BlinkPack ShortList: The Michigan South Shore Five

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The BlinkPacking blog continues a new featurette in today’s edition of the ShortList. Say you find yourself in a certain locale for a handful of hours and want to experience a whole lot more than the airport. Well friends, high-tail it out of the terminal and head for a jolly time — armed with a cornucopia of ideas from the BlinkPack veteran.

The fifth locale featured in our ShortList is makes a great day-trip from Chicago — and you are in store for a real treat, especially if the weather is nice: Michigan’s South Shore.  (Read the other installments, The Boston Five, The St. Louis Five, The Chattanooga Five, and The Key West Five.)

BlinkPack ShortList: The Michigan South Shore Five

Search for dusty treasture.
Michigan’s south shore is dotted with quaint towns, most of which have at least one antique stand, and a surprising number of multi-vendor antique malls invite visitors to turn off of Red Arrow Highway. Ranging from the turn-up-your-nose, way-overpriced swanky storefronts to the I-can’t-believe-they-call-this-crap-‘antiques’ junk sheds, there is surely a treasure from memory lane that will suit every taste and budget. Two of my favorites are the Harbert Antique Mall and Elephant’s Breath Antique Shop (in St. Joseph). So get digging.

Face gravity and eat sand.
Several public access beachfronts welcome tourists from the city and beyond, but none can compare to the natural beauty found at Warren Dunes State Park. Here, beach-goers can brave a climb up the towering sand hills, and the bravest can run, jump, and tumble their way back down to sea level. For a real treat, visit the park in the wintertime armed with cheap plastic sleds and brace yourself for an epic thrill. One note, if you are over 30, be prepared to visit the Chiropractor afterword.

Ride the wooden horses.
St. Joseph may just be America’s quaintest town, offering its visitors a cobblestone main street filled with luncheonettes, coffee houses, used bookstores, and pricey boutiques all worthy of Norman Rockwell’s paintbrush. Though the famed St. Joseph Boardwalk largely shuttered its rides and attractions decades ago, a vintage carousel, now beautifully restored, still operates daily. Hop aboard a brightly painted horse for a giddy-up of a yesteryear adventure. Finish the frivolity with a nosh of hot, buttery popcorn; a box may be purchased for a dollar.

Loosen your belt.
The south shore has many hidden gems of cuisine, most of which offer plentiful portions and basement pricing. Try the nearly-perfect Italian Beef at Albano’s in Michigan City. Go swank for lunch at Panini Panini, also in Michigan City — the toasted sandwiches are handcrafted and stuffed with the freshest wholesome ingredients. Mario’s Pizza in Union Pier offers a perfectly charred pie — Mario used to toss dough in Brooklyn, NY before moving to the shore, and he serves up some mighty fine floppy slices perfect for folding. Rio’s Mexican Food in New Buffalo is nothing more than a shanty drive through, but the tacos and burritos are mouth-watering and gargantuan, and their salty, thick, homemade corn tortilla chips have the most satisfying crunch.

Sip fermented fruit.
Sonoma it is not, but the south shore has a respectable showing of vineyards, most of which offer tours and tastings. The Round Barn Winery in Union Pier is one of the more recognized tasting rooms in the locale, but keep a lookout for a field of twisty vines as you amble down Red Arrow Highway to find a true, local taste.

If you have been to Michigan’s south shore, did you hit all five on the list? And what are your suggestions for additions make the visit more complete?

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