lake Michigan. Most of the restaurants and bars are on the south side of the river and so is the main beach. The municipal marina is also on the South side within walking distance of downtown. There is a nice pathway from downtown all the way out to the beach as well so you can walk along the river watching to boats go in and out.
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The beach is the big draw to this area in the summer so that is where you will likely be spending the majority of your time. While your at the beach or at sunset would be a great time to walk along the pier and take in the views of the lake. If you want to do some fishing there are charter boats that leave from the municipal marina. There is also a sunset cruise boat that does tours. That boat also leaves from the municipal marina area. Another boating option is to see the tall ships (replicas of older ships) in the area. They are anchored at the Michigan Maritime Museum when they are not out on the water. We have not been to the museum or on the tall ships ourselves. They do offer tours so you can go out onto the lake on these ships. We have seen them out on the water, they are cool to see and watch as they sail along. You can visit their website for more information on specific events and tours http://www.michiganmaritimemuseum.org/
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There are several good food/drink options in town to enjoy. Here are a few of our recommendations:
Bunde’s Bakery- This place is on the north side of the river so it is a bit further away. It is still within walking distance if you are staying near downtown on the South side of the river, just be prepared for a bit longer of a walk. You will walk through a park on the North side and some residential streets with beautiful old houses. You can sit and enjoy coffee and baked goods there or get something to go. We were told the scones were very good so that is what we ordered and they were definitely worth the walk! They are more like a cookie than a true breakfast scone.
Clementine’s– Like most of the restaurants right downtown South of the river be prepared for a bit of a wait if you are looking for dinner on Friday or Saturday night. The restaurant is very large so wait times were not as long for us as some of the other restaurants. This place has a good variety of food on the menu. We had Salmon and Walleye and both dishes good but a bit overpriced in our opinion. You should definitely get the onion rings though!
Phoenix Street Café- We ate here for brunch on a Sunday morning. We really enjoyed the eggs benedict. They had a good variety of items on the menu.
Taste- This is a popular tapas restaurant right downtown. Do be prepared to wait if you haven’t called ahead for a reservation. They have a variety of small plates or tapas as well as larger more traditional dinner sized portions if that is what you are looking for. They also have soups, salads and sandwiches. The beef sandwich came highly recommended to us by some friends and we agree it is a must try while you are there!
South Haven Brewpub- We stumbled upon this place while wandering around downtown on a Saturday afternoon. They have outdoor seating as well as indoor seating and they are fairly close to the waterfront. They have your standard pub food and several beer options. The food wasn’t the best we had in South  Haven but if you are looking to try some different beers it is worth a stop to sit outside and enjoy a drink.
Wine Tasting
Several of the wineries from the Lake Michigan Shore wine trail have small shops/outposts in downtown South Haven. If you are up for some wine tasting you can walk downtown to 12 corners tasting room, Warner winery tasting room or the Channel wine bar. This is also a nice option if there is a long wait for whatever restaurant you are going to for dinner. If you want to head out of town for even more wine tasting you can find the whole list of wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore wine trail here https://www.miwinetrail.com/winery-map/
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 There are also a lot of bars and restaurants right on the waterfront in South Haven that offer great views of the river. So even if you aren’t a boater you can still be right on the water. South Haven has something for everyone! We are looking forward to more summer adventures here and finding more great things to do!
-TFWYs
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Grand Haven- Our Favorite Michigan Beach Town

We happen to live about 20-30 minutes from Lake Michigan and we try our best to take full advantage of this beautiful lakeshore area! We spend most of our summer time with our boat renting slips at municipal marinas exploring up and down the cost. But you don’t have to be a boater to enjoy the wonderful beach towns of Lake Michigan. These aren’t tropical beach locations but the beaches are lined with soft sand and sand dunes to climb or hike if you are feeling up for it. The water of Lake Michigan is very clear and you could easily think your on the ocean except that the water is fresh not salt!
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Grand Haven is our favorite beach town along the Lake Michigan cost. There is a lot to do and a lot of great places to eat after spending a day at the beach or on the water if you happen to be a boater. The set up in Grand Haven is really nice and allows you to make the most of your time in the area. The downtown area is within walking distance of the water front area where the channel leading from the Grand River to Lake Michigan is located. Downtown is also within walking distance to the Lake Michigan beach area. The municipal marina is located along the waterfront area. This is also where all the charter boats leave from if you are looking to do some Lake Michigan fishing. The waterfront is lined with small shops were you can get snacks, ice cream, rent kayaks, stand up paddle boards, surf boards and other beach/water equipment. There is a nice walkway all the way down past the channel and out to the big lake. They have also recently renovated the pier so there is now a nice, wide walkway all the way out to the lighthouse along the south pier.
If you want to do some fishing there are several charter boats you can book with. We haven’t done this ourselves but we frequently see the charters come back in and hang all their fish on the hooks so guests can take photos before they clean the fish. If you have a boat or a friend with boat, the fish cleaning station at the Chinook pier is available to you if needed. The charters seem to do quite well here. Depending on the time of spring/summer you go you can catch lake trout, coho, king salmon and steelhead. We are still working on perfecting our fishing skills so we’ve only caught a few so far!
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In the evenings/night all summer there are events along the waterfront you can enjoy. There are fireworks on the 4th of July which go off over the water. People will line the lawn and sidewalks all along the waterfront starting early in the morning the day of these fireworks so if you do plan to attend 4th of July here we would recommend securing your spot failry early in the day.
The Grand Haven musical fountain is located right on the waterfront near the channel. There is a fairly large viewing area with bleacher seats available, you can’t miss it if you are walking around the area. In the summer Months there are nightly shows after dusk. Show times are based on when sunset is so that you can get a good view of the lights and the fountain during the show. The shows run about 20-30 minutes long. There is a variety of music featured in the shows. For more details on the start time and the music selection for each night you can check the website https://ghfountain.com/showtimes/
Coast Guard festival runs around the last week of July/the first week of August each summer and brings a ton of people to Grand Haven. During this time there are some nights were there is live music playing on the waterfront in the musical fountain viewing area. If you are a boater you can book a slip at the municipal marina the first weekend of coast guard fest before all the big activities have really kicked off. The second weekend is the final weekend of the festival is when all the big events happen. To book a slip at the marina that weekend you have to enter a lottery and be physically present when they do the drawing in early spring. If you are not a boater and just going to Grand Haven for the coast guard festival we would recommend booking hotels well in advance as well. For a detailed list of events happening at the festival check out their website https://www.coastguardfest.org/
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Food:
Food is of course the most important part! There are a lot of great options, here are some of our favorites
Paisley Pig- This place is not right downtown but it is only 5 minute drive from downtown. Everything we have tried there is really good and the portions are quite large. We end up ordering too much food every time we go. The nachos are definitely worth a try but if you do order them you probably don’t need much else, they are huge!
Odd side ales- This brewery is right down town. they make all different types of beers. They do not have a kitchen but you can order sandwiches and snacks from a sandwich shop down the street (Electric Hero) and they will deliver it right to your table. The brewery has plenty of tables both inside and outside and has dart boards you can play as well.
Mr Kozac- This place is great for fast take out or eating there. Their gyros are amazing and the portions are huge!. There is typically a line but it is worth the wait!
Pronto pup- This is a must while in Grand Haven but fair warning the line is typically quite long on a summer weekend. Pronto pup is a small shack along the water right next to Snug harbor. They serve only corn dogs and drinks (water, pop, non-alcoholic drinks). The corn dogs come on a stick for eating on the go. You can get them plain or ask them to put ketchup and/or mustard on it for you. They fry these up all day long right next to the order window so you can watch as they make them. Even if you are not a huge corn dog fan these are delicious. The batter frys up really crisp and is thin not super thick like on some corn dogs. Definitely a stable that you must try!
Snug Harbor:
This restaurant is right on the water at the channel so you can sit outside on the patio and watch the boats come in and out from Lake Michigan. There is often a wait if you are going for dinner around sunset so that is something to be aware of. The food is good and they definitely have the best view of any restaurant in town. Prices are moderately high so don’t expect to have a cheap meal here but it is worth it for the view.
The Kriby House:
This is a huge building right downtown. There are several restaurants inside so it can be kind of confusing- bear with us as we try to explain. On the main level of the building they have their Kirby house menu which is burgers, sandwiches, salads, pasta (a general variety of dishes). To the left of the hostess’s stand if you are facing it there is their more upscale restaurant which offers steaks, seafood (more expensive dishes). Upstairs inside is a pizza place with wood fired oven pizzas. There is also a patio outside on the upstairs and we believe they also serve a different menu.  What makes this even more confusing is when you arrive and go up to the main hostess stand they will ask you which menu you want to eat from, if you want to go anywhere other than their main dining area they direct you to a different hostess stand where that host or hostess will then seat you. There can be a bit of a wait on a weekend night but it typically goes petty quickly since they are such a large restaurant. They do also do take out if you call ahead and want to pick up food and take it to go to enjoy outside by the water. Even with all the confusion it is still a place we would recommend for dinner. We have eaten in their main dining area off their Kirby House menu and we have eaten upstairs at the pizza place. Both menus are good and their bars have an extensive drink selection. They make a great old fashioned if you are a bourbon drinker! Their website can offer more information on each of their menus- https://www.thegilmorecollection.com/kirbyhouse/
Another great food spot is the farmer’s market at the Chinook Pier. This market is full of venders selling fresh fruits and veggies, homemade bread and other pastries. You can also find coffee, kombucha, salsa, honey and a few other goods at this farmer’s market. It is open every Wednesday and Saturday beginning at 8AM.
Summer is obviously the best time to enjoy Grand Haven. Do be aware it takes a bit for Lake Michigan to warm up so in spring and early summer you could still have quite cold water temps at the beach. July, August and early September are the best times to go. The lake shore is also beautiful in the fall you just won’t be taking advantage of the water as much that time of year.
We love Grand Haven and can’t wait for more summer adventures!
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-TFWYs

Playa Del Carmen: Home Base for the Yucatan

For a good balance of a beach vacation and great activities Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself to explore the Yucatan. We stayed for a week in a small bed and breakfast in the Playacar area. We were walking distance from the main beach and tourist area full of shops and restaurants. We were also only a short walk from a beach which was less crowded and quieter than the Playa del Carmen public beach.  The bed and breakfast offered a rooftop pool and a backyard pool. We spent several evenings on the rooftop by the pool and were the only guests up there. The host did not speak english but did try to be as helpful as possible. Breakfast included eggs, fruit and yogurt as well as coffee and fruit juices each morning. This was not a luxury bed and breakfast but it was affordable and the location was great. We would recommend Bed and Breakfast Buen Dia Playa if you are planning to stay in the area.

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From Playa del Carmen you can easily get to the city of Tulum and the Tulum ruins, Cancun, Akumal, take the ferry to Cozumel and many other locations up and down the Yucatan coast. We did not get to all of these areas on this trip.  We did get to the Tulum ruins and also did a day long tour that included swimming in a cenote and exploring a Mayan ruin site – Ek Balam. Playa del Carmen itself also has lots to offer so we spent several days there enjoying the beach and the food. Playa del Carmen is about an hour south of Cancun, we flew in and out of Cancun so the last day we traveled back to Cancun and spent the day there so we were closer to the airport to catch an early morning flight back home.

For getting around in the area, you can take the ADO bus to/from Cancun/Playa del Carmen. The bus is very affordable, air conditioned and comfortable. We used it and would recommend it to anyone traveling in the area.

Taking a Colectivo is also a good, cheap option for getting between cities in the area. These are white vans which you can take for a small fee. They depart from the pick up point as soon as they are full. There are several specific pick up/drop off points in Playa del Carmen. They fill the van with as many people as they can so prepare to be sitting very close during the ride. The vans are full of local people going to/from work as well as other tourists. There is a drop off point right at the Tulum ruins so we took a colectivo from downtown Playa straight to the ruins and then back when we were done exploring for the day. They run very frequently so you shouldn’t have to wait long for the next available ride.

Things to do in Playa del Carmen: Our time in Playa was focused on the beach and the food!

The Beach

The public beach is lined with small restaurants serving cheap food and beer with a view of the beach. We ate at several of these small places during our stay. We had some delicious ceviche and tacos for lunch without ever having to leave the beach. Señor Frogs- super touristy and we would not recommend eating here but, it is located right next to the pier where the ferry boats leave from to head over to Cozumel. We did stop for a beer on our way back to our bed and breakfast several nights. The location offers tables right next to the water and you can watch the ferry’s come and go. For the location and view its worth a stop for a beer or two on the beach.

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The Tequila 

While wandering through the shopping area we were persuaded to stop in and do a tequila tasting. This is definitely a touristy place but prices are negotiable so don’t just pay what they initially offer as the price. We knew there would be pressure to purchase a bottle but we wanted to try to find some tequila that we wouldn’t be able to buy back home so we figured we would go in. We got to try several different bottles and were shown a lot of small batch tequilas we definately won’t find at home. We ended up buying a bottle that was aged in cherry wood giving it a very different flavor than you typically get in tequila. If you ware willing to spend money on a bottle this store does have a good selection and there are several of these stores in the main shopping/tourist area by the beach so you don’t have to go far to find one.

Alux Cave Restaurant 

This restaurant in downtown Playa away from the main tourist/beach area. It is in a cave which was something we had never experienced so we decided to go. This is a nicer restaurant, it was still cheaper than a night out in the U.S but was by far the most expensive meal we ate in Mexico. We would recommend this restaurant for a nice dinner while in Playa, the food was great and its a nice atmosphere. The restaurant is quite large, there were lots of other people there the evening we went but also there was a rather empty portion of the restaurant which we wandered through to get more views of the cave before heading out. We would recommend taking a taxi to/from the tourist/beach area to this restaurant as it is a long walk.

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El Fogon – Best tacos in Playa del Carmen

We had read from several different travel blogs and reviews online that El Fogon had the best tacos al pastor in Playa del Carmen. Ryan had traveled to Mexico for work many times before we took this trip but I had never been to Mexico and had never had real tacos al pastor. We had tried to recreate these tacos at home many times before and each time they were really good but Ryan assured me that they were not really pastor. So needless to say tacos al pastor was really hyped up in my mind before we even left for Mexico. We walked to El Fogon one afternoon and it did not disappoint! The restaurant is nothing fancy at all, it has bugs bunny and tweety bird panted an the wall along with some other old cartoons and basic tables with plastic chairs but the food is amazing! You can see the pastor being rotated on the vertical spit and everything else cooking on the grill as you eat your food. The food is also super cheap, we each had two beers, we had multiple tacos and a gringa and the total bill was about $14. Definitely worth a stop or two while you’re in Playa.

La Coronela Restaurant

As we wandered around Playa in the main tourist/beach area full of shops and restaurants we stumbled upon this very small, family run restaurant. Nobody was standing outside trying to get us to come in and eat, which most of the restaurants in the area will do. This place was amazing, everything was delicious and all homemade. We actually loved it so much we ate there twice during the week we were there. We would recommend the pastor style fish. We did enjoy the coconut shrimp but they were a bit sweeter then we expected.

We spent about 3 days of our trip just relaxing and exploring around Playa del Carmen. The rest of our trip we spent exploring further out in the Yucatan. As we said Playa del Carmen is a great place to base yourself as you are not that far from a lot of other activities/cities. Other things we did on the trip include; the Tulum ruins and snorkeling, swimming in a cenote and exploring the Mayan ruin site of Ek Balam and spending our final day in Cancun before flying back to the US.

24 Hours in Cancun

Due to our early morning flight, the last day of our trip we headed to Cancun. We stayed in a small apartment downtown. We took the local bus to the hotel zone which is along the beach were all the resorts are. There is public beach access so even if you aren’t staying at one of the resorts you can still enjoy the beach. The restaurants and shops in this area are very touristy. We were starving and did end up grabbing a quick lunch in this area. The food was okay but overpriced and nothing tasted authentic. We would recommend eating in downtown Cancun then just spending time in the hotel zone if you are looking to enjoy the beach. Our host recommended an Argentine restaurant (Restaurante San Temo Argentino) that had recently opened up just down the street. We walked there for dinner and would highly recommend it. You can see them grilling all the various cuts of meat from all the tables in this small restaurant.

We really enjoyed our time in Playa del Carmen itself and the surrounding area of the Yucatan. We found Playa del Carmen to be a great central location to stay while you explore the region. Links to Yucatan day trips: