Beach Fun at Holland & Grand Haven, MI

Summertime on Lake Michigan is a beautiful thing—fresh air, sandy beaches and the feeling of letting go. That’s why Emily and I recently enjoyed an overnight in Holland, a small beachside town with deep Dutch roots among Michigan’s blueberry farms and vineyards. We got there in the late afternoon because we had stopped at Warren Dunes State Park on the way. After a quick dinner downtown we drove to Holland State Park to see the sun set over the lake.

Holland State Park’s Big Red lighthouse

After arriving, we walked along the harbor channel onto the park’s wide sandy beach. On the other side of the channel was a small wooden lighthouse whose red paint glowed brightly in the golden sunlight. Known as Big Red, its vibrant color alone was a perfect beacon. Since the lighthouse isn’t easy to access, Emily and I wandered out onto the narrow concrete breakwater, weaving our way around fishermen and sunset-seekers like ourselves. It was relaxing in the calm breeze. We could hear the call of sea gulls while watching the steady stream of small sail and motor boats come and go. For a while I also watched the dredge Buxton II work noisily at dredging sediment by the other breakwater.

Captain Sundae

After it got dark, Emily and I left to find another of Holland’s gems: Captain Sundae. There, a crowd clambered about the ice cream shack’s counters. A large menu board offered a variety of amusingly named frozen treats. I ordered a “Nutty Captain” while Emily got the “Peanut Butter Shipwreck.” Within a minute of ordering, we got our concoctions, sat down on a bench and promptly dug in. Mine was a vanilla ice cream layered with hot brownie fudge, chopped nuts, whipped cream and a cherry on top. I’m not an ice cream fiend like my wife is, but this was scrumptious. As Emily got full from her rich peanut buttery dessert, she turned to me and remarked, “this is probably the first time I could not actually finish an ice cream!” We both obsessed about Captain Sundae for the rest of the weekend. Captain Sundae isn’t just popular with locals and tourists, it’s also a must-stop for presidential candidates. Both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney visited while on the campaign trail. Being politicians, I wonder if they had ordered the “Skullduggery” sundae. Hey, it’s on the menu.

Grand Haven State Park lighthouse

The next day Emily and I enjoyed a Dutch-themed morning at Windmill Island in Holland before traveling 20 minutes north to Grand Haven State Park beach. Even though it was a gloomy, overcast afternoon the beach was crowded. There was a campground just off the beach that was crammed full with pop-up campers and RVs. Families were playing volleyball and lounging out on the sand. We walked over to the pier, which is notable for its two lighthouses. Little lights run in tandem along the pier’s raised catwalk, making for festive nighttime illumination.

Grand Haven's pier and lighthouses

Grand Haven’s pier and lighthouses

By the pier’s entrance is a headstone that offers a sobering reminder of how dangerous Lake Michigan can be during rough weather. However on a calm summer day like this one, nobody was deterred by such ominous warnings. Fishermen, sightseers and even a wedding party had gathered out there. The pier is a romantic sight. Its uneven pavement, steel-truss catwalk and old weathered lighthouses stretch out above the waves. After Emily and I walked to the far end of the pier that’s when the sun broke through the clouds and lit up the whole shore.

Admittedly there is much more to explore in both Holland and Grand Haven, but for now we were contented to have our no-frills getaway from Chicago. Life’s simpler pleasures, we found, happen to include afternoon walks along Michigan’s beaches, watching the sun set over Lake Michigan, and munching on delicious ice cream sundaes.

The inner lighthouse at Grand Haven pier

The inner lighthouse at Grand Haven pier

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