By Amy Piper
Lake Michigan sunsets are intoxicating in Ludington. The evening waves kiss the sugar-sand beaches at Stearns Park Beach. A visitor comments on the large number of people arriving to watch the sunset. “Yes, it’s the best free entertainment in town,” the local replies with a smile. “We also come to greet the S.S. Badger when it arrives.”
So, you’re thinking about a road trip to Michigan, but it seems like such a long drive. And maybe you’re not quite ready to fly yet. What if you could get there quicker than you thought? You don’t need to go around Lake Michigan to get there. You don’t even need to drive through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
The S.S. Badger will shave hours off your trip, and the last four hours, even the driver gets a break. The S.S. Badger is a four-hour ferry that carries people and cars across Lake Michigan from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan. You can catch a nap, play their famous bingo, or participate in a scavenger hunt during the journey. You’ll arrive at 7:00 p.m., just in time for dinner.
Then it’ll be time to get settled in for the night. Ludington’s roots are strong in its lumbering days and maritime heritage. History and architecture enthusiasts will want to stay at the Cartier Mansion Bed & Breakfast, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the home of a local lumber baron, Warren Cartier, his wife Kate, and their three sons. If you prefer sleeping under the stars, Ludington State Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan, is a camper’s delight, with plenty of activities to keep you busy for a week.
The 5.3-acre Waterfront Sculpture Park becomes a storyteller through its nine bronze sculptures that delve into Ludington’s deep history for art aficionados and history buffs. Still haven’t had enough, hop in your car, and take in more statues on the Sculpture Trail. For those with an interest in maritime history, be sure to visit the Port of Ludington Maritime Museum, located on the harbor.
While you’re discovering the Sculpture Trail, extend your artistic rural explorations on the Mason County Barn Quilt Trail, featuring 8-foot by 8-foot painted plywood quilt squares decorating the barns. The course has 11 barns, some as old as a century.
While you’re out shopping and exploring downtown, note the mural series decorating the sides of local shops. They also tell stories depicting various aspects of Ludington’s history. Also, check out the Ludington Area Center for the Arts, where you’ll find art from local artists and those from throughout Michigan.
Ludington holds two art fairs each summer. The West Shore Art Fairiscelebrated the first full weekend in July, with artists and crafters accepted through a jury process. The second, in mid-August, is the Gold Coast Artisan Fair. Again, you’ll find a variety of artists represented, some from out of state.
To experience an artist’s look at the local landscape, shopTodd and Brad Reed Photography, where they sell images of the two local lighthouses, Big Sable Point and North Breakwater, as well as stunning Lake Michigan sunsets. If you’re a photographer yourself, note that 30 minutes before the scheduled sunset results in the most stunning lighthouse and sunset photos.
While in Ludington, you’ll want to sample some of Michigan’s bounty from the Great Lakes, local Coho Salmon, Lake Trout, and Steelhead. And for another fresh catch, you’ll want to try Michigan’s Lake Superior Whitefish. Crown and Cork and Table 14 showcase local catch in a relaxed upscale dining environment.
Michigan is second only to California for produce diversity. The Mitten State has everything from cherries and sugar beets to hops and grapes. So be sure to sample the local craft beer at Jamesport Brewing Company or Ludington Bay Brewing Company. Both venues feature patio dining. And don’t miss one of the dishes featuring the cherry bourbon glaze at Jamesport Brewing Company.
For a casual dining experience, pick up a Picnic Pack at The Q Smokehouse and take it to Stearns Park Beach for a sunset dinner.
Once you’ve had a taste of Ludington, you’ll want to return or continue exploring Michigan’s west coast. Ludington makes the perfect home base to delve into art throughout the region. Just 90 minutes south, you’ll find the beach town of Saugatuck. Or 90 minutes to the north is Traverse City in Michigan’s wine country. So come explore the Great Lakes State!
Amy Piper is a writer, photographer, and explorer with an affinity for luxury travel and foodie adventures. She is a native Michigander, the founder and publisher of Follow the Piper, and author of the Michigan chapter in the anthology Midwest Road Trips Adventures. She is a contributor to more than 30 publications and a board member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA).
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